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.
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?