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Dungeons & Dragons 5E druid class explained

Create a character that Captain Planet would be proud of, from how to cast spells to which druidic circle you should choose.
Dungeons & Dragons 5E Roleplaying Game Artwork
Image: Wizards of the Coast

If you’ve ever read an Animorphs book and thought “I wish I could turn into a hamster at will”, druid is the Dungeons & Dragons 5E class for you. Renowned for their ability to take the form of various members of the animal kingdom - as well as a few creatures we definitely wouldn’t want to consider part of that kingdom - druids harness the power of nature itself to fight their foes. Whether that nature happens to be of the land, sea or even swamp is entirely dependent on what kind of druid character you create.

Until they hit second level, druids are unfortunately a little weaker compared to other spellcasting classes in D&D 5E, with the number of spells a druid can initially learn rather limited. However, they more than make up for it once they gain Wild Shape and the ability to turn into other creatures.

Dungeons & Dragons 5E druid class guide

Second level also brings with it the opportunity to choose which circle of nature your druid is going to follow. Druid circles give their characters additional features and spells on top of those they get from levelling up and the Wild Shape ability. At higher levels, druids eventually gain access to some pretty powerful spells, which they’ll even be able to use even in beast form once they hit 18th level. Hence why druids are notorious for being absolute monsters later on in a D&D 5E campaign.

But what kind of druid are you going to make? Let’s find out, as we run through everything you need to know about the druid class in Dungeons & Dragons 5E.

Druid starting proficiencies and equipment

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Druids can wield a surprisingly wide variety of weapons. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

When you create a D&D 5E character you’ll be given the option to choose between a selection of starting proficiencies and equipment.

Proficiencies are essentially the skills that your druid will be ‘proficient’ at - some of these you’ll simply get for your class - such as being proficient at welding daggers and darts - while others you’ll have to pick between. It’s important to note that druids never wear armour or use shields made of metal. Druids can use a surprisingly wide range of weaponry, including clubs, daggers, darts, maces and even a sling.

As for possible skills you can choose your proficiency in, druids can pick two from animal handling - possibly a good choice if you plan to be making any furry friends - insight, medicine, nature, perception, religion and survival. Due to druids generally being at their best in the great outdoors, skills such as nature, perception and survival are all probably good bets. However, insight and medicine are much more common when dealing with other people, which might make for a more well-rounded character.

Finally, you’ll be able to pick from a selection of different equipment options. Your first choice as a druid is between a wooden shield or simple weapon, whilst your second is between a scimitar or any simple melee weapon. Choosing a simple weapon from option A will allow your druid to potentially wield a ranged weapon, whilst the shield gives an obvious defensive advantage. A scimitar is a decent weapon to start out with, but you might prefer to use something that doles out bludgeoning damage instead of slashing - a good reason to choose a simple melee weapon from option B instead.

How do druids cast spells?

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Spellcasting is an important aspect of the druid class. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

The druid class casts spells using its wisdom modifier, meaning that druids’ spellcasting ability is determined by how good their wisdom stat is.

Whenever you want your druid to cast certain types of spells, the spell description will list whether your character is rolling a spell attack against an AC and if the target needs to make a saving throw against it. As with weapon attacks, the spell attack must exceed an enemy AC in order to hit - with your spellcasting ability providing a modifier to your roll.

Spell attack modifiers are calculated by adding your overall proficiency bonus to your wisdom modifier. Your druid’s spellcasting save DC is what enemies have to roll against whenever they’re making a saving throw against your spells. A druid’s spellcasting DC is calculated by adding 8 to their overall proficiency bonus and their wisdom modifier.

What is preparation and ritual casting?

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Ritual casting can save your druid some spell slots. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

As spellcasters druids are able to prepare which spells they plan to use after every long rest. Selecting from the list of druid spells, your character will be able to select as many spells to prepare as equal to their wisdom modifier plus their current level. The number of spells per level is determined by how many spell slots your druid has of each level. For example, your druid will not be able to learn more than two second-level spells if they only have two second-level spell slots. When it comes to cantrips, your druid can pick two of their choice at first level and then subsequently learn more as they level up. Whenever they have a long rest, your druid can swap out as many spells as they can learn from the druid spell list.

Ritual casting allows a druid character to cast a spell if they do not have any spell slots left. However, the spell must have a ritual tag - you can find these on the druid spell list - and your druid must have it prepared. On top of this, casting spells ritually takes approximately ten minutes to do, meaning that it’s better suited to spells that can be cast prior to or after combat - as many combat encounters don’t last ten minutes and your druid can do nothing else whilst ritual casting. They also cannot cast ritual spells at higher spell slot levels to increase aspects such as radius, the number of targets or damage dealt.

Do druids get familiars or animal companions?

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Are you hoping for a furry friend for your character? Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Druids are able to transform into animals and other beasts because of their connection to nature and its inhabitants. However, this unfortunately does not mean that they can form unique bonds with other animals as a human.

Certain feats and abilities granted by the various druidic circles players can choose for the character do give them some protection from wild animals and creatures - such Nature’s Ward. Nevertheless, druids are not able to summon familiars in the same way as wizards in 5E and cannot gain animal companions as the ranger class does. There may be spells like Speak with Animals that will enable your druid to form temporary friendships with wildlife, but they cannot form lifetime bonds in the same way as familiars or animal companions.

What is Wild Shape?

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Some druids will be able to turn into a dragon in later levels. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Wild Shape is a druid’s signature move. Druids get the ability to use Wild Shape when they reach second level. The animal they can transform into is determined by their current level. In general, however, druids are able to become animals of varying size and movement ability, with later levels opening up new types of animals for a druid to become. Eventually, certain druids can become more fantastical beasts and even creatures that one wouldn’t consider being close to an animal, such as elementals. When your druid reaches 18th level, they will additionally be able to cast spells in their Wild Shape form.

There are several important things to consider when using Wild Shape:

  • All your druid’s ability scores are replaced by those of the beast they have turned into, aside from their intelligence, wisdom and charisma, along with their alignment. (If they have one).
  • Your druid retains all their existing skill proficiencies and saving throws, all well as those of the beast they’ve become. If their chosen beast has better saving throw bonuses, then your druid gets to use those instead.
  • You cannot use any lair or legendary actions a beast may have.
  • Your druid takes on the beast’s hit points and hit dice when transformed. You change back to your normal form whenever your beast form’s hit point total falls to zero, with any excess damage transferring to your usual hit point total.
  • Usually, you cannot cast spells whilst in Wild Shape mode. (Though certain features allow you to do so.) However, any concentration spells you’ve already cast in normal form remain.
  • Any features you have in your normal form are retained whenever you transform - such as a half-orc’s Relentless Endurance feature. However, you cannot use features that require your beast to have senses they don’t have. For example, Dark Vision if they are blind.
  • Any equipment you have can either merge into your body, drop onto the floor or shift to fit your druid’s new form. If you choose to wear your equipment on your beast form, it’s up to the DM if you can actually use it. For example, a rhino is unlikely to be able to wield a morningstar.

What can you turn into with Wild Shape?

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Druids are able to become certain beasts depending upon their level. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Initially, your druid character will be able to turn into a creature with a challenge rating of ¼ or lower. Challenge rating is something that dungeon masters are more likely to be familiar with, as it’s a terminology used to describe various enemies players might face in their journeys. Each challenge rating is designed to balance a druid’s Wild Shape ability to match their current level, just so they don’t start turning into woolly mammoths from second level.

Druids are initially limited by whether the animal they choose is able to fly or swim - with later levels unlocking these types of creatures. As your druid levels up, they’ll be able to turn into beasts of a higher challenge rating, eventually being able to become creatures such as a Giant Eagle. Depending on which circle your druid chooses to take when they reach second level, they’ll be able to turn into beasts of a higher challenge rating at a lower level than usual.

When your druid first gains the ability to use Wild Shape, they’ll be able to use it twice until they experience a short or long rest. Using Wild Shape during combat requires an entire action, but turning back to your normal form only takes a bonus action. Once your druid reaches the 20th level, they will be able to use Wild Shape an unlimited amount of times.

What’s the best druid circle?

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There are two druid circles included in the Player's Handbook. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

The answer to this particular question really depends on what part of being a druid really excites you. In the Dungeons & Dragons 5E Player’s Handbook two major druid circles are listed: the Circle of the Land and the Circle of the Moon. There are plenty of other druid circles to choose from in various other D&D 5E sourcebooks, as well as in homebrew content created by the community, but to keep things simple we’re going to focus on the ones featured in the Player’s Handbook.

Whereas the Circle of the Land provides a large variety of options to help customise the kind of spells your druid gets as they level up, the Circle of the Moon is a more focused path that improves your Wild Shape feature.

Whichever circle you choose for your druid depends on whenever you want them to be a pure beast-transforming machine or to have more spellcasting options later down the line. Neither option is a bad one, but it will have a significant impact on how your druid develops with every level increase, so it’s an important decision.

Circle of the Land

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If you're into the idea of spellcasting, this is the circle for you. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

The Circle of the Land indicates that your druid has a deep connection with their homeland and the things that grow and live in it. A druid of this circle specialises in harnessing their chosen habitat to perform great feats or to attack their enemies. If you choose the Circle of the Land for your druid, they instantly get a bonus druid cantrip spell of your choice.

In addition, they also get the Natural Recovery feature - which enables your druid to regain spell slots whenever they have a short rest, instead of the long rest that’s usually required. The type of spell slot they can recover depends on their current level, enabling them to regain spell slots equal to or less than half their level. For example, a second-level druid will be able to regain their level one spell slots, but not any level two spell slots. Regardless of your druid’s level, they cannot regain spell slots for level six or above spells this way. They regain the use of the Natural Recovery feat whenever they take a long rest.

Later on, your druid will be able to use Land’s Stride, which prevents them from having their movement impeded by the environment and gives them advantage against spells that try to do so. Nature’s Ward prevents a druid from being charmed or frightened by various denizens of nature and grants them immunity to poison and disease. Finally, with Nature’s Sanctuary at 14th level, any beasts or plants attempting to attack your druid must succeed on a wisdom saving throw to do so.

 

Arguably the biggest benefit of choosing the Circle of the Land for your druid are the circle spells they will acquire over the next few level increases. All of the spells your druid gains from their Circle of the Land trait are automatically prepared and do not count to the number of spells they can prepare each day. Some of these spells don’t appear on the druid spell list - however, your druid can still cast them.

Which spells your druid gets depends on which environment they choose, with each one providing an appropriate arsenal of spells. For example, your druid will get the Ice Storm spell if they become a Druid of the Arctic or the Control Water Spell if they choose to be a Druid of the Coast. Your choice might be driven by a desire to learn a particularly powerful set of spells or even one or two spells that take your fancy. Or it might be driven by the kind of environment you imagine your druid originated from. Luckily, your druid will get a decent selection of offensive, supportive and utilitarian spells regardless of which environment they choose.

Circle of the Moon

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Push your druid's Wild Shape ability to its greatest limits. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Druids in the Circle of the Moon are much more in tune with their inner animal. Unlike the Circle of the Land, the Circle of the Moon provides much less variety and focuses on the Wild Shape feature instead of boosting a druid’s spellcasting roster and ability. Nevertheless, players wanting to play a druid purely because they can shape-shift would be silly not to choose the Circle of the Moon. The benefits this circle grants a druid are very powerful and can make them into an absolute menace on and off the battlefield.

The first big benefit druids gain from the Circle of the Moon is the Combat Wild Shape feature, which is learned as soon as they choose the circle. This gives the druid the ability to use Wild Shape as a bonus action during combat, which is a huge game-changer for the character. They can also spend another bonus action to use a spell slot to regain 1d8 worth of hit points. This essentially turns your druid into more of a direct fighter than a spellcaster, which absolutely fits the theme of this circle.

In addition to Combat Wild Shape, your druid will get the Circle Forms ability as soon as they choose the Circle of the Moon. This feature enables them to begin transforming into more powerful beasts than they usually would be able to. Instead of having to wait until eighth level, your druid can immediately begin transforming into beasts of a challenge rating as high as 1. When they reach sixth level, your druid can start transforming into beasts with a challenge rating as high as their current level divided by three. This means that by sixth level, your druid can start transforming into beasts of a challenge rating of 2 - something that druids in the Circle of the Land can never do.

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More powerful transformation options can be a good exchange for fewer spells. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

At sixth level your druid benefits from the Primal Strike feature, ensuring that their attacks in beast form are able to break through any immunities to non-magical attacks or damage that an enemy might have.

When your druid reaches 10th level, they’ll have the option to turn into an elemental by spending two uses of Wild Shape. Elementals can be air, earth, fire or water-based and will have unique abilities, resistances, immunities and features relating to each. This ability widens your options for shape-shifting, particularly when a specific type of damage is going to be incredibly effective during an encounter.

Finally, when your druid reaches the 14th level they will be able to cast the Alter Self spell at will. Essentially, your druid has gotten to the point where their body is so malleable that they are able to change their form in such a way that they don’t need to necessarily use Wild Shape to have claws, teeth or breathe underwater. They can just look whatever way they like - the perfect way of getting an instant makeover.

What’s the best race to play as a druid?

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Some 5E races have benefits that can make for a better druid. Image: Wizards of the Coast.

Obviously, any race can work fine with every class in Dungeons & Dragons, and the new options to make a character entirely devoid of racial traits included in sourcebook Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are definitely a step in the right direction. However, if you are planning to use D&D 5E’s racial trait modifiers and features, you might be wondering which options might fit best with the druid class.

The forest-dwelling wood elf is an obvious choice when you’re making a druid character, and not just because they get an increase to their wisdom ability score - although that is a major benefit, as druids use their wisdom stat to cast spells. Wood elves get the Mask of the Wild feature, which enables them to hide behind heavy weather patterns - a natural occurrence in the wild landscapes that druids tend to roam.

Humans work fairly well as druids because you’ll get an increase to your wisdom ability score - along with all the other ability scores - from the off and can acquire some useful skills and an extra feature they’ll be able to benefit from even in beast form.

This also goes for half-elves, who are able to gain proficiency in two skills of their choice straight away - which can once again be used by your druid when in beast form. They also have advantage in saving throws against Charmed which, when combined with the potential for your druid to gain the Nature’s Ward feature, could make your character incredibly resistant to falling under anyone’s sway.