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This is my first time in 5e (have played 3.5 before) so I have no judgement capabilities as to the effect of gear or the lack thereof.

I am soon to be playing in a 5e campaign and am designing a Circle of the Land druid based on the "I was, in fact, raised by wolves." personality trait. This is essentially a character crafted out of the backstory, come hell or high water.

This character has lived her entire life in the wild and as such would not really have any concept of possessions or gear and would likely reject any sort of body armor (including shields, helmets, bracers or boots) as "stifling" and as a druid she cannot wear metal anyway. She sees not much purpose in weapons (her prime means of physical attack is via the primal savagery cantrip) and wouldn't even know how to wield them (voluntarily dispensing with most weapon/armor proficiencies).

Now, I realize that this is suboptimal and I'm deliberately and potententially severely handicapping my character … which is why I'm asking this in the first place. While this character is deliberately not aimed at peak combat performance, if possible I want to avoid becoming just dead meat during a fight (metaphorically and literally).

  • She is not strong, but nimble, so ultimately I'd try to target the full +5 Dex bonus for a 15 AC.
  • I'm aware that I can take up a role as buffer and healer (which is the plan), but I'd still want to try and contribute otherwise and/or be able to defend myself if caught out.
  • I'm aware of my Wild Shape helping the issue, but as a Circle of the Land druid I realize that it's not the ultimate solution.
  • I'd like to stay a pure druid, so dips into Monk or Barbarian for the improved armor calculations, while tempting, are out.
  • I could see her wearing a cloak or a necklace as those are relatively unintrusive pieces of clothing.

Am I overestimating the negative impact of completely abstaining from weapons/armor and similar common gear, and it's not necessary to find something to "catch up" to characters with it?

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Minimal Effect: Armor and Weapons not required

You can make viable builds as a Druid (and as other classes), without requiring the use of manufactured weapons or armor.

AC Options

Barkskin can help give your AC a boost (up to 16, but it is concentration), which isn't terrible. You're not going to be a Tank, but your Tankiness as a Druid is more in the HP soaking with Wild Shapes than in AC. In comparison, studded leather with a max Dex of +5 would still only give you AC 17. IN addition, when you WIld Shape, you will not have the benefit of your armor and have only the AC from the Wild Shape beast. Any spells supplementing that would carry over, so it's actually a plus for a build like this!

You can also have Absorb Elements prepared to help mitigate some damage types.

As you reach higher spell levels, Stoneskin is another option to mitigate damage.

Finally, the Investiture spells from Xanathar's give further help in mitigating damage and increasing offensive capabilities.

There are also Feats that may be worth it (Magic Initiate) that would let you take a 1st level spell (Mage Armor!) for a non-concentration AC of 13+Dex.

Weapon Options

As you stated in your initial question, Primal Savagery is a great cantrip for you. There are other options as well:

Shillelegh is a great early cantrip if you feel that a quarterstaff(doubling as your focus) is reasonable.

There are a lot of other cantrip and spell options for Druid that let you attack without the need for a manufactured weapon.

Common Gear

Getting by without some necessary items (like a pack to carry things, food, water, etc.) may be slightly more difficult.

You can use Goodberry to bypass your food (and maybe water) needs. But standard adventuring gear may be an issue. You'll need a lightsource if you don't have darkvision (although Produce Flame can give you light in a pinch as a cantrip)

Components/Focus

The biggest thing you'll have to figure out is spellcasting focus and/or component pouch as well as how you carry other things (but it sounds like that's not an issue since you don't want things.) If you decide to forgo the focus or the pouch, you may be limiting yourself to verbal/somatic only spells. If so, be careful in choosing your prepared spells for those with only V,S - but work with your DM and think about how/if you'd like to carry a focus or pouch.

Supplementing with Magic Items

There are a LOT of magic items that could help supplement a build like this. Ranging from the Ring/Cloak of Protection to wands/staves for Druids. My list above was really about how to make a build like this without resorting to items, but those are definitely options for you to review in the DMG if your DM is willing to make them available to you.

Going Commando

Going without arms and armor really is not a problem. You may have some limitations you wouldn't, but they wouldn't be immense. Play your flavor, you can do it well and not feel like you are creating too many difficulties that will stop you from enjoying your character.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Land druid Wild Shapes are not really capable of "HP soaking" \$\endgroup\$ – András Jan 25 '18 at 22:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Andras true, but it is still extra hp. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 25 '18 at 23:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ They're also not particularly good at being directly useful in combat, which limits the transformation's viability as an HP soak even further. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Mar 26 at 14:06
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You're basically giving up 2 AC (studded leather) by forgoing armor. Barkskin helps a little, but takes up your spell slots, only lasts an hour, and depends on concentration.

2 ideas that pop into my head (both involving working with the DM):

  • Perma-Barkskin - this is kind of a reward for embracing your back story. You are always under the effect of Barkskin. No spell slots or concentration required. Note that even if you wanted to, using a shield doesn't stack with Barkskin. (How does barkskin work?)
  • Part Werewolf - you get +1 natural armor, even when in humanoid form (this is better than werewolves get), and maybe you also get their claw attacks. The "downside" is that you can only transform into a wolf. Maybe you eventually learn how to change into another form, but probably only so that you can swim or fly. I mean, why would you ever change into a cat?

I think that options like these, though not RAW, would allow you to maintain your backstory while not being punished too severely. Remember to consider Rules as Fun too.

Note that the RAW rules for PC lycanthropes (werewolf is one of 5 types) can be found at MM p 207). My suggestion above would be RAW if you only get the +1 while in hybrid form (i.e., most combats). By RAW you would actually get a bump to your Strength (15 for werewolves). Also note that werebears are neutral good and weretigers are neutral if you are worried about alignments from the MM. Although the MM suggests that weretigers rarely pass on their curse, perhaps you were born with it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While it's not RAW, +1 because especially the 2nd one is an interesting mitigation that'd actually perfectly fit to the character. Certainly will bring this idea forth to the GM, though I don't know if he'll accept it (which is why I tried to stick to RAW in the first place). \$\endgroup\$ – Suthek Jan 25 '18 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Suthek Also be aware that a Werewolf is Chaotic Evil. If that's the campaign style you're playing, it can work - but otherwise you may be on the wrongside of your party and the law. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 25 '18 at 21:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alignments are of course a broad generalization and you should not be forced into accepting it. While werewolves are CE in a default setting, your family might have been the Drizzt of werewolves or something. Or maybe since you were abandoned, you were never taught their evil ways and instead learned the laws of the pack. Could set up some good conflict in the future. (Also note that I didn't think you had to really be a full werewolf, but use the idea for flavor. Maybe you are 1/4 werewolf or something.) \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Brown Jan 25 '18 at 22:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Consider adding to your answer: Werewolf rules for player characters are found in the Monster Manual pg. 207. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jan 27 '18 at 10:31
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This is more practical with the new Eberron playtest races

The question author has likely already finished creating their character, but for future visitors interested in playing this character concept I might suggest the Races of Eberron, which as of writing are in Unearthed Arcana playtest form.

Your primary issues with an item-less character are they their AC will be lower than expected, and their damage output will be lower. This will be the case for any character who is expected to use weapons and armor (although not for characters who don't rely on such items to effectively fulfil their party role, such as the monk or sorcerer).

The shifter gains +1 Dexterity, making it easier for you to start with a good Dexterity bonus to AC, and temporary hit points when they shift, which can be done once per short rest. The shifter has various subraces, including Beasthide, which has +2 Constitution, +1d6 temporary hit points when shifting, and +1 to AC; and Longtooth, which can deal 1d6 + Strength damage with a bite attack;

The warforged may seem a peculiar idea for a druid, but a warforged with darkwood core has a base AC of 11 + Dexterity + proficiency bonus, provided the character is proficient in light armor.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth noting that the races in the UA are currently identical to the races in the Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron as of its original release (though Mearls has said the full Eberron PDF is planned to be updated based on feedback from playtesting). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 25 '18 at 17:38
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You will be dead weight

Look at it this way: on level 161 you will have the AC of a first level Wizard, and they are not famous for their great defenses.

Combat effectiveness

The main issue is lack of an appropriate AC, which makes the character completely unsuitable to be in the front liney. This were not so bad if you could always stay in the back row, but most DMs I know will use smart and fast skirmishers and archers to hurt the back row from time to time.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything helps a lot here, in the PHB all damaging cantrips had a range of 30 feet or less. With the new options you can stay out of most monsters' walking range.

Not using weapons is a much smaller problem, it should only come up in antimagic fields, and those are very rare.

Other gear can easily be substituted by Wild Shapes and spells.
Climbing kit: spider form
Lantern: Produce Flame

Unarmored AC

After Monks, Land Druids lose the least by denouncing armor and shields, unfortunately this is not because they are fine without it, but because they [start from a bad situation][1] to begin with.

A first level Paladin is expected to start with AC18, Chain Mail+Shield. The Druid's closest cousin, the Cleric can start with the same, if the chosen domain provides heavy armor proficiency, or Scale+Shield+Dex 14, which adds up to the same final AC.
A usual Druid starts two lower for AC16, as the best possible armor without some homebrewing is Studded Leather. You start at least three below that. With point buy the highest Dex you can get is 16, and you do not use shields. So your final AC is 13, completely unfit for the frontline.

The typical CR1 monster has a proficiency bonus of +2, hitting the average Cleric with 25% chance, you with 50. Meaning you go down twice that often. More accurate monsters finish you even faster.

Positioning

If you are willing to give up on Primal Savagery, you can stay behind in relative safety.

Barkskin

You can trade your defensive problem for an offensive one with this spell. Spending a 2nd level slot, you can get the AC of a first level Cleric, who does not use a shield. It is far from strong, bordering on useless even, based on only this.
What makes it worse is that it requires concentration, preventing you from being effective in combat. Your arguably best offensive spells require concentration: Faerie Fire, Entangle, Flaming Sphere, Call Lightning, Guardian of Nature and so on. So for a mediocre AC you give up most of your combat capabilities.

Higher levels

You said you want to increase your Dex to compensate for the lack of AC, unfortunately you could only do it again at the expense of your offensive abilities.
Assuming a reasonable ability score distribution of Wis 16, Dex 16, if you do not want to prioritize your defensive ability (Dex) over your offensive one (Wis), you will reach Dex 20 by level 16. Again, your AC at this point is one point lower than what a 1st level Druid is expected to have (Studded+Shield+Dex 14).

Mage Armor

With the Magic Initiate feat you can use Mage Armor to increase your AC by 3. However, unless you play a variant human, this will postpone your Dex 20 to level 19.

Conclusion

This build is unusable in the front line, Primal Savagery has to go.
You can only stay far enough from melee enemies if you use the spells from Xanathar’s Guide of Everything, Druid cantrips from PHB have horrible range. With XGtE this build becomes acceptable, but just barely.

Suggestion

Your character development (in the literary sense) could involve slowly and reluctantly realizing that it is tool use that makes humans competitive with animals. We lack the though hide of crocodiles, the fangs of tigers and the strength of bears.
It would be an interesting aspect of roleplay to grudgingly start using these things.

I know want to avoid multiclassing, but it could be very useful and thematic.
You can take a level of "tought-by-wolves-how-to-use-your-senses-to-avoid-attacks", and approximate it with a level of Monk.


1) if you start with 16 in Dex and Wis, and increase Wis first, then Dex

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