Many players think the druid belongs out in the wilderness, where she can frolic with the animals and work magic suited for the outdoors. To such people, a druid in a city or a dungeon seems as out of place -- and about as useful -- as a speedboat in the desert. As is often the case, popular opinion about the druid isn't completely wrong, but it fails to grasp the character's true potential.
The Pros and Cons of a Druid
The druid's many abilities make for a versatile and powerful character who can excel in almost any surroundings.
When you chose a druid, you gain access to many spells that affect plants and animals, but the class offers other potent spells and useful powers as well. Below are several assets you have going for you when you play a druid.
The druid's many advantages come at a price. Here are a few of the disadvantages you should keep in mind if you're considering a druid character.
Playing a Classy Druid
Great druids usually use the following techniques. So if you're playing a druid, try to build your strategy around these concepts.
As a druid, you have to make many of your most important decisions before an adventure begins. Your daily spell preparation has a big effect on how you play your character and what your party can expect to accomplish on any given day. Many of your most effective spells work to best advantage only when you're outdoors in a natural setting. So if you're getting ready for an underground adventure or one in an urban setting, avoid spells such as entangle and call lightning. Keep in mind, however, that some of your spells can work well even when others don't. Most fantasy cities, for example, are well populated with animals that you can interrogate via the speak with animals spell, and most dungeons are made of stone, which offers numerous ways to use the stone shape spell.
Your wild shape ability gives you considerable flexibility, and it pays to plan how best to use it before you actually need it. If your group needs extra fighting power, consider animal forms that are useful for combat, such as wolves or bears. Smaller forms, such as bats or birds, are good for stealth and scouting.
In any case, plan to stay close to the action so that you can intervene with a spell or physical attack when necessary. You're fairly hardy compared with other characters, and your group can easily go down to defeat if you're timid when the going gets tough. But you don't always have to place yourself in the line of fire; your animal companion can often act as a stand-in for you when some physical action is required.
Your Friends are Your Best Weapons
You can have a big impact on the game by working through others, so be prepared to lend your support whenever you can.
Natural Allies: Spells such as barkskin, magic fang, and animal growth are great ways to improve your animal companion or give a boost to a creature that you've summoned. But don't go overboard; your allies might become annoyed if you invest too many spells in your animal companion -- especially healing spells.
The Party's Main Fighter: A single cure light wounds or cure moderate wounds spell can keep a fighting character going, ultimately dealing more damage to the enemy than any of your other spells can. If you have no healing spells prepared, consider using a summon nature's ally spell to help take the heat off your party's front line. Your animal companion can lend some aid as well.
The Party's Scout: Stealthy characters such as rogues, rangers, and monks often get in over their heads. Your wild shape ability lets you stage a quick rescue or even unobtrusively tag along to lend a hand if needed.
Other Spellcasters: You probably have more hit points and a better attack bonus than the other spellcasters in your group, and your Armor Class is likely better than that of any arcane spellcaster in the party, except possibly a bard. So try to stay close enough to your fellow spellcasters that you can protect them if a foe breaks through the front line.
Whenever possible, try to coordinate your daily spell choices with the other spellcasters in your group. Your spell selection is almost certainly broader than theirs, so be ready to fill any gaps. Useful spells such as speak with animals and water breathing are probably best provided by you, since you can swap them for summon nature's ally spells if they're not needed.
Wild Shape with Care
Assuming a wild shape interferes with your ability to use weapons and tools and with your ability to speak to your fellow adventurers. It also keeps you from casting spells unless you have the Natural Spell feat. For all these reasons, wild shape is not an ability to use frivolously -- your best bet is to stay in your natural form until you need to assume another one.
Some Key Equipment
A druid's gear is nearly as important to her as her spells, so don't neglect it. Below are some essential pieces to pack.
About the Author
Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies, and he served as the sage of Dragon Magazine for eighteen years. Skip is a codesigner of the D&D 3rd edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.
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