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Preamble

I've always felt that having an animal companion was a vital element of the class identity of Druids, which the Druid in 5th Edition lacks entirely. It was for this very reason that until recently, I hadn't even played a Druid in 5e because it felt like a core part of what I loved about the class was gone. This subclass is my effort to restore a part of the Druid I feel was lost in 5th edition.

I've been tinkering with this on-and-off for a while, and I wanted to get it finalized before I allowed it in my games, or brought it to my DM. I have done some playtesting 1 on 1 with a friend, and it does suffer from the same problems as Moon Druid early, in the sense that CR1 beasts at level 2 are quite potent, but by 6th, 10th, and 14th level, the power had fallen off considerably and it didn't feel unreasonable.

The Circle of the Companion homebrew druid subclass is as follows:

Circle of the Companion

Animal Companion

Beginning at 2nd level, you can magically summon an animal companion, which draws strength from your bond with nature. The beast is friendly to you and your companions and obeys your commands. Choose its stat block — Companion of the Land, Companion of the Sea, or Companion of the Sky — which uses your proficiency bonus (PB) in several places, all detailed at the end of this subclass description. You decide what your animal companion looks like, including height, weight, coloration, hair length, and other distinguishing features, choosing a kind appropriate for the stat block. Whatever kind you choose, the animal companion bears primal markings, indicating its mystical origin.

In combat, your animal companion acts during your turn. It can move and use its reaction on its own, but the only action it takes is the Dodge action, unless you use a bonus action on your turn to command it to take another action. That action can be one in its stat block or some other action. You can also sacrifice one of your attacks when you take the Attack action to command your companion to take the Attack action. If you are unable to issue commands, your animal companion can take any action of its choice, not just the Dodge action. While you are incapacitated, it will attempt to protect you with its life, and remove you from combat when possible.

If your animal companion has died within the last hour, you can use your action to touch it and expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher. Your animal companion returns to life after 1 minute with all its hit points restored.

When you finish a long rest, you can summon a different animal companion. Your new companion appears in an unoccupied space within 5 feet of you, and you choose its stat block and appearance. If you already have an animal companion from this feature, it vanishes when the new companion appears. Your companion also vanishes if you die.

Companion Forms

The rites of your circle grant you the ability to transform your animal companion into more dangerous animal forms. Starting at 2nd level, you can expend two uses of your Wild Shape at the same time and touch your companion to transform it into a beast, as in the Wild Shape class feature, except where noted here. Your companion can transform into any beast with a challenge rating as high as 1, and it ignores the Max. CR column of the Beast Shapes table, but must abide by the other limitations there.

Starting at 6th level, you can transform your companion into any beast with a challenge rating equal to or less than your druid level divided by 3 (round down).

Regardless of the form your companion assumes, it retains the benefits of its Primal Bond trait, and it bears the primal markings indicating its mystical origin.

Vicious Strikes

Starting at 6th level, your animal companion's attacks count as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage. Additionally, it gains a +1 bonus to its attack and damage rolls in all forms.

Master of Many Forms

At 10th level, while your animal companion is under the effects of your Companion Forms subclass feature, you can use your action and touch your companion to cause it to assume a different form following the same restrictions of your Companion Forms feature, with one exception - if its new form has more hit points than its current one, its hit points remain at their current value.

Spirit Bond

At 14th level, your spirit has merged with your companion's. Now effectively one spirit in two bodies, you have become intrinsically linked to each other, and any damage sustained is suffered by both.

As long as your animal companion is on the same plane as you, you gain the following benefits:

  • You share a telepathic bond with your animal companion.
  • You have resistance to all damage types.
  • Whenever you take damage, your animal companion takes the same amount. This damage can't be reduced by Spirit Bond, and the damage doesn't trigger itself.
  • You regain 3 hit points at the end of each of your turns. You do not gain this benefit if you have 0 hit points.

As long as you are on the same plane as your animal companion, it gains the following benefits:

  • Your animal companion shares a telepathic bond with you. It can take any action on its turn, without the need to use your bonus action to command it.
  • Your animal companion has resistance to all damage types.
  • Whenever your animal companion takes damage, you take the same amount. This damage can't be reduced by Spirit Bond, and the damage doesn't trigger itself.
  • Your animal companion regains 3 points at the end of each of your turns. It does not gain this benefit if it has 0 hit points.

Additionally, you can use a bonus action to see through your animal companion's eyes and hear what it hears until the start of your next turn, gaining the benefits of any special senses that your animal companion has. During this time, you are deaf and blind with regard to your own senses.


The animal companions are carbon-copies of the Primal Companions in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, pg. 61.

Balance concerns.

Spirit Bond offers some considerable staying power, and it's the feature I'm most concerned about in terms of balance, but it's a bit of a hidden drawback; if you're concentrating on a spell when your companion suffers damage, you suffer the same amount, which triggers a Concentration check for the aforementioned spell.

Alternatively, if both you and your companion were within the area of effect of a spell or effect, both would suffer damage, which would then apply to both via Spirit Bond, effectively requiring two Concentration checks if you are concentrating on a spell.

Final thoughts.

Is this homebrew Circle of the Companion subclass for Druid balanced? What changes would you recommend or consider, or does this look good-to-go as is? Any input and criticism is welcome, and thanks for taking the time to look over it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How can I ask a good homebrew review question? \$\endgroup\$ May 15 at 9:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Edited to reflect information included in the reference article. First time posting homebrew review, so my apologies for being unfamiliar with the "correct" way of going about it. \$\endgroup\$ May 15 at 10:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Not trying to be snide, but "A druid with an animal companion." is the character concept I'm trying to fill. A ranger cannot fulfill that concept, as they are not a druid. \$\endgroup\$ May 15 at 10:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a commentary, it may be worth knowing that, among editions of D&D, 3.5e is unique in giving the druid an animal companion as a core class feature. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    May 15 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan This is true - but you were still able to gain animal henchmen in 2e, and one of the paths in 4e offered the option to obtain a companion as well, whereas 5e completely lacks the option or the core class feature. \$\endgroup\$ May 15 at 18:09
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This subclass isn't balanced compared to existing Druid subclasses.

This subclass suffers from: overpowered 2nd and 6th level features; a situational 10th level feature; and a 14th level feature that eradicates the identity of the entire class up until that point.

Animal Companion & Companion Forms

The same feature that a Beastmaster Ranger gets, but one level earlier and with the entire Druid package behind it as well. Plus the option to go full Moon Druid without the restraints of your PC being in Wildshape. These features are incredibly powerful, and I'd argue that combined, level-for-level are more powerful than the best Druid subclass, the Moon Druid.

The main draw of the Moon Druid's Wildshaping capabilities is the pool of additional hitpoints that you can throw out into battlefield as needed. The limiting factor to this is that your PC can no longer cast spells. With AC & CF, you no longer have this issue. Have your companion soak up incoming damage (whilst you avoid those pesky concentration saves) and you can stand in the back flinging cantrips and changing whatever control or support spells you are concentrating on as the situation demands.

You can only have your companion go full moon mode once per short rest, but in my experience of playing and running Moon Druids, they predomintaely changed back to humanoids because they needed to cast a spell or discuss plans with the party. Something this subclass doesn't have to worry about. I don't perceive needing two uses of WS to get this going as a worthwhile trade off compared to the additional versatility and damage these features provide.

Whats more, even without the Companion Forms version of your beast, you still have a fully functioning Companion, with no cost. The Circle of Wildfire is the closet cousin to a Druid pet subclass, and it's companion is resource dependent (Wildshape uses). The additional combat versatility this bring to the subclass is quite high. Additionally, the Primal Companion was balanced around the Ranger class. It is expected to accompany a half-caster, throwing it onto a full-caster is going to invalidate that entire different subclass. But it's not just getting a better caster with your companion, because Druid synergizes with the Primal Companion better than Ranger does. The companion's attack modifer is based on your spellcasting attack modifer. As a Druid, this is your primary stat. As a Ranger, this is your secondary or tertiary stat. With Tasha's Druidic Warrior Fighting Style you can get around this on your Ranger, but this is at the opportunity cost of another Fighting Style.

If the subclass only received Animal Companion, I would call it powerful, bordering on overpowered. Combining Animal Companion with Companion Forms is definitely overpowered.

(As an aside, there is no current action requirement for Companion Forms. You also refer to a Primal Bond feature in the Companion Forms section. This feature is not listed or explained anywhere. If it is supposed to refer to Spirit Bond, I'd recommend deleting it from Companion Forms and rewording it into the Spirit Bond section instead. It's confusing to reference features that haven't been introduced yet.)

Vicious Strikes

This is a sharp upgrade to the Moon Druid's equivalent 6th level feature, Primal Strike. While the Moon Druid only benefits from its feature while it is Wildshaped, your companion gets to enjoy the same damage-resistance circumvention, and gets a +1 to hit and damage rolls. All the time. That's a bonkers increase in power level right there. The Ranger's Primal Companion also doesn't get the ability to avoid damage resistances, something that would have been factored into the balance of the feature as seen on the Ranger subclass. Giving it this additional combat effectiveness is not something that should be taken lightly.

Master of Many

I've tried thinking of ways to use this effectively, and the only application I can think of that may occur with any regualrity is changing your companion from a utility form to a combat form and vice versa. But this has it's own issues.

Lets say we're using a Quetzalcoatlus as a Utility form. It has the greatest CR for a flying beast we could use and has 30 hp. A good Combat Form at CR 3 is the Giant Scorpion, which has 52 hit points. If our companion changes from a Quetzalcoatlus to a Giant Scorpion, we're missing out on 40% of the hit points that form offers, which undercuts its effectiveness significantly. It's also been my experience that parties mostly make use of the Utility forms of Wildshape in exploratory situations were combat was to be avoided. Scouting ahead, either alone or with another stealthy party member, the players avoid combat as the party is split. Travelling from one point to another, the party generally try to avoid direct confrontation knowing that the Druid is short a combat resource (Land Druids excluded).

Going the opposite way offers no such health downside, but assuming that a short rest is not possible to change the typical way, I have to assume we're making this change under duress, possibly fleeing. It's great to have an escape plan, but running away doesn't complete adventures and I'd hope it's not a strategy that needs to be invoked by a party on such a regular basis that they need class features to support it.

The best that I can call this feature is situational. It's certainly amongst the weakest 10th level Druid subclass features.

Spirit Bond

This is where everything falls apart. Up until this point, the playstyle of this class has been fairly Druid-typical. A mid- to back-line combatant. You don't have the AC or hit points to really play in the front, plus all the best Druid spells require concentration and you want to avoid dropping that. Our companion has been helping us out in our role, either by being an obstruction on the front-line and dealing damage, or performing hit and run attacks and causing distractions. All is well.

Then Spirit Bond comes online and your Druid is now a Barbarian.

Resistance to all damage types, with no resource cost, and you regain 3 hit points per turn. You're now a better tank than a Bear Totem Barbarian. Your AC is probably equivocal (hide armor and DEX and shield = 12 + 2 + 2 = 16). Your companion's AC is better at 18 (13 + prof bonus). Both of your max hit points are less than a Barbarian's, but with constant regening, your effective available daily hit points is going to be many times higher.

Now this comes at a price, and that price is not being able to concentrate on spells anymore. Like a Barbarian. Very unlike a Druid. Because the most obvious and optimal thing to do at this point is to stand in the back, throwing insta-damage spells while your companion brings a whole new definition to going beast-mode in the front-line with it's insane new tanking capability. I'm assuming the companion is in the front and the Druid is in the back because the companion has better AC. Whoever is in the front is going to be taking damage and forcing the Druid to make concentration saves. It doesn't matter how good your save is, eventually you will fail one and lose your spell. Unless your spell is going to alter the flow of the battle significantly in the first turn its in place, it's going to become ineffective to cast them and then try to maintain concentration, so you're not going to. It might not happen immediately. It might not even happen at this level. But eventually, a player is going to recognize that trying to keep up spells isn't worth it. And like I said previously, all the best Druid spells require concentration. Your Druid is now a furry/scaly/blubbery Barbarian with a fleshy meat sack 30 feet back contributing some more damage.

If you use the Sky Companion form and avoid your companion taking attacks, sure you can stand in the back and concentrate. You're now trying to avoid the full capability of your 14th level class feature, which seems counterintuitive from a design standpoint.

There is also no point in both of you being in the front-line together. The regular benefit of splitting incoming damage is removed as you are each receiving each others damage anyway.

As another aside, I feel this feature could be rewritten to avoid the need to repeat the points for both Druid and companion.

Conclusion

This subclass begins as significantly more powerful than the current most powerful class. It's 10th level feature is lack luster but the subclass as a whole is still carried by the strength of the early game features. By 14th level, the subclass essentially kills off its parent class and decides it wants to be a Barbarian now. The subclass isn't balanced compared to published existing subclasses.

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