I've fallen in love with the idea of a goliath warden. I want to use things like minor shapeshifting, nature powers, and martial skill to murder monsters and take their stuff, but I want to do that in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, and the warden is a Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition class.

Is there a way to make a warden in D&D 3.5e? I want to avoid any dips or multiclassing, but I want full class progression if it exists.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Take the tour. For future reference, read this. You'll probably be asked to expand this question so it's even more specific; go ahead and edit it if folks want more info. Thank you for your participation. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 25 '15 at 13:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just noticed the Pathfinder tag on this question: since I recommend barbarian as (part of) my answer, and Pathfinder changed that class quite a lot, could you please clarify if you are playing 3.5 (as suggested by the text of the question), Pathfinder (as suggested by the original tags), or some mix of the two (and if so, how are you handling things that both systems have but are different, like the barbarian)? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 27 '15 at 3:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you are playing Pathfinder, I suggest looking at the Feral Hunter (Hunter Archetype), the Feral Shifter (Druid Archetype), the Shapeshifter (Ranger Archetype), the Infiltrator (Ranger Archetype) and the Synthasist (Summoner Archetype) [some people ban this class though]. These are probably the main shapeshifter classes. There are some others also like the Beast-Bonded Witch, but generally these have a different theme or narrower range of shapes. True Shapeshifting classes are rather lacking in Pathfinder. \$\endgroup\$
    – Isaac
    Jul 27 '15 at 23:58

A goliath warden is, to date, my favorite character in 4e. I really wish there was a straight answer to your question, a single class that captures the essence of the warden, but 3.5 did not do defenders much at all, and no class really matches the warden. That said, we can get close, particularly if we do use a little bit of a second class.

Goliath Barbarian (Mountain Rage, Lion Spiritual Totem, Wolf Totem) 2/Druid (Shapeshift) 17

Shapeshifter druid is probably the closest you’ll get to the warden. Druid, of course, is a core class, and the shapeshift variant is in Player’s Handbook II. However, since druid is fairly caster-y, we sprinkle on just a touch of barbarian to give more physical presence.

Ultimately, not multiclassing will make you very much stronger – the druid is an extremely powerful class. You can just go with straight druid. For that matter, the shapeshifting variant weakens you; Wild Shape is better and it allows you to take the Natural Spell feat. But the couple of levels of barbarian does two things for you, and does them dramatically:

  1. They improve the power and presence of your shapeshifted form, making that form much more desirable.

  2. They slow your spellcasting, making not shapeshifting and just standing back and casting spells less attractive

These two points are key, to me, for turning a druid into a warden. Without the barbarian levels, as much as you could be a physical powerhouse, you’d be far better off not going into melee and just relying on spells. To turn the druid into a spellcaster who happens to be physically strong, into a real physical presence on the battlefield, the barbarian levels are not to be missed.

Shapeshift Druid

When you shapeshift, you gain generic bonuses based on the type of thing you become. There are options like “bird form” which grants flight, “predator” form which grants claws and strength, “natural avenger” form which grants huge reach in the form of vines and the like. The bonuses are decent but nothing amazing. You are recommended to determine, based on your character’s native environment or the environment you find yourself in, to find appropriate appearances for these forms, but that is largely up to you (and does not affect the bonuses you gain). This is important because the warden had a very elemental theme; the shapeshift druid tends to focus on more plant and animal themed forms, but this all very customizable as it is just appearance.

Meanwhile, the druid has powerful battlefield control spells. The warden really specialized in controlling nearby areas, but the druid excels at all forms of battlefield control. At the same time, however, the druid is less able to control the battlefield while mixing things up in melee. Worse, you cannot cast spells while shapeshifting. So it is far from a perfect match, but it is probably the best that 3.5 can do.

Goliath Barbarian with Mountain Rage

I recommend trying to find ways to improve your physical presence on the battlefield. You mentioned the goliath race; that is found in 3.5 in Races of Stone, and it has a very nice option for the barbarian’s Rage, called Mountain Rage. Normally, a druid would hate to multiclass into barbarian, but for your character I think it will work quite well. With it, you become Large during the Mountain Rage, and thus get to threaten a larger area (all reach in 3.5 is threatening reach). You cannot cast spells while raging, but you cannot cast spells while shapeshifted, either, so that mostly works out.

Note that druid also has special goliath “racial substitution levels” in Races of Stone; they’re not compatible with shapeshifter, and mostly not very good anyway. I recommend ignoring them.

Feats, including Improved Trip from Wolf Totem Barbarian

You can also enhance your reach with Aberration Blood and Inhuman Reach from Lords of Madness, and/or Willing Deformity and Deformity: Tall from Heroes of Horror. These are very expensive, particularly since you really want Extra Rage from Complete Warrior first, but they can be impressive. For someone with great reach who wants to control the battlefield, Improved Trip is excellent, and you can get that as a bonus feat, without needing Combat Expertise, from a 2nd level of barbarian with the wolf totem.

On Totems: Lion Spiritual Totem

While on the subject of barbarian totems, there are actually two classes of totem: Unearthed Arcana’s totems, which represent your barbarian tribe, and Complete Champion’s spiritual totems, which represent your own personal spiritual inspiration. For spiritual totem, the lion option is fantastic, granting Pounce at 1st level.


So I recommend something like this:

Goliath Barbarian 2/Druid 17 with the Mountain Rage and Shapeshift variants, with feats Extra Rage (1st), Improved Trip (bonus at Barbarian 2), Aberration Blood (3rd), Inhuman Reach (6th). Willing Deformity and Deformity: Tall at 9th and 12th if you want. Feel free to take Extra Rage more if you find yourself running out of it too much.

Your tactics will involve throwing down some battlefield control spell(s), and then raging and shapeshifting, and pouncing on some poor fool and lashing out all around you.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sadly, he wants to avoid any dips or multiclassing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Jul 26 '15 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel Addressed; straight druid serves as the answer-to-the-question-as-asked, per challenging the frame, but the frame-challenge will definitely improve the feel he is going for. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 26 '15 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does anyone know enough about the Incarnum classes to actually form a build in that direction with them? Honestly that's the closest thing I can think of to have the "partial shapeshifting" in 3.5 but I barely know Incarnum. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dorian
    Jul 28 '15 at 17:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dorian I do, and considered them, and the totemist might be a solid option if melee ability and partial shapeshifting were the only aspects of the warden that were desired. But the warden also had a strong elemental theme and fulfilled the role of defender, with potent nearby-battlefield-control effects; the totemist would be a striker in 4e parlance, just delivering the hurt. As such, I favored shapeshifter druid over totemist. But swapping druid for totemist definitely could work here, and totemist likes a barbarian dip even more than druid does. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 28 '15 at 17:52

Tactics wise

Well, D&D 3.x so called "tanks", rather tahn being similar to the "penalties/punishment for hitting enemies, try to hit me instead of the squishy striker with too few HP and Pulses, hoping the Leader can keep me up more easily" are more of the "I'm hard to kill" variety.

This is because being a Defender, save for some weak and easily circumventable ways (e.g. the Goad feat) and taking hits instead of other people is almost impossible to do. There are some ways to take half the damage your enemy deals to your allies (e.g. the shield others spell) and way more ways to protect them from elemental or regular damage with long lasting buffs that you cast way before combat.
The only class that, to my knowledge, has a real mark mechanic is the Crusader, which I don't know very well. I'm sure someone else will tell you more about this.

Flavour Wise

Minor shapeshifting is hard to do in 3.x because only the highest level spell give you the "magical" properties of the shape you take, which is the shtick of the Warden since level 1, and Pathfinder is even more stringend (Polymorphing is too good in 3.x because you get lots of qualities of the monster instead of just getting one specific thing like in 4e and one of the few good things PF did to really change the D&D experience was nerfing the versatility of polymorph effects).
That said, your best bet is to just refluff the visual effects of your spells (a rigorous DM could charge you the SPell Thematics feat but many DM would just let you refluff spells anyway if you don't want the feat's mechanical benefits).

Martial skills and nature power together call for ranger, and the ranger's list has some spells thathelp you hit all enemies in the near vicinity that could mimick warden pretty well. On the cons side, they get too-little-too-late spells. I'd go pure druid. It shapeshifts (in animal forms), the increased strenght is enough to let you hit even without full BAB and multi-attack forms let you care less about extra attacks from the high BAB. Having no need for high Str and Dex, it should have a good number of hit points.

Even if it's not good at all at polymorphing and its field control presence is not great at all, I always envisioned Wardens as big, burly barbarians. The martial prowess is there and the bons with nature, while not as big as with the other options, comes from a totemic religion.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A knight (PHB II) with a reach weapon is pretty good with control. They can turn all terrain they threaten as hostile. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Jul 26 '15 at 5:18
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Ruut But only for people who start in those squares, which is a shame. Still, knight is a class I had in mind. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 26 '15 at 14:51

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