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I’ll start by being brutally honest. I don’t like the 5e Druid. Is it a natural arcane caster? Is it a Wild Shaping tank? Is it both? Probably. I always feel that druids are (mind the pun) one trick ponies. They can turn into a whole host of animals, but I see bears and wolves a lot.
In general, I don’t see an interesting Druid character simple from the subclass options provided in the PHB. Even if you try to keep your Shaping to a localised ecosystem, it’s nothing compared to the range and flavour of other classes.
Despite this, I’m keen to see what we have in these new Circles. I’d personally like to see some more Wild Shape customisation!
Circle of Dreams
I could have guessed we’d see a Fey Druid. Seems like recent products (read Volo’s Guide) have pushed Fey a lot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if our next storyline was based around them.
Balm of the Summer Court
If this was a Bard ability I’d really like it. The new mechanic is interesting, although in honesty I think I’d rather it was a set number, like Lay on Hands. As a Druid, I don’t really see the connection here.
Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow
This is a ribbon. It’s pretty boring, the imagery is kinda weak in my opinion, and again I’m not sure what this has to do with druids? There’s no reference to the natural surroundings, it’s basically just a fey class that happens to be able to turn into an octopus if it fancies.
This is a cool ability! Especially if you’re a wizard! Disappear in a puff of smoke and reappear elsewhere! Oh wait it’s just a reworked Misty Step with no Druidic flavour at all. Also restoring in 1d4 rounds is dumb. Just say 3 rounds. 5e has been praised for reducing the number of dice rolled at the table, why go against that?!
Meh. This is a good ability but again I don’t really see how it works for a Druid. This subclass focuses on the Druid being a protector and healer, but with some abstract fey connection.
I’m pretty biased, as it would take a lot to make me want to play a Druid in 5e, but this certainly doesn’t do it. There’s just no synergy with the existing Druid features.
Circle of the Shepard
This is more appealing flavourwise to me. I like the idea of a Commander of Beasts and some sort of shamanic spiritual connection.
This is a very cool shamanistic ability, summoning spirit animals is something that D&D has missed in my opinion this edition. Having said that, this ability does seem pretty powerful, specifically the Hawk. Could be lethal if you have a high level rogue ally!
Super simple and relatively useful. I like the flavour and application.
This is also a cool ability, essentially just gives your Summoner beast companions that extra edge needed to keep them punching hard!
This is less cool than the previous abilities, but it makes sense both mechanically and thematically.
This ability is so cool, probably one of my favourites WotC has released so far! Bestial spirits leaping forth from your body as you hit the deck which protect you. Awesome.
This is a really awesome subclass, especially wen contrasted to the previous Circle. 5e has wanted a shaman for a long time now (or so my players say) and I think this Circle fits the bill nicely!
Circle of Twilight
This sounds quite cool, like a nature cleric/paladin. Hopefully it’s distinguished from the Nature Domain cleric enough!
This seems like quite a powerful ability, and I like the idea behind it, but, as mentioned, not a huge fan of rolling more and more dice. Also, I’m sure keen on undead dying and then giving life to others…
Speech Beyond the Grave
This is cool and powerful, but I think would do better on a cleric. It has nothing to do with Druidic themes at all!
Watcher at the Threshold
Again this is a cool ability, but it just doesn’t mesh with the Druid theme in my opinion.
Paths of the Dead
The same as previous abilities.
Yeah, there are some pretty cool abilities in here, but nothing anywhere near as awesome as the Shepard. Also, to me, none of it feel Druidic.
Whilst I really did like the Circle of the Shepard, and would welcome its use in my games, I felt the other Circles left a lot to be desired. There was very little synergy with existing Druid abilities, and I’ve left with even less of an idea about what the Druid is supposed to be. If I created a Druid NPC, I would have very little understanding of what their place was in the world.
I would have liked to see some Wild Shape augmentation. Perhaps exploring elemental shapes to a greater extent, allowing for elemental incarnations of animals that had magical natural weapons and resistance to damage of the appropriate type. Alternatively, we could have had Monstrous Wild Shape, allowing druids to turn into Chimera, Yeti and the like. Far cooler than the ability to hide your camp thanks to some occult fey court that’s not been explored in this edition of D&D.
Wee Side Note – Variant Shapes
I’m a huge fan of this. I used something very similar in my games anyway, but it’s nice to see WotC had the idea too. I would say this is probably the best element of this UA. It makes creating a Druid easier, and gives those players a simple and easy goal for downtime; amass more potential wildshapes!