I have tended to hate most druid concepts and yet have a Druid in my game.
The truth is, most of my problem with Druids came out of a narrow slice of players that favored them in previous editions. First, they were players that picked it for optimization purposes (and I tend to dislike optimization as a principle around which ones makes a character), freedom from behavioral obligation (which I’m sympathetic to only to a point, playing a character that is purely unpredictable and, thus, runs the high potential of being merely morally arbitrary is frustrating to me), and as an end run around some very “human” story and drama (given that they could acknowledge never having to care about much of anything happening). Those that weren’t doing THAT wanted to be Captain Planet. Hate druids. Always have.
So, naturally, in my current game a player I trust who is open to letting me edit the world around his PC frequently, wanted to play one and I agreed–because it’s a new addition and I might as well try and make it work.
So, here are what druids in my games are like–the party have met 3 and has one in it.
1. Druids are created
In my game, being a druid means something catastrophic had to happen to you. You were something before (background) and then the whole world spoke through you and changed you. I want people to imagine maybe Jack Hawksmoor from “THe Authority” where he’s abducted in instants all throughout his childhood in harrowing, dangerous, brutal ways and slowly turned into the protector of cities (which are living things, we just don’t know it). Or consider Neo in the Matrix (just the first one), he didn’t ask for it and goes through hellacious trials and is simply charged with BEING the one. The world (destiny) needed someone for a purpose, this is why Druids exist.
The Druid in my game was a soldier. A scout. Drinking with his mates, spending long times out in the mud planning the way for the Army to come through in weeks time. Boring. He often carried a book and a flask and just spent long stretches in the wet and cold and dry and green, and pretty much thought he’d do that job and earn his coin until he was old and retired. But, the world needed someone–called out–and touched him. And he was lost in the wilderness for a long, long, LONG time as the world cut him off from not just civilization and people, but eventually cut him off from any hope of ever returning (think a slow form of psychological torture and isolation). Eventually, after near starvation and hallucination and struggling to survive and fighting things off and eventually communing and being changed, he was given visions of his role in preventing the end of the world. A loose name. A place. A rough (very rough) time when it will happen. The world needed one more cog in the great machine of self-preservation. That is his role.
One doesn’t study to become a druid, that makes it seem like its a choice and something picked up or laid down, in my game you are (willfully or not) conscripted into service of the needs of the ever-turning world and universe. This is the first step, for me, in make them–as a class–feel different from the rest.
My recommendation: spend real-time building the story of their creation or rebirth as a Druid with them. The soldier that’s lost in the wilderness after a campaign; the criminal on his way to a penal colony but ends up shipwrecked in a Castaway scene for years; the acolyte that starts reading, hidden in every book he finds, messages secretly placed there over the eons by others… all for him, telling him why he was born.
2. Druids have purpose
A Druid is called up and created for a specific task or goal and the world takes absolutely no concern for it after or beyond that. The task or goal must be larger than the scope of a mortal or material or temporal concern. In many ways, the Druid is like an antibody for the organism that is the world, except that there are only a handful at a time in existence and they must pursue the right high priorities.
So, does a Druid hate the undead? Yes. But a Druid that spends its time smiting zombies in a graveyard is focusing on the symptoms and not the cause. It would be perfectly acceptable to not bother with the trivial undead in pursuit of killing the bastard demi-god of the God of the Dead that will come into being in the months ahead. They care about the big fish. They can take out the small ones, but Druids aren’t created to waste their time or effort or lives on busting up the small evils.
In my game, as an example, our Druid was “created” to stop the end of the world–I wrote down how it would end and why on a piece of paper, sealed it in an envelope, and have it on my book shelf. He knows it will happen, the world does not lie. He is alive to stop it. He knows it involved going to the far West, seeing a nobleman there and finding the information that will start his own efforts to stopping it. The journey there required a party to travel with, he was level 8 or so by the time he got there. He learned his big clue and is off on a whole closing adventure with the party to the far East. Learning bits and bits along the way. Why doesn’t he stop to destroy towns or save trees? He’s got a bigger role to play and not enough time to waste on those small “goods”.
My recommendation is to give a broad purpose to your Druid player. Something sufficiently metaphorical or vague or so large as to require a lot of effort and levels. Killing a god. Stopping a cataclysm. Committing genocide on a particular sort of monstrosity or aberration. But, big can also be indirect… kill a king and all his progeny in some foreign land. Kill some random peasant somewhere. Bring a plague to a whole continent. Big.
3. Druids can come from any strata of society
I think it’s far too easy and weak to make them all “Radagast” types. Like Druids are only hippies or shamans or whatnot. I think one should force a real dichotomy where possible. Druids can be urban. Absolutely. And even Urbane, as it goes. No different that someone pressed into service for the KGB to infiltrate America to steal specific secrets can, at heart, truly be a capitalist and not-particularly sympathetic to the Soviet cause except in “ends” even if they don’t like “the means” or culture driving it.
In my game (the refrain is tiresome, I know, but I just want to give a real example), our Druid ex-soldier (who truly drank the Druidic Kool-aid) managed to find this noble… this guy who is supposed to be the key to him stopping something terrible. And its a rich noble, maybe 16 years old, a fop and a fool. That classic impetuous and frivolous lout type. The party spent an hour (out of game) talking to this NPC trying to figure out HOW he knows anything (he doesn’t) while lounging in his private study. They see druidic symbols in the art and paintings and furniture all over the room–cleverly hidden. They press him, but he doesn’t even “get” that that’s a symbol.
It took a few long hours (in-game time) and getting the NPC drunk to realize he knew nothing about anything. Some rich dolt. But, they found out he only recently became a Count… his father having died six months before. The Druid figures to use the runes and symbol as a ritual and just read them out and do his weird stuff to it… and the foppish young count clutches his midsection and in a grueling, horrific scene, he gives birth through his abdomen (Alien style) to a tall, balding man of stern visage (covered in viscera) wearing blood-soaked linen shirt and plain pants. His own father. Who was Count here, but was a Druid. He became one after the world spoke to him following the death of his wife (in childbirth). He was to stay here, research some dark thing (plot), and wait for a man to come one day on a quest to tell him what he needed to know (our Druid). He grew old, feared he wouldn’t live long enough to deliver his message, and used his own son in a brutal ritual to outlive his own death. He was Noble, and still is (now).
My recommendation is to force Druids to consider that they don’t have to and aren’t expected to simply live in the woods. They are expected to live as they must, or be what they must, or change to fit the need. Introduce them to Druids that buck stereotypes, while preserving the deeper meaning.
4. Druids are nothing remotely like bound by normal behavior
In our above example, from my game, my NPC druid was the first “real druid” our Druid met. And it changed his views on what he was and what might be needed of him. In parting, for his gratitude, he asked the NPC Druid noble guy what he wanted for his help–of course, the NPC Druid said that he needed nothing, it was… well, just what was required. But, for use of his manor and some material support, he did need something for a different “purpose” he now had. He needed a live, living, human baby barely a day old. No questions. And my Druid player, starting to understand the scope of his world, agreed quietly, away from the party. Maybe the guy wants it to raise as his own son, maybe he wants it to buy another rebirth… or worse. No questions asked. That’s the place a druid must live.
What is needed is needed. This prevents them from being the wacky or random figures so often have frustrated me–from a story standpoint–in the past with others. Our Druids are not random. Not uncaring. They simply do what must be done. It’s about saving the forest, not a tree. About saving a world, not a people. About baiting the trap to end the life of a god, not fighting its lowly followers. About changing destiny itself. Or solving it. Whatever it takes. It’s a hard job. A severe life. One that should and must give them nightmares and make them question themselves.
Druids in my games, then, may have not the least interested in "protecting nature". Their cosmic task may be the building of a dam or the destroying of one or the murder of a king or raising a family so their granddaughter grows up to one day kill someone in a distant land. Whatever it is they're meant to do is part of such a large grand scheme or plan to save the world or protect it that it's incomprehensible to others.
My recommendation is to open up lots of opportunities and solid ones for the Druid to be the one in the party that has to make the tough choices. Inspiration granting can help do this. When the Druid chooses the party over the party member (for what’s good and needed at a given time)… inspiration. When they divine with nature about a course of action, unambiguously put them in hard moral choice situations with a clear preference for the harder choice and give them inspiration for doing it. I think the world is incapable of understanding the small concerns of normal moral need or expectation. In a brutal way (controversially, as an example), upon being confronted with a poisoning or a sting that is necrotizing someone’s hand in the party that cannot be removed or seems to not be fixable… the Druid should be the first one to reach for an axe and not ask permission to stop the infection by chopping it off. There’s time for chance solutions later, some things are more important NOW.
I do like to play a more "traditional" druid myself, and certainly didn't pick the class because of it's optimization potential. But I must say that your take on the class is a unique one, very unconventional and I imagine it can be quite fun.
I checked out a few bits of the homebrewed material you link to in your signature, it's high quality stuff! I personaly LOVE the Ash of Yesterday and Tomorrow and will ask my DM if het lets me adopt it.
I'm trying a different approach for my druid. Early campaign is easy, but I'm having trouble figuring out how I'm going to be of help later.
This is different for everybody, but I've found that thinking ahead for your character can kind of be a detriment to their initial creation. You start thinking about how they can be helpful in the future, but you don't really know what the future holds for them. I find it's kind of easier to let the adventure dictate how your character develops. What if a few dice rolls in a conversation dictate your farmer becomes convinced that his abilities are magic? He'd be more willing to use some of the 'exotic' druid spells because he knows he has that innate power.
To use my druid as an example, I've been waffling over which Circle to take when she hits level 2, but I think it'd be more fun to let her experiences in the campaign dictate that, like a fateful encounter with beasts of the forest leading her to want to improve her Beast Shape abilities and go Circle of the Moon, or learning of a potential danger to her homeland that would cause her to go Circle of the Land to gain spells that would help her protect it.
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"You can either dwell on the shit, or you can just leave it behind in peoples' beds and keep going." - Scanlan Shorthalt
I have played a wicker man type Druid; always looking to spill blood upon the holly so the sun with rise in the morning. It was fun because he wasn't blood thirsty or anti-social, just a bit barbaric in his religious views. It's the way the Druid was presented in the original Grewhawk supplement.
That's awesome! I have played previous edition Druids, in fact is was the first class I ever played in D&D. Our run a Curse of Strahd will be my first 5e Druid and I feel like our ideas are a little similar!
He is also going to be a mute dwarf and use the Mold Earth cantrip to write in the dirt or use pictographs. I am so stoked to play him.
The druid I'm playing is a outlander guide that helps people travel the world, but after years of drinking and such , he's more of a grumpy old drunk that looks for the next drink and protects the wilds with a drunken rage. He's also a 3 ft tall lizard folk newt with a wood golem...so shenanigans happen. (he was 1 ft originally)
I play my druid as a guy who was distracted by a dryad babe and he lived in the dryad grove for an unnaturally long time and as such a dryad and he grew to love each other and conceived a baby. However some unknown blight killed the dryad's heart tree so my character's wife chose to become the new heart tree, from her boughs sprouted a single acorn and when its listened to he can hear her words and hear his unborn son's faint heartbeat. This prompted my druid to leave the grove to seek a way to bring her back or to join her.
As someone who has enjoyed the Druid class for the last couple of editions, and Druids in RPGs in general, I think your take on Druids is exceptional! Personally, I've been having difficulty with the roleplay of my current Druid, and have been seeking some sort of direction so I can actually get into the character. In this 5e campaign, I chose the Hermit background, which says that characters leave their hermitage because of some "unique and powerful discovery." To say your take on Druids fits this perfectly is an understatement. I'm going to talk to my DM about implementing something like this so I can feel like I'm playing a character and not just a utility spell caster. So thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this with us!
I like to think of my current druid as a Priest of Rathman - Diablo's Necromancer class.
Unlike most of the necromancers in fantasy worlds, the Priests of Rathma are all about balance. They know that war between Angels and Demons is eternal, and only by preserving the balance between those forces and keeping the struggle (and the influence it exerts) away from their Sanctuary (their world), one can hope to make a better world. And much like those priests, the druids too use the things that they are sworn to protect as tools or weapons for this greater good.
I like to think of my druid as an agent that is sworn to keep balance between elements - and by elements I mean all the energy keeps the universe together, life and death included. Much like Flannel said, if it is a newborn life the price to pay for keeping an Fire Deity from turning a continent into brimstone, it is unfortunate but is his duty - gain and loss are two sides of the same coin.
I like the OP's take, but it seems too similar to an Oracle flavor for my taste. Too much focus on destiny.
I see druids as avatars of nature and above concepts of morality. The Moon Druid I played was an embodiment of the savagery of the animal kingdom. To the point that he would eat slain enemies, usually while wild shaped as a Giant Snake or Dire Wolf. Land Druids should embody some aspect of their chosen land. Some examples with land-characters: Underdark-Gollum (opportunist, amoral), Grassland-Raffiki (caretaker, advisor), Coast-Ursula (fickle, chaotic, vengeful)
Regarding the "balance" concept, I don't like removing player agency (which happens too often as DMs impose artificial black & white decisions). The Druid has their own persona and choices, but as an avatar, their actions subconsciously work to preserve the balance as they understand it. This is where the player and DM have to collaborate on alowing the Druid to operate ina gray area, without fake choices. It could be the balance of power in the slums of a major city, balance of development and nature in a frontier town, or even the balance within an ecosystem for remote regions.
I really liked your take on the druid! That's a lot like the way I am playing my druid in my new campaign. Nice to see that someone else that hates the normal Captain Planet druids trying to make the druid fun to role play.
My druid was abducted into the Feywild as a child and spent years barely surviving by his wit and cunning. Eventually natural law catches up with him and as he is dying in the mouth of a beast a mysterious figure appears and saves him, training him as a druid and sending him back to the Material Plane with a task to stop the evils that are arising there. Same as yours, he only has a vague idea of what needs doing on the Material Plane and has spent so much of his life in the Feywild that he views it as home now. So he is fighting to obey his savior's wishes as well as earn a place as her steward in the Feywild again once his task is done.
Love the idea of a druid with a mission! Thanks for sharing yours.
I like the OP's take, but it seems too similar to an Oracle flavor for my taste. Too much focus on destiny.
I agree with this. The problem with "A Druid is called up and created for a specific task or goal and the world takes absolutely no concern for it after or beyond that" is that that describes a cleric.
Healers and Warriors
Divine magic, as the name suggests, is the power of the gods, flowing from them into the world. Clerics are conduits for that power, manifesting it as miraculous effects. The gods don’t grant this power to everyone who seeks it, but only to those chosen to fulfill a high calling.
When a cleric takes up an adventuring life, it is usually because his or her god demands it. Pursuing the goals of the gods often involves braving dangers beyond the walls of civilization, smiting evil or seeking holy relics in ancient tombs. Many clerics are also expected to protect their deities’ worshipers, which can mean fighting rampaging orcs, negotiating peace between warring nations, or sealing a portal that would allow a demon prince to enter the world.
I don't want to tell anyone that the concept for their world is wrong, but if that's how druids work, what distinguishes them from Nature clerics? (Note that the DMG acknowledges the possibility that clerics in your world don't serve a deity but some other divine force.)
There's a different reason why druids would be naturally rare; it's hard, thankless work, and the world is huge.
Preserve the Balance
For druids, nature exists in a precarious balance. The four elements that make up a world—air, earth, fire, and water—must remain in equilibrium. If one element were to gain power over the others, the world could be destroyed, drawn into one of the elemental planes and broken apart into its component elements. Thus, druids oppose cults of Elemental Evil and others who promote one element to the exclusion of others.
Druids are also concerned with the delicate ecological balance that sustains plant and animal life, and the need for civilized folk to live in harmony with nature, not in opposition to it. Druids accept that which is cruel in nature, and they hate that which is unnatural, including aberrations (such as beholders and mind flayers) and undead (such as zombies and vampires). Druids sometimes lead raids against such creatures, especially when the monsters encroach on the druids’ territory.
Druids are often found guarding sacred sites or watching over regions of unspoiled nature. But when a significant danger arises, threatening nature’s balance or the lands they protect, druids take on a more active role in combating the threat, as adventurers.
Clerics do what their deity asks them; Paladins uphold good and wage war against evil; Rangers guard the outskirts of civilization. But druids protect the Material Plane. They keep the four elements in harmony, the ecosystem in balance, and make sure mankind and nature don't destroy each other. Nobody asks them to, and nobody notices either because they mostly work outside of civilization. That requires extreme devotion and selflessness. That's also why the Player's Handbook describes them as Neutral.
Neutral (N) is the alignment of those who prefer to steer clear of moral questions and don’t take sides, doing what seems best at the time. Lizardfolk, most druids, and many humans are neutral.
Druids have other things to worry about besides helping or hurting people, they're not bound to laws or traditions but don't have the freedom to do whatever they want either.
A druid is kind of like The Avatar, except it's not forced on them and they don't get any special treatment from anyone.
I made a dragonborn druid who was orphaned and raised by a human druid. He is a Ravenite variant dragon born from the Tal Dorie campaign setting guide. They are viewed by their taled cousins as weak and were enslaved as a race for quite sometime. My DM is abroad right now and we're starting in a month or so. I was wondering if you could give me advice on what his mission should be. As he was abandoned by his tribe, his first goal is to seek them out after his mentor passes away. But beyond that I can't think of a druidic destiny. He is the more brutal of the group from what I've seen of my fellow player's characters. Any advice on where to go with him would be much appreciated.