DnD 5e - The Circle of Spores Druid Handbook
Last Updated: November 8th, 2019
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The Circle of Spores Druid is a complex, challenging subclass. It offers a number of interesting features which will ensure that no part of your turn goes unused, and that you always have something interesting to do. However, it is complicated to build and play, and players will need to make complex risk-reward decisions almost constantly.
This guide is specifically for the Circle of Spores Druid, and omits sections of my typicaly class handbooks when those sections aren't meaningfully different from other members of the class. For more information on the Druid, see my Druid Handbook.
Circle of Spores Subclass Features
- Circle Spells: Almost everything on the spell is useful frequently, and you get a handful of options which aren't on the Druid's spell list.
- 3: A fantastic debuff and a very situational utility option.
- 5: The logic behind why Circle of Spores druids can raise undead is a huge stretch, but Animate Dead is great regardless. Having four human skeletons is useful at any level because they're expendable and easy to use as bait without feeling sad about killing an innocent person. Gaseous Form is great too for a variety of sneaking and exploratory purposes.
- 7: A decent single-target damage spell that works really well on plants, and a mediocre, unreliable debuff.
- 9: Two excellent offensive options.
- Circle of Spores: When you first get this, a free 1d4 damage is a really nice boost to your damage output. The damage scales very slowly, so it won't be especially threatening at high levels, but consider how infrequently most druids get to do something with their Reaction this is a fantastic improvement to your action economy. Find allies who make numerous attacks (fighters, etc.) to stun-lock enemies for extended periods of time. The range is short, unfortunately, so make sure you have a tanky ally between you and whatever is trying to kill you.
- Symbiotic Entity: Someone finally wrote a way for druids to thrive in melee without turning into an animal! Cast Shillelagh on a club or a quarterstaff, grab your shield, and go clubbing. The 10 minute duration may be enough to get you through several fights if you move quickly, and even if you're not walking around swinging a weapon, 4 temporary hit points per class level is a massive pile of hit points.
- Fungal Infestation: You're limited to small or medium beasts and humanoids, which means your best hope is for a wolf or something to die right next to you. It's cool that you can activate this as a Reaction, but 1 to 5 CR 1/4 zombies aren't going to do a whole lot. Best case scenario: whatever you're fighting spends a few of its attacks on the zombie instead of you and your allies.
- Spreading Spores: This creates an additional area in which enemies can take the damage from your Halo of Spores. You activate this as a Bonus Action, but after that creatures take the damage without you spending your Reaction. You lose the ability to use Halo of Spores as a Reaction, unfortunately, and the ability curiously doesn't exclude you from the damage, so be careful not top drop it on yourself. Cast something like Entangle to keep enemies from moving away quickly, then throw your spores on top of them.
- Fungal Body: A nice list of condition immunitites. You can still take poison damage, which seems odd, but I'm never going to complain about condition immunities.
Unlike other druids, the Circle of Spores Druid needs to be concerned with their physical ability scores. Because you're not relying on turning into an animal but you still need to function in melee or near-melee range, you need to be able to survive melee combat on your own. Unfortunately, this means that the Circle of Spores Druid is more MAD than other druids. Strangely, this also means that your ability score requirements match those of the Monk.
Str: You can't afford to have high ability scores in four abilities, and Strength simply isn't useful enough. The only thing you would need from Strength is melee attacks, and you can solve that by using finesse weapons or by casting Shillelagh.
Dex: Druids have notoriously poor AC, and anything you can do to address that will still require high Dexterity.
Con: The Circle of Spores Druid needs Constitution more than other druids. Yes, Symbiotic Entity gives you a huge pile of temporary hit points, but you will inevitably take damage which goes beyond your temporary hit points, and you don't want to die because you have 10 Constitution.
Wis: The Druid's spells are powered by Wisdom.
|Point Buy||Standard Array|
| || |
Ability scores are absolutely critical for the Circle of Spores Druid. Look for some combination of Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom in most cases. But beyond that, look for ways to make yourself more durable. Natural armor is offered by several races, and it's nearly always more effective than the meager options for manufactured armor which druids can wear.
AarakocraEEPC: Dexterity and Wisdom increases, natural weapons, and flight. All really great on their own, but the natural weapons are Strength-based, and you still need to be in melee or near-melee range for much of the Circle of Spores to function, so you'll sacrifice the Aarakocra's biggest selling point.
DwarfPHB: +2 constitution, Darkvision, and Dwarven resilience are all great. Unfortunately, we won't be able to make use of Dwarven Combat Training because were dumping Strength and relying on shillelagh.
- DuergarSCAG: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- HillPHB: Constitution, Wisdom, and a big pile of extra hit points. Numerically mostly sounds, but races which provide a way to address the Druid's terrible AC will still be more effective.
- MountainPHB: Nothing useful for the Druid.
ElfPHB: Bonus Dexterity helps a bit with AC.
- DrowPHB: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- EladrinMToF: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- High ElfPHB: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- Sea ElfMToF: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- Shadar-KaiMToF: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- Wood ElfPHB: Wisdom bonus, and Mask of the Wild works while in Wild Shape.
FirbolgVGTM: A great option for the Druid generally, but little that directly complements Circle of spores. Hiden Step is great when Symbiotic Entity runs out while you're stuck in melee, but that's basically the only unique thing here.
GenasiEEPC: Bonus Constitution never hurts.
- Air: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- Earth: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- Fire: The extra spells are nice, but that's not nearly enough.
- Water: Bonus Wisdom, acid resistance, and some extra spellcasting.
Gith: Githzerai is a decent option, but the Intelligence option is wasted.
- GithyankiMToF: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- GithzeraiMToF: Wisdom, some spells which aren't on the Druid spell list, and Mental Discipline.
GoblinVGtM: Dexterity and Constitution are good, but falling behind on Wisdom is a serious handicap for a long time. Nimble Escape is a great addition for when Symbiotic Entity runns out, and Fury of the Small can be a helpful damage boost since most enemies are medium or larger.
Half-Elf: The abilities work great, and bonus skills are always nice, but Variant Human is strictly better.
- AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
- DrowSCAG: Nothing useful for Circle of Spores.
- High/Moon/SunSCAG: A single cantrip from the Wizard spell list means that you can get Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade without taking Magic Initiate. However, at that point you'll get a lot more from playing a Variant Human and taking Magic Initiate.
- Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
- WoodSCAG: Mask of the Wild works very well for a Druid, especially if you have Stealth proficiency.
- VanillaPHB: Nothing useful for Circle of Spores.
Half-OrcPHB: Nothing useful for Circle of Spores.
HalflingPHB: The Dexterity increase provides a helpful AC boost, and Ghostwise is a fantastic option for druids.
- GhostwiseSCAG: A small wisdom bump is good, but that's the only thing we really care about.
- LightfootPHB: Nothing useful for the Druid.
- StoutPHB: Nothing useful for the Druid.
HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.
- Vanilla: +1 to every ability score means +1 to each of the three that we care about. That's still not enough to make this a good or interesting option, but it's something.
- Variant: Put the bonuses into Dexterity and Wisdom, and grab a feat. I like Magic Initiate, personally.
KenkuVGTM: Perfect ability score increases, but little else that we care about.
LizardfolkVGTM: The Lizardfolk's natural armor isn't as good as the Loxodon's because you'll still need both Dexterity and Constitution, but everything else about the Lizardfolk is better. Unfortunately, Bite and Hungry Jaws are both Strength-based, so don't expect to get much out of them.
TortleTP: Despite only providing an increase to one ability score that we care about, the Tortle's natural armor makes it a serious contender. +1 Wisdom is enough to keep you on the Attack vs. AC progression, and 17 AC means you can totally ignore Dexterity. Grab a shield, and your AC is 19 at 1st level, which will match most other druids until very high levels.
Setting-specific races are address below. Not every setting allows every race, and while most races presented in the core rules and in content for the Forgotten Realms can be used in other settings, races specific to settings like Ravnica aren't typically allowed in other settings. Talk to your DM about what races are allowed in your game.
Races of Ravnica
CentaurGGTR: Too Strength-based.
GoblinGGTR: See above.
LoxodonGGTR: Excellent ability cores for the Druid, and a handful of useful passive benefits. The Loxodon's Natural Armor is Constitution-based, so you can safely dump Dexterity and be incredibly durable.
Simic HybridGGTR: Put the flexible increase into Wisdom. Take any of the 1st-level enhancements, and take Carapace at 5th level. Grappling Appendages is tempting, but it's Strength-based so it's not a good option. Unfortunately, without a Dexterity increase or somee other means of boosting your AC, the Simic Hybrid will lag behind other options at low levels.
VedalkenGGTR: A fine fit for many druids, but the Vedalken provides nothing that supports Circle of Spores.
This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the backgrounds recommended in the "Quick Build" section of the class description, as well as other backgrounds which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. The possibility of custom backgrounds also means that it is literally impossible for me to provide comprehensive analysis of every potential background in existence.
- Elemental AdeptPHB: Tragically, Elemental Adept doesn't allow you to select Poison. However, druids still depend heavily on fire damage, so this may still be worthwile.
- Magic InitiatePHB: Magic Initiate is a great option for Circle of Spores. Melee cantrips like Booming Blade and Green-Flame Blade allow you to exceed your normal cantrip damage by combining Shillelagh, an attack cantrip, and the extra 1d6 damage from Symbotic Entity. On top of that, you can get either Shield or Mage Armor, either of which will be a helpful boost to your AC. Mage Armor's 13+Dex AC will exceed the 12+Dex of Studded Leather, raising your maximum possible AC to 20 (13 base, 20 Dex, +2 shield) without multiclassing or magic items.
- MobilePHB: Not essential, but helpful when Symbiotic Entity runs out of temporary
- Polearm MasterPHB: Works with quarterstaffs, which means that it works with Shillelagh and all of our other shenanigans. If you don't want to rely on melee cantrips, using Polarm Master to make an additional attack is a great option. You still get to apply the extra 1d6 damage from Symbiotic Entity on the bonus action attack.
- Shield MasterPHB: Druids don't have enough Strength to make the Shove option useful.
- ToughPHB: More hit points never hurt, but you almost certainly don't have enough feats to make room for this.
- War CasterPHB: You'll be spending a lot of time in melee range, and you may have a weapon in your hand when you do so. Juggling a weapon to cast spells can be a problem in many cases, so War Caster can save you quite a bit of trouble.
- Weapon MasterPHB: You already have proficiency in everything which can be the subject of Shillelagh, but if you have exeptionally high Dexterity you might choose to use a rapier instead of a quarterstaff, but if you want a better Finesse weapon you can play a Wood Elf and use a short sword. The damage difference between a rapier and a short sword isn't big enough to waste a feat.
- Club: Works with shillelagh, but a quarterstaff works with Polearm Master, and it's a longer stick for poking traps and other strange objects.
- Dagger: Doesn't work with Shillelagh, but your Dexterity should be decent so it's a fine backup weapon, and every character should carry a dagger for utility purposes and to cut their way out of creatures' stomachs.
- Quarterstaff: Perfectly fine, and you can use it with both Polearm Master and Shillelagh.
- Hide: Your starting armor unless you have 16 Dexterity at 1st level.
- Leather: Your starting armor if you have 16 or more Dexterity at 1st level.
- Studded Leather: The best armor you can get, but wait to get it until your Dexterity is at least 16.
- Shield: You need a shield like a fish needs water. You're going to be in melee a lot. Given the choice between a weapon and a shield, always pick a shield. Druids have horrible AC, and Symbiotic Entity's temporary hit points aren't enough to make up for it.
Circle of Spores Druid Spells
This is not a comprehensive guide to every available spell, as that would be an exercise in madness. The following is a brief compilation of the most notable spells available to the class. Spells available via Magic Initiate are also excluded; for suggestions for Magic Initiate, see the "Feats" section, above.
The Circle of Spores Druid likely needs keep a melee weapon in-hand both for attacking on their own turn and for making opportunity attacks. They also need a shield to help deal with the Druid's notoriously bad AC. Unfortunately, that means that you'll need to constantly draw/store your weapon to get a free hand with which to cast spells. If you need to draw a Spellcasting Focus or Material Components, it could require you to spend your item interaction on two successive turns to switch from a weapon to a focus or from a weapon to a focus. Because this can be a problem and will often leave you empty-handed between turns, try to use spells that lack Material and Somatic components whenever possible unless you intend to take War Caster.
The section below only covers Cantrips. Most of the Circle of Spores Druid's spellcasting is essentially the same as every other druids'. Your Cantrips will be slightly different to emphasize fighting in melee or near-melee range, but for the most part you're still a regular druid.
- Primal SavageryXGtE: Because this is a spell attack it won't benefit from the extra damage from Symbiotic Entity. The damage scaling will eventually outdo Shillelagh, but not until 17th level. Unfortunately, the Druid gets their last new Cantrip at 4th level, and 5e has no official rules for replacing cantrips. I simply can't recommend carrying around a cantrip for 14 levels that you'll probably never use. It does have the advantage of not requiring you to use a weapon, but if magic weapons are a possibility or if you don't plan to take War Caster, Shillelagh still seems like a better option.
- ShillelaghPHB: If you plan to do any melee combat of any kind, you almost certainly need Shillelagh. You can't afford to invest in Strength, and you'll need to focus on Wisdom over Dexterity until you hit 20 Wisdom to keep your spellcasting up to par since that's still your class's primary capacity.
- Thorn WhipPHB: The damage is fine, but the real appeal is the pull effect. 10 feet may not seem like much, but its enough to pull enemies off of ledges, to pull low-flying enemies into melee, to pull enemies into an area control effect like Create Bonfire or Wall of Fire, to pull enemies out of a grapple, or in a pinch you can pull an ally out of a dangerous location (albeit at the price of some friendly fire).
- ThunderclapEEPC / XGtE: Damaging every creature within 5 feet of you is great if you're in melee facing numerous enemies. Even with Extra Attack you will deal more damage with this against three or more foes than you could with a weapon. See my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.
- Barbarian: Unarmored Defense is helpful, but that's all we care about and the Monk's version works better.
- Cleric: More Wisdom-based spellcasting, and some of the domains' 1st-level abilities are tempting, but there's nothing that directly helps up with Circle of Spores.
- Monk: Circle of Spores spends most of their time, especially at low levels, in melee or near-melee range, but on their own Circle of Spores really isn't very good at melee combat. The Druid's AC is terrible, and they never get the ability to make additional weapon attacks so the 1d6 extra damage from Symbiotic Entity isn't meaningful beyond low levels. A single level of Monk solve all of those problems. Unarmored Defense lets you reach an AC of 20 with the ability scores that you were already going to increase and you no longer need to use a shield. You can use unarmed strikes instead of a weapon, but you can also use a a quarterstaff with Shillelagh until your Dexterity is high. However, your bonus action unarmed strike will still be Dexterity-based, so you may prefer to use something like a short sword and focus on Dexterity first instead of Wisdom.
Example Build - Tortle Druid
When you think about it, the cap of a mushroom is sort of like a turtle's shell. Except a mushroom can't hide inside the shell. Okay, terrible simile. Move on.
Tortle simplifies a lot of things for the Circle of Spores. An AC of 17 will exceed the AC of every other Druid at low levels, and AC is a massive problem for druids, especially if you're going to be in melee. Even the Loxodon will only have and AC of 16 at first level, and you probably don't want to spend an ability increase on anything Except Wisdom until your Wisdom hits 20, so the Tortle will have the highest Druid AC until 12th level. At high levels other druids will eventually exceed your AC, but that will take a Monk class dip and still won't happen until at least 9th level, so the Tortle is kind for nearly half of the level span.
With a fixed base AC, you don't need to worry about Dexterity as much as most other Circle of Spores Druids. It's basically only for saving throws, and since we don't need to max out Dexterity as much as possible we can split those points across other ability scores so that our saving throw and skill bonuses aren't dumped in favor of essential combat effectiveness.
We will assume the point buy abilities suggested above.
Tortle. As discussed above, Tortle dramatically simplifies both your ability scores and your AC, which are two of the Circle of Spores Druids' biggest challenges.
You could switch out the Tortle for the Loxodon without too much trouble. You'll start with higher Constitution, but slightly less AC. You probably won't be able to make room to boost your Cosntitution until you've already maxed out your Wisdom, but 12th and 16th level will be very satisfying ability increases.
Skills and Tools
Start with Nature and Perception, which are great skills for the Druid. You'll get two more from your background, but that's not especialy important.
Your choice of background doesn't matter much beyond normal Druid stuff.
We'll start at 16 Wisdom, so two ability score increases will go into Wisdom, but we'll have three more to spend. Starting at 15 Constitution means that we can take Resilient to bring it to 16 and also gain proficiency in Constitution saving throws. We can also look at other feats, but there's nothing that we strictly need.
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
|1|| || |
For your starting equipment, take a wooden shield, a quarterstaff, leather armor, an explorer's pack, and a druidic focus.
With a shield in hand, your AC is 19. That's as high as most fighters with shields at 1st level, so despite a few less hit points you're still very durable. In combat your primary role is similar to the Fighter: Get into melee and club people with a stick.
Shillelagh is immediately useful, and at this level you have very few options for using your Bonus Action, but try to get into the habit of repeatedly casting Shillelagh whenever you might be attacked. As you gain levels, your action economy will be used heavily, and having Shillelagh running at the beginning of a fight can open up your Bonus Action for other things.
At range, your primary option is Thorn Whip. You generally want to get into melee with enemies, especially if they don't want to be in melee, and pulling them 10 ft. closer can make that happen.
|2|| || |
2nd level is big for the Druid. You gain the ability to Wild Shape into animals, but you'll likely only use that for utility and exploration.
Halo of Spores and Symbiotic Entities are the most important things that we get at this level, and they're two of our most important options in combat. You'll still do fine in combat without Symbiotic Entity and you'll employ the same tactics, but Symbiotic Entity is like a Caps Lock button for kicking ass. It takes an action to activate and lasts ten minutes, so ideally you want to start it before combat breaks out, but that's not always an option.
At this level we'll learn Thunderclap. We don't have a good way to deal with crowds yet, and with only a single weapon attack per turn at any level it can be difficult to deal with numerous enemies engaging you in melee.
|3|| || |
2nd-level spells. As you gain access to more spells, look for spells that help you in melee. Warding Wind is a great way to make it even more difficult for enemies to get away from you, and area control spells like Spike Growth can help you control the battlefield. If you're low on hit points, cast Healing Spirit and stand your ground while it heals you.
We already have the cantrips we care about, so take whatever you want at this level. I'm always partial to Shape Water becuase it's amazing and Druidcraft is a steaming pile of worthless garbage.
|4|| || |
More Wisdom improves your spellcasting and your attacks at the same time.
3rd-level spells. There aren't a lot of good 3rd-level Druid spells, and even fewer cater to the Circle of Spores.
|6|| || |
Fungal Infestation isn't especially powerful, but it gives you a pet zombie for up to an hour that you can use to block enemy movement, or you can throw a backpack on it and make it carry treasure or something.
4th-level spells. We get some great options at this level. Giant Insect is really good, and if anyone is gross enough to carry a bunch of bugs in their pockets it's a Circle of Spores Druid. Guardian of Nature is a fantastic fit, too.
This level also gives us access to Polymorph. You're already level 7, so nearly every polymorph option is already available to you. As far as I can tell, you can use Symbiotic Entity then cast Polymorph and retain all of Symbiotic Entity's benefits. Of course, you can't activate any of your class features once you're polymorphed, so you only benefit from the temporary hit points and the bonus 1d6 poison damage on weapon attacks.
|8|| || |
I generally recommend to people that they get their primary ability score to 18 before they consider feats, so this is the first time where I would consider introducing feats to the build.
5th-level spells. Some good options, but nothing that changes our tactics.
|10|| || |
By this level you have a bunch of great area control spells like Spike Growth and Wall of Stone. Throw something down to keep enemies from running away, then drop your spores on them and wait.
6th-level spells. Investiture of Flame and Investiture of Ice both work great in melee.
|12|| || |
Resilient bumps our Constitution increase, giving us a big pile of hit points plus proficiency in Constitution saves.
7th-level spells. Nothing exciting at this level, but you can use Plane Shift to get rid of enemies which you're having trouble with.
|14|| || |
Fungal body adds a bunch of nice condition immunities. It doesn't change our tactics, but it makes you a bit more durable.
8th-level spells. Again, nothing that changes our tactics.
|16|| || |
Another opportunity for a feat, but by this level you're probably conmfortable enough with your tactics that you don't need another feat.
9th-level spells. Cast Foresight on yourself. All targets suffer Disadvantage on attacks against you, making you dramatically more durable and easily compensating for any AC issues which you haven't managed to address yet. You also gain Advantage on all of your attacks, ability checks, and saving throws for a full 8 hours.
|18|| || |
Tragically, we'll probably never use Beast Spells. For toher druids it's a powerful option allowing them to use Wild Shape to improve their mobility and stay out of reach while still casting spells offensively.
|19|| || |
Another big pile of hit points or another feat.
|20|| || |
Archdruid gets us two really great things. First, you can use Wild Shape as often as you want, which means that you can use Symbiotic Entity as often as you want. You should basically always have it running, and you might even refresh it mid-combat if the temporary hit points run low.
Second, you can ignore all somatic and verbal components, and most material components for your druid spells. You no longer need a free hand to perform somatic components, which has been a headache for most of your career unless you took War Caster.