Once again we have another set of new playtest material from Wizard’s Unearthed Arcana column. This time we focus on three new Druid circles (found here). Like the previous Unearthed Arcana materials, we are expanding on the core class within the Player’s Handbook. From Barbarian all the way to Druid, we have covered four of the twelve core classes so far and given that Jeremy Crawford and Mike Mearls are taking a break from the Sage Advice column, there is no sign of stopping the twice a month postings on Mondays. Again Wizards asks the community for their feedback on the Cleric playtest while introducing the three latest Druid circles: Dreams, Shepard, and Twilight. The Circle of Dreams draws their powers from interactions with the fey, specifically the Summer Court (mostly good-aligned fey) while the Circle of the Shepherd is the quintessential summoner archetype with a spirit companion, and the Circle of Twilight focuses on the extermination of the undead menace. Additionally, the playtest material offers alternative rules for DMs and players to moderate the amount of beast forms a druid may partake in order to streamline gameplay.
Circle of Dreams – Was it a Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Normally a druid is not considered a dedicated healer, while healing word and cure wounds are spells it can prepare, often times the class has the delicate balance of utility, healing, and offensive spells to choose from their already limited pool. The Balm of the Summer Court feature grants the druid a means to be a well of healing, very similar to a Paladin’s Lay on Hands but without require touch and they are d6s as opposed to a raw number. So as a bonus action, a druid may select a target within 120 feet and spend up to half your druid levels worth of d6s for healing. Even at 20th level, the most the druid can expend is 10d6 worth of healing, which frankly a cleric can outperform by 13th level. The point is that this feature just gives the druid some more utility in combat and more of a healer role.
The Hidden Paths feature at 10th level is first time we see a cooldown time of effect, where the druid can either teleport themselves or an ally they touch up to 30 feet. Afterwards, the druid cannot use the feature again for 1d4 rounds. A randomized cooldown effect hasn’t been seen since 3.5 and Pathfinder with dragon breath weapons having a similar effect. For monsters with cooldowns, a d6 is rolled and if a certain value is met, the ability recharges so why not do the same for the druid? As a player character, the rules run differently than say a monster and I feel that this worth giving a try. I would love to see how it fares compared to other teleporting features. It does seem powerful compared to other races and even other classes. The only likely path we could choose to alleviate any potential overuse is to limit it to a number of times equal to the druid’s wisdom modifier (minimum of 1) and these uses recharge after a long rest.
The Purifying Light feature seems quite potent and is even limited to the number of uses a druid can use until they finish a long rest. Basically every healing spell the druid casts has the chance to cast dispel magic on the healed creature so long as the druid sacrifices an appropriate spell slot. Basically, a druid can spend higher level spell slots if necessary which emphasizes the need for utility and convenience. Perhaps the druid can cast greater restoration but trying to restore so many allies in a short time might be difficult or out of their reach but with a healing spell cast, there is a chance to remove whatever ill arcane effects have afflicted the party. Plus it makes sense especially if your allies become charmed, the dispel magic in most instances works against such enchantments.
Overall, the circle brings the druid into the forefront of the healer role more so than the original circles in the Player’s Handbook. If you need a druid as the more dedicated healer, this is a great circle to consider.
Circle of the Shepherd – spirit summoner, protector of nature’s friends
Borrowing from the ideas of the Warden features in Wizard’s first Ranger revision (I wrote an article about it here), there are some design elements that inspired this adaptation of the circle. We have a spirit companion that the druid can summon with a bonus action, it generates a boon depending on the particular spirit summoned. The spirit doesn’t occupy space, and is not considered a creature or object while persisting for 1 minute. The spirit auras really give a bit more versatility to the druid, giving temporary hit points, or improving ranged attacks, or boosting the healing their allies receive while near the aura. This feature offers many choices for the druid and allows them to pinpoint a particular strategy without feeling penalized for it.
This circle also boosts summoned creatures and allies, which is something of an archetype that players have considered for a little while now. The druid has plenty of means to summon woodland allies or even elementals, so it would stand to reason that this particular approach rewards the player for a niche playstyle.
The Guardian Spirit feature thematically is appropriate and is quite powerful for a druid, especially if they’re the only dedicated healer for the party. Having the only healer not fall right away can really bolster a party’s fighting capabilities.
Faithful Summons is a feature that addresses the issue of when the Guardian Spirit feature is used and ultimately the druid falls, then what can the druid do for the party? Well apparently, summon a mass horde of animal friends to fight in your name. Basically, if you were to drop to 0 hit points, you get to cast a conjure animals spell as a 9th-level spell. It seems unprecedented but it stands to reason that this feature emphasizes the will of the druid and the aspirations of the circle itself.
Overall this circle feels like a good adaptation of previous ideas and gives a small sampling for what a summoner druid can do.
Circle of Twilight – a druid grim reaper but for the undead
The playtest material’s final druid circle deals with exterminating the undead and sending foes to their ultimate fate while keeping your allies from their premature end. This particular circle seems aggressive compared to some of the other circles presented, sort of like how the Circle of the Moon felt compared the Circle of the Land in the Player’s Handbook. The circle features a unique spin of the dice pool concept from the Balm of the Summer Court and instead emphasizes damage to foes when casting spells. The druid of this circle also gains the ability to speak with the dead and resist the strong energies that fuel and destroy undead creatures. Ultimately, the druid gains the ability to become a true ghostly reaper, walking alongside ghosts and spirits.
The Harvest’s Scythe feature is essentially the opposite of the Balm of the Summer Court, this one uses d10s and the druid may spend up to half their level worth of dice and add the sum to the damage of any spell they cast. Those Call Lightning spells are starting seem increasingly scarier by the moment. Should the druid slay a creature with a spell augmented by this feature, you can use the now dead creature’s life energy to heal you or your allies within 30 feet. It’s a very strong ability that rewards the druid for being aggressive while still allowing them to act within a secondary support role as well. Granted the extra damage is necrotic, which is rather ironic since the more powerful undead are resistant to it so I don’t know if that was an oversight or maybe needed to rewritten as radiant?
The Speech Beyond the Grave and Watcher of the Threshold features feature more interaction options, specifically conversing with the dead, making the druid resistant to necrotic and radiant damage, and finally the ability grant allies advantage on death saving throws. Dealing with undead creatures, there often times means and methods to nearly slay a party of adventurers rather easily if they’re unprepared. To resist many of the damaging spells and effects that come with dealing with the undead is a good boon to have, especially when the undead creatures start getting more consistent with their damage.
The final capstone ability allows the druid to cast etherealness for free between rests, which is quite useful when the druid needs to escape, or if they need to do some spying, or fighting an elusive ghost. This seems underwhelming but honestly it flavorfully fits the circle and opens more with interactions outside of combat.
Ultimately this circle starts out sounding aggressive but over time the features and abilities will see plenty of the player down the road. The ability to deat (at 20th level) up to 10d10 extra damage is quite powerful, but truly makes that epic experience shine especially if this druid is facing against a powerful lich if it didn’t deal necrotic damage.
New rules for Wild Shapes
So the playtest material also included new methods with dealing with beast shapes for the druid. In previous editions and even in 5th edition, wild shape has proven to be a powerful ability time and time again. One of the unique ideas that I personally thought was helpful, the idea of preselecting animal forms that are available to the druid. Meaning that the druid must prepare what sort of beast shapes they can transform into like how they prepare their spells. Establishing creature forms for particular environments also help the player make swift decisions and not have them scoping out either the Player’s Handbook or Monster Manual for the necessary stats.
There are also rules about gaining new beast shapes either by observation or interaction. I love the ideas behind these rules and feel that they should definitely be house rule options for the DM to utilize.
Ultimately these druid circles are part of the Unearthed Arcana playtest material, having the community send their feedback to the R&D guys at Wizards will help direct where and possibly how the classes will evolve down the development process. Compared to some of the other materials, the druid circles seem thought out and its implementation seems solid. Granted all of the Unearthed Arcana requires some level of playtest in order to figure out the bugs and tweaks needed. I enjoyed that these new circles broaden the range of the druid’s contribution to the party as a whole while still allowing the class to defend the natural balance. The three circles focused on healing (Dreams), utility and buffing (Shepherd), and damage (Twilight) respectively. I’m looking forward to whatever future product these circles end up finding a home in, but I’m looking forward to the next batch of Unearthed Arcana material.
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