As per my last D&D Next post and This Page on Coast website, I thought that the Playtest Packet released on 19SEP13 was going to be the final one. To my surprise, a new playtest kit is out. I made this discovery by chance when I went to http://dndplaytest.wizards.com/ to re-download the documents again. The file is renamed "101413_DnD_Next_Public_Playtest" so it's a safe bet that it was released on 14OCT13.
I'm happy to report that in general, this revision of the Druid class is better then it's former D&D Next incarnations. It's still inferior compared to 3.5 and Pathfinder Druid in my humble option but it's nice to see that Wizards of the Coast is making notable progress. I'm confident that they will release a decent final product when the new edition of Dungeons & Dragon is published.
Below is "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" list from my last two druid previews. Overall, my main complains of the D&D Next class are still valid but there are some sufficient improvements.
The Good The Bad ...And The Ugly
Wildshape at Level 2 Limited Wildshape Forms No Animal Companions
(Improved since last Packet)
"At Will" Cantrips Druid Circles Natures Ward Removed
(4th Ed Style At Will (The Class is less Versatile, as a Standard Ability
Powers) Forces Specialization) (Poison/Disease Immunity)
Evergreen "Spell per Day" Reduction
(Slow Aging) (Compared to D&D 3.0/3.5)
Beast Spell/Speech No Summoning Spells
(Now Standard Abilities)
"Per Day" Limit Removed
Wildshape Retooled: Druids are no longer restricted to a set number of Wildshapes per day. Instead, Druids are able to Wildshape once after a long rest (8 hours) or a short rest (1 hour.) At level 8 this improves to twice between rests. Effectively, a druid will have the opportunity to shift around 3 or so times a play session at level two depending on how many short rest the party takes. In my personal experience playing D&D 4.0 (which at a similar "Second Wind") and Numenera (which also uses a rest system) groups generally take two short rest a session.
The other notable improvement over the previous playtest material is that WotC finally ditched the "unlocking forms" as a Druid levels mechanic. In the last playtest document, here is how the form progression worked:
Level 2- Hound; Level 5- Steed; Level 7- Fish and Rodent; Level 9- Bird.
This time around a Druid has access to all available forms as soon as they receive Wildshape. At level 2, Druids can now transform into a bat, a cat, a deer, a dog, a fish, a hawk, a horse, an owl, a raven, a snake, a toad, or a weasel. They can stay in these forums for 1 hour plus half there Druid level and they take on the stats and abilities of there new forums. The only way to gain more forums is to specialize in shape shifting by selecting "The Circle of the Moon" as there Druid Circle at level 3.
These forums provide a Druid with a large amount of useful abilities and skill bonus/advantages but for the most part these forums won't help much in combat. Without the Moon Circle forums, shifting drops your hit points total to match the animal your transforming into. I admit this makes logical sense but it drastically reduces a Druids combat survivability. Also, the playtest PDF doesn't say anything about these basic forms scale up as a druid levels so this problem is only going to get worse over time.
In short, Wildshape is not a combat ability anymore unless you pick "The Circle of the Moon." This circle adds combat orientated shape to a Druid's arsenal.
Moon Circle Changes: Last playtest this Circle granted two "Battle Forum," bear and great cat, at level 3 and then give you ways to improve these forms. The abilities "Giant Battle Shapes," "Ancient Battle Shapes," and "Behemoth Shape" would greatly enhance the Druid's bear and great cat forms. Now, the Moon Circle just unlocks more increasing combat capable shapes over time. Sure, they give it a fancy name like "Monstrous Shapes" but it's essentially just grating two additional animals per tier:
Level 3 "Battle Wild Shape," Dire Wolf and Panther forms.
Level 6 "Mauler Shapes," Brown Bear or Tiger.
Level 10 "Monstrous Shapes," Cave Bear or Triceratops.
As I said in "Wildshape Retooled," these animals are built for combat. They have a healthy amount of hit points, good STR score, and decent natural attack. The AC is still a little on the low side but that can't really be helped. Maybe there will be ways to shore up a Druid's defense while shifting down the line, such as the "Wild" armor enchant in Pathfinder. It's expensive, +3 enchant at 9,000 gp including masterwork armor and +1 enchant costs, but it's worth it.
Beast Spell/Speech: These two abilities were formerly Circles abilities but now all Druids get them. Beast Speech is granted at level 7, allowing a Druid to talk normally while shifted. Beast Spell is earned at 20 and lets the Druid cast spells while Wildshaping. It may not seem like a big advancement in the grand scheme of things but it makes more sense. Wildshape is a core feature of the Druid class so it's great that all Druids can now benefit from these abilities regardless of which Circle they pick.
Overall: This latest is definitely a step in the right direction. I've finnally found a local gaming group playing D&D Next so I'm really looking forward to actually playing the new Druid Class in the next few weeks.