Introduction – I am in no way qualified to write a guide on the Circle of Spores Druid except that I have played it. This document is instead intended to capture my thoughts on the circle and share my experience. I am NOT a min/max player nor do I care about optimization. I am assuming you have already chosen to play the Circle of Spores Druid and you are not interested in how it performs relative to another circle or class.
I will be operating on the RGBP system.
RED – I find this option to be of little use or otherwise uncompelling.
GREEN – I find this option moderately useful or somewhat situational.
BLUE – This option is of high utility and makes for a better playing experience.
PURPLE – This option was pivotal to the way I played and highly recommended.
Hit Points: Druids get a d8, which is good for a caster, but only decent when you spend as much time up front as I did with the Circle of Spores.
Saving Throws: Intelligence and Wisdom. Wisdom is obviously necessary. Intelligence is okay. If you’re in a party with smart characters like wizards, you likely won’t use this much for utility and if you don’t fight enemies that require Intelligence saves, you won’t get much mileage out of it.
Proficiencies: As a Spores druid, you will be more focused on fighting with weapons, shields, and armor than other shapeshifters. Medium armor is good if you intend to pursue the Medium Armor Master feat later and you have a 16+ Dexterity. Choosing your weapon will depend upon whether or not you want to fight with a shield for the AC boost or without for the ability to cast prior to possibly taking the War Caster feat. I chose to play using a Quarterstaff, with heavy reliance upon the Shillelagh spell for face to face confrontations. Spellcasting will still be your bread and butter, but you will be able to mix it up with some melee when the time is right. You probably won’t want to be a tank like a shapeshifter, but your temporary HP and poison melee attack abilities are wasted if you stay in the back. If you use a quarterstaff like I did, you can cast when needed, then draw your shield and move into melee when appropriate. You will have to use wise battlefield tactics with this build. I think Spores druids make more use of the options here than other circles.
Druidic: This is a purely situational ability. Even at a heavy RP table, you will need a DM who actively works to include this for it to matter. If you are in a campaign with a druid focus, this may be useful. Otherwise, I never saw it come into play.
Spellcasting: Druids are beloved for their utility. You can blast, you can heal, you can control. You are an absolute force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. Off the battlefield, you have tremendous utility whether your party is trying to recover from a hard fight or travel great distances.
Wild Shape: The value of wild shape varies based upon the circle you choose. As a Circle of Spores Druid, you utilize your wild shapes in multiple ways, which is very powerful. You can use it to deal additional melee damage while granting yourself temporary HP, you can still shapeshift for utility purposes, or you can eventually channel it into a ranged AoE attack. You will be constantly starved for wild shapes until level 20, so make them count!
Timeless Body: My Druid was a Drow, but any Elf will essentially greatly extend their lifespan with this feature. Unfortunately, most of us rarely encounter games that go beyond level 18 and certainly not games that span hundreds of years. I suppose, if you finish a campaign and start a new one hundreds of years later, you might potentially see your Druid as an NPC.
Beast Spells: This is a fantastic ability for high level druids of other circles. For Spores, it’s only okay. You won’t spend many of your wild shapes turning into animals. The good news is, your use of wild shapes will not prevent you from casting like they do many other druids, so you don’t need a feature to offset that drawback.
Archdruid: This is a fantastic ability, especially for a Circle of Spores Druid who has limited time on their wild shape ability. However, you will also be level 20 and the vast majority of us either don’t make it that far or don’t play for long after we do. If you are fully intending to play a level 20 campaign, this feature is BLUE and will make you a significant threat to your foes.
Blindness/Deafness: This is a very good utility spell. While somewhat situational and relying upon the dreaded Constitution save, it can be a death sentence for enemy casters.
Gentle Repose: This spell is entirely forgettable and highly situational.
Animate Dead: The use of this spell will depend upon your DM. Some can be annoyed by minion factories, but if they are okay with it and don’t RP it as something evil then you can get substantial utility out of it, especially when combined with your ability to raise fungal zombies. You may not summon animals the way other circles can, but your class spells and skills combined with Timeless Body are edging you closer to being some kind of nature lich.
Gaseous Form: This is a useful spell for scouting or hiding, but is highly situational. I don’t find the 3<sup>rd</sup> level of Druid spells particularly compelling, so you may find use for this spell.
Blight: If you’re fighting plants, this is a great spell. Undead? Not so much. It’s guaranteed damage, but half against a Constitution save. In the end, it all comes out pretty average.
Confusion: Confusion isn’t good. I’ll go so far as to say it’s bad. A saving throw negates it, the effects are unpredictable, and even if a creature fails it’s saving throw there is a 20% chance it will act normally and get to make a new saving throw at the end of its turn. It also monopolizes your concentration. There is pretty much always a better spell to use.
Cloudkill: This spell isn’t normally available to Druids so it is a somewhat interesting option. It uses your concentration, deals frequently-resisted poison damage, and can be dispelled with a strong wind. I would call it situational at best.
Contagion: This spell exists almost purely for the use of Slimy Doom. Disadvantage on Constitution check is great, but a Constitution check is required to apply the disease. The enemy also gets three saves before the effect is permanent. Applied to a BBEG, this could be effective, but most creatures won’t last long enough for it to be permanent. Still, Slimy Doom can change an entire high level encounter, so it’s often worth the chance. Plus, you’ll be in touch range frequently enough that it won’t require a major strategy shift to attempt this spell.
Halo of Spores: The good news is that you can hit a creature within 10 feet of you with a small amount of necrotic damage. This only requires a reaction, so as a near front line character, you’re never stuck losing a reaction opportunity. The bad news is, should you take War Caster, you will likely only use this ability when you’re out of spells or a more powerful spell isn’t necessary. It’s also resisted entirely by a Constitution save, which is not a save you particularly want to target. To offset that, it’s necrotic damage, which is a fairly good type of damage in terms of resistances and immunities.
Symbiotic Entity: This ability is what either convinced you to take Circle of Spores or drove you away from it. The temporary HP offset the shapeshifting HP from other circles and you get to keep your AC which is typically better than the animals druids shapeshift into. The melee weapon poison damage doesn’t scale, but it does tie in very well with other subclass features. Using a shield + staff + shillelagh approach, you will be able to put down significant melee damage. It also boosts your first feature, Halo of Spores and is further boosted when you get your level 10 feature. You will find your economy of action significantly improved with these abilities. You can use standard, bonus, and reaction actions regularly, maximizing your function. Not only are these abilities somewhat powerful when combined, they make the Circle of Spores Druid feel very active and engaged, which is a lot of fun.
Fungal Infestation: I want to like this ability a lot more, but the fact is that it remains somewhat situational. You’re limited in scope as to what you can bring back to life, you’re very limited by range at 10 feet, and the zombie will only make a single melee attack and have a single HP. For a reaction, it’s not terrible by any means and could serve some utility in fending off an attacker that has to waste its action on such a pitiful creature. But you’re not going to kill anything significant with these zombies and they aren’t going to be plentiful enough in all likelihood to provide you with a meat wall. Still, it’s a very fun way to use a reaction that might otherwise just go to waste.
Spreading Spores: This ability on its own is unimpressive and hard to judge. The reason it’s a good ability is because it only uses a bonus action, meaning you won’t be starved for actions, and it plays well with Symbiotic Entity and Halo of Spores. While it looks like a lackluster ability on its own, you really feel like you’re snowballing into a more powerful character as a Circle of Spores Druid.
Fungal Body: Condition immunities are always good.
Wisdom – Your primary ability focus.
Constitution – It’s always good to have Constitution. As a class that does well in melee, this becomes even more important.
Dexterity – Your inability to wear heavy armor means you want a Dexterity bonus. If you’re going light armor or medium with Medium Armor Master, you ideally want at least 16.
Intelligence – Good for knowledge skills, but this won’t be your expertise. Good to defend against some attacks, but rarely. I wouldn’t say dump it, but it’s not a priority.
Charisma – Equivalent in importance with Strength. I put it above Strength purely because I played a Drow and my innate casting used Charisma as the casting stat.
Strength – You should be using Shillelagh EVERY time you get into melee. Do it so often your DM rolls their eyes at you. If you can’t cast that for some reason, shift into an animal. Otherwise, you have no business being that close.
I think you should choose your race based upon your roleplaying choices. I took a Drow, which is obviously not optimal. That having been said, any race with a boost to Wisdom is going to make a better pick for a Druid than a race that doesn’t get a Wisdom boost. Races with utility like flying are also good choices, but often banned by DMs. I have a soft spot for Dwarfs and Hill Dwarfs are a solid choice and fit into any campaign. Wood Elves synergize well with their racial ability and Wild Shape. Ghostwise Halflings are able to communicate in animal form, which isn’t vital, but is certainly compelling. Mirrodin Loxodon is also a solid choice if you want to look like an elephant man (I’m not an animal!) Firbolg is a strange race for most games I am used to, but they are both statistically and thematically a good choice for druid. Variant Human is the boring, but always safe choice.
Animal Handling: I have rarely played a game where this skill is important. As a druid, you have the ability to magically command animals, so even though this skill may appear thematically appealing, I have found it almost entirely useless.
Arcana: Arcana is a very important skill, but it is Intelligence-based. In all likelihood, you will have another party member more capable in this area.
Insight: I find this to be one of the most frequently used abilities in the game. A player can call for an Insight check any time they think an NPC is lying to them and may glean a lot of story from that check. You will already have the Wisdom to support this skill.
Medicine: Rarely have I found a need to make a medicine check. Perhaps to determine cause of death, but you could have someone cast Speak with Dead and get much more meaningful results.
Nature: It seems like a natural (pun intended) fit for a druid, but it is Intelligence-based which means your primary stats won’t help you with it. You might want to take it thematically, but be prepared for your party to mock the druid’s lack of understanding about the plants around them.
Perception: The MOST important skill in D&D. And you have high Wisdom. Pair this with something like the Observant feat and you will rarely be caught unaware or miss a detail.
Religion: A fairly important skill based upon your adventure, but not one of your strong suits. Most parties have a cleric and they should have this skill.
Survival: This is a somewhat situational ability that will mostly apply in the wilds of the world. As a druid, however, that is where you will want to be. If your adventure is a murder mystery in Waterdeep, it may not be an important skill. I’d take it anyways.
Any background that boosts the important skills above will be a good choice. However, I will not recommend specific backgrounds as I am a fan of creating my own background or choosing one for roleplaying purposes rather than maximizing skills.
Most feats aren’t going to suit you except in very specific situations, so I am not going to run through all the ones I never seriously considered. Instead, I’m going to highlight some that were intriguing to me. My ratings are relative to the choices I have listed, not to all feats.
Athlete: This is not a good feat for druids in general, but it can be more useful for Circle of Spores. You will be closer to the front line, so being more maneuverable in standard form will make you more combat viable. Boosting your Dexterity could be useful if you want to go Medium Armor Master, but only have 15 Dexterity. This is a HIGHLY situational choice.
Charger: If you are going for a highly melee build and you have, for some reason, high strength, then you could make an argument for this feat. Not a very good argument, but one nonetheless. Charging gets you into range and shoving could be paired with your ability to create dangerous terrain with spells like Spike Growth. I can’t justify a feat for this, but I wanted to at least mention it.
Defensive Duelist: You will probably have the 13 Dexterity required for this feat so that you can make the most out of light or medium armor. Your AC will not be ideal for being on the front line, so boosting it on top of the temporary HP your Symbiotic Entity offers could make you a real threat in combat. You are proficient with a finesse weapon, the scimitar, so this ability may be interesting to you. If your Dexterity is as high as your Wisdom, you can even ignore Shillelagh if you so choose. You’re starting to stray away from the core of the druid class at this point, but maybe you’re interested in multi-classing.
Dungeon Delver: You could become the party scout with your unique skillset. In that instance, this could be useful for you. It’s still highly situational.
Elemental Adept: Druids have a lot of elemental spells. Ignoring resistance in a highly resisted form like fire can be powerful.
Lucky: Lucky is kind of a broken feat. Of course it’s good. It’s good for everyone. It’s so good that most of my games have banned it. If your DM doesn’t and you are trying to get the most bang for your buck, this is going to be your first feat.
Mage Slayer: This is a highly situational feat that will rely upon you being, well, a mage slayer. If that is the role you want to take, it has some decent abilities. Casters will often have a way to escape you rather than take a hit from you, but at least you’re forcing them to use their actions to run away instead of attack your party.
Magic Initiate: This is not an ability worth mentioning for most druid circles. You simply don’t need more spells from classes with different spellcasting modifiers. Circle of Spores is a different story. You can make a lot of use out of Shield, Mage Armor, or Booming Blade as well as a couple others.
Medium Armor Master: I realize I have mentioned this situationally in a lot of previous text. It’s still not a strong feat, but if you gear your build toward it, you can get a little bit of a boost in close quarters. I still have a very hard time justifying an entire feat for a 1 AC boost and stealth help, but if you’re the scout it could be useful.
Mobile: You are going to be in melee combat and boosting your mobility is highly beneficial. This is good for most druids, but for you it is especially useful. You will be able to run circles around enemies in difficult terrain, making you exceptionally hard to deal with.
Observant: If you have an odd Wisdom score, this is a fantastic feat. It boosts your primary stat and gives a +5 bonus to passive perception, possibly the most important ability in the entire game of D&D, in my opinion. I personally managed to roll an 18 for stats and put that in Wisdom, but there is no reason not to use an ASI to go to 19 and take this feat later if you can boost an odd Constitution or Dexterity score to even with the ASI.
Polearm Master: For most druids, this isn’t a great feat. They will be fighting largely in Wild Shape when not casting. You are a different story. A quarterstaff is a great weapon for you. It works with Shillelagh, it is versatile and works with a shield, and you start proficient with it. Applying your subclass traits, this means you will apply even more of those damage bonuses. It does consume your bonus action, so you won’t be able to use it with Shillelagh in the first round, but you can also make a case for simply having Shillelagh up at all times when you’re expecting combat soon.
Resilient: A potential choice for boosting Constitution, but otherwise not super viable. I would rather have War Caster.
Ritual Caster: This could be interesting for stepping outside your class. A few spells come to mind, specifically Find Familiar. With a 1 hour casting time, adding 10 minutes will mean next to nothing. This is a somewhat situational choice, but has the potential to be extremely useful.
Sentinel: Two of the three abilities in this feat are good for you, especially if you take Polearm Master. The third ability is good, but will fight for your reaction. You will be able to hold off enemies trying to reach you or your tank or you can defend a caster from a flanking enemy. Very versatile.
Shield Master: Pointless for most druids, but you can make use out of this with a quarterstaff or club and shield. It’s not something I would prioritize, but you can use it if you are making a Dexterity druid.
Spell Sniper: This is an option, but not a good one. You might be tempted to play your druid as a blaster, but you will find too few spells that work with this feat in your repertoire.
Tough: This is a bad feat for Wild Shape druids, but could be useful to you. You will have a stack of temporary HP, so having a stack of standard HP behind that simply makes you more formidable. You’re leaning toward tanking if you’re taking this feat.
War Caster: If you’re going shield and quarterstaff + shillelagh, this feat dramatically increases your combat options. You will have a lot of concentration spells in play as well. The spell opportunity attack is situational, but potentially very powerful.
In all likelihood, you will be using a quarterstaff or club with a shield and casting Shillelagh. It’s such a standard druid thing to do that it almost doesn’t need mentioning. Most druids are going to be fighting in Wild Shape whenever they leave casting range. As a weapon-based druid, you’re a little different. A lot different. You will still likely want to stick with wooden weapons for Shillelagh, but you have the opportunity to branch out (ugh, more puns?) if you so choose.
Druids can notoriously only use natural armors. That limits you somewhat significantly.
Leather: A free starting option. It’s fine and will give you 16 AC with a shield if you have high Dexterity.
Hide: If your Dexterity isn’t great, you might benefit more from hide armor than leather.
Shield: Most druids fare better with a shield because they aren’t fighting with weapons. You’re a different story. You will have to manage your shield and quarterstaff or club in regards to spellcasting. War Caster is an easy choice to offset this problem.
Studded Leather Armor: There is still lingering debate about whether the studs are metal and druids can wear this, but I have never seen a DM refuse studded leather to a druid. If you have 16 Dexterity, this is a better option than hide without Medium Armor Master.
There are a lot of druid guides out there and spell rankings, so I’m not going to get into it. What I will say is that Shillelagh is the crux of this circle. You are not a Wild Shape fighter. You rely on your weapon. Shillelagh is more of a last resort for most druids who are out of spells and Wild Shapes, but find themselves in combat. For you, it is life. You may eventually reach a level where melee attacks, even with your circle features, are not a wise use of your actions. Until then, Shillelagh is a no-brainer. My recommendation for any druid is utility. You have many options for battlefield control such as wind spells that move enemies around and spells which create rough and hazardous terrain. Your ability to make the ground difficult for enemies, while pummeling them with your magical quarterstaff makes this subclass quite a lot of fun.
I find most druids to have only situational options for multi-classing, similar to a cleric. My ratings are relative to one another as I don’t think druids have a lot to gain from multi-classing over remaining within the druid class.
Barbarian: Jeremy Crawford has specifically said that Rage only counts with a Strength weapon when you actually use Strength. So Shillelagh and Rage don’t work together. The same applies for Reckless Attack. You can benefit from Unarmored Defense if you have high Constitution and Dexterity. There are some abilities later in the class that could benefit you, but not more than staying druid. While the Barbearian is so popular as to almost be a class of its own, it’s not a great option for Circle of Spores.
Cleric: Cleric is an extremely popular dip for almost any class. There is a lot to be had with even a small dip. I’m not going to discuss the viability of each domain, but the more martial domains are worth a look.
Monk: Monk is a very viable multi-class for Circle of Spores. You get the Unarmored Defense so popular with Barbarian, but you don’t have pointless rages to worry about. Monk martial features apply to the simple weapons you’re likely going to be using. You’re likely not going to be using Shillelagh in combination with Monk abilities, but they offer an interesting alternative. The classes will compete with one another, but that can mean more versatility.
Paladin: It is my analysis that a deep dip into Paladin could ultimately be very beneficial. However, it will seriously alter your playstyle. Two levels for Divine Smite and a Fighting Style would be my suggestion if you choose to go this route.
I wrote this document because I find these very helpful when mulling over a character. I am open to discussion about my comments, but they are entirely based on my opinion. I did not dive into complex mathematics in order to compare viability and I have no interest in doing so. I hope someone else finds some use in my comments and maybe this encourages someone to try this circle out. I found it to be a lot of fun and a worthwhile choice for some really fun roleplaying. I chose an exiled, and somewhat crazy, Drow to put through Curse of Strahd and I don't regret a second of it. Have fun!
I will point out that the new errata on Contagion makes it less powerful than your interpretation. You now melee spell attack a target to poison it until the disease takes hold or is shaken off. Only after the three failed saves does Slimy Doom (or one of the other diseases) come into effect.
Poison status effect is not all bad for the disadvantage that it imposes. That can be useful on it's own. Though Contagion is far more powerful if it takes affect. With a lot of strong nasty effects to cast on others.
I've always had a love/hate relationship with Contagion. On paper, it sounds great. In practice, few of my fights in 5e have lasted long enough for something like Contagion to even come into play. Theoretically, it could take 5 rounds before the condition is applied. I think I rank it a little higher because once a creature has more fails than saves, getting rid of Contagion before it manifests becomes a huge priority and may distract from other combat options. On a low CON BBEG like a caster, it could be worthwhile.