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I am trying to determine if a druid can use wildshape to turn into a dire wolf then use it again immediately to transform into a small snake. Can they just transform directly into the new animal form, or does the druid need to end the current form going back to their normal self, then once in normal form expend an action or bonus action to go to the next animal form? This all assumes that the Druid has enough wildshape instances left to use.

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Yes.

First off, let's note that there's nothing in the Druid description that specifically precludes the WS1 → WS2 transformation you're contemplating.

Second, consider this line of "Wild Shape":

You retain the benefit of any features from your class... and can use them if the new form is physically capable of doing so.

Wild shaping is a druid feature, so you retain it if the form is capable of doing so. Is it? For me there are 2(.5) reasons to suppose it is:

  1. Wild shaping does not require any spell-like components: gestures, utterances, &c. Some of those might have been impossible for your dire wolf, but they're not needed.
  2. We know a druid in animal form can transform: into a druid! The druid's personality, mental scores, and proficiencies all carried over. Absent a prohibition, it seems strange to think that this one part of a druid's core doesn't carry over.
  3. (Plus, if memory serves, Robyn--the druid queen of Douglas Niles Moonshae trilogies which informed much of the early D&D canon on druids--once changed from one form to another. The time she ran into Faerun's first peryton, IIRC. Can't put my hands on that book right now, though.)

Lastly, what would it harm to say "yes" to your player? The action-economy seems to be the only place where this could be exploitative. If we were to rule "no," then a druid has to use both their bonus action and their action to transform WS1 → druid → WS2. If we rule "yes" then a druid has to use their action to transform WS1 → WS2, leaving them "ahead" by a bonus action. In my opinion, that's a pretty small risk to run: the average druid doesn't have a lot they can do with an isolated bonus action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The one potentially exploitative use for this I see is a 20th level Moon Druid. Animal forms don't tend to have a lot of use for Bonus Actions apart from using Combat Wild Shape's spell slot trick to heal. A lvl 20 Moon Druid could simply shift into subtle variations on the same type of creature every round. As a result, unless you can drop the Druid's animal form to 0hp in a single round...they are immortal. 20th lvl Moon Druids are hard enough to kill when you can whittle down their HP then hit them hard enough to Overflow their animal hp. This would make it near impossible. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Mar 13 '17 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty That's all true, but I feel like so much already breaks down around L20 that I'm not too worried about that. Anyway, that druid's got much better things to do with their time than get into combat. Like grazing as a mammoth, placidly watching the world do its thing. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 13 '17 at 15:51
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Yes. A druid can Wild Shape to a new form without reverting.

Though his posts do not carry the weight of Crawford's, multiple tweets by Mike Mearls reinforce that this is the intended mechanic of Wild Shape.

Tweet 1 verifies that a direct shift is possible

Deanna Rowe: Druid wondering, can I wild shape from one animal form right into the next, or do I have to rest as an elf in between? Mike

Mearls: you do not need to shift back to an elf - you can go from beast to beast Deanna Rowe: how does that work? any reference material I can find/read? someone told me I'm sacrificing my other wild shape?

Mike Mearls: yeah, it does require you to expend a use of wild shape.

Tweet 2 verifies that the new shape does not have to be different from the first

A Load of Bulls Hit: Could a Druid already in beast form use wild shape to switch to another beast? Would they need to revert first?

Mike Mearls: can change from animal to animal

A Load of Bulls Hit: so you can change into a bear with full hp when you get to 1hp in panther form? Can you also change from a bear to 'new' bear?

Mike Mearls: Yes, as far as I recall

Tweet 3 emphasizes that new form does require another use of the power.

rhouckdnd: can druid wild shape from form to form? (eg,druid is bear, can he change direct to snake?) or only extend bear?@JeremyECrawford

Mike Mearls: yes

Mike Mearls: however, each change requires a use of the ability, save for returning to your true form

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A Load of Bulls Hit: Could a Druid already in beast form use wild shape to switch to another beast? Would they need to revert first?

Mike Mearls: can change from animal to animal

A Load of Bulls Hit: so you can change into a bear with full hp when you get to 1hp in panther form? Can you also change from a bear to 'new' bear?

Mike Mearls: Yes, as far as I recall

I think Mike Mearls was working from memory and forgot this line from the description of wild shape:

During this spell's Duration, you can use your action to assume a different form following the same restrictions and rules for the original form, with one exception - if your new form has more hit pints than your current one, your hit points remain at their current value.

Which seems to me, that while changing from one form directly to another is allowed, it does not really have any major benefits if you have taken damage, as you cannot take another form with more HP than the previous one i.e. if you wild shape into a 10 HP bear and are reduced to 1 HP, changing into a panther or into a another bear, the new for would still have 1 HP.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That text is from the shapechange spell, which has nothing to do with the Druid's Wild Shape class feature. Wild Shape has no such text. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Feb 21 '18 at 19:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ You are absolutely correct. My mistake. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel F Boomer Feb 22 '18 at 21:00

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