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DnD 5e - Druid Subclass Breakdown

Last Updated: March 11th, 2020

Disclaimer

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.

Introduction

While the core of the Druid's capabilities remains functional regardless of your Druid Circle, your choice of circle adds a set of unique capabilities to complement the Druid's core class features.

Druid Subclasses - Druid Circle

Circle of DreamsXGtE

Circle of Dreams offers a few utility options and some healing, but most of the options are lackluster or highly situational.

  • Balm of the Summer Court: A pool of healing which you can use as a bonus action. It's largely redundant with Healing Word, but at the very least this saves you a prepared spell.
  • Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow: Situational, and there are tons of other options available that solve the same issues better. For example, Rope Trick will allow the party to climb into an extradimensional space with an invisible entrance. Still, if you don't have a wizard in the party this is nice to have while camping in dangerous places like dungeons.
  • Hidden Paths: Excellent range, it works as a Bonus Action, and you get a decent number of uses per day. It's especially nice because Misty Step isn't available to druids.
  • Walker in Dreams: Dream and Teleportation Circle aren't on the Druid spell list, but Scry is. The unique version of Teleportation Circle is a nice way to get yourself and your party back to a known safe point, but generally you can do that by other means like walking.

Circle of the LandPHB

If you want to emphasize the Druid's spellcasting, this is the way to do it.

  • Bonus Cantrip: Druids get one less cantrip than other full casters, so this sets the Land Druid on par with everyone else.
  • Natural Recovery: This provides a bit of sustainability to the Druid which was missing in previous editions. It's not quite as important to the Druid as Arcane Recovery is to the Wizard, but it's still fantastic.
  • Circle Spells: Varies by circle.
    • Arctic: Several excellent area control spells. Unfortunately, half of the options address similar needs and require Concentration, so it's hard to use the spells in conjunction.
      • 3: Hold Person and Spike Growth are excellent crowd control/area control options. However, both require Concentration.
      • 5: Sleet Storm is medicore, and given the choice between Sleet Storm and Spike Growth, I would pick Spike Growth every time. Slow is still good. And again, both require Concentration.
      • 7: Ice Storm combines well with other area control effects, and Freedom of Movement allows your allies to move through your area control effects more easily. You already have Land's Stride, so Freedom of Movement doesn't help you much.
      • 9: A useful divination, and a good source of damage not normally available to Druids.
    • Coast: Coast starts off very strong, but most of the spell options will only rarely see use.
      • 3: Mirror Image is among the best defensive options in the game, and Misty Step is a fantastically useful means of getting around. Neither are available to Druids normally.
      • 5: Both are very situational.
      • 7: Both are situational.
      • 9: Scrying is very situational, but Conjure Elemental is pretty great. Summon a Fire Elemental and set fire to entire encounters.
    • Desert: A good mix of different options with different applications, and a couple of spells not normally available to Druids.
      • 3: Blur is a decent defensive option, and Silence is occasionally useful for stealth and for disabling spellcasters.
      • 5: Most groups will ignore the consumption of food and water until you very suddenly can't get any. Fortunately, you can typically survive a day to prepare Create Good and Water, so having it constantly prepared isn't helpful. Protection From Energy is considerably more useful.
      • 7: Both are every situational.
      • 9: Both excellent area control options.
    • Forest: Nothing really spectacular.
      • 3: Barkskin is a fantastic buff, though it's not as important since Land Druids don't fight in Wild Shape. Spider Climb is situational, and seems a bit silly consider you can turn into a spider.
      • 5: Call lightning is one of my favorite Druid spells. The damage per round isn't spectacular, but the ability to repeatedly shoot lightning bolts makes it an extremeley efficient use of spell slots. Plant Growth is situational.
      • 7: Both options are situational, but Divination isn't normally available to Druids.
      • 9: Commune with nature is a nice divination, and Tree Stride is a decent way to get around, but can't compete with real teleportation.
    • Grassland: Some excellent buffs, several of which aren't normally available to Druids, but big parts of the spell list are situational.
      • 3: Two excellent options for stealth and infiltration. The effects remain in place when you use Wild Shape, so you can turn invisible, turn into an owl, and fly around almost undetectable.
      • 5: Daylight is situational, but Haste is one of the best buffs in the game if you have martial characters around to make use of it.
      • 7: Both options are situational, but Divination isn't normally available to Druids.
      • 9: Dream is situational, but Insect Plague is excellent area control.
    • Mountain: Solid options all the way up the list.
      • 3: Spider Climb isn't very useful since you can turn into a spider, but Spike Growth is one of my favorite area control spells.
      • 5: Lightning bolt is a decent damage option, though somewhat difficult to bring to bear against crowds of enemies. Meld with Stone is very situational.
      • 7: Stone Shape is insanely useful, and Stoneskin is a great buff so long as you have enough gold to pay the component cost.
      • 9: Passwall is extremely useful, and Wall of Stone is great area control.
    • Swamp: Starts off very strong, but the higher-level options are bad.
      • 3: Two good options, neither of which are available to Druids.
      • 5: Water walk is very situational, but Stinking Cloud is fantastic area control.
      • 7: Both options are very situational.
      • 9: Scrying is situational, but Insect Plague is excellent area control.
    • Underdark: Lots of fantastic options, many of which aren't available to Druids normally.
      • 3: So I heard you like spiders. Web is good area control.
      • 5: So I heard you like strange gases. Stinking Cloud is good area control, and Gaseous Form is a great escape/infiltration form.
      • 7: Greater Invisibility is fantastic, and Stone Shape is ridiculously useful.
      • 9: Cloudkill is estremely lethal, but it's hard to hit the same target more than once. Insect Plague is excellent area control.
  • Land's Stride: Situational.
  • Nature's Ward: Situational, but it's a broad spectrum of passive defenses.
  • Nature's Sanctuary: Near-immunity to two types of creatures. By now you should have 20 Wisdom, and beasts and plants both tend to have low Wisdom saves.

Circle of the MoonPHB

Circle of the Moon allows the Druid to use Wild Shape as a combat form. Depending on the composition of your party, this may allow you to take the place of your party's Fighter-equivalent, filling space as a Defender and Striker. However, in most parties the Druid is taking the place of the Cleric-equivalent, so you may need to drop out of Wild Shape in order to cast spells from time to time.

  • Combat Wild Shape: Moving into Wild Shape as a swift action means that you can transform, move, and attack in the same turn. This makes it much easier to pick the right form for a combat since you don't need to guess before the fight starts. It also means that when you get knocked out of Wild Shape you can quickly get back into Wild Shape, often without taking damage to your real hit points.
  • Circle Forms: This allows you to take some decent combat forms. See my Practical Guide to Wild Shape for a compilation of possible forms.
  • Primal Strike: At this point you're going to run into a lot of things which resist non-magical weapons, so this is very important.
  • Elemental Wild Shape: Fire Elemental is a flaming murder machine that you can use from now until you hit 18 and can turn into a Mammoth. It does take both of your Wild Shape uses, but if you're successful at setting everything on fire quickly, you may be able to avoid enough damage to stretch this through several fights.
  • Thousand Forms: This is a 2nd-level spell, and the problems it solves can be solved better by Wild Shape.

Circle of the ShepherdXGtE

Circle of the Shepherd offers excellent options for the Druid to support their party and to summon more powerful creatures with Conjure Animals and Conjure Fey. If you enjoy summoning creatures and buffing your allies, this is a great option. If you want to focus on other aspects of druid spellcasting, Circle of the Land is a better choice.

  • Speech of the Woods: A free language and constant Speak with Animals. Not always useful, but wonderful for a Druid to have.
  • Spirit Totem: Powerful and versatile, and as a bonus action it's usable without cutting into your spellcasting.
    • Bear Spirit: If your party is on the defensive, this is a good way to get some temporary hit points onto your allies. If you have a grappler in the party or if you're facing an enemy that grapples your party, Advantage on Strength checks is fantastic. However, the temporary hit points only apply when you first create the spirit, so its effectiveness diminishes quickly in most cases.
    • Hawk Spirit: Your go-to option in most cases. As a back-line spellcaster, you can use your largely ignored Reaction to grant Advantage on attack rolls. If you have a rogue in the party, that means an easy way to get Sneak Attack. For other characters it's just a nice buff that you can grant once per round.
    • Unicorn Spirit: If you're taking a short rest and haven't already expended Spirit Totem, use this before your rest to get some extra healing. The spell you cast doesn't need to be anything fancy: It just needs to be a leveled spell that restores hit points. Goodberry and Healing Spirit both work, for example.
  • Mighty Summoner: One of the biggest problems with summoned creatures is their inability to overcome damage resistance to non-magical attacks. This solves that issue, and also makes your summoned creatures slightly more durable so that you get some more mileage from your Conjure X spells.
  • Guardian Spirit: With this and Mighty Summoner, you can make Conjure X spells last for an exceptionally long time.
  • Faithful Summons: At this level CR 2 creatures aren't likely to win a fight for you, but they might keep enemies at bay long enough for your party to come to your rescue. The language is fairly clear that you can't trigger this willingly, so unfortunately you can't tell your allies to beat you unconcious to get free summons.

Circle of SporesGGtR

Circle of Spores is strong, and brings a lot of really powerful offensive options to the druid, in addition to a splash of undead. The circle features use your Reaction and Bonus Action almost exclusively, which means that you're left to use your Action for normal druid things like casting spells. Symbiotic Entity, the only circle feature which uses an Action, provides a massive pile of temporary hit points, allowing even the most frail druids to take several hits before dipping into their normal hit points.

  • 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.
    • Cantrip: You get Chill Touch for free at 2nd level. It's buried in the text of Circle Spells rather than in the Circle Spells table alongside everything else, so it's easy to miss.
    • 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.