Druid 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Channeling Nature’s Might

Druid 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Channeling Nature’s Might

“This lake is dying,” the druid stated. He knelt in the mud at the lake’s edge with one outstretched hand in the murky water. His eyes were shut in gentle concentration, but a flicker of pain creased his brow as he spoke, momentarily betraying the potency of the poison within the corrupted water. “And its guardian will not answer my calls. I fear the worst.”

The fighter stood tall behind the druid, her hands on her armored hips. The party’s rogue and cleric were arrayed about her. An anxious grimace tugged at her lips. “The nymph won’t talk to you?”

“Then what was the damn point of wandering out into the boonies looking for a mud-eating druid?” the rogue groaned, wiping a grubby hand across his face. “He’s told us the lake’s dirty and that he can’t talk to the lake spirit. I could’ve done all that! The soggy sprite is probably just vacationing in the Feywild or somesuch.”

The druid stood, his right hand dripping with mud and his flower-braided beard drenched with lake water. He affixed the rogue with an icy stare and clenched his muddy fist. “Unlike some of us, I am willing to treat this crisis with the gravity it deserves. An absent lake spirit is no laughing matter. Do you see this?” He raised his mud-caked hand—the silt was a sickly gray.

“I see it, pops,” the rogue grinned. “It’s mud.”

“Wrong!” declared the druid. “No natural lake-grime would do this.” He let the ooze drip from his hand, revealing a crimson pattern of scars across his palm and fingers. The rogue gagged and averted his gaze.

“It burned you!” the cleric gasped. She stepped forward and instinctively grasped her holy symbol. She took the druid’s hand in hers—he winced, but nodded in consent—and channeled the healing light of Lathander into the raw wound.

“An acid burn,” the druid said with a scowl. “Caused by the spawn of Juiblex. This lake is plagued by an otherworldly disease, and I suspect the lake-nymph herself was the vector. I doubt there is anything left of her, save for the monster she has become.  

“You were wise to call me here, adventurers. We must be like the wildfire which purifies the woodland of death and disease. Nature will restore the Balance if we allow her the chance.”

The fighter looked out across the water and laughed bitterly. “I can’t fight a lake.”

A wry smile crossed the druid’s weathered face. “Nor do you need to. I shall draw forth this demon like poison from a wound.” He took his healed hand back from the cleric, and dipped his head to her in thanks. He turned once more to face the water, muttered a secret phrase, and raised both hands skyward, clenched into tight fists. The overcast clouds rippled and turned dark, like ink dropped into still water. A streak of blue flashed across the sky and a low rumble filled the air. Then, he spread both hands wide and bellowed a Druidic invocation.

Lightning roared from the storm clouds above and struck the water in the dead center of the lake. The scent of ozone filled the air. A moment passed. The fighter gripped the hilt of her blade, her breath caught in her throat. Then, before the party’s eyes, the water of the lake began to roil. Angry tendrils of gray ooze thrashed in the water, until a massive, formless creature of bubbling ichor emerged from the lake’s heart.

The fighter grinned. She drew her broadsword with a triumphant flourish and turned to look at her companions. “That’s what I’m talking about! Show that bastard no mercy!”

You are a druid. You are a protector of the wilderness, a keeper of the magical secrets of your creed, and a conjurer of nature’s allies. You may adventure with many non-druids these days, but you once received training from a druid circle, an order of like-minded defenders of the wilderness who trained you in the secret Druidic language, the art of Wild Shape, and in magic spells unknown to even the most devout clerics or studious wizards.

This guide will walk you through the decisions that you will face in your first five levels of playing a druid, and offer suggestions on how to make the best choices for the kind of druid you want to play. As a character, every druid has a different personality and sense of style. As a warrior, every druid has a different role they want to fill in combat, and different tactics while fighting. This guide will posit some good spells and traits to choose when building your druid, while also giving you the option to choose different options that better support your character concept instead.

Quick Build Expanded: Building Your Druid

This isn’t a character optimization guide, but the first step in playing your class effectively is building it effectively. The Quick Start guidelines in the Player’s Handbook are a good start, but don’t go far enough for most new players. Here’s an expanded Quick Start guide. This guide assumes you’re using the D&D Beyond Character Builder, which includes helper text for new players.

    • Under “Character Preferences,” turn off “Playtest Content” and “Show Unarmed Strike”
    • Choose your Race. While characters of any race can be a good druid, the most powerful druids tend to be from races that improve your Wisdom score. Wisdom is your most important ability score because it determines the power of your spells and your other druidic powers, and it also helps you make Wisdom (Survival) checks, a vital skill for anyone living at the edges of civilization.

Wood elves, humans, and half-elves are most typically found as druids, thanks in part to their innate +1 bonus to Wisdom. Wood elves (and the half-wood elves found in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide) also gain a host of racial traits that make them perfectly at home in the woodlands. Druids protect more than just tall, European-style forests, however. Human and hill dwarf druids are perfectly at home in scrubby taiga, arid deserts, and marshy highlands, tending to the balance of nature in these oft-ignored biomes.

  • Choose druid as your class (obviously).
  • Choose skills that fit the character you want to play. Most druids should be proficient in the Survival skill, because it’s useful for anyone living apart from civilization.
  • Consider what role you want to fill in the party. Let’s take a closer look at this.

What Kind of Druid Are You?

Thanks to their wide variety of spells and shapeshifting abilities, druids have a wide range of roles they can fill in combat. This guide will focus on the three main roles of Offense, Defense, and Support. While druids can be very durable, they lack the ally-protection abilities necessary to being a successful Tank.

Consider what role you want to fill in your adventuring party. An Offense druid uses spells to annihilate their enemies directly, while using Wild Shape to flee from enemies or find an advantageous position. Defense druids rely on the immense defensive power of Combat Wild Shape survive damage that would slay other characters three times over. Support druids use their magic and class features to soothe their allies’ wounds and bolster their power.

Until you choose your Druid Circle (hereafter referred to as your subclass) at 2nd level, your playstyle will be very similar no matter what role you want to fill in your party, since you only have a very small selection of spells available to choose from. You can use this “undeclared” time at 1st level to get a feeling for your party’s composition and discover what your fellow players want to do with their characters.

(Note that I’m using Offense, Tank, and Support as shorthand. The D&D rulebooks never refer to characters using these terms, but they’re an easy way to discuss the different roles characters serve in the party.)

Offense

Druids who join the Circle of the Land at 2nd level gain continuous access to powerful spells, including some not on the typical druid list. These druids draw their power from a specific biome; druids bound to the Desert, Forest, and Mountain lean heavily into pure offense, while druids of the Arctic, Coast, and Swamp gain some additional defensive power, and druids of the Grassland and Underdark gain power that makes them better at moving stealthily.

Defense

Druids that study within the Circle of the Moon gain access to powerful new forms to use with their Wild Shape feature, like powerful bears and jungle cats, and even into elementals at later levels! Since you assume all of the statistics of a creature you transform into, you can gain massive amounts of hit points through Wild Shape, making you one of the most durable characters in the party.

Support

Druids that wish to support their party by buffing their allies would do well to join the Circle of Dreams or the Circle of the Shepherd, both from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. The Circle of Dreams draws upon the magic of the Feywild to bend the natural laws of the Material Plane, whereas the Circle of the Shepherd grants you an innate connection to beasts, allowing you to naturally communicate with animals and even summon animal spirits to protect you and your companions.

Druids who join the Circle of the Land can also focus on supporting their party by preparing healing and buffing spells, but their subclass features do little to support this style of play.

Quick Build Expanded (Part 2)

  • Place your highest ability score in Wisdom. Your next highest score should go into Dexterity, regardless of your role in the party, as it improves your Armor Class and the power of your most common weapon attacks.
  • Choose any background that fits your character concept. This is a chance to be creative! How did you become a druid? Were you an acolyte of a god of nature that chose to defy organized religion? Were you a criminal that stole druidic secrets? Or were you a soldier saved from death in the desert by a traveling druid?
  • Finally, determine your equipment. For an easy selection, click on “EQUIPMENT” when promoted to “Choose EQUIPMENT or GOLD”.
    • Given the choice between a wooden shield or any simple weapon, you should probably pick a wooden shield, as the shield’s +2 bonus to AC is incredibly important, especially at low levels. A simple weapon like a light crossbow could be useful if you want to hang back and fight from afar.
    • When choosing between a scimitar or any simple melee weapon, a scimitar is the best choice if you think you’ll get into melee combat. However, a quarterstaff is also an excellent choice if you plan on using the shillelagh cantrip in combat.
    • Your last choice, your pick of druidic focus, is a pure flavor decision. Pick one that feels good to you!

A Druid in Combat

Most druids primarily use their spells in combat, though Circle of the Moon druids also have the option of using their Combat Wild Shapes. Similar to a cleric, druids know all of the spells on their spell list, but can only prepare a certain number of them per day. You can change your prepared spells (except cantrips, which are permanent) whenever you complete a long rest, but it helps to have a basic loadout of spells that you can always fall back on when you don’t want to spend time and energy hand-tailoring a spell list to the day’s unknown challenges.

You can only prepare a number of spells equal to your Wisdom modifier plus your level in this class. (See the “Spellcasting” section of the cleric class in the Player’s Handbook if you need more information.) This spell selection sheet assumes you have a Wisdom modifier of +2 at 1st level. If it’s +3 instead, you can prepare an extra spell of your choice! Finally, if you are a Circle of the Land druid, be aware of the Circle Spells granted to you by your Circle Spells feature. These spells are always prepared, and can help round out your arsenal. If this list suggests a spell that you have as a Circle Spell, just pick another spell to prepare instead.

All Druids

At 1st level, you gain the ability to cast spells and speak Druidic, the secret language of the druids.

At 2nd level, you gain the ability to transform into animals using your Wild Shape feature, which can grant you some extra power in combat, but can also be used for mobility and stealth. You can only transform into beasts of CR ¼ or lower, and your beast shape can’t have a flying or swimming speed. Circle of the Moon druids have an improved version of this feature.

At 3rd level, you gain access to 2nd level spells, which are described in your specific party role.

At 4th level, your Wild Shape improves, allowing you to transform into beasts of CR ½ or lower, and your beast form can now have a swimming speed, but still can’t have a flying speed. You also gain an Ability Score Improvement, which can be used to increase your Wisdom score by 2. This will increase your Wisdom modifier, allowing you to prepare one additional spell from here on out.

At 5th level, you gain access to 3rd level spells, which are described in your specific party role.

Offense

While most of a druid’s spell list is geared towards Support, you still have some potent offensive options that will allow you to quickly dispatch groups of enemies. Additionally, even your basic Wild Shape will allow you to deal some impressive damage at low levels by transforming into beasts like a wolf.

At 1st level, you learn two cantrips of your choice. One should be either shillelagh or thorn whip, so you can keep dealing damage even when out of spell slots.

Also at 1st level, you gain access to 1st-level spells. You can prepare spells equal to your druid level plus your Wisdom modifier (assumed to be +2). Three good offensive druid spells to prepare at 1st level are: entangle, faerie fire, and thunderwave.

At 2nd level, you should choose to follow the Circle of the Land. This immediately grants you a bonus cantrip, which can be any one of your choice. Druidcraft is an excellent cantrip to have as a magic-focused druid. You also gain the Natural Recovery feature, which allows you to recover druid spell slots during a short rest, granting you a little bit of “stretch” during a long adventuring day.

Also at 2nd level, you can prepare one new spell per day. Preparing at least one healing spell in case of emergencies is wise, so prepare cure wounds, especially if there aren’t any other characters with healing spells in your party.

At 3rd level, you gain access to your Circle Spells. Your choice of terrain should be based on your character concept, not any mechanical benefits, but different terrains do have some slightly different mechanical effects. (See “Offense” in the “What Kind of Druid Are You” section, above.) These Circle Spells are always considered prepared for you.

Also at 3rd level, you gain access to 2nd-level spells. You can prepare one new spell per day, so prepare moonbeam, one of your new spells. It grants you a lot of damage over many turns if you’re able to maintain concentration, making it a very efficient use of your limited spell slots.

At 4th level, you gain new features that all druids also gain. See “All Druids,” above. You can also prepare one new spell. Pass without trace is one of the most powerful stealth spells in the game, and is useful no matter what role you want to fill in your party. If you used your Ability Score Improvement to increase your Wisdom score, you can now prepare an additional spell of your choice. Heat metal is a devastating pick if your campaign features a lot of armored enemies.

At 5th level, you gain additional Circle Spells based on your chosen terrain. You also gain access to 3rd-level spells. Choose one of your new spells to prepare. Call lightning is an efficient offensive spell, since it can do large damage using only a single spell slot, in the same vein as moonbeam.

Defense

By maximizing your survivability, you are able to conserve resources efficiently and remain vital over the course of a long adventuring day. Transforming into animal forms with lots of hit points is essential to this strategy, making the Circle of the Moon an essential part of any Defense druid. 

At 1st level, you learn two cantrips of your choice. One should be thorn whip, so you can still damage from a distance, even when out of spell slots.

Also at 1st level, you gain access to 1st-level spells. You can prepare spells equal to your druid level plus your Wisdom modifier (assumed to be +2). Three good defensive druid spells to prepare at 1st level are: charm person, fog cloud, and thunderwave.

At 2nd level, you should choose to follow the Circle of the Moon. This grants you access to the Combat Wild Shape and Circle Forms feature, which allow you to transform into a powerful beast as a bonus action, and even spend spell slots to heal while in beast form. Good animal forms at 2nd level include the brown bear, dire wolf, and giant hyena.

Remember that you can only transform into a creature you have seen before. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has a useful table that can help you determine if you’ve seen a creature before you started adventuring, based on where you grew up. If you’re playing the adventure Storm King’s Thunder, you might also see a crag cat, a very cool creature to transform into.

Also at 2nd level, you can prepare one new spell per day. Preparing at least one healing spell in case of emergencies is wise, so prepare cure wounds, especially if there aren’t any other characters with healing spells in your party.

At 3rd level, you gain access to 2nd-level spells. You can prepare one new spell per day, so prepare hold person, one of your new spells. It keeps enemies away from you and your allies, and lets your more offensively oriented allies deal lots of damage to the paralyzed creature.

At 4th level, you gain new features that all druids also gain. See “All Druids,” above. You can also prepare one new spell. Pass without trace is one of the most powerful stealth spells in the game, and is useful no matter what role you want to fill in your party. If you used your Ability Score Improvement to increase your Wisdom score, you can now prepare an additional spell of your choice. Find traps can be useful in a heavily dungeon-focused campaign, but barkskin is an all-around useful defensive choice that can still affect you, even while using Wild Shape.

At 5th level, you gain access to 3rd-level spells. Choose one of your new spells to prepare. Plant growth is an excellent spell that can make it almost impossible for groups of enemies to move through narrow choke points. Dispel magic is also useful, thanks to the omnipresence of dangerous magic in most D&D campaigns.

Support

Most of a druid’s spell list is centered around buffing your allies and hindering your enemies. Because of the flexibility of this spell list (and since you can change your prepared spells every time you complete a long rest), nearly every druid subclass can fill the role of Support admirably. The most focused picks for playing a Support druid, however, are the Circle of Dreams and the Circle of the Shepherd, both from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

At 1st level, you learn two cantrips of your choice. One should be produce flame, so you can still damage from a distance, even when out of spell slots.

Also at 1st level, you gain access to 1st-level spells. You can prepare spells equal to your druid level plus your Wisdom modifier (assumed to be +2). Three good defensive druid spells to prepare at 1st level are: charm person, cure wounds, and faerie fire.

At 2nd level, you should choose to follow either the Circle of Dreams or the Circle of the Shepherd. At 2nd level, the Circle of Dreams grants you the Balm of the Summer Court feature, which grants you a pool of healing dice to heal creatures you can see within a whopping 120 feet! Likewise, the Circle of the Shepherd grants the Spirit Totem feature, which allows you to summon one of three animal spirits which grants a specific buff to allies within 30 feet.

Also at 2nd level, you can prepare one new spell per day. Preparing at least one direct offensive spell can make you more powerful in a variety of situations. Thunderwave is the only direct damage dealing spell druids have at 2nd level, and It can also help you escape enemies that have surrounded you in a moment of danger.

At 3rd level, you gain access to 2nd-level spells. You can prepare one new spell per day, so prepare barkskin or enhance ability. Both of these help your allies overcome obstacles and survive challenges they could not otherwise.

At 4th level, you gain new features that all druids also gain. See “All Druids,” above. You can also prepare one new spell. Pass without trace is one of the most powerful stealth spells in the game, and is useful no matter what role you want to fill in your party. If you used your Ability Score Improvement to increase your Wisdom score, you can now prepare an additional spell of your choice.

At 5th level, you gain access to 3rd-level spells. Choose one of your new spells to prepare. Sleet storm is a useful offensive spell that can also inhibit enemy movement and make them easier targets  Dispel magic is also useful, thanks to the omnipresence of dangerous magic in most D&D campaigns.

Making your Druid your Own

Druids are a versatile class with the ability to fight on the front lines, weather blows that would kill any other character, and cast spells like the most powerful of wizards. There are so many ways to build a druid, that you could have a party of all druids and none of them would be quite the same.

The best way to differentiate one character from another is to imbue them with a personality. Not just by building a unique backstory and choosing a flavorful background, but by choosing spells and class features that fit your character concept, even if they aren’t strictly the most powerful option.

 


James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his two conjured woodland creatures, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.

 

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