- Powergaming: Use Magic Device
- D&D Powergaming: Introduction
- Powergaming: Understanding Area of Effect in D&D4E
- Powergaming: Choosing the best powers for your character
- Powergaming: Choosing a Wizard School Specialization
- Powergaming: Making a Powerful Fighter or Monk in Core 3.5 D&D
- Powergaming: Making a Powerful Druid in Core 3.5 D&D
Druids are one of the more powerful classes in core 3.5 D&D. However, they are certainly not the easiest of classes to play, and there can be a lot of paperwork involved. This article will cover the various abilities, spells, and strategies involved in playing a Druid, and provide simple advice to making a powerful Druid using only core 3.5 D&D.
A Druid’s Capabilities
First and foremost, a Druid is a spellcaster. Like all primary spellcasters, they have significant potential even without any other abilities. They often get common spells like Dispel Magic at a later level than Clerics or Wizards, but in exchange they get access to a lot of great exclusive spells like Call Lightning. Their magic lies somewhere between Clerics and Wizards, with a good mix of buffs and offensive spells. They can also Spontaneously Cast Summon Nature’s Ally spells, which is pretty useful.
The second main feature of a Druid is perhaps their most defining feature: Wild Shape. It’s not exactly a surprise that having a limited Polymorph as a class feature is rather handy. However, to use Wild Shape properly, you need to do a bit of Monster Manual scouring in advance to find the best options.
Thirdly, Druids have an Animal Companion. If you take care to keep its stats up to date, and buff it properly, then an Animal Companion is almost a free extra party member.
Finally, Druids have all sorts of minor abilities, such as becoming Immune to Poisons, which is actually rather handy.
As with all spellcasters, there are definitely options for Druids that are both good, and bad. Due to some of the differences between Druids and other casters like Clerics and Wizards, you should keep the following in mind as general guidelines, especially if there is at least one other caster in the party.
- Emphasise spells which are Druid-exclusive (eg. Call Lightning) or Druids get earlier than other classes (eg. Flame Strike)
- Try to avoid spells Druids get later than other classes (eg. Dispel Magic)
- Always have buffs to cast on yourself, your Animal Companion, your allies, and summons
- Whilst Druids can cast healing spells, it is best left for Clerics in combat, and Wands of Cure Light Wounds outside combat
Summon Nature’s Ally
Since you can Spontaneously Cast Summon Nature’s Ally, you should definitely do so. Summon Nature’s Ally spells of every level are very powerful and extremely useful. Summons can be used to augment your attack abilities, help take the brunt of incoming damage, or give your party a boost against unusual foes (such as summoning Giant Eagles when fighting a flying enemy, or a Fire Elemental when fighting a Treant).
For the sanity of your DM and the other players, you should try to prepare summons ahead of time, noting down stats on a piece of paper. If you don’t have a Monster Manual (as with many non-DM players), then use the d20 Srd to prepare. Having the game grind to a halt while you look up stats gets very old very quickly.
As previously noted, you should try to buff your summons with various spells to improve their effectiveness. Early on in your Druid’s career, most buffs will be aimed at your Animal Companion and fellow party members, but later on, spells like Animal Growth that can affect many targets are extremely effective.
Remember that if your allies are casting spells like Bless or Haste then these can affect your summons too.
Specific Spells of Note
Create Water: If you’ve never used this, check the amount you create. 2 gallons per level. (That’s about 7.5 L) That’s HUGE! By level 7 or so you’re creating a whole barrel of water with a level 0 spell. If you don’t think that’s awesome, you’re not being creative enough.
Detect Magic: Okay, yes, everyone’s got this, but it’s still very handy. Make sure you start asking your DM awkward questions about what school of magic you’re detecting.
Entangle: A great control spell, but unfortunately useless if you’re in an area with no plants. It’s comparable to Web, but in a level 1 spell.
Magic Fang: At low levels, casting this on your Animal Companion is pretty good. Later on you’ll want to upgrade to Greater Magic Fang.
Speak with Animals: Never underestimate a good utility spell. There are almost always animals that can give some sort help regardless of where you are. Use this spell to get directions from a squirrel, or bribe a housecat to steal something for you.
Barkskin: Good Natural Armour bonus that lasts for ages? Yes, please. Cast on the whole party.
Bear’s Endurance: A Con boost for HP or Fort save can really help in a pinch.
Bull’s Strength: This becomes less useful as characters start to get permanent Enhancement bonuses to Strength, but in the first few levels of the game, Bull’s Strength is one of the best spells you’ve got. Buff your allies and your Animal Companion.
Warp Wood: This is an interesting spell that has both obvious combat uses against weapon-using enemies as well as having a lot of potential outside combat.
Wood Shape: You… shape wood. This sounds very lame, I know, but I’m rather fond of it ever since I, as a Bard, summoned a Double Bass using Summon Instrument (Bard Cantrip), and then the Druid in the party used Wood Shape to turn it into a boat.
Call Lightning: A nice fun spell that will irritate your DM with your repeated questioning of whether the weather is stormy. The best thing about it is you can cast it before a battle, and then use it to do a bit of damage in any turn where you have nothing better to do. Sure, the damage isn’t amazing, but hey, it’s better than flinging sling bullets at people.
Magic Fang, Greater: A great spell which can affect both you (in Wild Shape), and your Animal Companion, and lasts basically all day (hour/level).
Poison: This is particularly good because Druids get it earlier than Clerics. The poison is quite powerful and it’s great for a 3rd level spell, although at higher levels many monsters will shrug off the Fort Save.
Stone Shape: As with all open-ending creative spells, Stone Shape has as much potential as you have imagination (apparently I’m lacking: thanks for lyraleifwind for pointing out the potential of this spell). A surprisingly obvious use is as a lower level substitute for Passwall, when dealing with stone walls. Also, since it is only a standard action to cast, if you can bluff your DM enough there are some interesting combat uses… (DMs: make sure you give the targets Reflex saves!)
Flame Strike: It’s a decent damage spell, and you get it earlier than a Cleric. Whilst it doesn’t do a huge amount of damage, it’s fairly tight area of effect and half Divine damage make it handy to have.
Rusting Grasp: Although it doesn’t work against Magic Items, limiting its combat usages, it’s a great utility spell. Locked door? Rusting Grasp. Cage? Rusting Grasp. Sabotaging stuff? Rusting Grasp. It also really hurts Iron Golems which is kinda handy since they’re resistant to almost everything else in the game.
Scrying: Apart from being a good spell, the Druid version is notable because you don’t need an expensive Focus, just a natural pool of water.
Animal Growth: A must-have. It’s an amazing buff, and it affects multiple targets. You can use it your Animal Companion and your pile of summoned animals from Summon Nature’s Ally. Due to the technicalities of Wild Shape, you can’t use it on yourself (thanks Henrikmk for pointing this out).
Awaken: Before the various erratas on Wild Shape, people used to try to use this on themselves. Deluxe cheese. Fortunately, between sane DMs and the aforementioned errata, this is a thing of the past, but it’s worth pointing out in case you see a reference to it somewhere.
Baleful Polymorph: Okay, so Wizards get it too, and they’ll have a better Save DC… but it’s still a Save-or-Die and that makes it pretty cool.
Call Lightning Storm: Like Call Lightning, but better. Pretty nice.
Control Winds: Whilst obviously not as powerful as the 7th level Control Weather, Control Winds is still very cool, and has a much faster casting time (1 standard action instead of 10 minutes). At high levels, Control Winds is very powerful: at 15th level, you can click your fingers and make a Tornado.
Dispel Magic, Greater: Unlike regular Dispel Magic, the Druid doesn’t get the Greater variant at a later level than the Cleric or Wizard, which is good. I would recommend memorizing one or two of these in later levels if there is a lot of magic in the campaign.
Fire Seeds: Awesome spell. Direct damage that you can prepare way in advance and give to other party members. In the last campaign I ran, the Rogue took an Acorn Grenade, leapt on top of a Silver Dragon, and managed to kill the poor thing in four ways simultaneously: Assassin Death Attack, Poison, Sneak Attack damage, and the Acorn Grenade pushed as far into the wound as possible.
Spellstaff: A handy spell that basically allows you to carry over a spell to the next day, and you don’t really lose anything because you can still convert your memorized Spellstaff spell to Summon Nature’s Ally using Spontaneous Casting, if required.
Stone Tell: It’s a bit hard to warrant memorising, considering the other solid options on this level, but it’s a handy utility and it’s hilarious. DMs should make sure all rocks have some sort of unusual accent, like Jamaican or Cockney.
Control Weather: You need to plan ahead a bit, because it takes 10 minutes to cast and another 10 minutes for it to take effect. The potential for this spell is massive: face it, weather is powerful. If you’re doing anything too fancy you may have to protect the party somehow. If you’re making a storm of any kind, remember that Call Lightning and Call Lightning Storm do more damage in stormy weather.
Fire Storm: The main selling point of Fire Storm is that it is shapeable; you can be extremely precise about who you do and do not hit. As a direct damage spell it’s not exactly going to win any awards, but it’s still quite nice. Druids also get it a level earlier than Clerics.
Scrying, Greater: As with regular Scrying, the advantage of being a Druid is you don’t need a costly Focus.
Sunbeam: If you’re fighting Vampires this is pretty amazing, since it’s Save-or-Die, does a pile of damage, and you get more than one shot for a single cast.
Earthquake: This spell has a lot of potential because you can use it to quite interesting effects both inside and outside combat. The enemy’s barricaded themselves in a house? Level it to the ground.
Sunburst: Like Sunbeam, this spell is amazing against Vampires.
Elemental Swarm: Like Control Weather, you need a bit of planning for this one, because it’s got a 10 minute casting time and takes a full 30 minutes before all the elementals are summoned. However, if you do have the time, you can also stack on a couple of Summon Nature’s Allies in the last few rounds and basically have an army at your disposal. Go for it.
Shapechange: Well, if your DM lets you have it, this spell is incredible. Massively overpowered. And as a Druid, you’re better at combat naturally than a Wizard, so you’re even better. Go forth and munch people as a Dragon or eat peoples’ brains as a Mind Flayer.
Storm of Vengeance: I love this spell. I think it’s massively unfair that Clerics get it too, but, whatever. This spell isn’t intended for killing Dragons, it’s intended for killing armies. Even in slightly fairer fights, it has the potentially to completely dominate enemy spellcasters, with Save vs Deafen, some acid, lightning, and bludgeoning damage, and then spell disruption and concealment. It’s probably a good idea to stand back a bit.
Wild Shape is awesome, especially when you have it several times per day. Initially, you’re pretty restricted in your options, but as your level increases you both unlock new times, and can take forms with more HD.
The technicalities of Wild Shape are a little touchy, like with Polymorph. Basically, you take the Str, Dex, and Con of your new shape, along with certain abilities and properties, however your hitpoints are unchanged. Generally, your AC will be the same as that of the creature you turn into, but based on your BAB you’ll need to work out your attacks, and obviously your saves will be a bit weird different.
An important note about Wild Shape post-errata is it uses the Alternate Form rules found in the Glossarsy at the back of the Monster Manual.
Like with Summon Nature’s Ally, you should try to prepare Wild Shape forms ahead of time, because it’s just irritating to all involved if you try to work out everything during a game.
If you are permitted more than Core, then scouring the MM2+ will obviously offer more options, but the MM1 has quite some number of good forms. There are are a few gaps in the lineup, so you might be able to convince you DM to make advanced forms of particularly flying animals. The elemental shapes, later on, are pretty so-so: nice strong animals tend to be better options.
Strong Wild Shape Forms
Levels 5+: Cheetah, Deinonychus, Leopard, Shark (Medium)
Levels 8+: Polar Bear, Megaraptor, Dire Ape (opposable thumbs, so you can still use weapons), Dire Wolf, Giant Octopus. If you can convince your DM, Giant Eagle, but technically it’s a Magical Beast for some stupid reason (even though a Roc is an animal…).
Levels 11+: Various tiny animals like Cats and Hawks
Levels 12+: Dire Bear
Levels 15+: Giant Squid!
Levels 16+: Dire Tiger, Triceratops
Levels 18+: Dire Shark, Tyrannosaurus
A Druid’s animal companion is one the more powerful Class Features in the game, as it can effectively serve as an additional party member. However, they need similar paperwork to a whole character, so you need to keep it up to date or it’ll be practically useless.
Even early on, an Animal Companion is very powerful, giving much needed damage and survivability to the party. Later on, with a host of special abilities, Feats, and appropriate buffs, an Animal companion is still very powerful.
As you level up, an Animal Companion gains HD and Feats. Note that despite its HD increase, it will not increase in size. These Feats can significantly improve the combat abilities of the Animal Companion. In addition to Feats available for normal characters, the Monster Manual has Feats which are particularly useful. The Animal Companion also has Skills: look at the Racial bonuses of the various animals and specialise. For example, a Wolf should take Survival for Tracking.
The Share Spells ability is very handy particularly at higher levels when you have better buffs. It’s main use is allowing you to buff yourself and share the buff with your Animal Companion, giving you a two-for-one deal on buffs. Sharing spells such as Greater Magic Fang is very useful.
At some point I would recommend acquiring some sort of enchanted barding for your Animal Companion, because it’s Natural Armour is very nice and you can achieve a quite good AC. Combined a high HD, Evasion, and later, Improved Evasion, your Animal Companion becomes rather tough.
Whilst the Druid entry allows for more powerful Animal Companions at higher levels, you do sacrifice a lot of the nice bonuses that Animal Companions get. I personally wouldn’t go higher than the 4th level (level –3) options, but if you really want to, higher options are fine, and unlike Wizard Familiars, it’s pretty easy to get rid of your old Animal Companion and “upgrade”. And, well, there is something to be said for having a pet Tyrannosaurus or Giant Squid!
There is one more interesting option for Animal Companions, and that is using them as a mount (although maybe not the Giant Squid…). It can be a bit tight in a dungeon, so as with Paladins the easiest way is usually a Gnome or Halfling riding a Medium animal, but if you’re usually outdoors you could go bigger.
Choosing Feats as a Druid is not too hard. Basically, there are a few no-brainers, and then anything else is pretty optional.
There are three Feats that you need: Augment Summoning and its prerequisite, Spell Focus (Conjuration), plus Natural Spell.
Augment Summoning gives +4 Str and Con to your summons, which is amazing for when you’re spamming Summon Nature’s Ally. If you take Spell Focus (Conjuration) at level 1, then you can take Augment Summoning at level 3 (or 1, if you’re Human).
Natural Spell allows you to cast spells in Wild Shape. Take it at level 6. Just do it.
Other than these, there aren’t any particularly important Feats. If you’re playing at high levels then Quicken Spell is handy simply to get more spells off, and Improved Initiative is always useful. Spell Penetration is somewhat useful if you’re facing Spell Resistant enemies. You can try to take Feats like Power Attack to aid you when in Wild Shape, but they’re not really in the long run as stuff which buffs your casting. Obviously if you’re intending on riding your Animal Companion then Mounted Combat Feats are essential.
This is where things get messy. Most characters will want some kind of Enhancement bonus to their primary stat, a Magic Weapon, Armour, etc. However, as soon as you Wild Shape, you lose… everything. All items merge with your form and cease to function.
This means there are basically two kinds of items that are good for a Druid: firstly, non-combat utility wondrous items (of which there are many), and secondly, those few items which do actually work whilst Wild Shaped. Since there are many utility items which you could have, I’ll just look at the second option.
There are two clear items in the DMG that are useful to a Wild Shaping Druid. The first is an Incandescent Blue Ioun Stone, granting a +2 Enhancement bonus to Wisdom, and since it orbits around you, it doesn’t merge with your form when Wild Shaped and thus remains fully functional. The second is a suit of Wild Armour… but it’s very expensive for what it does, and your AC won’t be that great anyway.
The other option for items is simply to not worry about them. A Druid is quite effective with no equipment whatsoever, and your share of the loot could go a long way to helping another party member. Alternatively, you could invest in goods, property, or other such non-adventuring assets, although I really doubt your average Druid would want to own a castle…
Druids are a very powerful class, but you do need to like looking up the Monster Manual and working out stats to be as effective as possible. It’s imperative that you keep your Wild Shape forms, Animal Companion, and summons all up to date with their stats as you level up.
A strong Druid can fill basically any role, since they can provide straight caster support in offensive spells, buffing, and summoning, as well as wading into melee in powerful Wild Shape forms. You should try to make sure you can, at all times, perform each of these roles. In addition, you need to utilize the powerful utility spells which a Druid has access to. Done properly, a Druid can dominate all situations, both in and out of combat.
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