This is a guest post by my good friend and long time player Russ C.
Russ is our resident Druid player and I know he has some strong feelings about what a fantasy druid is and how they can be played.
For me the D&D druid is a bit of an enigma. In game terms they are a spell casting class with decent melee abilities and abilities useful in the wilds. The fact that they have been included in every flavor of D&D since the original advanced D&D astounds me. I would think they would be a niche that could have been closed by giving the Ranger a more spell focused option, or beefing up the spell list of the priestly earth sphere.
However the Druid as character class persisted over time and across editions. Perhaps they have remained because players realize instinctively that there is something truly unique about the idea of a heroic Druid.
As a spell casting class with real touchstones in a historical culture rather than the mythology of a culture. I feel the druid some how carries more weight for me than the magic user and the sorcerer. In my mind it matters that at one point in history there were flesh and blood "druids" and that the old way was the religion in part of the world. I often times have a desire to get it "right" when dealing with the druid more so than say a typical magic user. More than just a ranger with shapechange and more than cleric dedicated to the woods. A druid in effect can be the woods. When acting as nature's defender they are protecting themselves, and that opens up a milieu of adventures other classes might not be suited for. In a word druids are different.
So, as the player in the group, who has played a Druid class character the longest and in both 3rd and 5th editions of D&D as well as in our home brew PHASE ABANDON I have been asked to start off a conversation (or debate if you will) on playing a Druid. I will not profess to being a "rules lawyer" nor have the DMing experience of Mark who I have had the pleasure of playing in both of their many campaigns but what I do know is Druids, at least real world Druidism. How does this make me a good judge on rules affecting Druids? Well I guess one could argue it doesn't "so stop typing now and go back to the forest you tree hugging hippie". My justification would be that I interpret the abilities not simply as written in the rule book but with the intent the Druid would use and had been granted his power.
Where does this go? Well after going through the PHBs of 2nd, 3rd 4th and 5th editions as well as a pdf of the original and articles forwarded to me I conclude that, while I love 5 edition it really lacks in clarifying many rules and especially does not do the Druid class any justice in the way of development. What I mean by this is the early editions give a good outline of who the Druid is, what their ethos is.
Clearly the Druid is defined as a true neutral character seeing all things as a necessity to balance the forces of the world. The Druid is not the person you want in your group to wantonly go off and take out that band of Orcs simply because hey they do bad things nor is he a "card holding" member of PETA hunting you down for eating a bunny or killing bears for coats. While they would rather be in the wilds; they accept that many humanoids prefer towns or cities and a visit to such places will not necessarily make their eyes explode. (LOL)
So a few rules that come up in our sessions:
Entangle: As written this spell creates sprawling vines and gnarly roots to grow out of the ground clinging and rasping all creatures in an area. Pretty straightforward It seems. The question became does it also incapacitate the Druids comrades? Well, as written (in any edition) it does. For most of my years of playing my particular DM never made this the case, he house ruled it; or simply never gave it a thought. The argument for this would be: if the Druid is controlling these plants to spring forth he should be able to dictate which creatures are effected. I like that. Recently we have played it as written and quite honestly it practically takes the spell right out of the Druids' arsenal. Unless working solo or with a group of ranged fighters, casting Entangle is too prohibitive for melee combatants to be utilized. In defense of this would be the entire range of area effect spells cast by magic users; imagine the wizard able to cast Fireball into a crowd and dictate that it only incinerates the bad guys. Yeah kind of crazy.
Our biggest debate at the moment is the shape-
change ability. It is my firm belief that the Druid should only be allowed to choose from natural animals; IE wolf, bear, raven; things they would see in their environment and I believe in the first two editions at least this was the intent of the ability. Original wording states: Ability to change form up to three times per day, actually becoming, in all respects save the mind, a reptile, bird or mammal. To me that doesn't include creatures of fantasy but the argument can be made that "uh helloo this is a fantasy game so magical creatures ARE included, after all you do encounter them." Later editions have change the wording to "creatures" and as of 5th simply to beasts. hmm helpful; real helpful.
So what do our rule enforcers decide? can our 5 level Druid turn into a basilisk and does that mean that all those who look it in the eye make a saving throw vs paralysis (or whatnot) or does the Druid just turn into a big lizard?
I Also asked Russ what he thought makes a truly heroic druid character in a game.rees. Fair and neutral to all. Healing abilities would be of a more holistic nature than magic ability. Spells would be of elemental fury; windstorms, lightning, hailstorms. Animal empathy of course.
His shape shifting would be at will and restricted to natural creatures with no magical abilities.
Main focus to protect the balance of good and evil and protect nature from unnecessary destruction. He would be as likely to walk freely into an orc war band camp as a human village and be generally accepted by both as if to parlay
Thank you for reading,
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