Born to be Wild
Every Animal Ever
At second level in D&D’s latest edition druids get what has become their signature ability in D&D, known as Wild Shape. Many who read this blog already know the details, but for those who don’t here’s a quick overview of how the ability works in fifth edition D&D.
Wild Shape is an awesome ability both flavor-wise and mechanically. It allows a character with levels in the druid class to become an animal. The forms are limited at first, a fish, a wolf, etc. As the druid grows in power, the number of different animal forms one can adopt increases. Certain druids can become mammoths, elementals, and giant scorpions among other beasts. That archetype of druid is called the Circle of the Moon. There is another archetype option for druids who want to be able to cast even more spells than their already on-par with base bards, clerics, sorcerer, and wizard spell progression allows. That is the Circle of the Land. I know no one who is playing a Circle of the Land druid (and I know a lot of D&D players).
Why is that? Well, it’s not that the Circle of the Land benefits are bad, they’re actually pretty dope. It’s that the Circle of the Moon benefits are amazingly over-powered and create the greatest tank in the game of D&D. The greatest tank with the spell progression of a wizard. Awesome. This all has to do with Wild Shape.
You see when a character uses Wild Shape, he or she basically adopts all the statistics and benefits of the animal into which the druid changes. This seemed like a simple idea which made a ton of sense. It’s very easy for a druid to change into a beast form. The player just needs to see the stat block of the animal and away we go. When the animal form drops to 0 HP, the druid changes back into his or her normal self, basically unscathed. The druid can stay in animal form for an hour or longer, without any concentration check required, so it can carry over a form between battles. It turns out that this allows the druid to soak up tons of damage. A Circle of the Moon druid can become a bear at second level twice before needing to recharge the ability with a mere short rest. That’s right, a second level Circle of the Moon druid can have all the awesome abilities of being a bear and soak up a bunch of damage two times before having to rest. All that and two attacks to boot!
Granted a lot of animals also have a low AC and lots of hit points to make up it. I don’t want to be unfair to players who want to be a shape-shifting Circle of the Moon druid. It’s a cool concept, and becoming a bear isn’t something I want to stop, I just think we need to rework the way it’s being done so the druid doesn’t outshine every other class in D&D. You can hear us discuss some of these ideas on the Round Table Tarrasque Takedown Wrap-Up podcast, which drops on Monday.
Also, I want to let you know that Joe Lastowski and Mike Shea will both most-likely be writing about this problem sometime in the future. I have no doubt that eventually you will read Joe’s thoughts at his awesome site, Acts of Geek, and Mike’s thoughts on Sly Flourish, my favorite DM advice site ever. Both are smarter than I and came up with a lot of the thoughts below, so definitely keep checking their sites!
Rule Variants, I Choose You!
Thanks to the Tarrasque Takedown, Joe Lastowski, Mike Shea, Topher Kohan, Chris Dudley, and I have come up with a few different ideas about different ways to fix (or nerf if you prefer) Wild Shape. Take a look and then vote in the poll below to let us know your favorites (or if you hate them all). We want to hear what you think!
Wild Shape Variant Rule: Carry Over
Your Wild Shape ability works as normal, except in regard to AC and hit points. You always keep the AC of your normal form. In addition, any damage you takes in a beast form carries over to any new forms you assume and vice versa. So if you take 30 damage as a beast and then revert to your normal form, you have 30 less hit points than before you changed into your beast form. If this damage drops you to less than 0 hit points once Wild Shape ends, you are unconscious and dying or die as applicable.
Wild Shape Variant Rule: Retain AC and HP
Your Wild Shape ability works as normal, except in regard to AC and hit points. You always keep the AC and hit points of your normal form. If you drop to 0 hit points in a beast form, Wild Shape ends and you are unconscious and dying or die as applicable.
Wild Shape Variant Rule: Concentration
Wild Shape works as if you cast a spell which requires concentration. If you lose concentration while in a beast form, you revert back to your normal form and that use of Wild Shape has been expended.
Wild Shape Variant Rule: Healing Shape 1
Your Wild Shape ability works as normal, except in regard to hit points. Any damage you take in a beast form carries over to any new form you assume and vice versa. If this damage drops you to less than 0 hit points once Wild Shape ends you are unconscious and dying or die as applicable. Each time you change forms, you heal a number of hit points equal to the Constitution modifier of the form into which you are changing multiplied by half your druid level.
Wild Shape Variant Rule: Healing Shape 2
Your Wild Shape ability works as normal, except in regard to hit points. Any damage you take in a beast form carries over to any new form you assume and vice versa. If this damage drops you to less than 0 hit points once Wild Shape ends, you are unconscious and dying or die as applicable. Each time you change forms, you heal a number of hit points equal to your druid level.
Wild Shape Variant Rule: Temporary HP
Your Wild Shape ability works as normal, except in regards to hit points. Any damage you take in a beast form carries over to any new form you assume and vice versa. If this damage drops you to less than 0 hit points once Wild Shape ends, you are unconscious and dying or die as applicable. Each time you change forms, you gain a number of temporary hit points equal to the Constitution modifier of the form into which you are changing multiplied by half your druid level.
Wild Shape Variant Rule: Half and Half
When you take damage in a beast form, half of the damage taken applies to your beast form’s hit points, and half the damage taken applies to your normal form. Healing applies in the same way as damage. If your normal form drops to 0 hit points, Wild Shape ends and you are unconscious and dying or dead as applicable.
Wild Shape Variant: Bloodied
If you have half or less hit points remaining than the hit point maximum of your current form and use Wild Shape to assume a beast form or end it to assume your normal form, that new form only has half of its hit points.
Wild Shape Variant Rule: Mind of the Beast
Whenever your Wild Shape ability ends, you must make a Wisdom saving throw (DC = 8 + the beast form’s challenge rating). If you fail this saving throw, the DM takes control of your character as its mind is overtaken by the beast into which it has transformed. Your stay in this Wild Shape form with the mind of the beast until lesser restoration or a similar spell is cast upon you. If you die, your body reverts to its normal form.
November 6, 2014 @ 10:50 am
I like the first three options. The others seem a little too fiddly for my taste.
November 6, 2014 @ 10:52 am
Agreeed! They get a little tweaky as the list goes on.
November 6, 2014 @ 11:35 am
Stop trying to mess with my druid! They already took away all the wild shape uses 🙁
November 6, 2014 @ 11:45 am
Actually the wild shape uses are pretty great now. It’s just all about CR.
November 6, 2014 @ 7:44 pm
Sorry, I didn’t mean how one could use it, just the straight number of uses per day. Circle of the Moon used to give you bonuses when you first got it but it’s still only 2/day even with that subclass.
November 6, 2014 @ 8:15 pm
It recharges after only a short rest though, so it can be more than two.
November 6, 2014 @ 12:42 pm
Don’t forget you can only Wild Shape into a creature you have seen at some point.
November 6, 2014 @ 12:43 pm
Totally. I would assume a druid comes “preloaded” with a bunch of forms after living in the wilderness.
November 6, 2014 @ 3:40 pm
I like the idea that you heal going into and out of the shape… but I agree that hp loss should carry over in some form.
I think a variant could be that having damage from your form carries over, but when you revert back to normal, if you would be left with 0 or less HP, you instead have something like Level + Con HP left. Hurt, but not incapacitated.
Keep in mind that DM’s need to limit what their player’s can change into. They PC should have encountered the shape specifically. They can’t become a Mammoth if they’ve never seen/encountered one.
Right now, my Moon Druid can become a Brown Bear because we encountered one… but I can’t be a Dire Wolf, Lion or Tiger because I have not seen any of those creatures.
November 6, 2014 @ 6:18 pm
Like I said above, I would assume most druids come “preloaded” with a bunch of forms after living in the wilderness. Sure, not everything, but enough to make Wild Shape worthwhile.
November 6, 2014 @ 10:29 pm
Yay! I’m not the only one who thinks druids are OP! I’ve been trying to come up with a way to deal with this issue. The one I’ve been using is that they must expend a hit die to shapeshift, thereby putting a natural limitation on the # of times and also representing strain through a means other than HP. However, seeing the Mind of the Beast variant has made me reconsider. Hmmmmmm… I’ll have to talk to them about it, but I really like the idea of losing yourself in your beast form (like in Brave!). Excellent article! It has certainly given me something to think about.
November 6, 2014 @ 10:31 pm
Thanks riosps! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one either!
November 7, 2014 @ 2:19 pm
Druids are, without a doubt, quite OP. I felt guilty at many points in the Tarrasque Takedown shifting (though I’ll admit, when he beat me down to human and THEN swallowed me, I had a brief moment of concern). Def needs some kind of tweaking, but the tweaking I really want would be too complex to implement. I think the best bet is a version of one of the options you’ve printedor a scaling-back of the current rules (maybe you only get 1/2 beast HP, etc). Great list of potential rules mods, though.
November 7, 2014 @ 2:21 pm
Thanks, Joe! If you work something up let the people of the world know! Your brain is genius!
The Dice Mechanic
November 7, 2014 @ 10:25 pm
Can’t remember what action it requires as default, but if changing is a full-round action then most of the issues go away. Yes, you have infinite HP in theory, but most animal forms don’t actually that many HP compared to typical opponents for 20th level PCs. You’d just be spending all of your time changing forms. Kinda like the fight in Disney’s Sword in the Stone.
November 7, 2014 @ 11:12 pm
That might be a good fix. Right now it’s a bonus action.
November 18, 2014 @ 10:36 am
Slight variant to the second one
Wild Shape Variant Rule: Retain AC and HP, with Hit Dice option
Your Wild Shape ability works as normal, except in regard to AC and hit points. You always keep the AC and hit points of your normal form. If you drop to 0 hit points in a beast form, Wild Shape ends and you may spend any or all of your Hit Dice to recover hit points. If you have no Hit Dice remaining you are rendered unconscious and dying or die as applicable.
November 18, 2014 @ 10:41 am
That’s a cool option too. Gives it a little 4e flavor!
March 25, 2017 @ 5:14 pm
I feel like most of these varients are too strong of a nerf.
I play a lvl 4 moon druid (haven’t seen a brown bear, but have a dire wolf) an I find that I’m very tanky in my beast form but mostly that is because I’ve multiclassed into lvl 1 monk giving me unarmoured defense Wis (allows me to add my Wis mod to my AC) which my DM lets apply to my wild shape.
This leads me to think that a normal wild shape with a much lower AC isn’t that powerful. Most of the varients where the Druid takes the same amount of damage as their shape means that the HP of the shape is useless (mostly) and will leave the druid dying after every battle.
The extra HP is traded off with the depressingly low AC of most forms of 10-13. The same as a Wizard who deals a lot more damage. Remember that this is the classes epic thing like a barbarian rage, or a bardic inspiration, or diviner Wiz portent’s die.
I think that the tanky-ness of the wild shape is what it’s designed to do. The damage isn’t that good, sure a multiattack is nice but compared to a fighter with a great sword dealing 1d12 but re-rolls 1&2s. Or to a rogues sneak attack that stacks with criticals, letting them do addition d6 damage (that scales).
Espically with the the Constitution variants it seems like it’d be more worth while just to get more strength (or Dex pref) and deal damage with a weapon, letting you cast any spells you want unrestricted. (even though at higher levels you can cast some spells)
But if you’re using spells a lot than wild shaping seems not a good choice because if you’re using spells than you’re not attacking with the shapes attacks which is the main thing you’re getting other than a small increase (because high Con) in HP and a massive drop in AC. And having a high AC is much more important than some HP.
Just another thing to point out is that the beast forms don’t scale, unlike those inspiration ,or sneak attack, or superiority die. To shape into actually good beasts when at higher levels you’ll have to find them first which is managed by the DM. Sadly there is also a big lack of high CR Beasts, and this is because beasts aen’t that strong. Esp when you compare them to Bragons, or celestial beings, monstrosities. The Beasts are rather constricted by the Real World and what animals we have. Beasts aren’t magical, their plain and so have limits on what damage then can actually do against higher CR Monstrosities.
Also if you get dealt enough damage in one round you may not live long enough to actually shift again so unlimited shifts can be hampered by that [Once I was taken down to 5 Druid HP from max hp Dire wolf transform 37hp (AC16 because multiclass) before my turn came back around was a bit of a scare]
All classes have a power curve, and druids are better early level, but if you’re playing over a long period of time it cn be interesting to see as the characters progress and how the different classes each have time in the spotlight of being the best (I assume, I’ve only been playing 6mnths) . I just think druids a strong early so are classed as OP but in the mid game I think other classes are better for damage output or tankyness.
Sorry, I just word vomited onto the page with my thoughts. Hope they convey what perspective I’m coming from.
March 27, 2017 @ 9:38 am
Hahahaha. Thanks! This is an older post, and I have to say, my thinking has come around to “wild shape is fine as it is” (though I do like the UA variant that was recently introduced). I still have the post up though, since not everyone thinks that way and it provides some options. Thanks for your feedback.