Circle of The Moon (CotM) Druid 5e Guide – Maximum Wild Shape

Last Updated on January 22, 2023

This Guide is designed to give you a deeper understanding of the choices you’ll make when creating a Circle of the Moon Druid.

You will learn what makes them stand out, their strengths and any limitations. Our thoughts on Multiclass options. Ability Scores – Races – Backgrounds – Skills.

Following that is our Progression Section. This is a sort of snapshot of how you’ll start, and when you get skills and powers after that.

You will find things like Hit Points, Proficiencies, Equipment, any Class-specific skills. Then we go through what you’ll get at each level as you progress your character.

Feats come next, and we wrap up the creation and progression with an example build.

At the end, we provide a long-form discussion of the things you can expect when playing a Circle of the Moon Druid.

If you want a comprehensive idea of what you are in for, you will find it there.

You can jump to all of these topics in our Table Of Contents right below. 

What Is This Guide?

In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

  • Red C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful and might make for an interesting narrative choice but are largely less effective than other tiers.
  • Green B Tier. Solid but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or Green can be very good but only in very specific situations.  
  • Blue A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective. 
  • PurpleS Tier. The top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are worth strongly considering when you create your character.

Our goal here is to provide scannable but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.

While we might sometimes make reference to unofficial or homebrew content to illustrate a point (or just because it’s too cool not to talk about) every option we suggest is legal in the official rules for D&D 5e as published by Wizards of the Coast. 

What is a Circle of the Moon Druid?

The CotM is a druid subclass that centers on a druid’s ability to take on animal form using its Wild Shape ability.

Starting at level two, all druids can use an action to turn into an animal that they have seen before, gaining a portion of their abilities (like strength, dexterity, and constitution modifiers, attacks, special abilities like Pack Tactics or Frenzy, and Hit Points) twice per Short Rest.

Whereas other druid circles focus on expanding their lists of spells and abilities in humanoid form, CotM druids gain some potent buffs to their Wild Shape ability, making them fearsome melee warriors, effective scouts, and much harder to kill than virtually any other class at lower levels. 

Class Defining Abilities – CotM Druid

Combat Wild Shape

  • Change shape as bonus action
  • Bonus action heal
  • Higher CR beast forms

The CotM druid’s Combat Wild Shape is the core of this subclass. While other druid circles need to take a full action to transform, CotM druids can shapeshift into animal form as a Bonus Action, meaning you’ll be able to Wild Shape, Move, and Attack (twice if you choose a Brown Bear which, at level two, is virtually unheard of) in a single round of combat.

Combat Wild Shape also lets you use a bonus action while transformed to expend a spell slot to regain 1d8 HP per level of the spell slot expended, similar to the Fighter’s Second Wind ability.

This honestly isn’t as effective as casting a healing spell like Cure Wounds while in humanoid form, but can be (quite literally) a lifesaver if you just need to eke out one more round in your last Wild Shape of the day to take down that pesky boss. 

Lastly, while other druid circles are limited to lower Challenge Rating (CR) animal forms until they hit higher levels, the fact that CotM druids get access to CR 1 beasts from level two makes them a truly fearsome frontline fighter with a massive pool of HP

CotM druids are probably the most powerful subclass at early levels, with the ability to shapeshift as a bonus action, access more powerful beast shapes, and top up their HP with a spell slot while in animal form, not to mention the fact that, at sixth level, your attacks in beast form count as magical, and in the late game you gain the ability to cast spells while you are an animal. 

Limitations – CotM Druid

  • Power drops off around level 5
  • Difficult to find weapon or armor upgrades

While CotM druids are truly terrifying after their first major power spike at level two, and can feel nigh-unstoppable in the early game, the class can definitely feel like it plateaus around level five.

This is partly due to the fact that most other classes – not to mention the enemies you’ll be fighting – tend to hit their own major power spike at fifth level.

Wizards and other spellcasters start getting access to truly devastating spells, and monsters with resistance to non-magical attacks become much more common in the mid and late game.

The fact that Wild Shape precludes you from using any items while in animal form can also leave you feeling like you have less utility than your allies, who will likely be supplementing their class abilities with cool magic items by the time you all start getting to level five and above. 

You’ll also have to contend with some of the weaknesses inherent to all druids. Your lack of proficiency with martial weapons and heavy armor can lead to druids suffering from chronically low AC and damage output in humanoid form.

Still, choosing the right defensive spells, like Barkskin and Absorb Elements, can give you a huge boost to your survivability, both in and out of beast form, and multiclassing at later levels can be a great way to round out your capabilities in humanoid form. 

Synergies and Multiclassing – CotM Druid

  • Fighter: Better equipment and weapons.
  • Monk: The Monk’s Unarmored Defense for improved AC.
  • Warlock: Communicate in beast form with Telepathy. Eldrich Blast.

Speaking of multiclassing, let’s talk about how a one or two level detour into another class can pay serious dividends, and how you can tweak your build to create some fantastic synergies with other classes. 

Taking into consideration some of the CotM’s shortcomings we covered above, let’s see how multiclassing (taking levels in a class other than druid) can help mitigate some of those issues.


If you want to take an equipment-based route towards fixing your low AC and other humanoid-form shortcomings in combat, taking a single level in fighter can be a great solution.

Fighters automatically gain proficiency with all types of weapon and armor. This is slightly limited by the fact druids can’t (or won’t) wear armor or carry shields made of metal, but there are probably some ways to work around this.

Your DM will probably be feeling a little guilty about your lack of useful magic items relative to the rest of the party, and will probably thank you for the chance to generate a side quest in search of mythical druidic plate armor made from the lacquered wood of an ancient sacred tree.

The Fighting Style class feature that you get at level one can help you round out your abilities in humanoid form; Defense or Archery are both strong options that feel good thematically for a druid. 

Fighter is worth considering if you find yourself as your party’s only frontliner, as it can help you stay alive if you ever have to drop out of beast form in the middle of a melee. 


Speaking of thematic options, a monk’s Unarmored Defense (while not wearing armor, your AC = 10 + your dexterity modifier) is a great way to get around your low armor class and aversion to heavy armor.

If you take two levels of Monk, you also get a boost to your movement speed (10 feet per monk level), as well as access to Ki point-based abilities.

These can dramatically increase your survivability outside of wild shape, especially if you are in a party with no dedicated healer or caster that requires you to spend your time buffing and healing your allies that you’d rather spend tearing enemies limb from limb as a bear. 


One of the other shortcomings of druids is that, while you’re in your wild shape, you lose the ability to communicate in common (or whichever language your party uses).

This can be pretty frustrating, and lead to you wastefully transforming out of beast shape to weigh in on things like the solution to a particularly vexing puzzle.

Taking a single level in warlock (and choosing the Great Old Ones patron) gives you access to telepathy, meaning you’re no longer unable to offer helpful advice – or berate your bard for their shenanigans.

Also, from a flavor point of view, a druid that’s permanently bonded their soul to an ancient forest spirit, in exchange for telepathy and access to Eldritch Blast (easily one of the best damage cantrips in the game) is a very interesting choice.

Your DM will thank you. 

Getting Started 

Ability Scores

  • Primary: Wisdom
  • Tier Two: Dexterity
  • Also Good: Constitution, Intelligence
  • Less useful mechanically:  Strength, Charisma

A druid’s primary ability is Wisdom. Not only does it help with Perception, Animal Handling, Survival and Insight checks (all of which are well within your wheelhouse as an intuitive guardian of the natural world), but it serves as your spellcasting modifier and, if you take the Shillelagh cantrip at level one, your melee attack and damage modifier.

There are different schools of thought on the order in which druids should prioritize their other abilities, but this is what we recommend if you want to maximize your effectiveness with a CotM build. 

Strength: When you shift into beast form, you’re going to be taking on the Strength of your chosen animal. If you grab Shillelagh as well, then Wisdom becomes your weapon attack modifier.

This means that there are very few situations where having high Strength in humanoid form is relevant to your ability to be effective.  

Dexterity: For my money, this is your second most valuable ability score. Given your aversion to Heavy Armour, higher Dexterity is going to be a huge help in getting your AC up in humanoid form.

Also, you’re probably going to be pretty squishy when you’re not wild shaped, so picking up a ranged weapon (which uses Dexterity) can be a smart move. 

Constitution: More HP is never a bad thing. You’re already pretty survivable thanks to your Wild Shape (and the HP granted to you by your beast forms isn’t affected by your Constitution, making this slightly less valuable) so Constitution isn’t an absolute necessity. 

Intelligence: Not strictly necessary unless you’re picking up a lot of knowledge-based skills (like History, Arcana, or Religion) but very useful in those cases. Favor this over Constitution if you want your druid to be from a more cerebral background (like the Acolyte, Hermit, or Sage).  

Wisdom: Powers your spells and, in combination with Shillelagh, can make you a force to be reckoned with in melee combat as well.  

Charisma: From a purely mechanical standpoint, your Charisma isn’t massively helpful. It doesn’t power any of your core abilities, and there are other stats that give you more bang for your buck.

However, if you are considering multiclassing into Warlock, Sorcerer, or Paladin at a later date, giving your Charisma a bump can’t hurt.

Also, if you expect to be playing a campaign with a greater focus on political intrigue and deception, rather than all-out combat and dungeon crawling, having Charisma as your dump stat can really impact your effectiveness and enjoyment. 


  • Great Choices: Firbolg and Mountain Dwarf
  • Very Solid: Wood Elf and Water Genasi
  • Also Consider: Kenkua

From a thematic standpoint, any race that has a strong connection to nature can make for an interesting druid.

The race you choose can also help inform your choices when it comes to animal forms; there’s a slim chance that an Aarakocra druid will have laid eyes upon a Giant Badger, but it’s very likely that your Mountain Dwarf has come face to face with the burrowing beastie. 

From a mechanical standpoint, any race that boosts your Wisdom should be a priority. While Dexterity or Constitution are nice to have, you won’t retain those ability scores while in your beast form, which means that races that give you a buff to your Intelligence or Charisma (as well as Wisdom) will let you use those bonuses all the time, rather than just when you’re in humanoid form. 

Most of the race suggestions we’re providing below are available in the 5e Player’s Handbook, except for the Water Genasi, which is available for free in the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, and the Kenku and Firbolg, which are both found within the Volo’s Guide to Monsters supplement.  

Wood Elf: A +2 to your Dexterity helps get your AC a little higher, as well as boosting your effectiveness with Ranged Weapons (including Longbow proficiency, which is significantly better than using a shortbow as your primary weapon).

You get a +1 to your Wisdom, which is pretty good, and your Mask of the Wild racial feature (which gives you an advantage on attempts to hide in nature) has been confirmed to work in beast form, making you even more effective as a stealthy scout.

You also get a small boost to your walking speed, which is nothing to sniff at. 

Mountain Dwarf: The only subrace in the game that starts out with a +2 in two attributes (Wisdom and Constitution) Mountain Dwarves are a fantastic druid choice, particularly if you want to claim prior knowledge of monsters native to caves and the Underdark (Giant Snakes, Giant Spiders, and Giant Badgers are all really strong options with a great mixture of maneuverability and combat prowess). 

Water Genasi: All Genasi get a juicy +2 bonus to Constitution, which is great. Water Genasi also get a +1 to Wisdom, as well as resistance to Acid damage (not as good as, say, a Tiefling’s resistance to fire, but still useful – especially at early levels, when Gelatinous Cubes and other Ooze-type monsters abound), the ability to breathe both air and water, and access to the Shape Water cantrip at level one.

Seriously, this is such a huge cantrip with virtually endless applications: fill a lock with water and freeze it, destroying the lock in an instant; use the water to form a hand that can communicate silently in sign language (or Thieves’ Cant); or create a 5ft cbe of water above an enemy’s head and drop it for a quick and dirty takedown (or the perfeeeect mmurrrdurrr…).   

Firbolg: Another race with excellent mechanical benefits to a druid (if not quite as good as the Mountain Dwarf), Firbolgs get +2 to their Wisdom, which is amazing, and +1 to their Strength (which is meh), and a bunch of innate nature-themed spellcasting options.

They’re also narratively a great choice for druids, living in communes deep within the woods and having one of the most fundamental connections to the natural world of any race in D&D. 

Kenku: Usually chosen as the basis for a Rogue build, the +1 to Wisdom and +2 to Dexterity granted to Kenku (crow people, if you didn’t know) also make them excellent druids.

Also, Kenku only speak by mimicking sounds they’ve heard before.

Not only is this a really fun roleplaying challenge (I played a Kenku once that was only allowed to communicate through a pre-programmed soundboard that I loaded up with lines from Frasier – say hello to Frasier Caw-rane, everybody), but their ability to mimic sounds they’ve heard before actually fits in quite nicely with a druid’s ability to take on the shape of animals they’ve previously encountered. 


Our Top Choices: Acolyte and Folk Hero
Very good options: Sage and Hermit

Backgrounds are both a great way to help flesh out your character’s personal history, and your primary source of skills.

Each background also has its own special feature – which I maintain are a criminally underused aspect of D&D.

As a druid with Wisdom as your primary attribute, it can be helpful to choose a background that gives you access to Wisdom-based skills, like the Folk Hero (Animal Handling and Survival).

If you’ve chosen (or ended up with) Intelligence as your secondary ability, the Sage (Arcana and History), or Hermit (Medicine and Religion) can both be excellent options. For a bit of both, though, I’d recommend the Acolyte (Insight and Religion). 

Because you’re going to spend a lot of your time in animal form, physical skills like Athletics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth aren’t things you should be prioritizing – as most of the time you’ll be using the bonuses associated with the animal whose form you are currently occupying. 


  • Animal Handling (Wis): Not useful as a CotM Druid.
  • Arcana (Int): Very commonly used skill.
  • Insight (Wis): Helps read people.
  • Medicine (Wis): Not useful.  Heal with magic or potions.
  • Nature (Int): Solid knowledge skill and fits the character.
  • Perception (Wis): The most used skill in the game.
  • Religion (Int): Very important and useful skill.
  • Survival (Wis): Situational but fits your character.

When you create your druid, you’ll start out choosing two skills from the above list.

Perception is really the only compulsory choice (it synergizes with Wisdom as your highest stat, persists in animal form, and there aren’t really any backgrounds that thematically mesh with druid that offer it as a potential skill). 

You can read even more about using ability scores, here.

Circle of the Moon Druid Class Progression

1st Level

Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier

Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per druid level after 1st


Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields (druids will not wear armor or use shields made of metal)

Weapons: Clubs, daggers, darts, javelins, maces, quarterstaffs, scimitars, sickles, slings, spears

Tools: Herbalism kit

Saving Throws: Intelligence, Wisdom

Skills: Choose two from Arcana, Animal Handling, Insight, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Religion, and Survival


You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • (a) a wooden shield or (b) any simple weapon
  • (a) a scimitar or (b) any simple melee weapon

Leather armor, an explorer’s pack, and a druidic focus (because spell books are for nerds). 

Druidic: the secret language of druids. May have some narrative uses if you meet other druids, but largely useless.

Spellcasting: the druid spell list is full of really unique, useful options that let you take your character in a lot of different directions, from utility and stealth to healer (Cure Wounds) or battlefield controller (Entangle). 

2nd Level

Druid Circle: this is where you grab CotM and become a force to be reckoned with.  

Wild Shape: the real essence of the CotM subclass, which gives you a truly spectacular power spike at level two. 

Combat Wild Shape: changing into your animal form only requires a bonus action, which means you can transform, move, and attack in the same turn. 

Circle Forms: transform into a beast with a CR of 1 starting at second level. Restrictions on swimming and flying speed still apply as though you were a different subclass of druid.

You now have access to some amazing combat shapes, like the Dire Wolf (which has great AC for a beast, good HP, and Pack Tactics), the Brown Bear, and the Giant Spider.  

4th Level

Wild Shape Improvement: your animal forms can now swim and breathe underwater. This isn’t a huge power spike, but can be situationally very useful. 

Ability Score Improvement: if your Wisdom isn’t at 18 or 20 yet, use this boost to get it there. Otherwise, bump your Constitution or Dexterity (or Charisma if your campaign is leaning more towards social interaction). 

6th Level

Primal Strike: by this point, a lot of enemies you face will likely have some sort of resistance to non-magical attacks. Most of your companions are probably going to have access to magical weapons (or just more magic) that overcome this barrier.

By making your attacks while in beast form count as magical, you’re going to be able to keep pace much more effectively in terms of damage output per round. 

Improved Circle Forms: this is a big boost to your Wild Shape. Starting at sixth level, you can start wild shaping into beasts with a CR as high as your druid level divided by 3 rounded down, meaning you now have access to CR 2 creatures like the Giant Constrictor Snake and the Polar Bear

8th Level

Wild Shape Improvement: this is huge. You finally get access to animal forms that can fly, transforming you into a near-unmatched scout with the ability to escape just about any situation with ease. 

Ability Score Improvement: your Wisdom should be at 20 by this point. 

10th Level

Elemental Wild Shape: another crazy boost to your Wild Shape. At level ten, you can spend two uses of your Wild Shape (still as a bonus action) to transform into either a Fire, Wind, Water, or Earth elemental.

This should become your go-to move for boss encounters.

Elementals (particularly fire) can be truly terrifying and, after a few levels of losing relative power compared to your companions, this is a much-needed boost. 

12th Level

Ability Score Improvement: max out something else, like Constitution or Dexterity. 

14th Level

Thousand Forms: this lets you cast Alter Self at will. While it’s thematically cool to play around with the idea of your shapeshifting abilities starting to take hold of your humanoid form as well, class features at higher levels usually grant you something better than free uses of a 2nd level spell. 

16th Level

Ability Score Improvement: you know what to do. 

18th Level

Timeless Body: your body ages more slowly. For every 10 years that pass, your body ages only 1 year.

For a human, this could be kind of interesting, but feels almost wholly inconsequential for an Elf or even a Dwarf. It certainly won’t have any real impact in-game, unless you’re doing some time-jump stuff. 

Beast Spells: on the other hand, Beast Spells are both thematically awesome and mechanically powerful.

You can now cast any spell that doesn’t require a material component while in beast form.

If the idea of soaring through the air as an eagle, calling down lightning on hapless foes below, or transforming into a Mammoth that shoots fire out of its tusks, doesn’t fill you with childish glee, I don’t even know what we’re doing here. 

20th Level

Archdruid: this is endgame territory stuff. At max level, you can use your Wild Shape an unlimited number of times and can ignore the verbal and somatic components of your druid spells, as well as any material components that lack a cost and aren’t consumed by a spell.

You gain this benefit in both your normal shape and your beast shape from Wild Shape. Basically, unless you get knocked out by the mother of all Sleep spells, or something equally nasty, you can never die.

Just keep changing back into a wooly mammoth every time your animal form drops to zero. Truly, you are the arch-est of druids. 


While a lot of DMs tend to ignore Feats (they’re a somewhat maligned element of 5e), if you’d rather get something a little more flavorful than an ability score bump, here are a few options that synergize well with a CotM druid.

Feats are also great for CotM druids, because “You retain the benefit of any features from your class, race, or other source and can use them if the new form is physically capable of doing so,” according to Wizards of the Coast. 

Alert: you gain a +5 bonus to initiative, can’t be surprised while you are conscious (which synergizes amazingly with an Elf’s Trance racial trait), and other creatures don’t gain advantage on attack rolls as a result of you not being able to see them. 

Healer: if your party doesn’t have a dedicated healer like a Cleric, this feat (in combination with the healing spells on the druid spell list) can really help make up for that shortcoming.

The Healer feat means that, when you use a healer’s kit to stabilize a creature, they also regain 1 HP – getting them back into the fight rather than forcing them to remain stable and unconscious at 0 HP.

Also, as an action, you can expend one use of a healer’s kit to tend to a creature and heal 1d6+4 HM to it, plus a number of hit points equal to the creature’s maximum number of Hit Dice. That creature can’t regain hit points in this way again until they finish a short or long rest.

Mage Slayer: this is pretty situational to the campaign you’re playing in, but the ability to use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against any creature that casts a spell within 5ft of you can be an amazing way to lock down enemy spellcasters.

Also, when you deal damage to a creature that is concentrating on a spell, that creature has disadvantage on the saving throw it makes to maintain its concentration. Lastly, you have advantage on saving throws against spells cast by creatures within 5ft of you.  

Mobile: your speed increases by 10ft, and when you use the Dash action, you ignore the effects of difficult terrain.

Also, when you make a melee attack against a creature, moving through its surrounding area no longer provokes opportunity attacks until the end of your turn.  

Sentinel: another great battlefield control feat, Sentinel means that, whenever you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, its speed drops to 0 for the rest of the turn.

This stops any movement they may have been taking.

Even if an enemy uses the Disengage action to get away from you, it still provokes an opportunity attack, and when a creature within your reach makes an attack against a target other than you (and that target doesn’t have this feat), you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the attacking creature. 

Example Circle of the Moon Druid Build

1st Level:

  • Race: Firbolg 
  • Background: Acolyte 
  • Ability Scores (using Point Buy): STR 12, DEX 14, CON 12, INT 12, WIS 16, CHA 10
  • Skill Proficiencies: Religion, Animal Handling, Insight, Perception
  • Equipment: Spear, Shortbow, Leather Armor, Explorer’s Pack, Druidic Focus 
  • Firbolg Magic
  • Hidden Step
  • Powerful Build
  • Speech of Beast and Leaf
  • Druidic
  • Cantrips: Shape Water, Shillelagh
  • Add Spells: Cure Wounds, Fog Cloud 

2nd Level:

  • Circle of the Moon
  • Wild Shape 

3rd Level:

  • Add Spells: Barkskin, Flaming Sphere

4th Level:

  • Wild Shape Improvement: Swimming
  • Ability Score Improvement: WIS +2 (18)/Feat: Healer

5th Level:

  • Add Spells: Call Lightning, Wall of Water 

6th Level:

  • Primal Strike 

7th Level:

  • Add Spell: Ice Storm 

8th Level:

  • Wild Shape Improvement: Flying, CR 2 Beast Shapes
  • Ability Score Improvement: WIS +2 (20)

9th Level:

10th Level:

  • Elemental Wild Shape

11th Level: 

  • Add Spell: Sunbeam

12th Level:

  • Feat: Sentinel/Mage Slayer/Sentinel

13th Level:

  • Add Spell: Regenerate 

14th Level:

  • Thousand Forms 

15th Level:

  • Add Spell: Control Weather/Earthquake

16th Level:

  • Ability Score Improvement: +1 CON (13), +1 INT (13)

17th Level: 

  • Add Spell: Storm of Vengeance 

18th Level:

  • Timeless Body, Beast Spells
  • Add Spells: Moonbeam, Maelstrom, Fire Storm, Sunburst 

19th Level:

  • Ability Score Improvement: +1 CON (14), +1 INT (14)

20th Level: 

  • Archdruid

In-Depth With the Circle of the Moon Druid

So your D&D party needs a healer, but you’re sick of playing clerics.

Your party needs a tanky frontliner, but you really don’t want to be a fighter or a barbarian (or a cleric – eww).

They need a spellcaster, but wizards are for nerds.

Your party needs an undetectably sneaky scout, but you can’t think of a backstory edgy enough to make a rogue (maybe being some sort of lapsed cleric would fill them with enough shame to… no! That’s not why we’re here. Stay on target…Stay on target). 

We’re here because you want a character that can do all of the above:

  • pass undetected by the biggest and baddest of BBEGs
  • cast from a wide range of spells that can harm and heal
  • fight on the front lines and – did I mention the best part?
  • turn into a freaking dire bear that shoots lightning out of its paws and can. Never. Die.

Friend, let me tell you: you want to play a Circle of the Moon (CotM) Druid. 

Now, if this is your first time creating a character in D&D, don’t panic.

That sense of boredom mixed with overwhelming confusion you’re feeling right now: totally natural.

Creating characters is really fun once you know how to do it. Until then, it can be really useful to use a character generator.

The official Wizards of the Coast character builder is a great resource for building and tracking different characters.

It even helps you run them during a session (if you’re like me, and treat conditions like Exhaustion as a polite suggestion from the DM because I never remember to apply it, D&D Beyond is a very stress-free way of keeping myself honest) and handles the leveling up process for you too. 

So, now that you’re ready to start, let’s dive into this guide to building, playing, and generally embodying the spirit of a lightning-wielding nightmare bear that makes CotM druids one of the most capable, versatile, and downright scary subclasses in D&D 5e. 

Level One – Welcome to Druid School 

The druid class is, broadly speaking, a nature-focused utility-spellcaster class with Wisdom as its primary attribute.

Druids are all about the balance that exists within the natural order of things.

They hate aberrations (Beholders, the giant floating eyeball on the cover of the Monster Manual; Aboleths, giant psychic squid monsters; and Chuul, psychotic, nightmarish lobsters) for obvious reasons, and undead because they’re an affront to the natural order.

Their spells are all about calling upon the elemental power of the natural world, and they have a strong aversion to carrying anything metal.   

When building your Druid, you’ll want to make Wisdom your highest stat.

You’ll not only use that stat for spellcasting, but if you choose Shillelagh (pronounced “she-lay-lay”) as one of your starting cantrips (level-0 spells that you can cast whenever you want) you’ll be able to use your Wisdom as your modifier for making melee attacks.

At lower levels, this can be a very literal life-saver. Also, higher Wisdom means better Perception checks, which is never a bad thing. 

The race you choose also factors into this.

Playing a Wood Elf grants you a +1 to Wisdom (as well as a +2 to Dexterity – another helpful stat as a Druid), and your Mask of the Wild racial trait lets you attempt to perform the Hide action “even when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena.”

Jeremy Crawford, the principal designer for D&D 5e, has confirmed on Twitter that racial traits like Mask of the Wild work “with wild shape”. That’s huge. 

Other great contenders are Firbolgs (+2 Wisdom, which is amazing, and +1 Strength, which is meh), and Water Genasi (+1 Wisdom and +2 Constitution for extra HP and an easier time maintaining concentration spells).

Variant Humans are also a good alternative if you want to distribute your extra points into Wisdom. 

As far as spells go, if you’re going down the CotM route, your Wild Shape is going to be your bread and butter, and the form in which you spend most of your time.

While you do get to cast spells in your Wild Shape form later on, your spellcasting abilities for a lot of the game can feel a little auxiliary to the subclass’ primary function: turn into animal, ???, violence.

However, this kind of takes the pressure off you to pick the “right” spells.

Because your character would honestly be pretty effective without any spells at all, you should feel free to pick up whatever you think is cool, or helps you support your character’s backstory and personality.

I played a CotM Druid in a desert campaign once, spent most of my time as a camel, but all my time in humanoid form casting Create/Destroy Water to help bring new life to the barren, sandy wasteland.

Mechanically, it was pretty useless (apart from that one time I convinced the DM to let me Create Water inside an ogre’s lungs, which kind of nullified the whole encounter, and convinced the rest of the party that my happy-go-lucky camel druid was probably not to be trifled with) but fun.

And it helped me give narrative direction and purpose to my character, which is just as important as a well-optimized build. 

When you start out at Level One, you won’t have access to Wild Shape, but hang in there. At Level Two, things get absolutely crazy. 

Level Two – Going Wild  

Second level is where druids (particularly CotM) go from being a friendly neighborhood, crunchy, granola-munching hippie to an elemental force of pure unbridled terror and awesomeness.

And it’s all thanks to Wild Shape. 

Wild Shape is the unique druidic ability “to magically assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before. You can use this feature twice. You regain expended uses when you finish a short or long rest.” 

You can maintain your Wild Shape for a number of hours equal to half your druid level (rounded down).

You can revert to your normal form by using a bonus action on your turn. If you fall unconscious, drop to 0 hit points, or die, you automatically change back.

While you’re in your Wild Shape, you take on the physical attributes (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, and HP) of your chosen creature, and you get access to its abilities and attacks.

Also, any HP you lose while in Wild Shape isn’t lost when you revert to your humanoid form; enter Wild Shape with 14 HP, become a Dire Wolf (37 HP), drop to 0 HP as a wolf and pop right back up as a humanoid druid with 14 HP.

Then, on your next turn, Wild Shape back into a Wolf and basically get another 37 HP for free.

At early levels, most classes have to play D&D like it’s a survival horror game.

Druids get to basically be immortal (up to a point).  

In addition to the mechanical benefits of this power, the amount of utility this grants you so early in the game is genuinely staggering. 

Need to get eyes and ears in that bandit camp? Wild shape into a lovable old dog and go scout the place out. If the bandits are nice, you may even get a free meal and some head scritches out of it… you know, before your friends bust down the door and murder everyone inside. 

Need to get past a bolted door?

Turn into a spider or an earthworm and crawl through the cracks before transforming back into yourself on the other side.

Remember to don your signature look of superiority when you invite the Barbarian (who just spent ten minutes severely bruising her shoulder by trying to smash the door down) inside. 

Or, if you prefer a less subtle approach (that shames your puny Barbarian still further), turn into a cow with a +4 bonus to strength and smash that door to splinters.

Remember to say “let’s get a moo-ve on” when you transform back for bonus points. 

The possibilities are endless. Well, almost. 

The types of animals you can Wild Shape into aren’t just tied to whether or not your character has seen them before.

Challenge Rating (CR) also plays a role. Regular druids can transform into an animal with a CR of ¼ or lower at level two.

Also, your Wild Shape can’t swim or fly. Your Wild Shape improves at Level Four (CR ½ and you can swim – hello crocodiles!) and at Level Eight (CR 1 and you can fly).

But you came here to play as a dire bear (CR 6) that shoots lightning out of its paws. Being a regular Druid just won’t do. 

While the Circle of the Land druidic subclass is all about learning cooler spells and generally being more useful in humanoid form, the Circle of Spores turns you into a walking cloud of fungal poison, and the Circle of Dreams is a downright weird mix of healer, illusionist and teleportation magic, The CotM subclass is all about that Wild Shape. 

When you take CotM, instead of being able to turn into CR ¼ beasties at Level Two, you get access to CR 1 shapes – something other druids can only dream about until Level Eight.

So, while your party’s Wizard is tiptoeing around on 8 HP, you can turn into a Giant Hyena (with 45 HP and a Bite +5 to hit, 10 damage (2d6+3) attack) twice in a single encounter, meaning that, assuming the average HP at Level Two for a Druid with +1 Constitution is 14 HP, you effectively have 104 HP – which is insane

Then, add to that the fact that you don’t gain access to higher CR creatures in the same way as other Druids.

At 6th level, you can transform into a beast with a challenge rating as high as you druid level divided by 3, rounded down.

This translates into CR 2 at 6th level, CR 3 at 9th level, CR 4 at 12th level, CR 5 at 15th level, and CR 6 at 18th level. 

CotM Druids are a force to be reckoned with early in the game.

You have the utility to solve a lot of tricky problems (like a rogue), terrifying amounts of HP (like a Barbarian), crazy damage output (transform into a Brown Bear to make two +6 to Hit attacks that deal 2d6 + 4 slashing damage every turn – something that fighters can’t come close to until they hit Level Five), and a respectable amount of magical ability (even though this isn’t strictly the CotM Druid’s wheelhouse, you can still pick up Cure Wounds or Healing Word to take a bit of the strain off your Bard or Paladin if your party doesn’t have a dedicated healer). 

Later Levels: Shoot Lightning Out of Your Paws

While it’s true that, around 5th Level – when most other classes hit their first real power spike – the CotM Druid starts to feel a little less god-tier. Hang in there, though.

Druids of all shapes and sizes go through a bit of a dearth of interesting features in the “middle levels”.

However, if your druid gets to the “late game”, they once again take on the flavor of an unstoppable nightmare that truly isn’t to be trifled with.

At Level Eighteen, you gain an ability called Beast Spells, which means you can cast any spell that doesn’t have a material component while in your Wild Shape form. 

So, assuming that your now thoroughly venerable druid has seen a Dire Bear before, your improved Wild Shape lets you transform into one of them when you hit Level Eighteen.

That hulking monstrosity can also cast a Level Nine Spell once per day. I’m more interested in the 3rd Level Evocation spell Lightning Bolt. 

The BBEG is going to see something that I’m sure their tiny mind can only comprehend as the arrival of the apocalypse when, roaring like a volcano, a 20 foot tall dire bear bursts into the room, rears onto its hind legs, and emits a torrent of lighting (obviously, you’re going to want to upcast it to level nine for maximum cool boy points, dealing 12d6 lightning damage on a failed Dexterity saving throw) before charging the poor, smoldering villain and crushing their heart with a paw the size of a human torso. 

And that is why you should play a CotM Druid.

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