I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a long time, but I avoided the druid class for most of that on principle. The problem was that I got a bad first impression from another player’s character; Hantan was a party member in my first-ever campaign, a two-year medley of weekly one-offs during my undergraduate years where I was a sword-swinging barbarian. Hantan’s player, while a wonderful guy, was depressingly uncreative when it came to roleplaying. He spent the entire campaign simply shapeshifting into whatever combat form was meta according to the online forums. At first it was wolves, then briefly lions, before settling into bears until we all graduated.
For many years, I thought that was the extent of the druid class. And so I never bothered to play it myself even after rolling up multiple iterations of most other options. But my mind finally opened when my current GM asked us all to roll up the most bizarre character concepts we could think of for a one-off. And so I created Gutter the robot pirate, and very quickly realized I’d been missing out on probably the most versatile class in the game.
Seriously, I have nothing but good things to say about Druid. You’re a full spellcaster with access to armor, shields, and a decent spread of weapons. Plus you’re the second-best healer in the game behind clerics. But then you also get to shapeshift into a bottomless medley of animals that bring limitless possibilities to any situation. Being able to turn big, or small, or gain darkvision, or poison, or (eventually) flight… If you can think of an animal that can do it, the sky’s not even the limit!
The one-off with Gutter somehow turned into our longest-running campaign yet (probably because everyone loved their overly-wacky builds). By this point I’ve been playing her longer than any other character, and I hope I don’t need to stop any time soon. In case anyone else was sleeping on the D&D Druid, I wanted to take a moment to discuss some common (and uncommon) uses for Wildshape that really showcase how much you can do as a Druid. Also, I’m going to be focusing on low-level Wildshapes because every class unlocks crazy possibilities at high level. I’m considering level 4 (when Moon Druids unlock beasts of challenge-rating 2 or below) the cutoff for my suggestions. But even then, most of these options are utility options that any druid in the game can pick.
The many faces of the druid
1. Night-vision: If you aren’t a race that gets free darkvision, you can always turn into something that can. Or, even better, pick one of the many creatures that get blindsight or tremorsight, for truly pitch-black situations. My favorite is the Giant Spider so I can also climb walls and shoot webs.
2. Break grapples with ease: When an enemy grapples you, you can either turn into an ant to instantly escape, or (far more fun) become a Giant Octopus and grapple that foo right back. This is also great for escaping handcuffs, rope, or any sort of restraints. Or, would you rather have the ultimate grappling tactic? Giant Frogs have one of the most horrifying attacks in the game: Swallow. If it bites a target while grappling it, that target is instantly swallowed without a saving throw, takes 2d4 acid damage every turn, and there are no mechanics for breaking free or escaping. They’re just screwed. I tend to use this more as an interrogation threat than an actual battlefield tactic, as it’s a bit morbid even for me, but it’s certainly an option in your toolkit.
3. Never take fall damage: No need to worry if somebody flings you off a cliff, just turn into an ant. As you’ve probably seen in real life, insects don’t take fall damage. If you were hoping to go somewhere other than straight down, flying squirrels have a unique ‘glide speed’ stat I’ve never seen anywhere else in D&D. Speaking of bugs, they’re also great for:
4. Recon/stealth/infiltration: Very few places are impregnable to a cockroach. Whether you’re hiding from pursuers, sneaking past guards, or looking for a nobleman’s safe, there are a whole medley of animals who stealth better than any humanoid rogue can ever hope to. Believe it or not, one of my personal favorites is the Octopus. They get a +4 to stealth, they can change color, squeeze through very tiny holes, and use their tentacles to lockpick.
5. Don’t forget to heal yourself! Moon druids (my recommended flavor of druid) can spend spellslots to heal their Wildshape form. If you’re tanking for the party, don’t forget to use this to keep yourself upright longer than usual.
These last ones are far more situational, and mostly come from unique experiences Gutter encountered during her adventures.
6. Ask animals for advice: A lot of shady things happen in places with wildlife witnessing. If you didn’t remember to prepare Speak With Animals today, you can always turn into one and ask them if they’ve seen anything weird happening around here laterly. Or you can ask where the nearest water source is, or what predators to look out for in this area, etc. Who needs a Lore check when you can ask the natives directly?
7. Bottomless free poison: Is someone in your party a rogue? Turn into a snake during downtimes and let them milk you for free venom to coat their blades.
8. Write yourself truly-safe notes: Want to leave yourself notes that are truly immune to being deciphered?
This trick came about from something funny that happened to Gutter. She needed to write a message nobody else could read (for their own safety). But she knew the party would find it and had all sorts of methods available for deciphering secret notes. Sure enough, the party found the note after she disappeared, but even to their smartest spellcasters it just looked like chicken scratch. They used Decipher, Comprehend Languages, Truesight, Detect Magic… Nothing worked. When Gutter got back, she explained that she had shapeshifted into a mantis shrimp, which sees 12 primary colors (instead of just 3 like us) and used a pre-cast Shape Water to mix inks into the proper shades. The note wasn’t coded or cryptic or an obscure language or anything, you just needed to be able to see 12 primary colors in order to read it.
9. Bypass carrying capacity: Did your party reach the dragon’s horde without a means to actually transport all the gold home? Remember, when you shapeshift, all your gear is melded into your body! Load yourself up to your maximum carrying capacity (the point where you can’t even move), then turn into something like a horse. Congrats, you’re ready to head home!
Very silly #10: Definitely check with your GM before doing this one, but we had a hilarious session back in the day. An NPC client hired us to save his friend who had a microscopic bomb implanted in his body. We’re not sure how the GM initially planned for us to solve that one, but we had Gutter shapeshift into an amoeba, the Wizard polymorphed his familiar into a second amoeba, and then Gutter fought their way through the man’s body, keeping white-blood cells and viruses away from the familiar long enough for it to reach the bomb, swallow it, and then the wizard dismissed it. Then she had to escape before the 2-hour shapeshift limit ran out! Still one of the most memorable things I’ve done in a D&D campaign.
I know I haven’t gone into much detail, but I wanted to just showcase a taste of druid’s real power. Don’t limit your creativity, you have the entire roster of the animal kingdom at your fingertips! Really open your mind and consider what could be useful in any given situation. Could skunking someone be useful right now? How about giving off light as a fire beetle? Or surviving lava as a volcano snail? The possibilities are endless, but you can be as well!