As a follow up to the original balance question, and after some input from GiTP homebrew forum members and the goodly folks here at RPG.SE, the Circle of the Flame Druid as currently envisioned is, I think, closer to balanced.

Or is it? Is there a glaring balance hole in this version?

Circle of Flame (V 1.6)

Fire burns the forest, and out of the ash rises new growth. Just like the fire that burns the weak and dead trees, Druids of the Circle of Flame reap the weakness from those who have lost their way, leaving the next generation a fertile soil to grow upon. Wind spreads forest fires, cleansing a greater area. Lightning starts forest fires when it strikes a dead tree; fiery death brings a new beginning. Even evil, consumed by flame, can provide fertile ground for Nature reborn. Circle of Flame druids believe that everything will burn one day, to be re-born for a new beginning.

Circle of Flame spells (always prepared)

  • at level 3 Flaming Sphere, Gust of Wind
  • at level 5 Plant Growth, Lightning Bolt
  • at level 7 Guardian of Nature, Wall of Fire {Grasping Vine for PHB Only Games}
  • at level 9 Control Winds, Immolation {Flame Strike for PHB Only games}

Only You
When you choose the Circle of Flame at level 2, you gain the fire bolt cantrip.

Heart of the Flame
At 2nd level, you gain the ability to awaken the primal spirits of flame. As an action, you can expend a use of your Wild Shape feature to awaken your inner flame, rather than transforming into a beast form. While this feature is active, you gain the following benefits:

  • A flaming aura surrounds you. Your armor class increases by one third of your Druid level (minimum of 1). Druid level linkage to forestall MC shennanigans
  • You can use your reaction to heal yourself, or an allied creature within 10' of you, for 1d4 hit points when one of you takes damage. This healing increases to 1d6 at 5th level, 1d8 at 11th level, and 1d10 at 15th level.

    Both of these effects last for 1 minute or until you are reduced to 0 hit points.

    unlike the beast shape that lasts for hours and hours, this is a one combat benefit expenditure of a class feature. The rough effect of this is to spread out the "HP pool" feature of wild shape among the party when the druid is on fire during a combat ... .

Heat of Battle
Starting at level 6, the druid gets an Extra Attack when taking the Attack action.

Flaming Soul
At level 10 you gain resistance to fire damage. While concentrating on a spell that does fire damage, add your wisdom modifier to the damage

From the Ashes
Starting level 14, when you or an ally within 30' of you takes fire or lightning damage, you may use your reaction to allow your ally, or yourself, to absorb the damage and instead heal for the amount of damage that would have been taken. You choose which of you gets this benefit. You must take a short or long rest before using this feature again.

Why the revision? My original idea on using the Wisdom mod for AC was too front loaded and bounded accuracy issues arose with the seeds of Multi-Classing Exploits.

Having this AC increase be tied to Druid level (like Moon Druid CR for Wild Shape) will be offset by the higher CR opponents, who have less trouble hitting as the game goes on.

  • We have spent over a year in a Tier 3 campaign. AC 18 - 19 does not appear to be much protection against monsters with a decent strength/dex to hit mod, and prof bonus, and multi-attack. (Lots of them have that). If you've ever been in melee with stone giants or frost giants, I think you'll see what I mean. Heck, my champion with AC 22-24 (Defensive style, sword and board) still got hit plenty. Taking into account how high permanent AC can get ...

Fire resistant and fire immune creatures, of which there are plenty, won't see this druid as a threat.

Per a comment with BenBarden, the objective of the AC increase is threefold:

  1. The above noted experience in tier 3 play with a > AC 20 martial,
  2. how badly barkskin stinks as an AC boost
  3. the objective of making this druid a little tanky/melee survivable; the modification of the wild shape feature has been chosen as the core mechanism for that. Answers that address how to do that better are most welcome.
  4. Various clunky prose or awkwardness that makes this hard to understand are also welcome improvements in an answer.

Combat-wise, it feels a bit much.

I recently started a druid. My first intent was to find a way to remain effective in combat despite depleted resources ; I found out that the druid hasn't much to offer, in that regard:

  1. Ranged options (such as sling attacks, or produce flame) lack range and damage.
  2. Melee options (such as shillelagh or thorn whip) lack damage in the long run.
  3. AC is often on the low-end - unless your DM is generous on non-metal armor distribution, or you focus on dexterity.

It is indeed very frustrating, and encourages battlefield control over direct damage. Your homebrew subclass fixes all 3 issues, including strong blaster, healer and tank features: it would have been a no-brainer for me, and that's a warning for balance.

Bladesinger comparison

There are not that many full spellcasters with Extra Attack, and Bladesong looks very close to Heart of Fire. It may seem balanced... until you dig a little more:

\$\begin{array}{|c|c|c|} \hline \textbf{Ability} & \textbf{Bladesinger} & \textbf{Circle of flame}\\ \hline \text{max AC using mundane gear} & 23 & \textbf{25} \\ \text{Requirements:} & \textit{mage armor}\text{ spell} & \text{shield, class level 18} \\ & \text{high dexterity & intelligence} & \text{high dexterity or nonmetal half-plate} \\ \hline \text{max AC using magical items} & 25 & \textbf{31} \\ \text{Requirements:} & \textit{robe of the archmagi} & \text{+3 shield & armor, class level 18} \\ & \text{high Dexterity & Intelligence} & \text{high Dexterity or nonmetal half-plate} \\ \hline \text{Hit dice} & \text{d6} & \textbf{d8} \\ \hline \text{Damage control} & \text{reaction & spell slots-based} & \textbf{healing spells} \\ & \text{Damage reduction} & \textbf{reaction-based healing} \\ \hline \text{Concentration}& \text{+Intelligence modifier} & \text{better AC = fewer concentration checks} \\ \hline \end{array} \$

All in all, the Circle of the Flame druid vastly outperforms its cousin - and can even do so with little ASI investment, should you find a proper armor.

Circle of Land & Circle of Spores comparisons

The Circle of Spores, from Unearthed Arcana, is probably an attempt to offer wannabe-melee druids an alternate to the circle of the moon's combat forms. Let's include it here:

\$\begin{array}{|c|c|c|} \hline \textbf{Subclass features} & \textbf{Circle of the Flame} & \textbf{Circle of the Land} & \textbf{Circle of Spores} \\ \hline \text{level 2} & \textbf{$fire\ bolt$} & \text{one druid cantrip} & \textit{chill touch} \\ & \textbf{1-minute huge melee buff} & \text{Natural Recovery} & \text{10-min small melee buff} \\ & & & \text{reaction-based poison damage} \\ \hline \text{level 6} & \textbf{Extra Attack} & \text{ignoring difficult terrain} & \text{1-hp zombies} \\ \hline \text{level 10} & \textbf{+Wis mod to fire, concentration spells} & \text{various immunities} & \text{AoE spores} \\ & \textbf{fire resistance} & & \\ \hline \text{level 14} & \textbf{turn fire/lightning damage into healing} & \text{beasts & plants hesitate to attack} & \text{various immunities} \\ \hline \end{array} \$

It looks like the Circle of the Flame has the best features at each level: best cantrip to allow ranged combat, best melee-buff, extra attack is sick, enhancing concentration-based spells is unique... Even the last feature, that appears situational at first, becomes cheesy once you start to fuel it with your own AoE spells.


So, how do we fix this?

First, you can't aim for balance, and be a strong healer, blaster and tank at the same time. I removed the healing capabilities, as the tank part seemed your main concern, and the theme calls for improved fire damage.

Second, on the AC question: "no metal armor" and bounded accuracy make things difficult. If your DM rewards you with powerful nonmetal armors, he shouldn't allow big AC temporary bonuses in an homebrew class. The opposite is also true: if he allows big AC temporary bonuses... he should make sure you keep a lowly hide armor for your entire career. Hence the solution offered here - which seems the good way to reliably get good AC, without over-investing in dexterity or "forcing the hand" of your DM.

Here's the result:

Only You

When you choose the Circle of Flame at level 2, fire bolt and green-flame blade become druid cantrips for you. You learn an additional druid cantrip of your choice.

Leaves choices, and includes another fire-themed cantrip. Green-flame blade is mostly aimed at tier 2+ melee: extra attack was too much (especially if you intend to add Polearm Master), but this cantrip offers something comparable to the cleric's Divine Strike.

Heart of the Flame

At 2nd level, you gain the ability to awaken the primal spirits of flame. As a bonus action, you can expend a use of your Wild Shape feature to awaken your inner flame, rather than transforming into a beast form. While this feature is active, you gain the following benefits:

  • You gain 3 temporary hit points per level you have in this class
  • You shed bright light in a 30-foot radius and dim light for an additional 30 feet.
  • You add your Wisdom modifier to concentration checks.

These benefits last for 10 minutes, or until you become unconscious.

Temporary HP is probably the way to go to add survivability to a druid: it matches what has been done for the Circle of Spores and Circle of the Moon. I removed the AC boost: if you insist on keeping it, you'll have to either keep it low (like +2), or remove the ability to use a shield - if you care about bounded accuracy, of course.

Purification through Fire

Starting at level 6, you gain resistance to fire damage. You also learn a purification ritual that allows you to prepare metal shields & armors, so that you can use them.

With your average 14-dex druid, it means up to +3 AC - and an easier access to magic armor in the long run. It is a game changer for most tables, where nonmetal armor is scarce - and can be balanced by making the ritual as simple or as complex as you wish (involving time, gold, crafting skills, a risk to destroy the item?).

Heat of Battle

Starting at level 10, once per turn, whenever one of your spells inflicts fire damage to a creature, you can add your Wisdom modifier to that damage.

Idea is to open that damage buff to more options (e.g fire bolt, green-flame blade) - while keeping it at a reasonable level (only one creature per turn).

Flaming Soul

Starting at level 14, you gain immunity to fire damage. You can also apply your heat of battle on a second damage roll, each turn.

Either affect both targets of green-flame blade, or use it on both flaming sphere and your cantrip of choice.

I'm absolutely not sure that this is well balanced:

  • I feel Nature and/or Forge Domain clerics might feel cheated with this, as some of their core subclass features are included here, with few drawbacks
  • having both a better AC and temporary HP, while keeping access to healing spells, means that you are tanking pretty hard
  • Extra attack was too much - and this may also be. Green-flame blade + Heat of Battle + shillelagh makes a strong combination.
  • Bonus to concentration might go out of control if you go for the War Caster / Resilient (Con) route. Replacing it with Con save proficiency or advantage on concentration checks may help avoid those shenanigans.

But I do think it is closer to "balanced", when compared with Land & Spores druids. Obviously, feel free to switch things around (access to metal armor as soon as level 2?) - and take or leave whatever fits best your idea.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The Spores druid is no longer UA-only, and has been published in a modified form in the Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 8 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast thank you for pointing that out (and for the answer editing, which I would'nt call "minor" btw - sorry I'm giving you so much work!) ; it seems that class has been "revealed" a show, and a capture of the published version is available online - including in sageadvice.eu. Would it be OK to add a link to that kind of resource ? \$\endgroup\$ – Bash Apr 9 at 8:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bash: I know I've seen screenshots of the published version online before, but I imagine it's still not fair use to show a screenshot of the entire subclass for free, especially when it's not really that central to the answer. That said, it's probably more important to update that portion of the answer to refer to the published version of the subclass and its features instead. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 9 at 19:31

Well, it's better.

The healing is under control now, which is good, but it might be a bit too under control. The scaling on the bonus AC is pretty severe. When you get it at first, you're burning a wild shape and an action for a point of AC and the ability to spend your reactions handing out 1d4 hp at a time. That's a bit anemic for something that's clearly intended to be subclass-defining. It does get better over time. At 6th level, you get 2 AC and 1d6 hp, which is okay. By 12th, you have +4 and 1d8, which is decent for the AC, but still pretty bad on the healing. The rough equivalent on the Barbarian side is Path of the Spirit Warrior, which gets a similar reaction (damage prevention rather than healing) of 2d6 at 6th, 3d6 at 10th, and 4d6 at 14th when raging. Healing is strictly better better than damage prevention, but the chance that you're going to be able to heal more than the blow with your 1d8 at 12th level is not great.

Now, at level 18, you're pulling down +6AC, which is a big deal, and a 1d10 reaction heal, which really isn't (unless you've managed to pack on some significant heal buffs in some way). Again, you're not super-limited in your armor here. Grab a tortle for a dex-free 17AC, pick up shield for a +2, and you're at 25 AC before adding any sort of magic. Make it a +3 shield and you're at 28 - beating out the max AC for "permanent AC, magic armor, no other magic items" in the appropriate QA, and that isn't even trying hard.

So, I'd say flip it around. Crank up the reaction heal to something more like the Ancestral Guardian. Have it 1d6 at 2nd, then up to 2d6 at 6th (or thereabouts) and follow something like that progression thereafter. Yeah, heal is better than damage reduce, but it's not that much better, and it's not super-abusable. Maybe throw in some sort of a rule to keep them from doing dumb things like repeatedly stabbing each other for heals. Maybe reduce the heal by 1d6, and deal 1d6 fire damage to the attacker? Something. Let that be the cool part.

On the AC, then, make it moderate, and static. 2 AC, maybe. Dipping into druid for combat types is already pretty high cost, because druids flatly refuse to use metal armor. It's worth putting up with that and a two-level dip to get 5 AC. It's a lot less worth it to get 2. If you think 2AC just isn't quite good enough, say that it's 2 AC and they can use Wisdom in place of dex for AC calculations. It won't break anything, but it's handy.

For flaming soul, I think going for spell damage rather than AC works a lot better, but as long as you're doing that, you may as well make it all fire-based spell damage rather than just concentration-based fire damage. Lots of people get that sort of thing much earlier in their respective trees than this, and it eliminates a lot of confusing edge cases.

Also, I would encourage that you not have it cost a full action to activate. Having that be the cost means that either the player has to waste the first round of combat doing nothing interesting just to bring up the fires (which is, honestly, no fun) or they just don't use it at all. Of the rough equivalents out there, rage is a bonus action, bladesong is a bonus action, and wild shape is a full action, but it has a duration lasting in hours, so you can assume that people won't be jumping into it as their first action in combat. Also, for the circle of the moon, who are most likely to use it in combat, it is a bonus action. Basically, having it cost a full action rather than a bonus action is going to make it less fun for the druid. You should find some other way to restrict it. If you think that a bonus action is too little, then perhaps consider making it something like "bonus action on a turn you've cast a spell that deals fire damage"

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 9 at 0:21

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