I’m returning to my class review series with a class you guys probably know about. Each week you see her punch people and turn into a fish to use Savage Rend. Sadly, awesome imaginary bear companions named Captain Bearbossa are not a standard in this installment’s class: the Druid.
One of the stranger parts of 4E D&D is the power sources. While I haven’t a single problem with their choices of power sources, I do question how many classes take their powers from the same source. In the case of the Druid, she is one of five different classes based around Primal powers. My problem is that with so many classes taking their powers from one source the lines separating them start to blur a little bit. In 3.5 the Druid was your all purpose “nature” character. They controlled nature, got an animal companion, and could turn into an animal. In 4E the Druid loses a lot of this unique charm as the Shaman and Warden essentially play as the same thing: nature themed warriors.
The best way I’ve found to separate the classes comes down to their main mechanic. For the Warden it’s all about using nature to strengthen oneself, for the Shaman it’s about communion with the spirits, and for the Druid it’s all about animals. Look at it that way and you get a bit more defined flavor, but it feels a little too pigeon holed. Pretty much the only thing separating the Druid from the Warden is that she can wildshape, and she commands nature via spells as opposed to the Warden who uses weapons. This is a case of too many classes trying to do the same thing: fight with nature. 3.5’s Druid dabbled in a little bit of everything, but now she feels less unique when (after the mechanics are stripped away) she’s no different than the Warden and the Shaman.
Ironically, the Druid does feel distinctly different from the other Primal Controller, the Seeker. Where the Druid is fighting using nature directly, the Seeker is more like a tribesman who reveres nature and uses it to his advantage when hunting. Heck if the Primal classes were limited to Barbarian, Druid, Seeker I’d be fine, but I suppose I’ve gone on enough of a rant. The Druid isn’t bad at all. She still maintains her charm and if she’s the only Primal character in your party then there’s no problem. It’s only when the Shaman or Warden joins the group that you’ll start to feel a little less unique.
Two features define the Druid: Wildshape and Primal Aspect. Wildshape is the power all Druids have and is the class defining ability. Flavor wise it means you can turn into an animal, but mechanically what it means is that you can switch between melee and ranged at ease and you are perhaps the most versatile character when it comes to combat situations. Basically with a minor action (and with Paragon level feat, a free action) once per round you shift between your natural form and your “Beast Form”. The two forms work separately, and no power that works in one form will work in the other. Essentially Druid powers may or may not contain the term “Beast Form” in the keywords. If it does, you can use it in Beast Form, and not natural form; if it doesn’t, then vice versa. Making both forms competent is the key to the Druid, and as such all Druids are allowed to pick three At-Will powers (four if you’re human) under one condition: One must have the Beast Form keyword, and one must not. Thus no matter what form you are in you’ll be able to fight.
Making this mechanic work is the primary duty of the Druid. If one part of the Druid isn’t up to par then her usefulness decreases. What truly makes the Druid frightening is that she can be a huge impact on the battlefield either at range or at close range without the mess of changing weapons or managing implements. One implement (either the Totem or the Staff) and that device works in Beast Form as well. Since Wildshape has no limit to how many times it can be used per encounter (once per round however) a truly frightening Druid can effortlessly shift between the two forms to control the battlefield as she sees fit.
The Primal Aspect is the class feature chosen at the beginning of character creation that defines the character. This choice can never be changed, and will define the way the character is played and which powers are strengthened. For the Druid there are three: Primal Predator, Primal Guardian, and Primal Swarm. All three have a unique benefit and play to a secondary role. First up is the Primal Predator which is a mobile Controller that functions as a secondary Striker. Whenever a Predator isn’t wearing heavy armor their base speed increases by one, so for an Eleven Predator they can have a base speed of 8 at level 1! Mobility is their strong suit and they will often use beast form to move through the battlefield dealing damage.
Primal Guardians lean more towards spellcasters who excel in repositioning powers making them good secondary leaders. As long as they don’t wear heavy armor they get to add their CON score to their AC as opposed to the DEX/INT that other classes use. This makes them burly spell casters who spend most of their time in their natural form casting spells from afar. The last aspect is Primal Swarm with the idea being that instead of turning into a single animal you turn into a mob of smaller animals (like insects or snakes). This makes it so every attack that hits them while in Beast Form is reduced by the Druid’s CON modifier. Their powers help them function as secondary defenders, though their generally low AC keeps them from full timing in tanking. Still, they have plenty of powers to ensure their foes stick with them.
So the choice in Aspect will define the Druid, but all of them still find their abilities rooted in a balance between forms. They have the ability to use simple melee and ranged weapons, but this is next to useless considering you have melee and ranged options built right into your powers.
Like all Controllers the Druid is tough to play without spending time to learn what they can and cannot do. Even if you can play a secondary role, you’ll never be as good as a full time member of that role, and building a Druid can be difficult. The number one thing to boost is Wisdom as that is their attack score for every power they have. Predators should then place a good amount of points (16 – 18) into Dexterity while Swarm and Guardians should put those points into Constitution. The remainder of points should go into boosting the NAD their Druid is weakest in—so for Predators put a few points in Strength or Constitution (probably the latter), and for Swarm and Guardians put them in either Dexterity or Intelligence (preferably the former). Charisma will be your dump stat as your Will defense is already high to begin with (class +1 bonus and you’re attack stat is Wisdom), but some may keep it so they have good diplomatic skills. That’s the only reason to keep it.
Playing the Druid can be a complicated and sometimes overwhelming process. You are far from simple, so if you want to play something as simple as “swing and kill” then try the Barbarian. Here you need to plan your turns out in advance and think how you can make the biggest impact on the field. Is it killing a monster? Is it shifting the battlefield? Is it locking down a big Elite? Your versatility means that you should never find yourself in a situation where you can’t do something. Like all Controllers, don’t think “how do I kill that”, think “how can I stop that guy from doing what he wants?” Finding the balance between forms can take some work but eventually you’ll learn when you’re needed in combat, and when you aren’t.
A common theme you’ll find with Druid powers is “zones”. Learning how to manage zones can be a difficult part of playing the Druid, but used effectively you may just turn the entire tide on a battle. In addition Druid have access to summoned creatures as a daily power, but unlike other summons the Druid’s are useful without wasting actions on them. Every summon has a built in instinctive effect that activates if you don’t give them any commands on your turn, so it’ll be worth it to at least invest into one or two of these guys to help in controlling. My personal early favorites are the Giant Toad (Reach 3—meaning it can attack enemies within three squares), the Shadow Ape (grants concealment to all allies on a hit), and the Crocodile (large, and he grapples the enemy with a hit). Remember that a Druid’s daily power should help change the flow of battle, so don’t be afraid to change your Daily out after leveling up if it’s not working out.
I still like playing the Druid in 4E even if I find the flavor a bit too… common. They’re fun classes to play albeit a tad bit confusing. Sadly that’s the state of most Controllers, but hey you should know what you’re getting into already. Learning the balance takes time, but there’s always something inherently enjoyable about turning into a wolverine and ripping your opponent’s face off. Or turning into a bear and punching people*.
Alright, well that’s my review of the Druid. Next time I’ll take a look at the Warlord—everyone’s favorite commanding asshole.
Until next time, Namaste!
*Warning! Punching people as a bear is apparently NOT a good way to stop a panic attack. Use at your own risk.