The PHB2 Druid – Nature’s Schizophrenic

gmadjudicationYeah, I know, it’s a weird title.

Preamble: a group of us bloggers, through Ed Healy, got sent a bunch of promotional copies of the PHB2 (release date: March 17).

Now we’re writing about them, as bloggers tend to do.

We decided to split up the book among the group of us, with each of us taking one class and running with it, at least for our initial articles.  (Afterwards, we are free to write anything we want.)

Since one of our players (Roberta) is currently playing a Druid, I jumped on that one.  After our game on Sunday, we sat down and hammered out a level 5 druid for our game.

(To head off any questions: the picture at the right has nothing to do with the 4e druid.  They don’t get animal companions.  But it was an awesome picture from an image search on wild shape.  So there.)

I’ll walk you through what we did, and answer some frequent questions along the way.

What were we doing before?

Roberta has been playing an elven druid since September.  Up until this point, we were using the Wizard class, reflavoured to be more nature-y.  Magic Missile became Thornburst, Thunder Wave became Earthshock (and was now a minor earthquake), etc.

This caught the “weather witch” feel pretty well, but was still missing some things.  She wanted to be able to do some shapeshifting, and other druidy-flavoured stuff that wasn’t yet possible.

Building a Druid

The Druid is a controller with a twist.  One of the main abilities of the Druid is Wild Shape (the ability to turn into a beast form, primarily an animal of your own size).  When in beast form, you gain access to some new powers, but you lose access to any non-beast-form powers.  This presents an interesting tactical choice for the Druid, but also makes the class more survivable in melee than the Wizard.

To start off, we had to choose a Primal Aspect, and went with Primal Predator, giving a +1 to speed when not in heavy armour.  As Roberta’s character is an elf, she now has a speed of 8.  Nice.  This also meant that Dexterity would be her secondary stat (Wisdom being the first).

Next up were the at-will powers.  Druids get three of these (at least one of each of beast form and non-beast-form powers), and have a number to choose from.  Roberta decided on:

Thorn Whip: Ranged, pulls the target 2 squares.

Storm Spike: Ranged, extra damage if the target doesn’t move.  Seems a little defender-ish to me.

Grasping Claws: Melee, beast form, slows the target.  Also somewhat defender-ish.

What’s your favourite at-will Druid attack power?

For my money, I like Chill Wind.  It’s basically a ranged Thunder Wave, that slides 1 instead of pushing 3.  I love me my tactical positioning.

For the remainder of her powers, she decided on:

Twisting Vines: Level 1 encounter.  Similar to Icy Terrain, but instead of filling the area with difficult terrain, the squares around each target become difficult terrain.  This means it is potentially more effective, as it can make more squares difficult, but it only does so on a successful hit.  It also doesn’t knock the target prone, however.  We’ll have to see it in practice.

Wind Prison: Level 1 daily.  Surrounds the target in wind, and they grant combat advantage until they move.  When they move, every enemy within 5 is knocked prone.  Cool, flavourful.  I’m unsure as to how effective it will be, but I know the Rogue will be excited by the prospect of lots of combat advantage (if not from the target, from all the prone enemies).

Skittering Sneak: Level 2 utility (daily).  Roberta loves her utility powers, especially if they have out-of-combat uses.  This power allows the druid to take on the form of a tiny creature, from a mouse to a cat to anything of comparable size, and gain a +5 to stealth while doing so.  Fun!

Tundra Wind: Level 3 encounter.  Think of this one as an enhanced Thunder Wave.  Close Blast 3, 2d6+wis damage, and knock them prone.  With the Primal Guardian feature (not what we chose), it would also push them Con squares.

Wall of Thorns: Level 5 daily.  This one is pretty obvious.  Big wall, blocks line of sight, hurts to pass through.  Entering a wall square costs 3 extra squares of movement (so stack it on difficult terrain to make it 5 squares).  This one is a great controller power.

What neat power makes you want to play the druid as your next character?

Easy.  Baleful Polymorph.

Level 15 daily.  Ranged 10.  Wis vs Will.

Turns the target into a tiny beast and stuns them (save ends both).  Damage once they save.

On a miss, does damage and dazes the target (save ends).

So it’s a cool power in general, but I’m most exctited because of our group’s specific history with the 3e version of the spell.

Player: “Baleful Polymorph!”

DM: “Okay.  What does he turn into?”

Player: “Hmm… a deer?”

Other Player: “I… think those have more than one hit die… and aren’t really harmless…”

Player: “… a legless deer?”

…and the legacy will continue in 4e.

Altogether, the Druid looks to fulfill Roberta’s needs better than our original Wizard did.  General impressions included:

  • Seems more optimized than before (Wis/Dex build, rather than Int/Wis, for an elf).
  • The flavour is pretty much exactly where I want it.  As I read the power flavour, it was very close to what I would have done myself, meaning they must be on the right track.
  • Wild Shape seems… odd.  Why is there the limit of once per round?  [Ed: Answer - because when you change back to humanoid, you get to shift a square.  With the "Wild Shape is a free action" feat, that means unlimited movement in a round.]

Now, for some

Other Questions.

Do you get at-will flight?

No.  You do get a bunch of flight powers, though, including one Paragon Path which focuses on flight and flight forms.

What’s the difference between the Primal Aspects?

Predator tends to be melee, beast form powers. These tend to have better damage.

Guardian tends to be ranged or burst/blast implement powers. Many are not beast form, and they have added non-damage effects.

Is the Druid as good of a controller as the Wizard?

I’d have to say it’s better.  The Wizard, thanks to history, had a lot of striker in him.  The Druid can lean that way, if you take a lot of beast form powers (especially Predator powers), or towards leader a bit, but is a very strong controller.

Also, I haven’t counted, but the Druid seems to have more sustainable powers and zones, which are great for controlling the battlefield.

Are all the beast form powers melee attacks?  Can a beast form Druid be an effective controller?

No!  Some are close burst/blast (Roar of Terror, for one example), or even ranged attacks (Gaze of the Beast, level 29 daily, dominates (save ends), dazes on a miss).

The beast form attacks are still rather controller-y.  This can give you a viable melee controller, if that’s what you’re looking for.  In fact, you could go all the way to level 30 with only one non-melee/close non-beast-form power, and that one is your mandatory non-beast-form at-will.  You would end up leaning into striker a decent amount, but you should be able to hold your own.

What the hell is up with the title of this post?

Well aside from the obvious (“I’m a bird!  I’m a cat!  I’m a donkey!  Whee!”)…

The class is good, and is interesting, but it suffers from legacy.  Just like the 3e Druid, it doesn’t seem to know just what it wants to be.  It’s primarily a controller, but the beast form powers encourage melee.  It can lean into striker, leader, and even defender, depending on the powers chosen.

The beast form powers make this seem like it should be two separate classes.  The class is great, if you focus on one aspect or the other, but if you take powers from both you could find yourself missing out on the ability to use certain powers just because you ran out of minor actions.  And, unless you’re in beast form, your opportunity attacks suck.

This doesn’t ruin the class, but it does present some challenges.

Will I write more about the PHB2 before it’s out?  I hope so!  We’ll see what time brings.  But for now, these people have your back:

Want to learn more about Player’s Handbook 2? Read on…

Drop by Wizards of the Coast today!

22 Comments

Ed Healy  on March 13th, 2009

When I read Wall of Thorns, all I could think about was the 3e ‘wall of whale’ spell. If you need an explanation, drop me a line and I’ll fill you in.

Great article, brother.

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felonius  on March 13th, 2009

‘And, unless you’re in beast form, your opportunity attacks suck.’

My familiarity with the class comes from the preview article (from Dragon), so I may not have as full an understanding… However, I would say “Does a controller need a strong opportunity attack?”

I understand the critique (and have seen it elsewhere) that the Druid feels like two classes. I don’t fully agree with it… I think that you can create a rough balance between power selections, especially at higher levels (my 1st level druid actually has a pretty even balance, with two beast form at wills, one non-beast form, a beast form encounter, and a non-beast form daily).

Other than that, I agree with what you’re saying. I think WotC actually did a really good job with the Druid.

Graham  on March 13th, 2009

Admittedly, no, you don’t need a great OA as a ranged character. But when the option is there, I’m pretty sure you’ll see a number of druids changing into beast form in between rounds, just to get those OAs. Especially since the at-will beast form attacks are melee basic attacks, so your OAs can slow or slide.

You can probably do a decent build with powers from both sides. But I think you can also screw yourself with power choices (the first 4e class I believe you can do that with). As such, I think it will be more difficult for a beginner to play a Druid.

But my concerns don’t constitute disapproval in this case. It is definitely a good, interesting class. It just presents some potential challenges.

Noumenon  on March 13th, 2009

That GM Adjudication picture didn’t show up in my Google for Wild Shape, but I used TinEye.com to search for the picture and found this entire archive. They are awesome. (So is TinEye.)

Graham  on March 13th, 2009

Yeah, that’s where I got it. I suppose it was a click or two off of the image search. Oh well.

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felonius  on March 13th, 2009

“But I think you can also screw yourself with power choices (the first 4e class I believe you can do that with). As such, I think it will be more difficult for a beginner to play a Druid.”

I think with retraining, the dangers of this can be lessened… And a fair DM may allow retraining of more than one power to help a bit. I’d also say that it’s less dangerous than a Wizard making a bad power choice, with the Druid being able to balance out bad choices a little more by almost have a sort of “back-up role”.

I haven’t had a chance to play the Druid, so there may be pitfalls that I haven’t noticed yet… My Druid build (at 1st level):
Pounce
Savage Rend
Flame Seed
Darting Bite
Faerie Fire

I haven’t seen the feats for PHB2 yet, so I went with Alertness…

Graham  on March 13th, 2009

All good points, man. I think the druid’s potential to split himself between two roles (and be mediocre at either) is more of a worry, but mine is not the only viewpoint.

We’ll be using our new druid in our game this sunday. I’ll let everyone know how it plays then.

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Wimwick  on March 13th, 2009

I’ve enjoyed reading your write-up on the Druid. I’m not sure about them for 4e, this splitting of roles makes me think they may be a little too weak or potentially not have a defined role within the party. I’d be interested to hear how further testing of the class works out.

Graham  on March 13th, 2009

We’ll see for sure on Sunday, though Roberta picked primarily non-beast-form powers.

As a whole, I don’t think it will be a problem with intelligent power selection. Like I said, focus on one side and you will have absolutely no problem. Mix it up… well, we’d need to test that, I suppose.

Thought the problem (if there indeed is one) should be mitigated at Paragon, anyways, when the “free action wild shape” feat comes around.

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lookintomyeyes  on March 14th, 2009

I’ll have to say I’m excited to try my new druid out this weekend.

My fave part of character creation was realizing that some of wizard powers I renamed/reflavored were nearly identical to some of the ones in the actual PHB2! The effects were different of course, so learning a new repertoire of spells to use should be interesting, but I think it will turn out well. I should note that I have a habit of wanting ot be a jack of all trades character, so we will see how that impacts my ability to be useful in combat and such, but as a “flavortext” and “fluff-loving” player I think it should be interesting. And finally I wont have to keep buying potions of tree shape to enjoy my duidness! ;P

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