The semi-open playtest for the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the project being creatively code named "D&D Next," has been ongoing since May 24th 2012. Being a proactive RPG geek I jumped on the opportunity to beta test the release of the next installment of the world's most well known Table Top Role Playing Game.
Every few months Wizards of the Coast updates their playtest material based on user feedback. Seeing the evolution of the game over the last year has been very interest but what I really want to discuss is the next version of my favorite D&D class: the druid.
The Good The Bad ...And The Ugly
Wildshape at Level 1 Very Limited Wildshape No Animal Companions
Cantrips - D&D 4.0 Druids are less Versatile, having
Style At Will "Weapon to specialize by choosing a Druidic
-Like" Spells Circle
Natures Endurance- Large Reduction of "Spell per Day"
Immunity to poisons Slots compared to D&D 3.0 and 3.5
Evergreen- Slow Aging No Summoning Spells
Wildshape: The Druid's supernatural ability to change their physical forum to that of an animal they are familiar with has been the classes "signature ability" for many years. D&D 3.0/3.5 Druids gained the ability to shape change into medium sized animals once a day starting at level 4 and would become more powerful as the character takes druid levels. In 4.0 Druids had the opportunity to shape change but it wasn't automatically given. The player would have to choose to take Shape Changing daily powers.
This current incarnation of the Druid class can Wildshape right from the get-go but are restricted on what animal form they can take. By default, the form progress goes like this:
1- Hound, 2- Rodent, 4- Steed and Fish, 6- Bird of Prey
To gain more shape shifting options a Druid has to "specialize in wildshaping" by selecting the Moon as their Druid Circle. Doing so grants the Druid more combat focused forms such as Bears and Great Cats. These forms come at a heavy cost of missing out on extra spells and spell slots given by the Circle of the Oak.
Spell Casting: Basically, it's 3.5 Spell Casting with a few 4.0 traits. Daily Spell Slots are back and Druids once again have nine levels of spells at their disposable. The down side is that the actual number of spells that can be cast per day has be drastically reduced compared to 3.5. At the maximum level of 20, druids will only be able to cast 19 spells, divided between 9 spell levels, per day not counting Cantrips which are at will and free. This is a vast reduction compared to a D&D 3.5 Druid's 39 base spell slots, not counting 0 level or bonus spells granted by high spell casting ability score.
I personally don't like this nurfing of spells but I understand where Wizards of the Coast made the change. Practically, Druids, Wizard, Clerics, and other full caster enjoyed a ridiculous number of spells at high levels. It was nearly impossible for a level 20 Druid to use all their spells in any given in game day or real time game session. As a experienced player of druids, at high levels I would have my high slots as my damage dealers and use all my ten or so low slots for healing and utility functions. Having less slots makes life a little bit more challenging for high level caster because they lack the flexibility of having extra spells to burn.
As I talked about earlier, the "Circle of the Oak" is the Druid's spell casting specialization option. It gives the Druid an a free spell slot to cast the following spells:
1- Entangle, 2- Augury, 3- Call Lighting, 4- Divination, 5- Cone of Cold
Augury, Divination, and Cone of Cold are not on the Druid's spell list so the only way to gain access to them is through the Oak Circle. I prefer the Moon option but "Cone of Cold" is hard to pass up. It's s a handy spell for a druid to know; 6d8 cold damage to everyone in a 60 foot clone can clear a room real fast.
No Animal Allies: In D&D 4th edition Wizard of the Coast moved away from summoning spells and player controlled companions for all classes. When first released there were absolutely no powers or abilities that dealt with summoning or companion creatures but they added in a splash of it with later 4.0 release. Unfortunately, it looks like D&D Next is also going down this road.
Once again, I can understand why this was done but I still not like it. In 3.5, when I wasn't Wildshaping I basically a "Animal General" so to speak. Using my animal companion and summoned creatures I would direct them into the main fray while I stayed on the sidelines casting damage dealing or support spells. Sure, it took a few rounds to set this strategy up since summoning spells require a full round action but it's devastating. On my Pathfinder Society Druid, Shamus RavenFeather has literally saved groups from TPK'ing (Total Party Kill) on two separate organized play scenarios using a similar methodology.
Removing theses additional player controlled assets from the Druid's arsenal makes encounters more challenging and forces players to discover new strategies with D&D Next new class.
Odds and Ends: D&D Next has done a good job of buffing many of the druids miscellaneous abilities as compared to earlier editions.
"Venom Immunity" has become "Natures Endurance;" granting immunity to poisons and disease.
"Resist Nature’s Lure" has become "Nature Ward;" granting immunity to charm and fear effects of Fey and Elemental.
"Timeless Body" has become "Evergreen" which extends a character's lifespan 10 fold at Druid level 13.
Overall: I've been keeping up to date on D&D Next Playtest by downloading the PDF maternal from the Wizards of the Coast Playtest Page but I have been unsuccessful in finding a group to actually playtest the new Druid class. So far I have mixed feelings; I like and dislike a lot of what I've read in the latest packet. I reserve judgment until I get some hands on experience with D&D Next and the class.