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Druids are great, but Wild Shape has some subtle frustrations.

I'm near the end of a mid-level (5–12) campaign in which I played as a Circle of the Moon Druid, and our group may continue on to a high-level campaign with the same characters. I have loved the Druid class and the Circle of the Moon in particular, but I have some minor frustrations with the Wild Shape feature, and I think they could be solved by some straightforward tweaks to the class. These are my critiques:

  • The jump in power at level 20 for moon druids is ridiculous. In my experience, two Wild Shapes per short rest feels fairly generous for the purposes of combat encounters at least through level 12 or so. When a moon druid gains infinite Wild Shapes at level 20, the sudden step up in power feels unlike anything else in the game. (For example, nothing stops a level 20 moon druid from using a bonus action to reset their form to an earth elemental or mammoth with 126 of 126 hit points each round.) It's worth considering that very little play occurs at level 20, but a side effect of the power jump at level 20 is that it disincentivizes multi-classing when playing as a druid. (I enjoy multi-classing, so I see this as a bug, but I realize that this view might not be universal.)
  • During every level below 20, moon druids in particular are disincentivized from using Wild Shape during role play, despite being expert shapeshifters. For moon druids, two Wild Shapes per short rest feels generous for the purposes of combat but is few enough uses that a moon druid feels compelled not to use Wild Shape out of combat. The team needs those Wild Shapes during combat to keep everyone alive, so transforming into a cat during a moment of role-play, as something that your character would do playfully, for example, can feel very selfish or uncooperative at the table. This issue is present but much reduced for other (non-moon) druids.

Proposed Changes

The following features, Native Form and Elder Druid, are optional, but if either of them is enabled then both of them must be enabled.

Native Forms (Optional)

By 11th level you have grown intimately familiar with a certain Wild Shape. When you gain this feature, choose one valid beast shape with a CR of 0 to be your Native Form. You are no longer required to have or to spend a use of your Wild Shape when you use it to assume your Native Form. Additionally, you may speak with your normal voice while in your Native Form.

At 15th level, you may choose an additional Native Form with the same restrictions as the first.

The Native Forms feature gives the druid a form that can be used for role-play, exploration, spying, and various other tasks but not for level 11 combat (all CR 0 forms are very vulnerable to attack or spells and have 5 or fewer hit points). Being able to Wild Shape into a bat at will for 60 feet of blindsight plus flight is fairly powerful, but for level 11 it doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

Elder Druid (Optional)

At 20th level, you regain all expended uses of your Wild Shape whenever you roll initiative, and you may remain in beast shape for any amount of time. While in beast shape you regenerate 5 hit point at the start of each of your turns (50 hit points per minute).

Additionally, you can ignore the verbal and somatic components of your druid spells, as well as any material components that lack a cost and aren't consumed by a spell. You gain this benefit in both your normal shape and your beast shape from Wild Shape.

This 20th level feature replaces the Archdruid feature. You gain no benefit from the replaced feature and don't qualify for anything in the game that requires it.

Elder Druid reduces the Wild Shape uses granted by Archdruid from infinite to a guaranteed 2 per combat but in exchange grants the beast shape a steady (if not especially powerful, combat-wise) regeneration. For moon druids, the regeneration and infinite duration makes it much easier to keep a combat Wild Shape form between encounters. For all druids, Elder Druid is a substantial downgrade from Archdruid that nonetheless still feels to me like a powerful capstone ability.

Overall my intuition is that these two features offer a non-trivial but primarily out-of-combat power boost to the druid class in the mid-to-late levels and a drop in power relative to the traditional druid at level 20. Notably the drop in power at druid level 20 reduces the pressure on players to avoid multiclassing. Ignoring level 20 play, the main result would primarily be to give the druid some flexibility in the use of Wild Shape for role-play and utility. Nothing in this feels game breaking to me, but I'm curious if I've overlooked something that would unbalance game play or cause other problems. What else should I consider before I bring this proposal to my DM?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Iirc the design intent for capstone abilities is to dissuade multiclassing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    May 2, 2023 at 8:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Caleth That is correct, but it’s generally been the case that they aren’t especially effective at actually doing that. In 5e, the rogue, druid, and paladin are the only classes that have truly amazing capstones, everyone else is kind of meh (not bad, but mediocre enough that it’s almost always going to be worth at least considering a 1-3 level dip in some other class instead). In earlier editions, it was a regular problem that a capstone only really supported one specific play style, and you were out of luck if it didn’t fit your character. \$\endgroup\$ May 2, 2023 at 20:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you intend Elder Druid to interact with druid circles besides Moon, that use Wild Shape uses for other effects, like the Circle of Spores' Symbiotic Entity? At a glance, I'm uncertain if even Moon Druids' elemental forms count as a "beast shape" for this rule. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2023 at 18:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LouisWasserman The "beast shape" discussion about elementals seemed out of scope and likely up to the DM when I wrote the question so I left it out. I intended regeneration during elemental form but not any other non-shapeshift uses like the optional Wild Companion, Symbiotic Entity, or Starry Form—basically if it changes your physical stats, it counts. That said, I think I agree with linksassin's answer and am inclined to drop the regeneration in favor of +2 additional uses of Wild Shape; your comment points out another good reason to do this. \$\endgroup\$
    – nben
    May 3, 2023 at 23:29

1 Answer 1

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A fairly minor change

I think your take on the issues with the Circle of the Moon Druid is a fairly reasonable one. Having played one through to level 14, I agree there is a strong incentive to ensure your Wild Shape is available for combat as it is one of the strongest combat features in the game.

I'm going to address your features separately as I don't believe there is a strong reason for them to be tied together and players/GMs could easily use one or the other without consequences.

Native Forms

Given that you are granting a feature and taking nothing away this is inherently a power positive change, however I don't believe it is a bad one. A lot of the utility power of Wild Shape comes from being able to choose the best possible form for any given situation at a moments notice. By restricting to one (later two) forms you remove that ability and make this a fairly minor feature overall.

The benefit to roleplay and the "feel" of playing a Druid is far from minor. I, and every Druid player I've played with, would have loved this feature from a purely roleplay perspective. I believe you could even grant it earlier or raise the CR limit to 1 (but not both) without introducing a game breaking change. This feature doesn't really enable the Druid to do anything they couldn't do anyway but removes the need for taking a short rest immediately after, slowing down the game.

The potential for misuse is low due to the relatively weak forms and the potential for increased fun is high. That makes it a great change in my book and one I am likely to introduce in my own games.

Elder Druid

A Circle of the Moon Archdruid is brokenly powerful. It is by far the strongest capstone ability and can almost make them un-killable (par some instant kill effects). I believe the only reason it isn't a bigger issue is the rarity of level 20 play. For anyone that doesn't believe this watch Critical Role's Epic Level Battle Royal:

Where multiple other 20th level characters working together still fail to defeat the Archdruid.

Therefore it makes sense that you might like to address this power imbalance. Given that you are taking away one of the strongest abilities in the game and replacing it with a weaker one this is obviously a power negative change. I'm going to ignore the part of Elder Druid that matches Archdruid and focus only on the first paragraph.

Regaining Wild Shape at the start of combat is undoubtedly useful and would likely lead to players using their wild shape ability more as there is no risk of being weaker for a combat. The is similar to what you may see with the original feature.

Being limited to two uses during combat is an enormous downgrade, the loss of hp, combat flexibility and endurance from the change is difficult to quantify. But I would estimate it at far far higher than 5hp per round.

The healing from your feature is so minor as to be basically meaningless at this level of play. Expected damage would be in the range 50-100 points per round rather than per minute so the healing won't make a meaningful difference to combat. It is also unnecessary between combats as you regain wild shape at the start of each combat and can always shift into a new form instantly regaining maximum hp.

I suggest scrapping the healing feature and instead granting 1 or 2 additional uses of Wild Shape. That should better mimic the feel and power of the original feature while removing the more broken aspects.

Conclusion

Overall these changes are relatively minor and unlikely to impact game balance in a meaningful way. Native Forms is a fun, very minor buff with few downsides. Elder Druid is a more significant de-buff but one far less likely to be relevant in most games.

I see no reason not to allow these at the table and encourage you to playtest and report back on if they resolve the issues you have encountered.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed on making Native Forms available earlier; it's an RP / utility benefit, not directly a combat boost, at least not in the best-case scenario. It makes the game more fun for the players, so it's a quality-of-life benefit (for the druid and their party) so it's nice to have that for more of a campaign; many campaigns start at low levels and spend a long time there. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2023 at 3:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Instead of a flat CR1 limit, perhaps the same scaling CR limit as a non-moon druid, so CR1/2 at 4th level, CR1 at 8th. i.e. a moon druid can do for free what a non-moon druid can do (limited to one form), only expending uses of wild shape to go beyond that. (Perhaps allow changing the choice of native form at level-up. And maybe allow multiple free forms at higher levels, e.g. a fast flyer for outdoor scouting and an insect-sized critter like a spider for indoor scouting, and/or an aquatic form.) \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2023 at 3:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes Seems like an excellent suggestion. Probably more in line with what would actually use. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    May 3, 2023 at 6:20

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