D&D 5e: The Many Shapes of the Druid

Druids get right down to business in D&D 5e, gaining Wild Shape as an ability by level 2. Wild Shape is a really awesome ability in this edition with a ton of utility both in combat and in general exploration. Here are a few of the obvious perks:

  • Turn into any beast with of a certain CR or lower. Extremely versatile ability that is useful for blending in, getting into small spaces (think wild shaping into a mouse), and bringing force to bear in combat, among other applications.
  • Unlock ability to gain a fly speed or swim speed at higher levels.
  • Whole new set of hit points while in wild shape. You switch to use the hit points of whatever you transform into. If you take more damage than you have, you transform back at your previous hit points, minus any excess damage you took. So essentially the Druid can take a lot more damage than many of the other classes, which is a little crazy and borderline overpowered.
  • Can wild shape 2 times between short rests! Considering that you can stay in wild shape form for one or more hours, this is pretty generous.

The Circle of the Moon sub-class really exemplifies this feature, gaining a number of abilities that makes their wild shaping stronger, more useful, and quite capable in combat. As they level, they can transform into higher level beasts, heal themselves by expending spell slots as a bonus action, treat their natural weapons as magical, and even transform into Elementals. They also can cast alter self at-will, but that’s kind of its own thing.

As combat is a bit easier to analyze than all the crazy stuff you can do with wild shape outside of combat, I thought it could be fun to take a look at some of the obvious choices for wild shaping throughout the levels. I’m focusing on the Circle of the Moon’s options since they are the obvious choice if you want to really take advantage of this feature:

  • 115235_Brown_bear_cub_thumbnailLevels 2-5: Brown Bear. WOW, Brown Bear is really awesome everyone. Two attacks at +5 to hit with an average of 19 damage if you hit with both is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, at level 2 you’ll likely be out-damaging all the typical martial classes, such as Barbarian,Fighter, Rogue, Paladin, and Ranger. Sure, you’ll be an easy target with 11AC, but with 36 Hit Points it will take a while for enemies to wear you down, and when they do, it’s not the end of the world as you could wild shape back into the action immediately or go back to being a normal druid with spells.
  • Levels 6-8: Polar Bear. The polar bear is a slightly better version of the Brown Bear, which is kind of a shame because after 4 levels it’s not THAT much better, where as by this level the martial classes have picked up a second attack. +7 to hit. 21 damage on average if you hit with both attacks. 12AC and 42 Hit Points. A case could be made for the Allosaurus instead, which has slightly higher AC and Hit Points and the potential to do more damage with pounce, but the use of that ability is pretty situational, which is why I favor the Polar Bear.
  • Level 9: Giant Scorpion. This one is kind of wacky. It gets three attacks, which is awesome, but its base damage is pretty lousy (6, 6, and 7 on average). However, its sting has a nasty poison, which does a whopping 22 poison damage on average if your target fails their save (only a DC 12), but they still take half damage on a success so that ups the damage considerably. All the attacks are at +4 to hit, however, which makes this unattractive for high AC monsters. The Scorpion can also grapple with its claws, so that’s certainly situationally useful for locking folks down. Its 15AC and 52 Hit Points round out the Giant Scorpion as a solid pick during that awkward level before you pick up Elementals at 10.
  • Earth ElementalLevels 10-14: Any Elemental. It takes both uses of wild shape to turn into an Elemental, but they are pretty bad-ass so it’s forgivable. Being able to choose between 4 types of Elementals is very useful, as you can tailor your choice to counter whatever threat you are up against (using a fire elemental versus creatures weak to fire, for example). If you’re in a bind, the Earth Elemental is a solid choice for most situations. It has two attacks that each do 14 damage on average with a +8 to hit so that’s decent if not stellar melee damage. It also has a 17 AC, 126 Hit Points, resistance to typical non-magical damage, and a host of condition immunities, making it an absolute beast to take down. Throw on burrowing, dark vision, and tremor-sense, and you’ve got a pretty solid choice for standing at the front of the battlefield with the Barbarian, Fighter, and Paladin.
  • Levels 15-17: Giant Crocodile. While the Elementals are a lot more survivable and still a good choice at these levels, it’s worth considering the Giant Crocodile because of its higher damage output. With +8 to hit and an average damage of 35 with both attacks, it is a pretty formidable choice. Furthermore, its Bite grapples the target, and its tail attack has a chance to knock prone. Swim speed and hold breath are certainly nice as well. However, with an AC of 14, 85 Hit Points, and no resistances or immunities, it’s noticeably weaker compared to the Elemental, though that needs to be balanced with the fact it only uses one of your wild shapes, so really you’re comparing the survivability of two crocodiles versus the elemental (I still think the elemental pulls out ahead in this area, especially against enemies who can cause nasty conditions). Triceratops is also a strong choice at these levels, with the potential for a lot of damage, but trampling charge is going to be tough to set up after the first round of combat in most situations.
  • Levels 18-20: This may change when the Monster Manual comes out, but right now the Mammoth is probably your best bet for a CR6 Beast in combat, assuming you don’t want to just stick with Elemental. It has Trampling Charge, which typically allows for at least one solid opening move, where you can hit a target with a Gore, have a chance of knocking them down (DC 18), and follow up with a Stomp. Both attacks have a +10 to hit. If you get both off, you’re looking at an average damage of 54. If you can’t pull off Trampling Charge, you’re relegated to a mediocre 29 damage a round, which isn’t stellar.

Honestly, level 2 and 10 are the sweet spots for the wild shaping Druid in combat. During their other levels, they are either relying on same wild shapes they got at these levels or seeing only modest improvements to what they can do. That’s not to say the Druid isn’t perfectly fine at other levels. After all, they have 9 spell levels to fall back on, and Wild Shape will always be useful, if only because it offers a continual source of delicious hit points, abilities, and useful movement abilities.

22 Responses to “D&D 5e: The Many Shapes of the Druid”

  1. Alison says:

    Roar!

  2. Rakatosh says:

    I assume not, since I don’t see it mentioned in the PHB, but does proficiency bonus apply to wild shape attacks? Seems like that would be a bit OP.

  3. HungLo says:

    PHB pg67: “Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast,”
    Since the proficiency bonuses are already built into the beast by level, yours and the beast’s would not stack.

  4. MaxWang says:

    The brown bear is really nice at low levels but like u said it has low AC but I found that if u use barkskin (witch u get at level 3) it ups your AC to 16 witch is decent until your concentration brakes. And you might want to save this trick for difficult fights because u don’t have many lvl 2 spell slots at the beginning.

  5. Tarindil says:

    It specifically says in the wildshape rules which arent even half a page long that you use the animals proficiency bonus unless yours is higher, then you use your own +their ability modifier.

  6. Rakatosh says:

    “You also retain all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies, in addition to gaining those of the creature. if the creature has the same proficiency as you and the bonus in its stat block is higher than yours, use the creature’s bonus instead of yours”

    This would seem to exclude proficiency on attack bonuses, and as far as I see this is the only mention of proficiency under wildshape. Is there something I’m missing?

    Also odd, is that the brown bear appears to have a +2 proficiency for skills and a +1 for attacks, unless multiattack reduces your attack bonus or a creature’s proficiencies works differently from a PC.

  7. Staibz says:

    Plenty of the monsters get double their proficiency bonus to one or more skills. For example, the panther has +2 proficiency bonus to Perception, but +4 to Stealth after you exclude the ability mods.

  8. Adam says:

    I’m brand new to the world of d&d and I’m starting up a 5e Druid tomorrow morning. I’ve got all the statistics for the beasts from the PHB, but they all seem to max out at CR1. Can someone explain to me where the statistics are coming from for the Polar Bear, elementals, etc.? Thanks so much to anyone who can help a noob!
    -Adam

  9. Rakatosh says:

    Adam,
    Statistics for higher CR creatures will be included (assuming WotC isnt doing something very odd) in the monster’s manual, which will be released at the end of this month. Amazon was offering a pretty good pre-order discount on it last week, you might want to check that out.

  10. Adam says:

    Thanks for much for the response! I understand now, I just thought that since the original post here detailed the AC and HP of higher CR beasts and elementals that the information was floating around somewhere already. Thanks again for the help!

  11. Rory Rory says:

    Adam, WotC added Dungeon Masters D&D Basic Rules to their site as a free download. It is basically a Monster Manual Light and includes the stats I mentioned for beasts and elementals, along with several others: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/basicrules?x=dnd/basicrules

    The actual Monster Manual that will be releasing soon includes A LOT more stats.

  12. Adam says:

    Ahhhh you guys are amazing. Thanks so much for the help, just what I was looking for.

  13. Ken says:

    I would say the giant spider is better than the bear at lower levels. Damage is similar, when you consider the poison (half on a save). You also get a ranged attack (no damage, but can restrain a foe at range, which provides advantage to all allies attacking it, and disadvantage to it on all attacks). And you get spiderclimb as a movement mode. I can’t see how the bear is in the same league as this animal.

    Also, if you have monster manual, there are 4-5 other beasts I would say outshine the bear at 2-6. I understand this was probably written before then, but the giant spider is in the PHB and makes the bear look near useless, IMO.

  14. Rory Rory says:

    Hmm, with an 11 Con save on the poison, monsters will make their save about half the time, meaning the spider is doing about 13.75 damage on a hit vs. the bear’s 19. That’s a pretty big difference. Also, the bear can split its damage across two different attacks, which gives it more flexibility. The spider seems powerful and has some nice abilities, but for pure combat effectiveness it looks like the bear still dominates.

  15. Marcio says:

    Great post! Sounds like very solid options for wild shaping. Overall I think this is the best version of druid of all editions.

    I just would like to highlight the ability to cast spells while using wild shape that the druid achieve at level 18:

    “Beginning at 18th level, you can cast many of your druid spells in any shape you assume using Wild Shape. You can perform the somatic and verbal components of a druid spell while in a beast shape, but you aren’t able to provide material components.”

    Cheers!

  16. Chris Tanaka says:

    I actually switch between the Brown Bear, Giant Spider and Dire Wolf depending on situation.

    Giant Spider is definitely more mobile and useful for dungeon crawling, Blindsight being especially good for hidden or invisible enemies, plus ranged web shooting.

    Brown Bear is the most reliable for dishing out damage as Rory points out due to two different attacks, which means hopefully at least one will hit.

    The wolf just has more AC, HP and movement speed which make it a better tank, very useful if you already have a concentration spell going and need to keep a safe distance from the enemy.
    That and the knock prone function which can be useful in extracting vulnerable spellcasters after an enemy targets them :p

  17. Wrathamon says:

    how about Giant Hyena or Giant Toad? Toad has extra poison damage and can swallow!

  18. Rakatosh says:

    Unfortunately the toad has a swim speed, which means its out at low levels as far as I can tell.

  19. shaithan says:

    Hi I am in an argument with my DM if i take let’s say 33/34 HP and jump out of my wild shape and then return to my wild shape next turn will the wild shape be at 0/34HP or will it still be at? 33/34HP

  20. Adam says:

    you would return to the max hp of the beast when you go back to WS

  21. Amanda says:

    Question:

    If in wildshape and paralyzed…when you fall out of wildshape, is your natural form paralyzed? Or does that fall off like all of the other animals stats.

  22. Uzriel says:

    Alterated status stay still when you go back to normal form, just like a Barkskin can be applied to beast form (not elemental because they have no skin).

    And, about CR2 (lvl 6-8) i think the best option instead of polar bear can be the Giant constrictor snake. It has much more HP (60), and even if the damage is lower than a bear can restrain with nice DC (16), and can Bite up to 10feet. Quite durable and useful to the party.

Leave a Reply