Druids: First Impressions
Druid class preview on D&D Insider
Recently Wizards of the Coast offered a sneak peak of the new druid class to D&D Insider subscribers, slightly more recently I became a D&D Insider subscriber for an obvious reason. The preview includes the introductory section containing the proficiencies, skill lists and class features, as well as a full listing of the druid powers for levels 1-3.
Get out of my way wizard – there’s a new controller in town
We learn – rather surprisingly – that the druid is a controller class, possible so wizards of the world won’t feel so alone in their role. We also learn that druid powers are split between powers that can be used in your natural form and powers that can be used in beast forms, something that should be familiar to you WoW players out there. The powers of the spell caster form are typically ranged and area of effect abilities that do small amounts of damage along with some debilitating effect on your enemies. We see all the traditional druid abilities come into play here, grasping plant life, fog clouds, lightning storms and blasts of wind. The shape changing powers are bit more surprising. They don’t do the damage you might expect from being mauled by a bear but are also accompanied by forced movement or other debuffing effects. Also, unlike their humanoid form counterpart powers the animal abilities are obviously mostly for melee range. The intent seems clear, to allow druids to be controllers from both the front and back lines.
Mechanical problem #1: bears hit harder if they’re wise
We could discuss some mechanical problems with the druid classes as it is presented, there are a few to choose from. Firstly, there is a severe over dependence of wisdom ability score. You may recall that in the first PHB of this edition, each build of a class tells you where you should put priority in your scores to excel at that build. For druids both builds tell you put wisdom as your highest score, also unlike other builds they only give you a secondary recommendation, not a tertiary. That’s sound advice considering that every attack power in the preview is rooted in wisdom, additionally every power which has its damage modified by a score is modified by wisdom. Even in beast form, your odds of hitting something with your claws or pouncing attacks is dependent on how wise you are. The only time other ability scores are used when a power is modified by which of the two “primal aspects” you chose.
Mechanical problem #2: rage drakes and giant platypi
Secondly, you use the at-will “Wild Shape” to transform into your beast form and gain access to your beast powers. When you use the power you get to pick any beast of around your size to turn into. Pretty cool, right? You could turn into a lion, bear or anything else that fits a wide-open set of criteria. The problem is that it doesn’t make a lick of difference, it is clearly stated several times in the preview that your choice of animal form has no in game effect. You can turn into a rage drake or an overgrown platypus and it would make no difference to your combat prowess.
The role of mechanics in suggesting flavor to the class has been diminished across editions, and I have accepted that, but diminished to nothing? At least they could have done something similar to the warlock pacts, let the player choose a favored form category (ursine, lupine, feline, etc.) and provide distinct bonuses based on that. Alternatively, do it like clerics and allow the player to take a feat which grants a new power for their chosen form. Right now is just feels bland.
The pigeon-rat problem
However complaining about these things is a bit like whining that the cat had an accident on your floor while a rhino rampages through your rumpus room, it misses the larger problem. The problem is that the fine folks over at Wizards accidentally wrote two different classes and stitched them together like a monstrous pigeon-rat. The spell caster portion functions well enough, it uses natural forces to hamper foes from a distance which makes the druid a natural controller. However the shapeshifting portion suffers under the need to be a controller and from the compressed features list and power set required to make both halves mesh together. This strain is evidenced in the design of the class, in defiance of the traditional rules druids get their choice of a third at-will power. You may say that is just the effect of being a hybrid, but hybrids do multiple things decently enough. In this case druids are doing a single thing well and then doing the same thing a different way, but poorly.
What I would do with the druid class
I can understand the desire to maintain the history role of the druid, which was to be able to do everything. However the new class role system has made this a tricky position, you are left with a class that tries to do everything but be a controller in all ways and that just falls down thematically. My advice to Wizards is to make full use of their new primal power source and divide the current druid into two classes. You could have an elemental caster who is a proper controller, now free from the dead weight shapeshifting rules and have a seperate class devoted solely to animal forms. Once you have the dedicated class you can full explore the possibilities and give mechanical flavor to all the different forms. The shapeshifter portions currently strain under the burden of the controller label, I want to set them free and make them strikers who also impose some status effects, similar to rogues.
What would you change in the druid class?
Have you read the new druid class? What did you think? Have you ever had a rhino in your rumpus room? Are you a D&D insider yet? As always I want your thoughts!