Last Updated on June 14, 2022
Sages, mystics, healers, and harbingers of doom… Druids are powerful spellcasters, shapeshifters, healers, and protectors of the wild places of the world.
They exist in harmony with nature and its order, preserving the balance between life and death, good and evil, and the four elemental forces, crushing those who would seek to unsettle it.
All druids are unified by their close bond with the natural world, whether that means serving nature as an unstoppable, unknowable force, or worshiping one of the many nature gods and goddesses throughout the D&D multiverse.
It’s from this bond with nature that druids draw their ability to cast powerful spells, shapeshift to take on animal form, and eventually achieve what passes for immortality.
While all druids are unified by their divine-nature spellcasting and shapeshifting abilities, a mixture of an extensive and unique spell list and a wide variety of subclasses makes them one of the most diverse and versatile classes in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
Just as nature in all its forms is infinitely diverse, so too are the druids who draw upon different elements of nature.
This diversity means that there’s a druid subclass out there for just about everyone — regardless of experience level (although druids do have to juggle a lot of spells and abilities that often mean this class ends up being easy to play but way harder than it looks to play well) and playstyle.
From fierce Circle of the Moon druids whose shapeshifting abilities are unparalleled to druids whose magic comes from the land, the feywild, swamps, fungal colonies, and even the raging fury of a wildfire, nature has many different ways of imbuing its guardians with power.
Druids can fill a similar role to a cleric, using their magic to buff allies and heal damage or embrace a more offense-focused approach, or be stealthy scouts and assassins or unassailable tanks.
They’re insanely hard to kill at lower levels, which makes them a great, very forgiving choice for newer players, and later on they can evolve into one of the most potent spellcasting classes in the game.
So, if you want to harness the power of nature, rain down elemental fury upon your foes, and shapeshift into myriad animal forms, the druid class might be the choice for you.
In this in-depth guide, we’re going to start by exploring some of the characteristics that make druids really shine, where this class fits within the context of an adventuring party, and some of the different ways you can roleplay a druid that go beyond being yet another “crunchy, munchy, hippy-nature druid dude.”
Then, we’ll take you through the features, abilities, subclasses, skills, feats, and more — basically, everything you need to understand how druids work and how to go about building your own from first level.
Lastly, we’ve taken a closer look at multiclassing druids (dipping into other classes to complement this class’s abilities) and put together some suggested quick-start builds to help you get a character up and running in no time.
You can jump to any of this guide’s sections using the contents table, or keep scrolling to get right into it.
Why Play a Druid?
Druids have a lot of different things going for them. They’re flexible spellcasters like clerics — able to reshuffle their spell lists every day to ensure they’re always prepared for anything the adventure can throw at them.
The various druid circles (subclasses) can push a druid’s playstyle in one of many directions, from battlefield controller to healer to sneaky pseudo-rogue.
The druid’s Wild Shape ability gives you access to a whole other set of problem-solving tools — from transforming into a spider (or at higher levels a hawk) to spying on an enemy encampment to turning into a raging bear to tear those enemies limb from limb.
Lastly, If there are three main pillars of D&D — Combat, Exploration, and Social play — then druids are absolutely top-tier contenders at the combat and exploration elements.
They excel at gleaning new information from their environments and navigating those environments with ease.
Druids Are Adaptable
First of all, if you like to think of D&D 5e as a way to flex your puzzle-solving muscles, the druid class is going to give you plenty to do.
Because druids get access to a wide range of spells and virtually the entire animal kingdom to potentially shapeshift into, there’s rarely going to be a situation where you don’t have at least something you can try.
That could mean casting Invisibility or turning into a mole and tunneling through the ground if you want to slip past a guard unawares.
It could mean trapping an enemy in grasping vines, smiting them with a sword made of fire, or turning into a wolf to rip out their throat. Basically, there’s rarely a situation where a druid only has one choice available to them.
Druid Circles Feel Unique and Interesting
All the druid players I know regularly come back to this class not because they like familiarity but because they’re still exploring.
Druid subclasses are highly distinct, both in terms of their mechanical abilities and their narrative flavor.
You could compare a Circle of the Moon druid (who spends her time permanently shapeshifted into a polar bear that shoots lightning out of its paws) and a Circle of Spores druid (a festering fungal-spore mech suit-wearing mushroom necromancer) and easily guess they were different classes altogether.
Druids Let You Master Two-Thirds of the Game
Playing a druid lets you have a huge degree of control when tackling two out of the three “pillars” of D&D.
While social encounters are going to always rely more on your ability to roleplay than your lackluster tool set, druids are more or less unmatched when it comes to the other two thirds of the game.
They can be as devastating in battle (at any level, which is rare) as a fighter or a barbarian and as effective at exploring and navigating the wilderness as a ranger.
Throw into that mix the spellcasting prowess of a cleric, and there isn’t much a druid can’t do… other than make small talk at parties of course.
There’s nothing like playing a campaign that focuses on stealth and resource management in the wilderness and choosing a druid who can cast Goodberry and Pass Without Trace.
Much like picking up the Alert feat is a way of telling your dungeon master you just don’t want surprise and ambushing to be a part of the game ever again, playing a druid is a way of ensuring that the wilderness doesn’t have to be a challenging place for the rest of the campaign.
Likewise, the adaptability of druids that we mentioned earlier is at the heart of their combat capabilities.
Druids have access to a large spell list that (per my second point) is packed with unique spells not available to other classes (23 exclusive spells to be specific, which is on par with the number of spells unique to the cleric and wizard classes) with great area-control spells like Entangle, Wall of Thorns, and Tsunami as well as iconic damage-dealing abilities like Flame Blade.
You also have a bunch of utility, support, and healing spells to choose from with the ability to switch up your spell list every single day.
All of these abilities conspire to make the druid feel not only impactful in an adventuring party — like you can turn your hand to almost any problem — but really unique as well.
Then there’s Wild Shape: a whole extra toolbox of utility options, ways to deal damage, and express your character’s background and personality.
Wild shape is, more than any other class’s signature ability, a whole new subsystem of the rules and ways to approach adventuring as it gives you such a broad variety of new ways to approach problems.
The Druid’s Defining Features
Setting aside for a minute the specialized abilities that druids gain as a result of their subclass (druid circle) at 2nd level, all druids are primarily defined by their spellcasting abilities and their wild shape, not to mention some other — highly unique but less mechanically impactful — features like druidic, the secret language of the druids, and their ability to effectively stop aging after 18th level.
Both these pillars of the class conspire to make druids some of the most adaptable adventurers out there.
Their spell list is insanely diverse in terms of what you can do — probably even more so than the wizard.
Druids get access to tons of powerful damage-dealing spells (both single target and area of effect), fantastic battlefield control options, creature and spirit summoning, healing and support magic, and much more.
Druid spellcasting is also strong.
For a class that is only about 50% devoted to casting spells, druids sure get access to some good ones, and high-level druids will eventually gain the ability to cast 9th-level spells, which is something that half or one-third caster classes, like the artificer and ranger, will never get.
Each druidic subclass gives you an even greater variety of spells to work with and does a good job of tailoring those spells to the environment from which that druid circle draws its power.
Wild shape is an insanely powerful ability both from a utility perspective and in combat, especially at lower levels.
This is because every time you wild shape, you take on the hit points of the creature you wild shape into, effectively creating a buffer of free temporary hit points while in animal form.
Given that you can use this ability twice per short or long rest, druids at just about any level are virtually unkillable.
At 2nd level, when most characters won’t have higher than 15 hit points, you can transform into an Axe Beak (basically a fantasy ostrich) with 19 hp.
Do that twice per short rest, and your hit-point pool effectively grows to more than 40 hp. On a 2nd-level adventurer, that’s absolutely wild and makes druids a much more viable party tank at lower levels than a paladin or barbarian.
Of course, you’re going to want to keep a use of wild shape handy in case you ever need to escape (turn into a mouse and disappear into the undergrowth), spy on (a spider is going to pass unnoticed in the corner of most rooms), or outrun (elk have a movement speed of 50 feet) any enemy you need.
At higher levels, druids can wild shape into swimming and flying creatures of higher and higher CR, and they can even cast spells while in animal form. Eventually at 20th level, an archdruid can use their wild shape at will.
The Druid’s Limitations
I keep going on about how much the druid class excels when it comes to versatility, to endless variety, to bringing a wide array of tools and solutions to any situation, and to fitting into any niche in the party composition that needs filling… well, all that comes with a trade off: complexity.
Druids are a really fun, bold character concept that it’s easy to wrap your head around.
On paper, they’re really appealing. Who doesn’t want to be able to shapeshift into fifteen different animals, have a long spell list full of diverse and unique spells you’ve never seen before that you can switch out for new options every day, and speak a special language?
Oh, and do all that on top of a specific list of subclass features…
Honestly, new players probably shouldn’t pick up a druid. They require a lot of maintenance and preparation.
You need to have your list of wild shape forms at the ready and your spells for the day prepared (much like the cleric, druid players have to basically learn their class’s entire spell list in order to make informed decisions about the spells they’re going to use that day — oh, and did I mention most of those spells require concentration?), and that’s on top of everything else you need to keep track of when you’re playing D&D 5e.
This is the heart of the other issue with this class as an option for newer players: druids have a very high skill ceiling.
Druids bring a lot of options to the table, but that much choice can be daunting — dare I say paralyzing — for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience playing the game.
This doesn’t mean you can’t play a druid as a newer player (It’s D&D. You should do what makes you happy.), but if you’re worried about being overwhelmed by options and tracking too many different resources and generally want a more streamlined experience, the druid isn’t for you.
Well, actually you could still probably just play a Circle of the Moon druid and be fine so long as you never leave animal form.
The Druid’s Role Within the Party
Druids’ versatility means that, outside of more socially focused roles (the kind of thing tackled by paladins, bards, and other Charisma-centric classes), there’s not much a druid can’t do when it comes to fitting into an adventuring party.
Thanks to the natural flexibility of their spell list and wild shape as well as the abilities of different druidic subclasses, druids can easily take on just about any role, including being the party’s tank (by hanging out in animal form as a Circle of the Moon Druid or by summoning a huge swarm of creatures as a Circle of the Shepherd druid to tie up incoming enemies), a nuker, a support, or a battlefield controller.
The fact that you can swap out your spell list after every long rest also means that you don’t necessarily have to stick to one role all the time.
Stuck out in the wilderness with no more healing potions? Time to re-spec that spell list to be more of a healer. Getting ready to try and take down a particularly dangerous villain? Better shift things around for more damage.
How To Roleplay a Druid
Druids are all about balance; they’re not masters over nature but participants in (and perhaps chaperones of) the great dance.
That means that, yes, druids tend to embrace and embody that slightly hippy-ish vibe we’ve come to expect.
They’re barefoot friends to baby deer and birds who spend their time walking in the woods gathering roots and moss (or whatever it is hippies eat), tending to sick plants and animals, and making their own organic artisanal hummus.
But there’s another side to nature (and therefore druids) altogether. The wrath, and the ruin.
Hurricanes, tidal waves, forest fires, earthquakes — all these apocalyptic, devastating events are part of nature too, as are gross parasitic worms, disease, death, and decomposition.
These, less wholesome aspects of nature are just as much a part of what it means to be a druid as prancing through the woods knitting a small wooly hat for your favorite hedgehog.
Light and dark. Life and death. All things in harmony and balance.
This is the essence of a druid. This balance is something you can play to, and roleplaying moments of imbalance in a druid (when their serenity gives way to tempestuous rage) can be really fun.
Druids are sages and mystics — probably the class that’s most closely tied to ancient pagan faiths throughout the worlds of D&D.
You should also think (and ask your dungeon master) about your druid’s relationship to the gods. Some druids venerate nature in a very abstract sense — treating it as a pervasive force.
Other druids devote themselves to one of the many nature deities worshiped throughout the multiverse, although this is rarely as stratified or organized as when a cleric worships a deity.
On a slightly less-grand level, druids almost all have a strong connection to trees and plants.
They revere some varieties as sacred, like alder, ash, birch, elder, hazel, holly, juniper, mistletoe, oak, rowan, willow, and yew (assuming you’re in a temperate forest; a desert druid might be closely tied to cacti, and a druid from the Underdark might be really, really into mushrooms), although your druid could find significance and power in any plant you choose.
Many druids use pieces of those plants as part of a spellcasting focus or make them into weapons, shields, or armor.
The Druid Class Features
Now, let’s look at the class features that define the druid in more detail. In this section, we’ll present the defining elements of the druid as well as some of our own thoughts (in italics) on their effectiveness.
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
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. A solid choice but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or it can be very good but only situationally.
Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your characters.
The very basics of any class are the hit dice, proficiencies, and equipment that they start off with.
Before we jump into the actual features of the class, let’s take a brief look at what we’re working with here.
Hit Dice: 1d8 per druid level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + Con modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + Con modifier per druid level
Druids, along with rogues, monks and clerics, all walk a dangerous tightrope as characters who are expected to be able to mix it up in combat but still have relatively puny hp pools compared to actual martial classes like fighters.
This isn’t as much of a problem for druids as other d8 HD classes, however, as wild shape is going to improve your survivability by leaps and bounds.
Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields (druids will not wear armor or use shields made of metal)
Being able to use medium armor and a shield is a great way to ensure your AC stays high for a spellcaster, although the “no metal armor or shields” restriction means you’ll be stuck using Studded Leather and a shield for a total of 14 + Dexterity AC.
Also, buying new armor if yours gets broken could be a bit of a challenge. Still, at least you’ll be safe from rust monsters.
Weapons: Clubs, daggers, darts, javelins, maces, quarterstaffs, scimitars, sickles, slings, spears
Not an amazing selection. With the exception of the mace, quarterstaff, and scimitar, most of these options kind of suck. Still, if you choose Shillelagh as a cantrip, it doesn’t really matter.
Tools: Herbalism kit
Good for thematic moss gathering or foraging for food. Most tool kits are just for flavor in 5e, but the herbalism kit is the first step on the long and expensive road to crafting your own healing potions.
Saving Throws: Intelligence, Wisdom
Intelligence is a pretty uncommon saving throw, but just about everything that forces you to make an Intelligence save is going to be really nasty, so it’s nice to have.
Wisdom is going to make sure you don’t get befuddled or mind controlled, which is nice. Still, a “physical” save like Con or Dexterity really would have been preferable.
Skills: Choose two from Arcana, Animal Handling, Insight, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Religion, and Survival
A solid mixture of spells here for just about every flavor of druid from the esoteric hermit (insight and religion) or sage (arcana and medicine) to the classic friend to forest creatures (animal handling and nature).
Honestly, however, perception is the option you’re going to be using the most, and your high wisdom score is going to support that.
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
There’s not a whole lot to say here, except that if you want to make the Shillelagh cantrip (more on that below) the cornerstone of your build, pick a club or quarterstaff. Otherwise, a shield and scimitar are probably your best bet.
Druid Class Features
Druids actually get very few features outside of wild shape with most of their variety coming from spellcasting or their subclass.
As such, things tend to be either fundamental building blocks of the class or relatively inconsequential bits of flavor.
Druidic (1st Level)
You learn to speak, read, and write druidic, the secret language of the druids. Similarly to thieves’ cant, you can use druidic to leave hidden messages that only those who know what to look for can see or understand.
Much like thieves’ cant, the impact that druidic is going to have on your campaign really depends on the campaign.
If you’re the only druid for hundreds of miles, then the opportunity probably won’t arise.
If you’re coordinating a secret elven resistance throughout a large forest against their cruel human colonizers, then yeah, it’s probably going to be your secret weapon.
If there’s more than one druid in the party, it’s a great way to talk smack about the bard.
Spellcasting (1st Level)
Druids channel the divine essence of nature to cast spells from their class’s spell list.
1st-level druids learn two cantrips and can prepare two 1st-level spells per long rest, unlocking more as they level up.
At 1st level, you know two cantrips of your choice from the druid spell list. Cantrips are spells that you can cast as many times as you wish per day.
Two cantrips is a relatively small array, but that’s only because druids have such good options to pick from, including Guidance, Shape Water, Shillelagh, and Thorn Whip.
If you want more, consider playing a Circle of the Land druid for an extra cantrip at 2nd level.
Preparing and Casting Spells
To cast a spell that’s more powerful than a cantrip, you must expend one of your limited pool of spells slots, which recharge after you take a long rest.
Consult the druid table to see how many spell slots of which levels you have available to you each day.
Druids must prepare spells each day, meaning they can choose to “equip” themselves with a number of spells from the entire druid spell list (assuming they have the necessary spell slots to cast them) equal to their Wisdom modifier + druid level (minimum of one spell).
Example. A 3rd-level druid has four 1st-level and two 2nd-level spell slots.
If that druid has a Wisdom score of 16 modifier of +3), they can prepare six 1st- or 2nd-level spells each day in any combination and can change their list of prepared spells after each long rest.
Preparing a new list of druid spells takes one minute per spell level for each spell the druid prepares.
This is similar to the way that paladins and clerics prepare their spells and is what makes druids one of the most versatile spellcasting classes as they can completely change up their spellcasting abilities with a good night’s sleep and half an hour of meditation.
This is also where a lot of the complexity of this class comes into play, as the pressure to pick up the right spells every single day can be a little overwhelming.
Clerics use Wisdom as their spellcasting ability modifier, which determines their Spell Save DC and Spell Attack bonus.
Spell Save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier
Spell Attack modifier = your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier
You can cast a druid spell as a ritual if that spell has the ritual tag and you have the spell prepared.
Ritual-casting spells, like detect magic, are a great way to perform less time-sensitive spellcasting without expending a spell slot.
Not all spellcasting classes get the ability to ritual-cast spells, so this is a definite benefit to playing a druid.
You can use a druidic focus as a spellcasting focus for your druid spells.
A sprig of holly or mistletoe, a pretty rock, whatever sufficiently pagan thing you think is cool and ties into your particular brand of druidism.
For more on the best druid spells at every level, click here.
Wild Shape (2nd Level)
Starting at 2nd level, wild shape lets a druid assume the shape and some of the abilities of a beast. The shapeshifting process takes an action and can be performed twice per short or long rest.
A druid remains in wild shape for a number of hours equal to half their druid level (rounded down). They then revert to their true form unless they expend another use of wild shape.
Druids can revert to their true form earlier using a bonus action, and they automatically revert if they fall unconscious, drop to 0 hit points, or die.
The types of animal druids can shapeshift into are restricted by their Challenge Rating (CR), and at lower levels, druids cannot shapeshift into beasts with swimming or flying speeds.
While a druid is in wild shape form, the following rules apply:
- Their game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast whose shape they’ve taken, but the druid retains their alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores.
- Druids also retain all their skill and saving-throw proficiencies but also gain any that the creature has. Any overlap uses the higher score (a druid has a +4 to stealth and a Giant Wolf Spider has a +7, so while in Giant Wolf Spider form the druid rolls for stealth checks with a +7 bonus).
- If a druid wild shapes into the form of a creature with legendary actions, they cannot use those actions.
- When druids assume animal form using wild shape, they take on the hit points and Hit Dice of the creature they transform into. When a druid reverts to humanoid form, they return to the number of hit points they had before they transformed.
- If a druid transforms back as a result of having their hit points reduced to 0, however, any remaining damage is carried over and dealt to their humanoid form.
- Druids in animal form can’t cast spells (until 18th level when they unlock the Beast Spells feature), and their ability to speak or take any action that requires hands (or opposable thumbs, more accurately) is limited to the capabilities of a particular beast form.
- Transforming (into animal form or back again) doesn’t break concentration on active spells or prevent druids from taking actions that are part of a spell, such as call lightning, that have already been cast.
- A wild-shaped druid retains any features from their class, race, or other source and can use them if the new form is physically capable of doing so. Special physical senses like darkvision, however, don’t carry over.
- When a druid transforms, they choose whether their equipment falls to the ground in their space, merges into their new form, or is worn by it. Worn equipment functions as normal, but the DM decides whether it is practical for the new form to wear a piece of equipment based on the creature’s shape and size.
- Equipment doesn’t change size or shape to match the new form, such as with the Enlarge/Reduce spell, and any equipment that the new form can’t wear must either fall to the ground or merge with it. Equipment that merges with a wild shape form has no effect until you leave the form: auras are not protected, the equipment can’t be activated, etc.
Wild shape is the reason a lot of people play druids. It’s an almost wholly unique ability (as you can tell by the laundry list of caveats and special exceptions which, largely I think, hold up to common sense — although the equipment merging is straight up weird and janky) that really sets druids apart from other classes.
Also, even with that ridiculously long list of rules and regulations for using wild shape, it’s still a very open-ended ability.
You have a theoretically infinite number of animal forms you can take on — although the actual base mechanics are restricted to low-CR creatures in the official rules.
If that’s a little overwhelming, try these little guys…
The Three Best Wild Shape Options for a 2nd-Level Druid
Obviously we’re restricted to CR 1/4 or lower creatures (unless we’re playing Circle of the Moon, but that’s a matter for another day) that can’t swim or fly.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a great option for speeding up travel, scouting and exploration, and of course combat.
Riding Horse (best for travel): A base movement speed of 60 feet is going to be enough to outrun just about any pursuer, and you can carry another party member with you.
Giant Wolf Spider (best for exploration and stealth): A +7 bonus to stealth checks, a small blindsight radius, and total vertical and upside-down mobility with spider climb make this creature the perfect scout if you want to be able to fight your way out of trouble with a paralytic poisonous sting just in case.
Velociraptor (best for combat): Pack tactics (advantage on attacks when allies are within 5 feet of your target, great damage, and actual multiattack. This is all assuming your druid has seen a velociraptor, of course. Otherwise, you might have to settle for a wolf.
Druid Circle (2nd Level)
At 2nd level, druids are inducted with a particular circle (as close as this class seems to get to any sort of organizational hierarchy) that sets them on a path defined by a specific element of nature.
A druid’s choice of subclass grants them features at 2nd level and again at 6th, 10th, and 14th levels. More on this below.
Timeless Body (18th Level)
A druid’s connection to the primal magic of nature means they age for one year with every 10 that pass. If you’re an elf, this basically means immortality.
Beast Spells (18th Level)
At 18th level, druids gain the ability to cast spells while in beast form as long as the spells only have somatic and/or verbal components.
You ever want to be a T-Rex that breathes lightning? Today’s the day that dreams come true.
Archdruid (20th Level)
A 20th-level druid can now use their Wild Shape ability an unlimited number of times at will.
Also, they can ignore the verbal and somatic components of druid spells as well as any material components that lack a cost and aren’t consumed by a spell. This benefit applies both in normal shape and beast form.
Holy crap. As far as capstone abilities go, this is unbelievably powerful.
You were already basically immortal outside of combat, but now (with the ability to refresh your wild shape and regain all of a new creature’s hit points whenever you want) you’re essentially unkillable in battle as well, unless someone drops a planet on you I suppose.
In addition to the features above, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything have introduced some additional, optional features to the druid class.
Additional Druid Spells (1st Level)
This feature adds more spells to the druid spell list, including some from the Player’s Handbook and others from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
The new Summon Fey and Summon Elemental spells introduced in Tasha’s are fantastic and a huge improvement over what existed before. The addition of some other elemental spells from the wizard/sorcerer spell lists is also nice.
Wild Companion (2nd Level)
As an action, you can expend a use of your Wild Shape feature to cast the find familiar spell without material components.
When you cast the spell in this way, the familiar is a fey instead of a beast, and the familiar disappears after a number of hours equal to half your druid level.
This is honestly fantastic for druid subclasses that don’t have as much to do with their wild shape, like Circle of the Land.
Cantrip Versatility (4th Level)
4th-level druid feature
Whenever you reach a level in this class that grants the Ability Score Improvement feature, you can replace one cantrip you learned from this class’s Spellcasting feature with another cantrip from the druid spell list.
Druids are chronically short on cantrips, so being able to switch one out after some buyer’s remorse is really nice, but I think this has been more or less accepted as a house rule since 2016.
Creating a Druid, Step-by-Step
In this section, we’re going to break down some of the decisions you’ll need to make when building a new druid character from the ground up, including how to distribute your ability scores, which race to choose, and how backgrounds, skill proficiencies, and feats can factor into your build.
For a list of Druid Circles and quick-start builds that work off of the advice in this section, see below.
Regardless of how you generate your ability scores, any druid is going to want to prioritize a good Wisdom score, which fuels their spellcasting.
After that, Dexterity (for AC and finesse/ranged weapon damage if you’re not using Shillelagh) and Constitution (concentration saving throws and more hit points) are both solid choices. And after that, it doesn’t really matter.
More than almost any other class, druids draw a start line down the middle of the stat block, dividing more or less essential ability scores from basically useless ones.
You can invest in a higher Intelligence, Charisma, or Strength if that helps with how you think of your druid and roleplay them at the table, but otherwise you’re going to want to array your ability scores like this.
In general, though, most fighters are going to want to arrange their ability scores like so…
- Primary: Wisdom
- Tier II: Constitution, Dexterity
- Who Cares?: Charisma, Intelligence, Strength
Strength: This stat disappears when you’re in wild shape, and there’s no reason to use a Strength-based weapon.
Shillelagh means your Wisdom can power your melee attacks, and if you don’t want to use it, you should be making the most of that scimitar proficiency to fight with Dexterity at range and in melee.
Dexterity: Since you’ll only ever be able to wear medium armor (and only studded leather at that), a high Dexterity score (14 is probably all you need if you’re not also wielding a finesse or ranged weapon) is your best shot at increasing your AC.
Constitution: More hit points and a better chance to make a concentration save (which is huge given how many druid spells require concentration) mean this is basically an essential ability score.
Intelligence: I guess it could be good to power some skill checks (like nature), but for the most part, you can skip it.
Wisdom: The be-all and end-all of your build. Everything druids do, they do better with a good wisdom score. Prepare more spells, have a higher Spell Save DC and Spell Attack bonus, and make better perception or survival checks.
Charisma: Druids aren’t really made to be social animals, so to speak. Honestly, you’ll probably have better luck wild-shaping into a puppy.
Now, this article is being written in a post-Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse world, where it very much looks like innate ability-score bonuses are on the way out.
They still exist as “legacy” content and are still official for the core races, but they’re going to be gone soon.
The new method, as put forward in the custom lineage rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and the new exotic races (also known as lineages) in Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse, is that when determining your character’s ability scores:
Increase one score by 2 and increase a different score by 1, or increase three different scores by 1.
You can’t raise any of your scores above 20
As such, we’re going to be focusing on races for reasons other than their Ability Score bonuses and assuming that whichever one you picked, you put your +2 into Wisdom and a +1 into Dexterity or Constitution (or put +1 into all three).
That being said, if you are using legacy racial bonuses, pick anything with a Wisdom bonus that also helps with Constitution or Dexterity.
Examples include Wood Elves (+2 bonus to Dexterity and +1 to Wisdom), Kenku (+1 Wisdom and +2 to Dexterity), and the Variant Human (+1 to two ability scores, a skill, and a feat).
You can read our full guide to picking a druid character’s race based on legacy rules here.
Other than that, some great options based on factors besides ability scores (like special traits and narrative coolness) include…
Capricious elves that wear the seasons of the feywild (a plane filled with wild magic and fairies) like clothing.
Eladrin gain all the basic benefits of being an elf: darkvision, fey ancestry to resist charm and sleep spells, proficiency in perception, and the ability to go into a trance rather than sleeping.
They also have a Fey Step ability, which lets them teleport short distances as a bonus action (a number of times each long rest equal to their proficiency bonus) and create magical effects either where they left or at their destination.
These are determined by the eladrin’s current season and can range from charming enemies to burning them with a wave of fire.
Eladrin have a strong thematic tie to nature and the balance between the seasons plus powerful abilities.
Also, because bonus actions are not prohibited while in wild shape, you can use your fey step while in beast form.
Also hailing from the mystical realm of the feywild, satyrs are a playful race of creatures inspired by both Roman and Greek mythology and steeped in fey magic.
Satyrs’ exposure to the magic of the Feywild makes them resistant to unwanted arcane influence and fuels their innate ability to persuade and perform.
A satyr character has advantage on saving throws against magic and a faster movement speed of 35 feet.
They gain proficiency in the Performance and Persuasion skills as well as a musical instrument, and they can use their ram’s horns as a weapon when making unarmed attacks.
This last bonus isn’t especially useful for a druid, but the rest is all great stuff, especially given how thematically tied to nature satyrs are.
Kind, gentle — firbolgs are distant relatives of giants. These primeval, innately magical folk are able to carefully conceal themselves among the woods and trees where they often live out quiet lives tending to the forests in which they live.
This innate talent for spellcasting and deep connection to nature makes them ideal druids.
A firbolg can use their magic to cast disguise self or detect magic once per long rest (or again if they have spell slots), which is great for expanding the druid’s list of prepared spells.
They can also momentarily turn invisible, count as one size larger when determining carrying capacity thanks to their giant ancestry, and even have the ability to communicate in a limited manner with Beasts, Plants, and vegetation.
If there was ever a more druid-like ability, I don’t know what it would be.
Skills and Languages
Any race you choose is going to be able to speak Common, and beyond that, you should choose languages that fit with your background and the campaign you’re playing in.
Druidic is obviously going to be helpful if you meet other druids from throughout the multiverse.
In terms of the skills available to you (two from Arcana, Animal Handling, Insight, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Religion, and Survival), you should choose Perception.
It’s the skill that helps you unlock more information about the world and, in D&D, anything that gets the DM talking is giving you ammunition for success. Aside from that, pick something that aligns with your backstory.
Character backgrounds are both a great way to help flesh out your character’s personal history and serve as your primary source of extra skills, tool proficiencies, and languages.
Each background also has its own special feature – something which I maintain is a highly underused aspect of D&D.
Take the Criminal’s natural ability to draw upon a network of contacts for information, leads, and jobs or the fact that the Sage’s Researcher feature means that even if they can’t recall a piece of lore, they know exactly where to go to get it.
Background features are a fantastic way to make your character feel competent within the world in which they live as well as help the DM flesh out that world and draw players deeper into its lore.
For the druid, the Hermit and Far Traveler backgrounds are both great choices, and each come with some useful skill proficiencies.
Feats are an optional rule in D&D 5e that allow you to gain a special bonus or ability instead of taking an Ability Score Increase. These bonuses can range from new spells to increased toughness and even a photographic memory.
Feats are a matter of some debate in D&D 5e, although the tide seems to have started turning in their favor in the past few years.
Some people argue that they’re an underpowered and unnecessary overcomplication of an already complicated game, some people claim they’re overpowered, and some people say that if a +2 bonus to Constitution was good enough for their father and his father before him, it’s good enough for them and the kids these days don’t know how good they’ve got it, and so on.
If you’d rather get something a little more interesting than an Ability Score bump, they’re a great way to add new abilities, spells, buffs, and utility to the druid class.
You can read our guide to druid feats (broken down by subclass) here or choose one of these options.
Elemental Adept: With druids prone to casting so much elemental damage magic, ensuring that your preferred damage type isn’t going to be cut in half by creatures with resistance is very useful, especially for a subclass like the Circle of Wildfire.
Observant: With a great mixture of passive Perception and Investigation buffs, an ability score increase, and some nifty lip-reading, Observant is one of the best utility feats in 5e for players who want to find all the clues, dodge all the traps, and see the monsters coming before the monsters see them.
Resilient (Constitution): The Resilient feat gives a +1 buff to one of your ability scores and gives you proficiency in saving throws using that ability.
Druids have to cast and maintain a lot of concentration spells, so proficiency in that saving throw (not to mention some extra hit points) makes the Constitution version of this feat a perfect choice.
Telepathic: One of the biggest issues that druids encounter when trying to communicate with their party is the fact that they can’t talk in wild shape, and there’s nothing worse than wasting one of your wild shape uses to transform back into humanoid form because someone (looking at you, bard) is talking the rest of the party into another one of their idiotic plans.
Telepathic is a feat that neatly solves this problem. It lets you communicate telepathically with creatures you can see within 60 feet of you, regardless of any language barrier.
You also learn to cast the Detect Thoughts spell, requiring no spell slot or components, once per long rest.
War Caster: A perfect feat for spellcasting druids (the Circle of the Land and the Circle of Wildfire are perfect — although the melee-focused Circle of Spores is great too).
War Caster gives you advantage on concentration saving throws, lets you perform somatic (hand-waving) spell components while holding a weapon and/or shield, and lets you fire off a cantrip as an opportunity attack (particularly effective if you want to use it to cast thorn whip and drag a fleeing enemy back towards you).
Multiclassing can be an effective way of adding even more versatility to a character, accentuating its strengths or compensating for its weaknesses.
It’s also another useful tool if taking a particular class from 1st to 20th level doesn’t line up with a character concept you have in mind.
You can check out our guide to multiclassing druids here, but we’ve also rounded up a few of our favorite options below that keep two key points in mind:
- Ability Score Synergy: Druids already have three very important ability scores, so picking a multiclass option that brings that number up to four is probably not a great idea. Pick multiclass pairings that emphasize Wisdom, Dexterity, and Constitution.
- Complement and Compensate: The golden rule of multiclassing; pick something that makes your base class better at what they already do (or at least doesn’t make them worse at it) or (preferably and) helps make up for any glaring issues they might have.
For example, one of the biggest restrictions to druids multiclassing is the fact that they can’t wear metal armor, meaning anything heavy is off the table, and therefore a lot of martial classes are kind of a waste.
All that being said, let’s take a look at three perfectly viable options for a druid multiclass.
Rage still works while in animal form, and you can still use features like reckless attack, although you won’t be able to cast spells, meaning that the wild-shape-focused Circle of the Moon subclass is probably the best choice here if you’re looking to pair with a barbarian.
It’s the barbarian’s unarmored defense that really appeals here. Being able to have an AC equal to 10 plus your Constitution modifier plus your Dexterity modifier (even if you can’t use a shield) is pretty huge.
Like the barbarian, the monk’s unarmored defense should do a lot for your survivability outside of wild shape.
The additional monk abilities that rely on spending Ki points are a great way to raise your damage output — especially if you’re playing a Circle of Spores Druid, which needs as many opportunities as possible to apply their extra symbiotic entity damage.
Be careful, however. Druids are complicated enough as it is. Adding the additional layer of monk moves is going to tie up your bonus action and give you even more stuff to think about.
Taking a diversion into 5e’s other Wisdom-powered spellcasting class can be a great way to give yourself a bigger pool of spells and other interesting abilities with just a few levels.
Clerics also have more subclasses (which they unlock at 1st level, followed by some powerful features at 2nd) than any other class and are perfect for a quick 1-2 level dip for some useful extra versatility.
Druids unlock their subclass (known as a Druid Circle) at 2nd level, which gives them new spells and abilities that can radically alter the way the class plays, usually emphasizing either an aspect of the druid class (like spellcasting or wild shape) or pushing your character toward a particular style of play (healer, battlefield controller, summoner, etc.).
There are seven druid subclasses currently — two from the Player’s Handbook (Circle of the Land and Circle of the Moon), two from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (Circle of Dreams and Circle of the Shepherd), and three from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (Circle of Spores, Circle of Stars, and Circle of Wildfire).
You can read our full length guide to each druid subclass with rankings and a breakdown of what works and what doesn’t here. For a quick overview of each one, keep reading.
Circle of Dreams
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Druids who belong to the Circle of Dreams draw their magic directly from the Feywild — the shifting, beguiling plane of fey magic and raw, untamed emotion.
This subclass is supposed to mix illusion and enchantment magic with some healing abilities for a good utility support style of play.
You gain access to a pool of dice (not unlike bardin inspiration) that you can use to heal allies, and at higher levels you can travel along hidden paths, teleport, and scry using the Feywild as a network of backdoor paths from one part of reality to another.
There’s nothing mind-blowing about this subclass mechanically, but I love the concept, and it’s relatively simple to play.
Circle of the Land
Source: Player’s Handbook
From their natural recovery to bonus cantrips and circle spells, the Circle of the Land druid places the class’ entire focus on spellcasting. You’re effectively playing a more effective, nature-themed wizard.
Honestly, as a “my first spellcaster,” this subclass is a pretty great choice. This subclass also has a bunch of sub-subclasses nested within it.
Your druid’s home environment determines the roster of extra spells you get to add to your list, most of which have a good blend of defense, control, and stealth applications.
Personally, I like the Forest for barkskin and spider climb at 3rd level or Grassland for invisibility and pass without trace.
Circle of the Moon
Source: Player’s Handbook
Whereas other druid circles focus on expanding their lists of spells and abilities in humanoid form, Circle of the Moon druids gain some potent buffs to their Wild Shape ability, making them fearsome melee warriors and effective scouts and much harder to kill than virtually any other class at lower levels.
They can shapeshift as a bonus action, have access to much higher CR beast forms (meaning you can transform into a Brown Bear at 2nd level for a ton of hp and multiattack), and have a way to regain hit points without leaving Wild Shape that’s similar to the fighter’s second wind.
This subclass shifts the focus of the druid away from spellcasting and firmly onto Wild Shape. It’s also super powerful, and if you came to this class for the shapeshifting, there really isn’t any other subclass you should consider.
Circle of Spores
Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Embracing the forces of decomposition, death, and decay, druids who are part of the Circle of Spores are living hosts of fungal colonies that fill the air around them with deadly clouds of luminescent myconic particles.
This subclass brings a lot of offensive options to the druid class, especially in melee combat.
Your symbiotic spore cloud deals necrotic damage to enemies who come too close, you get access to a mixture of necromancy school spells, and you can forgo shapeshifting with your Wild Shape to transform into a symbiotic killing machine made of deadly mushrooms.
Circle of the Shepherd
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Guardians of fey and nature spirits, druids who belong to the Circle of the Shepherd bring a mixture of support abilities and summoning to a party.
With the new Summon Fey and Summon Elemental spells included in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, summoning is much more fun and viable (this is the build you use for that ridiculous velociraptor druid build), especially if you and your allies frequently find the action economy going against you.
Also, this subclass’s Unicorn Spirit boosts your healing output enough to put you on par with most clerics.
Circle of Stars
Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Circle of Stars druids mix divination magic and an alternate wild shape tied to the forms of the constellations, which brings a powerful mixture of damage output and healing to this class.
Also, rather than the Circle of Spores’ take on wild shape, which is all about combat, the Circle of Stars’ Starry Form has a mode for attacking and healing and a mode for utility spellcasting and healing.
Circle of Wildfire
Source: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
This is a really interesting druid subclass that, obviously, leans into fire damage but really sets itself apart with the addition of a fiery-nature spirit as a pet. This blends a little of the beast-master ranger into the druid’s natural spellcasting.
Just be careful: fire is the most common damage type for enemies to be resistant or even immune to.
The Elemental Adept feat helps you overcome these problems at lower levels, and you can use the Metamagic Adept and Transmuted Spell to get around this later on, but it’s definitely worth keeping some non-fire-damage spells in your back pocket.
Druid Quickstart Guides
Now that we’ve broken down the druid’s defining features, abilities, and subclasses, we’re going to give you some quick-start builds that you can use to get different flavors of druid up and running in no time.
A druid who heals the sick, protects the borders of their forest, and probably has a goodberry in their satchel from earlier if you start getting hungry. A classic support build.
- Class/Subclass: Circle of Dreams 20
- Race: Satyr
- Skills: Perception, Survival
- Background: Far Traveler
- Feats: Healer, Observant
- Cantrips: Guidance, Thorn Whip
- 1st Level: Animal Friendship, Beast Bond, Cure Wounds, Goodberry
A druid who wields elemental forces in perfect balance, calling upon lightning storms, wildfires, and earthquakes to annihilate their foes. A full on caster druid with a wildfire pet.
If you don’t want to deal with the added hassle of a pet, switch to Circle of the Land, and choose the Arctic as a terrain.
- Class/Subclass: Circle of Wildfire 20
- Race: Eladrin
- Skills: Arcana, Perception
- Background: Outlander
- Feats: Elemental Adept (Fire), Metamagic Adept (Transmuted Spell, Twinned Spell)
- Cantrips: Control Flames, Frostbite
- 1st Level: Absorb Elements, Create/Destroy Water, Ice Knife, Thunderwave
A melee-focused harbinger of death and myconic decay; the mirror of life and growth.
- Class/Subclass: Circle of Spores 20
- Race: Firbolg
- Skills: Nature, Survival
- Background: Acolyte
- Feats: Telekinetic, War Caster
- Cantrips: Druidcraft, Primal Savagery
- 1st Level: Detect Magic, Entangle, Faerie Fire, Thunderwave
- Class/Subclass: Druid (Circle of the Moon) 2/Barbarian (Bear Totem Primal Path) 3/Druid (CotM) 15
- Race: Any
- Skills: Perception, Nature
- Background: Haunted One
- Feats: Slasher, Grappler
- Cantrips: Druidcraft, Shape Water
- 1st Level: Absorb Elements, Earth Tremor, Longstrider, Thunderwave
The “Cat Burglar”
This is more of a fun, thematic concept than anything “optimized,” but as someone who’s played this build from levels 1-5, I can certainly tell you it’s a lot of fun to mix rogue and druid to create the ultimate infiltrator.
Just remember that your Wild Shape is a utility tool for scouting, infiltration, and escape. You can’t really use it in combat as you can’t apply your sneak-attack damage.
- Class/Subclass: Druid Circle of the Land (Grassland for invisibility and pass without trace) 8/Inquisitive Rogue (it’s probably the least combat-focused subclass and has a lot of abilities powered by Wisdom) 12
- Race: Any
- Skills: Insight, Perception
- Background: Criminal
- Feats: Shadow Touched, Skulker
- Cantrips: Mold Earth, Shape Water
- 1st Level: Charm Person, Fog Cloud, Jump, Snare
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.