So… druids. I’ve talked about them before, and something about that has stuck with me ever since. More specifically, it’s about the Circle of the Land.
This time, though, I have a solution.
Join me as we once again delve the deep forests…
Wild Shaping the Class
Basically, one of the biggest conclusions of my previous article about the druid was that the Circle of the Land sucks. I went into it thinking Land had gotten a raw deal because of how ridiculously cool the Circle of the Moon is.
I came out thinking man does Circle of the Land get a break. People aren’t too hard on it, they’re too soft! It’s not good – it’s straight up dull, to be honest, and basically a handicap for any character that takes it.
But why though?
In the discussion on r/DnDHomebrew, I had an interesting conversation with /u/thedavidadams who brought up what I thought was an excellent point – namely the utility of the Wild Shape feature.
Circle of the Moon sort of assumes Wild Shape as a combat feature. It’s used for turning into a giant freakin’ bear, and then smacking the hell out of people. Sure, you can use it for utility too… if you need to fly, you could choose a giant eagle instead of the bear. Or a shark, if you need to swim.
But when you think of it, Wild Shape has a lot of different uses. As /u/thedavidadams put it – “the sight of certain animals wandering through town is going to be quite unremarkable.” And that’s just scouting, you could also use Wild Shape to become a horse to carry a wounded companion, or impersonate the pet of an evil noble. The possibilities are near endless, like with any shapeshifting ability.
To sum up my thoughts – the reason Circle of the Land is so lackluster is that it doesn’t do anything to describe how Wild Shape, one of the most important features of the class, can be used outside of combat. Because if all you think Wild Shape is good for is combat, of course taking anything besides Circle of the Moon will feel like a handicap.
Because it totally, 100% is.
Utilizing the Entire Toolbox
One thing Circle of the Moon does so right is it really allows you to do something with every part of the druid class. Here’s a subclass that assumes you’ll spend most of your play-time in beast form, unable to cast spells, and yet still includes something for you to do with all those spell slots. You can heal yourself, and thus extend your usefulness in your beast form.
Circle of the Land, meanwhile, doesn’t say a word about Wild Shape. It just sort of assumes you’ll find a use for it, which you totally can if you think creatively. But even still, the subclass just doesn’t engage with one of your two primary class features – at least Moon druids are likely to have used at least one spell slot by the end of the day, a Land druid could easily make full, brilliant use of all of their subclass features and not use a single use of Wild Shape.
So what we need is for Circle of the Land to speak up about Wild Shape.
Here’s where my solution comes in. Enter the Circle of the Forest* druid.
*Homebrewery link here.
As a small aside, another thing I felt was underwhelming about the Circle of the Land was how divorced it was from the, well, land. You could be a druid of the grasslands, mountains, coastlines, or even desert and you still get a feature that primarily serves to let you move through the thick underbrush of the forest.
Kinda disappointing, right? So I decided to split them.
In any case, let’s look at this shall we?
The Circle of the Forest is intended to be the “classic druid” in much the same way as the Thief rogue or Oath of Devotion paladin are the “classics” of their classes. This druid is meant to be similar in feeling to characters such as Allanon (from the Shannara series), or even Gandalf to a certain extent.
Druids are mysterious protectors of nature, and frequently show skill in appearing in places they aren’t expected, or knowing of things they couldn’t have seen. In D&D, these druids are also some of the most spell-heavy ones.
So, to reflect that, we have the two 2nd level features of the Circle of the Forest:
Natural Regeneration. Over a short rest, you can regain expended spell slots with a combined level equal to half your druid level.
What says “master of spells” better than just straight up getting more spells? Circle of the Land druids and wizards are the only two who get this sort of feature, so I feel it fits. Plus, this (plus an expanded spell list) is a great way to add power to the subclass.
Underbrush Stalker. While in Wild Shape form, you gain a bonus to Stealth, Perception, and Investigation checks equal to half your Wisdom modifier. You can also cast message while in beast form.
And here’s where we get to the solution to the Wild Shape issue. Getting to cast more spells is the power feature of this level, since it allows you to spend more of your combat time using magic. This, meanwhile, throws in Wild Shape to the mix. It encourages you to use Wild Shape for scouting and stealth, both things that are out-of-combat but useful as hell.
Ultimately, I don’t think we can just give tips on how to use Wild Shape. While useful, it leaves that druid weaker than the comparable Moon druid. After all, it effectively means that you don’t have a subclass at all – when it comes to Wild Shape, at least.
So hopefully the Circle of the Forest subclass can help with that. I’ve got more – Circles of the Shore, Marshlands, Depths, Glaciers, etc. They’ll be coming out over time, but probably not back-to-back. This isn’t the Lawful Good Druid, after all.
(And in 2e, it couldn’t have been because druids were restricted to neutral alignments.)
Oh, and stay tuned – the next one will focus on my second solution to the Wild Shape issue – Wild Meld. Sometimes, half measures aren’t so bad!