Last time, I wrapped up my cleric subclass rankings. Now, it’s time for the druid. As a reminder, there are three main categories I’m looking at as I judge the power level of each subclass: combat strength, allowance for a range of powerful builds, and how it interacts with multiclassing. Since the druid has seven subclasses, this is a two-part post, starting with the bottom four.
The first attempt at a spell-focused druid, Circle of the Land has been a dud since its release in the Player’s Handbook. The subclass has only gotten worse over time, as its one advantage of an expanded spell list is rendered less valuable by every expansion made to the druid class as a whole.
Level 2 – Bonus Cantrip
You learn one additional druid cantrip of your choice.
A decent increase to flexibility, and I’ll never be mad about an extra cantrip.
Level 2 – Natural Recovery
During a short rest, you choose expended spell slots to recover. The spell slots can have a combined level that is equal to or less than half your druid level (rounded up), and none of the slots can be 6th level or higher. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
For example, when you are a 4th-level druid, you can recover up to two levels worth of spell slots. You can recover either a 2nd-level slot or two 1st-level slots.
A nice expansion to the number of spells Land druids can cast per day. This feature does a good job of pushing this subclass as the “castier” druid option.
Level 2 – Circle Spells
Arctic Druid Level Circle Spells 3rd hold person, spike growth 5th sleet storm, slow 7th freedom of movement, ice storm 9th commune with nature, cone of cold
Coast Druid Level Circle Spells 3rd mirror image, misty step 5th water breathing, water walk 7th control water, freedom of movement 9th conjure elemental, scrying
Desert Druid Level Circle Spells 3rd blur, silence 5th create food and water, protection from energy 7th blight, hallucinatory terrain 9th insect plague, wall of stone
Forest Druid Level Circle Spells 3rd barkskin, spider climb 5th call lightning, plant growth 7th divination, freedom of movement 9th commune with nature, tree stride
Grassland Druid Level Circle Spells 3rd invisibility, pass without trace 5th daylight, haste 7th divination, freedom of movement 9th dream, insect plague
Mountain Druid Level Circle Spells 3rd spider climb, spike growth 5th lightning bolt, meld into stone 7th stone shape, stoneskin 9th passwall, wall of stone
Swamp Druid Level Circle Spells 3rd darkness, Melf’s acid arrow 5th water walk, stinking cloud 7th freedom of movement, locate creature 9th insect plague, scrying
Underdark Druid Level Circle Spells 3rd spider climb, web 5th gaseous form, stinking cloud 7th greater invisibility, stone shape 9th cloudkill, insect plague
The major feature of this subclass: a giant pile of expanded spell options. There are a few issues with this ability. The first is that Land druids only get to pick one of these lists, and they can’t mix and match. There are some good spells here, with entries like Misty Step, Blur, Haste, and Greater Invisibility standing out in particular, but they are spread out so the Land druid can only get one of them.
Compounding this issue, over half* of these spells are already available to all druids. A Land druid picking the grassland list for Haste not only misses out on all the cool stuff other druid subclasses get, but they don’t even get all the cool stuff their own subclass could theoretically have.
Level 6 – Land’s Stride
Moving through nonmagical difficult terrain costs you no extra movement. You can also pass through nonmagical plants without being slowed by them and without taking damage from them if they have thorns, spines, or a similar hazard.
In addition, you have advantage on saving throws against plants that are magically created or manipulated to impede movement, such those created by the entangle spell.
From middling features to truly bad ones, we have Land’s Stride. Much of this feature is so narrow in scope that I have played through entire campaigns where the ability to walk through thorny, nonmagical plants without taking damage would never come up. The ability to ignore difficult nonmagical terrain is decent, and advantage against spells like Entangle is nice, but they are not enough to prop up a 6th-level feature.
Level 10 – Nature’s Ward
Being immune to the charmed and frightened conditions is nice. Narrowing that immunity to only work against elementals and fey is not. Poison immunity is easily the strongest part of this ability, with diseases being so rare in D&D they might as well not exist.
Level 14 – Nature’s Sanctuary
When a beast or plant creature attacks you, that creature must make a Wisdom saving throw against your druid spell save DC. On a failed save, the creature must choose a different target, or the attack automatically misses. On a successful save, the creature is immune to this effect for 24 hours.
The creature is aware of this effect before it makes its attack against you.
As I mentioned when discussing the Nature cleric, plants and beasts generally fall on the weaker end of 5E monster strength. This makes early features that manipulate these creatures better than late ones, as at higher levels you won’t need protection against such weak threats. By level 14 you won’t be encountering many beasts or plants that pose real danger to you regardless of whether or not they can directly attack you, making this feature pretty lackluster.
It’s important to remember that even with a weak subclass like Land, a druid can still be a potent character. However, Land will often leave you feeling like an inferior version of other full casting classes. Limited mimicry of better spell lists with no way to take advantage of what makes druids unique lands this subclass squarely in seventh place.
If Land was the first attempt at a fully spell-focused druid, Dreams was the same for support.
Level 2 – Balm of the Summer Court
You have a pool of fey energy represented by a number of d6s equal to your druid level.
As a bonus action, you can choose one creature you can see within 120 feet of you and spend a number of those dice equal to half your druid level or less. Roll the spent dice and add them together. The target regains a number of hit points equal to the total. The target also gains 1 temporary hit point per die spent.
You regain all expended dice when you finish a long rest.
While I won’t turn down some free extra healing, this doesn’t provide a ton of it. The best use of this feature for most builds will be to spend d6s one at a time to revive unconscious allies, similar to Healing Word. Unfortunately, this ability heals less on average than a level 1 Healing Word spell, and while that small difference probably won’t matter,* it’s still a bummer.
Obviously being able to heal without expending a spell slot or running afoul of the “can’t cast two non-cantrip spells per turn” rule is good, but it’s a shame these weren’t at least d8s to match the druid’s hit dice. The temporary hit points are so small they almost aren’t worth mentioning, especially in a post-Tasha’s world where temporary hit points are more common than ever.
Level 6 – Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow
During a short or long rest, you can invoke the shadowy power of the Gloaming Court to help guard your respite. At the start of the rest, you touch a point in space, and an invisible, 30-foot-radius sphere of magic appears, centered on that point. Total cover blocks the sphere.
While within the sphere, you and your allies gain a +5 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) and Wisdom (Perception) checks, and any light from open flames in the sphere (a campfire, torches, or the like) isn’t visible outside it.
The sphere vanishes at the end of the rest or when you leave the sphere.
A cool name for an ability that is generally worse than the 3rd-level Leomund’s Tiny Hut ritual. There is some space to abuse the stealth and perception bonuses this feature grants by starting a “rest” in a location you want to stake out. You could also claim you want to short rest in every room in order to boost the likelihood you find hidden traps or treasure. This is obviously not the intended use for this ability, and without such abuses we’re left with a bad feature.
Level 10 – Hidden Paths
As a bonus action on your turn, you can teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space you can see. Alternatively, you can use your action to teleport one willing creature you touch up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space you can see.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.
Teleportation is always a good thing to have; unfortunately level 10 is a bit late to be getting options as restrictive and expensive as this. In combat, it’s not very appealing to spend your whole action repositioning an ally just 30 feet away. Out of combat, the limited uses restrict how much this ability can help with traversal. Another problem is that by this level, many classes have had Misty Step or Dimension Door for multiple levels, effects similar to or better than this feature.
Level 14 – Walker in Dreams
When you finish a short rest, you can cast one of the following spells, without expending a spell slot or requiring material components: dream (with you as the messenger), scrying, or teleportation circle.
This use of teleportation circle is special. Rather than opening a portal to a permanent teleportation circle, it opens a portal to the last location where you finished a long rest on your current plane of existence. If you haven’t taken a long rest on your current plane, the spell fails but isn’t wasted.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
If you find yourself in need of Dream, Scrying, or Teleportation Circle without spending precious spell slots, then this is a great utility feature. The unique Teleportation Circle lets you escape any location if you have time for a short rest, which is somewhat useful. Gathering information through Scrying could also be helpful. Unfortunately, like the previous feature, everything this one does is readily available to multiple casters, including the druid, by the time this feature comes online.
With limited combat application and utility features gained too late to feel truly unique, this dream only made it to sixth place.
The spooky necromancer of druids, Spore druids consistently run into the issue of mechanics not measuring up to their flavor.
Level 2 – Circle Spells
At 2nd level, you learn the chill touch cantrip. At 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th level you gain access to the spells listed for that level in the Circle of Spores Spells table.
Once you gain access to one of these spells, you always have it prepared, and it doesn’t count against the number of spells you can prepare each day. If you gain access to a spell that doesn’t appear on the druid spell list, the spell is nonetheless a druid spell for you.
Circle of Spores Spells Druid Level Circle Spells 3rd blindness/deafness, gentle repose 5th animate dead, gaseous form 7th blight, confusion 9th cloudkill, contagion
While an additional cantrip is always nice, Chill Touch* is not particularly useful, meaning the leveled spells need to carry this feature. While it is nice that five of the eight spells here are new to druids, out of those five, Animate Dead is the only one I’d consider generally strong. The good news is that if you do want to go full necromancer with an army of skeleton archers, Circle of Spores can do that.
The bad news is that compared to other necromancer options, this subclass performs poorly. Necromancer wizards give buffs to their minions, and warlocks can bring a truly absurd number of undead to the field thanks to their short rest spell slots. Clerics are about as good as the Spore druid when it comes to summoning, but the druid’s weaker defenses and general spell list leave them in a worse position than their holy competition.
Level 2 – Halo of Spores
When a creature you can see moves into a space within 10 feet of you or starts its turn there, you can use your reaction to deal 1d4 necrotic damage to that creature unless it succeeds on a Constitution saving throw against your spell save DC. The necrotic damage increases to 1d6 at 6th level, 1d8 at 10th level, and 1d10 at 14th level.
A short-range, low-damage reaction that deals no damage if the target passes what is, on average, one of the highest saves that monsters have. The damage scaling is nice, but we don’t get any kind of range increase until level 10,* leaving this feature feeling very weak.
Level 2 – Symbiotic Entity
As an action, you can expend a use of your Wild Shape feature to awaken those spores, rather than transforming into a beast form, and you gain 4 temporary hit points for each level you have in this class. While this feature is active, you gain the following benefits:
- When you deal your Halo of Spores damage, roll the damage die a second time and add it to the total.
- Your melee weapon attacks deal an extra 1d6 necrotic damage to any target they hit.
These benefits last for 10 minutes, until you lose all these temporary hit points, or until you use your Wild Shape again.
Speaking of range problems, here is another one. This feature seemingly wants the Spore druid to be mixing it up in melee, throwing out spores and bopping enemies for additional damage. The problem is that druids lack the defensive tools to keep the temporary hit points maintaining Symbiotic Entity. It’s simply too easy to remove the hit points granted by this feature and deprive the Spore druid of its bonuses.
It is important to note that the druid class capstone, allowing for infinite Wild Shapes, means that Spore druids can generate 80 temporary hit points whenever they want as an action. While this is a powerful ability, it only comes online at level 20, and Spore isn’t even the best at taking advantage of this boost.*
Level 6 – Fungal Infestation
If a beast or a humanoid that is Small or Medium dies within 10 feet of you, you can use your reaction to animate it, causing it to stand up immediately with 1 hit point. The creature uses the zombie stat block in the Monster Manual. It remains animate for 1 hour, after which time it collapses and dies.
In combat, the zombie’s turn comes immediately after yours. It obeys your mental commands, and the only action it can take is the Attack action, making one melee attack.
You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses of it when you finish a long rest.
Great flavor, terrible mechanics. Individual zombies barely pose a threat at level 1; zombies that start at 1 health might as well not exist at level 6. On top of the weak effect, the feature has limited uses. Unless your GM is kind enough to waste attacks on the zombies, they’ll spend most of their short existence missing attacks and being ignored.
Level 10 – Spreading Spores
As a bonus action while your Symbiotic Entity feature is active, you can hurl spores up to 30 feet away, where they swirl in a 10-foot cube for 1 minute. The spores disappear early if you use this feature again, if you dismiss them as a bonus action, or if your Symbiotic Entity feature is no longer active.
Whenever a creature moves into the cube or starts its turn there, that creature takes your Halo of Spores damage, unless the creature succeeds on a Constitution saving throw against your spell save DC. A creature can take this damage no more than once per turn.
While the cube of spores persists, you can’t use your Halo of Spores reaction.
Finally, we can use our spores without having to stand right next to our target. The damage and its associated save still aren’t great, but between this range increase and Symbiotic Entity generating 40 temporary hit points by this level, the Spore druid can expect to keep Entity active for longer than a round or two.
Level 14 – Fungal Body
The condition immunities are definitely the stronger portion of this feature. Critical hit immunity is more of a “feels good” ability rather than a mechanically strong one, but I won’t say no to it.
Low numbers and the general lack of defensive options available to druids significantly hinders this subclass. Normally, I’d look to multiclassing to fix the defense problem, but the fossilized mechanic of “druids won’t* wear metal armor” means that without custom or magical items you’re stuck with studded leather. If your GM is kind enough to ignore the metal armor rule, then this subclass’s power does rise, but it’s still held back by its generally weak features. Poor Spore gets fifth place.
Speaking of being dependent on what your GM does, we have the Shepherd druid. This subclass focuses on summoning woodland critters to your side to nibble your opponents to death.
This subclass’s power will differ significantly based on how your GM rules the spell Conjure Animals. I am of the belief that players control what their spells do unless stated otherwise, meaning that when you cast Conjure Animals, you select what gets summoned. If your GM allows you this kind of control, then conjuring up hordes of velociraptors propels this subclass to at least second place.
However, in 2015 Wizards of the Coast released an errata that changed how spells like Conjure Animals work, placing control over what is summoned in the hands of the GM. I think this was a bad idea and do not run it that way at my table; however, since I try to keep my articles focused on RAW* whenever possible, I have to take that errata into account. Thankfully Tasha’s included some good summoning options that the player has full control over, but they are significantly weaker than the raptor swarm.
Level 2 – Speech of the Woods
You learn to speak, read, and write Sylvan. In addition, beasts can understand your speech, and you gain the ability to decipher their noises and motions. Most beasts lack the intelligence to convey or understand sophisticated concepts, but a friendly beast could relay what it has seen or heard in the recent past. This ability doesn’t grant you friendship with beasts, though you can combine this ability with gifts to curry favor with them as you would with any nonplayer character.
Since druids already have access to the Speak with Animals spell, this feature is almost entirely redundant. Thankfully, it’s not the only level 2 ability we get.
Level 2 – Spirit Totem
As a bonus action, you can magically summon an incorporeal spirit to a point you can see within 60 feet of you. The spirit creates an aura in a 30-foot radius around that point. It counts as neither a creature nor an object, though it has the spectral appearance of the creature it represents.
As a bonus action, you can move the spirit up to 60 feet to a point you can see.
The spirit persists for 1 minute or until you’re incapacitated. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
The effect of the spirit’s aura depends on the type of spirit you summon from the options below.
Bear Spirit. The bear spirit grants you and your allies its might and endurance. Each creature of your choice in the aura when the spirit appears gains temporary hit points equal to 5 + your druid level. In addition, you and your allies gain advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws while in the aura.Hawk Spirit. The hawk spirit is a consummate hunter, aiding you and your allies with its keen sight. When a creature makes an attack roll against a target in the spirit’s aura, you can use your reaction to grant advantage to that attack roll. In addition, you and your allies have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks while in the aura.Unicorn Spirit. The unicorn spirit lends its protection to those nearby. You and your allies gain advantage on all ability checks made to detect creatures in the spirit’s aura. In addition, if you cast a spell using a spell slot that restores hit points to any creature inside or outside the aura, each creature of your choice in the aura also regains hit points equal to your druid level.
A great feature that is mainly limited by its one use per short rest. If you plan on summoning swarms, Bear Spirit is by far the strongest option. If you plan on healing, then unicorn can output a massive amount of additional hit points. If neither of those appeal, then hawk is a decent boost to one of your party member’s damage – especially if they’re a rogue.
Level 6 – Mighty Summoner
Any beast or fey summoned or created by a spell that you cast gains the following benefits:
- The creature appears with more hit points than normal: 2 extra hit points per Hit Die it has.
- The damage from its natural weapons is considered magical for the purpose of overcoming immunity and resistance to nonmagical attacks and damage.
This feature’s power varies wildly depending on how many creatures you plan to summon. For swarms, this is great, as the hit points generated by this ability is multiplied by the number of creatures it affects. For low-health creatures, Mighty Summoner plus Bear Spirit can mean the difference between dying to one hit or two, doubling their survivability. If you plan on summoning fewer friends, then don’t expect to feel the impact of those extra hit points. Thankfully, making your summon attacks magical is good regardless of what you make and only gets better as you increase in level.
Level 10 – Guardian Spirit
When a beast or fey that you summoned or created with a spell ends its turn in your Spirit Totem aura, that creature regains a number of hit points equal to half your druid level.
Like many of the features we’ve already discussed, this ability gets better with the more summons you have. Sixteen instances of a 16 health* velociraptor getting back 5 hit points every round is quite good. One instance of a 50 health fey getting back 5 hit points is less good.
Level 14 – Faithful Summons
If you are reduced to 0 hit points or are incapacitated against your will, you can immediately gain the benefits of conjure animals as if it were cast using a 9th-level spell slot. It summons four beasts of your choice that are challenge rating 2 or lower. The conjured beasts appear within 20 feet of you. If they receive no commands from you, they protect you from harm and attack your foes. The spell lasts for 1 hour, requiring no concentration, or until you dismiss it (no action required).
While thematically cool, this feature is not very good. By level 14, four challenge rating 2 monsters will not have much of an impact on a difficult battle. Like the Spore zombies, they can easily be ignored by most enemies a party of that level will be facing.
If you ignore Wizards’ errata, this is one of the best druid subclasses out there. If you don’t, the best the Shepherd can summon up is fourth place.
That covers the first four druid subclasses. Check in next time for part two, where I cover which druid takes the forest crown.
I have also created a tier list for those of you who are interested.
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