USING WILD SHAPE
"They tickle and itch, but you get used to feathers. Never quite get used to the eggs, though."
-- The druid Kelliana of Blue Tribe
Wild shape is one of the druid's most useful and flexible class features. The following version of this ability supersedes the one presented in the Player's Handbook.
At 5th level, a druid gains the spell-like ability to turn herself into a Small or Medium-size animal (but not a dire animal or a legendary animal) and back again once per day. The druid may adopt only one animal form per use of this ability.
The creatures available as wild shape forms include some giant animals (as described in Appendix I of the Monster Manual but not beasts, magical beasts, or anything with a type other than animal. The druid may use wild shape to become a dog or a giant lizard, for example, but not an owlbear. The form chosen must be that of an animal she is familiar with. For example, a druid who has never been outside a temperate forest could not become a polar bear.
The druid can freely designate the new form's minor physical qualities (such as fur, feather, or skin color and texture) within the normal ranges for an animal of that kind. The new form's significant physical qualities (such as height, weight, and gender) are also under her control but must fall within the norms for the animal's species. The druid is effectively disguised as an average member of the new form's species, gaining a +10 bonus on her Disguise checks as long as she maintains the form.
This change of form never disorients the druid. Upon changing to an animal form, she regains lost hit points as if she had rested for a day, though this healing does not restore temporary ability damage or provide any other benefits of resting for a day, and changing back does not heal her further. If slain, the druid reverts to her original form, though she remains dead.
When the change occurs, the druid's equipment, if any, melds into her new form and becomes nonfunctional. Material components and focuses melded in this way cannot be used to cast spells. When the druid reverts to her true form, any objects previously melded into the animal form reappear in the same locations they previously were and are once again functional. Any new items the druid wore in animal form (such as a saddle, rider, or halter) fall off and land at her feet; any that she carried in a body part common to both forms (mouth, hands, or the like) at the time of reversion are still held in the same way.
The druid acquires the physical and natural abilities of the creature whose form she has taken while retaining her own mind. Physical abilities include size as well as Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores. Natural abilities include armor, natural weapons (such as claws, bite, or gore), sensory abilities (such as low-light vision), and similar gross physical qualities (presence or absence of wings or gills, number of extremities, and so forth). Natural abilities also include mundane movement capabilities, such as walking, swimming, and flying with wings. The druid also gains all the racial bonuses and feats of the animal form selected. She does not gain any supernatural or spell-like abilities (such as breath weapons or gaze attacks) of her new form, but does gain all the form's extraordinary abilities. All these alterations last until the wild shape ends.
The druid's new scores and faculties are average ones for the species into which she has transformed. She cannot, for example, turn herself into a wolf with a Strength of 20. Likewise, she cannot change into a bigger or more powerful version of a creature (or a smaller or weaker version).
The druid retains her own Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores, level and classes, hit points (despite any change in her Constitution score), alignment, base attack bonus, and base save bonuses. (New Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores may affect final attack and save bonuses.) The druid also retains her own type (for example, humanoid), extraordinary abilities, and spell-like abilities, but not her supernatural abilities. She loses her ability to speak while in animal form because she is limited to the sounds that a normal, untrained animal can make. (The normal sound a wild parrot makes is a squawk, so changing to this form does not permit speech.)
Though the druid retains any spells she previously carried, her new form may not permit her to use them. Unless the chosen form is one with prehensile hands (such as a monkey or an ape) or some other manipulative appendage, the druid may not be able to manipulate material components and focuses for spells -- even if those are not melded into her new form. Likewise, her lack of a humanlike voice means she cannot cast spells with verbal components or activate command word items. In the same manner, the lack of appropriate appendages may prevent her from using manufactured weapons and magic items. If the usability of a particular spell or item is in doubt, the DM makes the decision.
The druid can use this ability more times per day at 6th, 7th, 10th, 14th, and 18th level, as noted on Table 3-8 in the Player's Handbook. In addition, she gains the ability to take the shape of a Large animal at 8th level, a Tiny animal at 11th level, and a Huge animal at 15th level. At 12th level and beyond, she can take the form of a dire animal.
At 16th level, the druid may use wild shape to change into a Small, Medium-size, or Large elemental (air, earth, fire, or water) once per day. She gains all the elemental's special attacks and special qualities when she does so, regardless of ability type (that is, she gains the supernatural and spell-like abilities of the elemental as well as extraordinary ones). She also gains the elemental's feats and racial skill bonuses for as long as she maintains the wild shape while retaining her own creature type (humanoid in most cases). At 18th level, she can assume elemental form three times per day.
Choosing a Wild Shape
Beginning at 5th level, the druid gains the ability to use wild shape. During her career, a variety of choices present themselves as she masters larger and smaller forms, and eventually she can assume the form of a dire animal or an elemental. The array of options can be downright bewildering.
The primary consideration in selecting an animal form is what you want it for. Here are some factors a druid should consider when approaching this decision.
Detecting: Because the druid can use the extraordinary abilities of the form chosen, she can gain blindsight as a dire bat or a porpoise. Most animals have low-light vision, and a few (such as the snake and the owl) also have racial Spot or Listen bonuses.
Escaping: One of the best ways to escape a troubling situation through wild shape is to take to wing as a hawk or an eagle. The fly speeds of those creatures are 80 and 60 feet respectively, and that's usually fast enough to escape from an advancing army or a land-bound monster. The owl, despite its popularity, doesn't fly especially fast (only 40 feet). In a dungeon, or against some airborne foes, the cheetah or horse may be a more appropriate choice. A light horse has a respectable land speed of 60 feet; the cheetah moves only 50 feet normally but can also travel 500 feet in a sprint (see the cheetah entry in the Monster Manual). Escape doesn't always require fast movement, though -- a high-level druid can use wild shape to take the form of a Tiny animal and use the Hide skill to avoid enemies.
Fighting: Wild shape can make the druid a formidable opponent. Until 8th level, when she can use wild shape to become a Large animal, her best choices are the wolverine, black bear, or leopard, with three attacks each. Of these, the black bear offers the highest Strength score and the leopard the highest AC. The wolverine's rage ability grants it the same Strength bonus as the black bear, plus a few additional hit points. The form of a constrictor snake might also prove very useful, especially against enemy spellcasters.
For an 8th-level druid, the polar bear reigns supreme with its Strength score of 27. The heavy horse is weaker in combat but a lot less conspicuous, if that's a concern. The only other options worth considering are the big cats -- lions and tigers -- whose pounce and rake abilities are a fair trade for the polar bear's higher strength. The tiger is uniformly tougher than the lion, but both can hold their own in combat. Finally, reach provides a significant advantage in a fight, and the druid can gain that in the form of a Large viper.
At 12th level, the druid can use wild shape to become a dire animal. As a dire bear with a Strength of 31, she can do 30 or more points of damage in a single round. The dire lion is her second-best choice.
When the druid reaches 15th level, the dire tiger becomes available, but the dire bear may still be a better decision. The dire tiger's Huge size makes it easier to hit than the dire bear, and the addition of pounce and rake attacks may not entirely compensate for that disadvantage.
At 16th level, the druid gains a significant new option -- elemental form. This allows the druid access to all the special abilities of the chosen elemental, including whirlwind, drench, vortex, push, and burn. Because of its high Strength score, the earth elemental is probably the best choice, though the water elemental has a better AC. If AC is not a factor, however, the dire bear is still a better fighter than any elemental simply because of its higher strength.
Impressing Foes: Bears, lions, and elementals impress the local populace and frighten even veteran mercenaries. A DM may allow a +2 circumstance bonus on Intimidate checks for a druid using an impressive form.
Impressing Other Animals: The druid usually relies on her Animal Empathy skill to calm hostile or hungry animals and reassure them that violence is not necessary. The druid who takes the time to use wild shape to assume the target animal's form often has an easier time in this negotiation, even though she doesn't gain the ability to speak with the creature directly. To represent this advantage, the DM may allow the druid a +4 circumstance bonus on Animal Empathy checks made against an animal whose form she has assumed.
Scouting: Avian forms are good for scouting, but don't overlook subterfuge as an option. An old story tells of a druid who learned all her enemies' plans when she assumed the form of a heavy horse and served a day as the steed for the commander of the evil army. Most people pay little attention to horses, livestock, or passing frogs, and the druid can profit from that.
Training Animals: The training process becomes much easier if the druid can simply assume the animal's form and demonstrate the behavior or action she wants. The DM may allow the druid a +4 circumstance bonus on her Handle Animal checks when she uses wild shape in this fashion.
Traveling: Because of their good fly speeds, birds are the obvious choices for travel. Should travel by ocean, sea, or river be an option, the dire shark moves at an impressive speed (90 feet) that even the eagle cannot match. At 15th level and higher, the druid should seriously consider the form of an air elemental for travel because of its incredible fly speed (100 feet).