Generally in D&D, full spellcasters are squishy but powerful, and martial classes are chonkier but with less magical versatility. But then there’s druid (and cleric), who gets both! Druid’s equipment options are structured differently from most other classes. You’re only allowed to use a handful of weapon types, and you can’t wear armor/shields made of metal. But there are nevertheless some great options in your proficiencies. Today I wanted to discuss some common considerations/options available to you when you kit out your new druid.
And before we can discuss anything, there’s an important question you need to ask your GM. Because the rules are ambiguous on this important distinction and many people weigh in either direction:
“Are totem shields allowed?”
Let me explain. Like most casters, druids need to be holding a focus in order to cast spells. The rules are seemingly pretty clear on what’s allowed to be a druidic focus:
The first option that matters is the “staff drawn whole out of a living tree.” Almost every GM I’ve encountered will permit druids to use a quarterstaff to fulfill this parameter if they’d like. But the ‘totem object’ afterward is where the debate sets in. Druids are proficient with shields; could they summarily decorate a wooden shield and use it to cast spells? Shields are objects, after all. Your GM’s answer will determine what viable loadouts are available to you.
Loadout 1: Quarterstaff + Shield
This is the go-to druid loadout, probably the most iconic flavor of druid out there. It’s remarkably versatile; your quarterstaff is the among the highest-damage weapons available, and you can turn it into a magic weapon with shillelagh. Shillelagh-infused quarterstaffs scale off Wisdom instead of Strength, which is really important since Strength is a dump stat on druid. All in all, you really can’t go wrong with a quarterstaff. But, if your GM does allow totem shields, there’s a second option worth considering:
Loadout 2: Scimitar + Totem shield
Scimitars fill an interesting niche compared to quarterstaffs. As a finesse weapon, it lets you use your Dex instead of your Strength for both attacks and damage, which is always an upgrade for a druid. Dex (along with Con) is your secondary ability, meaning you’ll probably have put a few points there. And as a martial weapon, it deals the same base damage as a one-handed quarterstaff while using a more useful damage type (slashing over bludgeoning). This is my preferred loadout since I’d rather not spend a cantrip slot on shillelagh. And believe it or not, in their own way scimitars are just as iconic a druid weapon. Druids have been able to wield them since 1st edition thanks to the sword’s similarity to moon-shaped sickles.
A note on spellcasting components
Another thing you’ll need to keep in mind is whether you need a free hand for whatever spell you’re hoping to cast. Somatic and material components can be confusing, I recommend reading this official article for a full breakdown. But the gist is that you’ll occasionally need a free hand to cast a spell with either a material or somatic component (unless you take the War Caster feat), with your other hand holding your druidic focus. The ability to sheathe or draw an object as a free action mostly mitigates this issue. But that does mean you’ll occasionally be left with your non-druidic-focus item sheathed at the end of your turn. This is another plus-point for the totem shield, as I’d rather be holding a shield during my opponent’s turn than a quarterstaff, if I had to choose.
Ranged weapons: Javelins vs Throwing daggers
Now that we’ve discussed melee weapons, you’re going to want an emergency ranged option in your backpack for anti-magic situations. The two best ones available to you are javelins and (throwing) daggers. Javelins deal the most straight damage while also having the best range. But I honestly prefer throwing daggers for a couple reasons. They’re finesse weapons, meaning you can once again use Dex over Strength, and this usually offsets the lower damage die for me. Plus they’re easier to conceal, weigh less, and have more non-combat utility. In any way, this isn’t a very crucial decision as you’re likely going to use magic for ranged damage 99% of the time.
As mentioned before, druids can’t wear metal armor, which pretty severely limits your options. Studded leather is the best all-around choice, conveying no penalties while still having a halfway-decent armor value. (Its description doesn’t say the studs are metal, so presumably yours are made of bone or chitin or something.) Every better armor in the Player’s Handbook specifically mentions metal parts except spiked armor or ring mail, so those are options if you’re okay with the weight and stealth disadvantage. (Remember you dumped Strength, so you might actually struggle with encumbrence wearing 40lb armor. Though on the flipside, you can always shapeshift or cast pass without trace for stealthy situations.) Outside these, you’re reliant on your GM giving you rare or unusual armors that bypass the metal restriction, like dragon scale mail.
In practice, I purchased studded leather the second I could afford it and never took it off for the rest of the campaign. Druids get enough healing, shapeshifting, and shielding that I didn’t find armor too pressing an issue.
To be perfectly honest, almost everything we discussed in this article is pretty minor. Druids are spellcasters who can turn into bears, they don’t really care what’s sitting in their backpack while biting someone’s throat out. Even a fully-optimized combat quarterstaff will simply be functioning as a magic wand for the majority of your player experience. But you never know what a D&D campaign will throw at you, and it’s nice to have your gear sorted out for unexpected contingencies. And the superfluity can be its own perk, because you can freely pick whatever gives your druid a cool personal or sentimental theme. Gutter, the pirate druid I’m playing, casts her spells using a belaying pin because I thought it was funny. Keep your mind open and go with whatever sounds right in your heart!