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I played a D&D 3.5 campaign years ago, and one PC was a druid. The player did a pretty awesome job as a spy thanks to the multiple divination spells, Wild Shape and especially A Thousand Faces:

A Thousand Faces (Su)
At 13th level, a druid gains the ability to change her appearance at will, as if using the disguise self spell, but only while in her normal form. This affects the druid’s body but not her possessions. It is not an illusory effect, but a minor physical alteration of the druid’s appearance, within the limits described for the spell.

I'm now planning to run a Pathfinder campaign (albeit with a custom world) with a lot of druids and I just don't understand how Thousand Faces fits for a "protector of the wild, lover of Nature" kind of guy (and I've never seen this ability used since this spy-druid), so I'm considering dropping A Thousand Faces.

Did you ever read something justifying this ability, in D&D or Pathfinder material or anywhere else, even real stories on druids?

EDIT : What bugs me is that I can't see proper use of this ability besides deception, and deception doesn't feel too "natural".

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You'll find some interesting parallels if you dig into the old myths of Odin walking the earth, but it's not directly connected enough to be a proper answer, I think. – BESW Aug 12 '13 at 14:00
Trap door spiders, geckos, birds, butterflies, tigers, humans. All of these things use camouflage to deceive their prey into thinking an area is safe. Deception is a massive part of nature, it allows the predator to close with the prey. Even carnivorous plants use deception by fooling the smell receptors on insects to lure them in. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jul 27 '15 at 15:02
up vote 21 down vote accepted

I think it was not uncommon for druids – and other mystical figures in folklore – to appear before others in magical disguise. Glamour, after all, is heavily associated with the fey, which are in turn tied to the natural world and the same sort of mythological background as druids. Further, as protectors of the natural world, druids have to assess potential “civilized” threats – appearing as a wanderer, sharing a campfire, gives you a good sense of whether the new people are going to be a problem.

Mostly, though, it just seems to play up the druids’ mystical angle. They know things, deep lore of the natural world but also about the comings and goings around them that they couldn’t possibly know. They have animals as eyes and ears but sometimes they need to see and hear for themselves. I think it is an appropriate, flavorful feature. And unlike most of the druid’s class features, I don’t think it’s overpowered.

Also, be careful about thinking too much about druids as being of or defending nature, because that was not really their historical or narrative role. The word “druid” itself means “oak-knower,” where oaks are symbols of all things ancient and deep. The druids were mystics, wise men, and priests. They drew their powers from the natural world, but much of their power was knowledge as much as it was magic (of course, at the time and in the myths, these were often the same thing). Any magic they had came from their knowledge of the nature of a world that had magic built into its very bones.

In role, they may have often been apart from society, but they were still very much human and very important to society. Their counsel was sought out in all things mystical and natural, which is to say everything that the common man did not understand. They were often highly political, kingmakers or rulers themselves as high priests. They were protectors of the old ways, which included human custom as much as it did the ancient natural world.

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I thought about the fey thing, but it's described as a "minor physical alteration" rather than an illusion, so it doesn't seem related to the glamour. But maybe it was WotC's intent. – Trajan Aug 12 '13 at 14:38
@Trajan It's related, but not the same thing. I was referring to the fact that it's a common narrative theme with mystical characters in these myths. Yes, for druids it's a transmutation not an illusion. They are shapeshifters afterall. – KRyan Aug 12 '13 at 14:42

According to Unearthed Arcana (1985) for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, “For druids of 16th level and above [… r]ather than spells, spell-like powers are acquired [including] the ability to alter his appearance at will. Appearance alteration is accomplished in 1 segment, with height and weight decrease/increase of 50% possible, apparent age from child to very old, and body and facial features of any human or humanoid sort. This alteration is non-magical, so it cannot be detected short of true seeing and the like” (17).

So in Dungeons and Dragons 3.X (and, subsequently, Pathfinder), this ability exists as a legacy of AD&D (and, probably, although I can't speak to it, 2nd Edition D&D). That answers why it exists now.

As to why it's existed for nearly 30 years, I vaguely remembered but couldn't find proof anywhere that Gygax believed Merlin was best represented by the druid class, and Merlin, according to sources as wide-ranging as Robert de Boron and Disney's Sword and the Stone, just changes shape a lot.

Theoretically, it's the idea that a lot of folks are much more willing to take advice from strangers than they are from folks they know (c.f. consultants), and such an ability makes the druid the ultimate advisor. If the only thing that penetrates his actually-physically-altered disguise is an AD&D true seeing spell, the druid can totally walk into the king's court in disguise, spout some "ancient prophecy" that says that the king shouldn't raise taxes or go to war or whatever, and depart, Batman-style, when he's finished, with none at court knowing that it was really the king's druid who delivered the message.

If you don't like the at-will alter self superpower, it should be replaced with something of equal utility. I suggest at-will locate object or misdirection or augury 3/day ('cause at-will augury is stupid), with this last possibly serving the same function as alter self in the theory detailed above.

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+1 for Batman-style (and mainly for the history-of-rpg bit). Interesting new way of using this ability. Old strangers with a prophecy tend to make an impression. – Trajan Aug 12 '13 at 15:40
There's some discussion of the druid class origins here: If there's no literary basis for Thousand Faces, it can be explained that powerful druids have such a connection to nature that they have superhuman control over their own body: poison immunity, no aging, and even changing their physical form - the same way they can change into an animal or elemental. I like this power because it's useful but not too powerful to have at-will at such high level. Druids are also nature's guerilla warriors and have connections to the tricksy fey. – Joe Dovahkiin Aug 12 '13 at 15:41


What bugs me is that I can't see proper use of this ability besides deception, and deception doesn't feel too "natural".

I think a big part of your confusion is that you're coming at nature from a very modern perspective. Woods are safe, bright, places fit for hiking and camping. "All natural" foods are free from contamination and uncertainty.

But a lot of older stories paint the wilds in a very different light. Dark, unknown, uncertain, capricious, dangerous. If you venture too far from the safety of civilization, you have no idea what you'll encounter, or whether you'll be able to find your way home.

The wilds are filled with hidden dangers: Venomous snakes, hidden predators, dead-drops, poisonous plants, witches, giants, dragons, and other devious things that mean you harm.

Look at British folklore (where the word Druid originates), for example: Pretty much everything out there is some kind of shapeshifter that means you harm.

Look also at the "nature spirits" in D&D and Pathfinder. The Fey have "connections to nature" and are associated with illusion, charms, and other forms of trickery.


Pomponius Mela is the first author who says that the druids' instruction was secret, and was carried on in caves and forests.


The Druids were initiates of a secret school that existed in their midst. This school, which closely resembled the Bacchic and Eleusinian Mysteries of Greece or the Egyptian rites of Isis and Osiris, is justly designated the Druidic Mysteries. There has been much speculation concerning the secret wisdom that the Druids claimed to possess. Their secret teachings were never written, but were communicated orally to specially prepared candidates. Robert Brown, 32°, is of the opinion that the British priests secured their information from Tyrian and Phœnician navigators who, thousands of years before the Christian Era, established colonies in Britain and Gaul while searching for tin.


In addition to the nature angle, historical druids are typically viewed as mysterious in popular culture: A secretive order, protecting its own mysteries.

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Definitely what was I looking for, thanks. I guess I tend to forget druids are predators as well as protectors. Do you have any examples of the British folklore I could read on to get inspiration ? – Trajan Aug 12 '13 at 15:24
@Trajan I get most of mine filtered through the splat books for 7th Sea to be honest. So, other than the Avalon and Sidhe source books for that, I'm having trouble pointing to specifics. Flip through some of the Wikipedia links (first source link above). – AceCalhoon Aug 12 '13 at 15:30

I have not heard of a historical/fictional druid that had a particular ability to change their face.

However, this seems like a fairly straightforward extension of the 3.5 Druid's earlier abilities - namely Wild Shape. A 13th-level Druid is an accomplished shapeshifter, they are used to changing their form and flesh into those other than their own.

This could even be tied to a 13th-level Druid suddenly having the realization that humanoids are not so different from animals at all.

I can imagine that the idea for the ability surfaced when someone asked the question: "Wait, my high-level Druid can change their face to resemble that of any kind of animal, but not to look like the face of another human?"

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While humans are mere animals, Wild Shape allow to transform oneself into an animal. Not specifically the black bear I saw earlier who lives in this cave, so I can enter in his cave without alarming his bear-family and steal the large bed. Know what I mean ? – Trajan Aug 12 '13 at 14:07
A worthy point. Still, I do not think it invalidates the point that A Thousand Faces can be seen as an improvement upon the Druid's shapeshifting ability. – Ernir Aug 12 '13 at 15:07
Surely an improvement, but druids draw their power from the nature, I don't think they're supposed to be looking for ways to optimize their "god"-given powers. Seems quite unfaithful. – Trajan Aug 12 '13 at 15:20
@Trajan - as I remember it (no access to the source books right now, so I may be wrong) disguise self is also not for disguising yourself as THAT person, just "not me". – Ryno Aug 12 '13 at 17:27
@Ryno Disguise self can be used to appear as a particular person or as simply not yourself. It's a pretty flexible and potent spell. – KRyan Aug 12 '13 at 19:16

I don't know much about real stories of historical druids, but I can clearly remember some figure a protector of nature that used to live among humans, conceiling his true aspect, to watch on them.
I can't really remember which book or movie featured this story but the trope of a disguised watcher of events is familiar to me, to the point of instantly recognizing it every time I look at the A Thousand Faces feature.

I don't think this kind of character is any good as a PC unless it's a story about this sort of things, but it might be awesome for some higher-level NPC (for it's quite useless by the level it comes into play).

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I can guarantee you that a spy who changes face, size and specie at will, has Scrying and Greater Scrying, melt himself into wood or stone, talks to stone and animals, and is immortal is one hell of a spy. Plus it doesn't diminish druids other talents such as casting Flame Strike. – Trajan Aug 12 '13 at 14:13
@Trajan I was referring to the "I hide into a community" kind of character, not the druid as a class. Any form of true sight makes PCs and NPCs along go "Oh, look, a spy". – Zachiel Aug 12 '13 at 14:18
Good point on the True Seeing. Druids gain access to A Thousand Faces and True Seeing at the same time. It's all about Balance. – Trajan Aug 12 '13 at 14:44

I think you are looking at the ability wrong. Think about nature. There are a ton of animals which use deception as a means of defense or to hunt.

Victoria Butterflies mimic Monarch Butterflies because one tastes bad. Stick insects pretend to be sticks to keep away predators. Angler fish dangle little pseudo minnows in front of their face to attract prey.

If you stop thinking of A Thousand Faces as "Deception" and start thinking of it as "Camouflage" you might find the ability to be more helpful.

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This is not going to be a very detailed answer, but here are ideas.

It could allow you to visit cities without revealing your identity (with some different clothing if needed). This could be used to get a sense of people's behavior, especially if you're a well known druid in the region, in a prince-disguised-as-beggar-trick way.

It could also serve as a defense mechanism pretty much anywhere, again possibly complemented by a change of clothes. It's hard to look for or follow someone who changes appearance.

In a sense, the above abilities are usually seen in fiction with a magic user (not just druids I think) turning into animals to observe discreetly or hide. Doing the same with humanoids seems just as valid.

And if you're the kind of druid actively protecting a natural location, you could turn into someone else to test the value of someone trespassing. The classic "will you help this old crone?" test.

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The various uses of this ability are great, but I asked more specifically about reasons why Nature would help druids to change faces. – Trajan Aug 12 '13 at 14:05
@Trajan: I seem to have missed your edit. I'll have to think about it under that angle. – leokhorn Aug 12 '13 at 20:00
No problem I edited after your answer. Reading the first ones made me realize why I was asking the question. – Trajan Aug 12 '13 at 20:12

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