Druids are a tough nut to crack. They aren’t quite clerics and they aren’t quite rangers, but rather somewhere in between. And, like Clerics, they seem to be pigeon-holed into one archetype: the nature-loving hippy who would rather commune with the trees than solve human problems. There also seems to be this clear divide between what Druids consider the natural order and what they believe is civilization. It’s a very black and white way to look at things. Trees and animals good, cities bad because it turns out humans are the real monsters.
This is such a limiting perspective. Humanity is just as much a part of nature as trees and animals are. We came from nature, after all, and we exploit it to create our own living space. Nature should not be at war with humanity and neither should Druids. Rather than being San from Princess Mononoke, we should be more like Ashitaka. As druids, our duty is to act as a bridge between humanity and the natural world. We are educators and mentors, guiding both humanity and nature into a sort of equilibrium. To quote Movies With Mikey “Hey, don’t kill the thing you live on, idiot!”
When making a druid, it is important to focus on two things: What do you value about your circle’s beliefs and what is your relationship to the natural world? Circles are a lot like small wilderness cults. Or a book club that takes itself way too seriously. Like cults and that annoying book club run by your office co-worker Susan, circles have structures of power. They have rules, rites, traditions, and someone to enforce them. The subclasses keep descriptions of circles somewhat vague and, as a result, most druids don’t engage with their circle through the course of a campaign. While this can be the fault of a DM who doesn’t know how to engage with that backstory, there are still steps which you as a player can take to make your circle more interesting. A circle is a druid’s family, and how we relate to our families tells us a lot about our characters. Families disagree and argue, but they also support each other.
It is also important to understand how your druid relates to the natural world. Do they feel it is something to be protected? Something that needs to be tamed? Do they see it as merely a tool to accomplish something greater? Since a druid’s very identity is tied to their relationship with nature, this can’t just be something you occasionally pay lip service to when you’re traveling. Nature is everywhere, even in cities.
A question that pops into my mind is “why don’t we ever really see evil druids?” The answer is that we are taught from a young age that the natural order is aligned with goodness. The people who guide it are good people.
Nature can be brutal, however. There are natural disasters, famine, disease, decay, the predator-prey dynamic, etc. Rot and disease are as vital to nature as a pretty flower. So when making a druid, think about what aspect of nature is most important to you. Is it its brutality? Its penchant for change and growth? Its adaptability? Knowing this will tell you a lot about your druid and what they value; more than those tables you roll on for your bonds and flaws anyway. We don’t have to do this alone, however. As with all classes, Druids have some great subclasses that give us a good starting point.
Table of Contents
- Circle of the Land
- Circle of the Moon
Circle of the Land
On first glance, circle of land druids feel like the OG druid, the classic nature lover. And it can seem hard to find different concepts outside of the old cliches. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Land offers a lot of flexibility and possibilities for your druid just based on which biome you are connected to. A druid of the desert is going to look a lot different from a druid of the mountains, and not just in the clothes they wear.
What do you Value About your Circle?
The lore for land druids describes them as advisors or religious leaders that help locals find harmony with nature. If all druids are mentors of some sort, land druids are the ones who teach the mentors. You can consider them as the elders of druidic teachings. They hold the secrets and traditions that guide other druids. So if you want to make a land druid, you must consider what drew your druid to join this circle in particular. A lot of that will depend on your associated land. Each land subsect under the circle at large will have different rites, different values, and different aesthetics. Let’s look at some examples:
An arctic circle might be a conclave of wise shamans, helping to guide their vikingesque or Goliath people to survive in the harsh wilderness up north. They may be brutal and warlike or they may be sages that commune with the ancestors of their people.
A circle based on the coast could be the priests of pirates or perhaps some other seafaring people, reading the winds and helping to navigate the waves.
My personal favorite, desert circles could take a lot of inspiration from sources like the Fremen of Dune or even the sand people of Star Wars. Perhaps you guide travelers through the harsh desert landscape and pay reverence to the climate that provides just as much as it takes away.
Easy. You’re a wood elf priest. In all seriousness though, these are classic druids. The kind from history that served as spiritual leaders for the ancient Celtic tribes. The woods provide food, shelter and medicine for all society. Forest druids could be the ones that are closest to their city kin, acting as ambassadors of the wild and medicine men/women to their local populace.
Nomadic peoples of the steppe or savannah, constantly following the herds. You could be a spiritual leader or even chieftain who guides your people to the best hunting grounds.
While this can be very similar to arctic druids, circles based on the mountain could be hermits or servants of storm giants, keeping the mountain free from the taint of chromatic dragons. Or you could be a fiery druid, working to calm and monitor the temperamental volcanoes of your home.
A swamp circle could be a coven of witch-like druids that use their arts strictly in defense of nature. They could be guardians of the swamp, gaining an infamous reputation as purveyors of hexes and curses or they could be benevolent hedge witches that the villagers seek for aid from the many illnesses that plague swamps.
This one is full of fascinating possibilities.You could be a hermit or a member of an old order of primitive dwarves or drow. Perhaps your circle seeks to cleanse the underdark of the foul taint of Lolth’s cults and Illithids.
What is your Relationship to the Natural World?
While all druids are connected to and revere nature in some way, the Land Druid is perhaps more intimately connected with the natural world than any other. When talking about land druids we must ask ourselves, “is that land title literal?” Do land druids only care about the physical land such as plants and minerals, or do they care about the creatures in them as well? In addition to answering this question, you must also decide how your biome shapes what aspect of nature you value most. Let’s take a look at some more examples:
Perhaps you revere nature’s isolation. The arctic is very inhospitable and offers little protection from the elements. Snow storms, avalanches and much more devastating conditions are present here. Maybe the arctic is a reflection of a perfect environment unspoiled by human hands.
You may revere nature’s wrath and the life-giving properties of water. Fierce storms test all those who are not prepared on the open seas while housing life unending below the waves.
Nature’s adaptability might be what you value above everything else. Life in the desert is anything but easy, but life finds its way anyhow. It adapts and grows to live even in the harshest of environments, and nature rewards the well-prepared with gifts of bounty in isolated pockets. Only when we are deprived of everything can we truly appreciate nature’s humble offerings.
Perhaps you cherish the untamed qualities of the wild. Away from the developed cities of civilization, the forest allows nature to run rampant, wild and free, just like you hope to be.
Much like the forest, the grasslands offer freedom and opportunity. You need only follow the herds and give thanks for where nature leads you. You are never tied down in one place for too long. Like the wind, you are always on the move.
Mountainfolk live a rugged life. Perhaps you appreciate the building blocks of nature and its majesty. Towering peaks and volatile volcanoes are your muses, acting as inspiration for all life to reach the heavens.
Entropy, decay, and death are constant companions to the swamp druid. You see the beauty in death and decay as it gives way to new life. The bugs and fetid rot most would recoil from are subjects of endless fascination for you. Without death, life has no meaning.
Rather than value trees and the bountiful plant growth that your surface brethren shepherd, you value the unchanging, resolute nature of the stone and its endurance. Perhaps you are a dwarf more connected to the rock of your ancestors. You see what it provides and how it perseveres. Perhaps you seek to also protect what little life lives here. Mushroom forests are all the more beautiful for their rarity.
Example Character Concept
Pruth Baker, Hedge-Witch
Pruth Baker always felt different. From a young age she never really felt connected with her parents. Rich and rampantly consumerist, Pruth felt her parents never cared for her, or at least only cared so far as how she made them look to other people.
Even in her youth she felt a profound connection to the swamp near her parents’ estate. The dense forest and confusing canals that would have caused a normal person to become hopelessly lost were familiar to her. Eventually she began to hear the call. A pull towards the center of the swamp by some unknown force.
She packed her things and left a note before deciding to make her way to the very center of the fen. And there she found a great tree, hundreds of feet tall. It spoke to her. She was not a Baker. The people she thought were her parents were in fact her adoptive family. The tree was her true mother.
The tree explained that she was once a human. She and Pruth’s Father were druids that guarded this swamp. Unfortunately, unknown enemies assassinated her father and turned her mother into this tree, bound forever to the swamp as it was bound to her. Pruth knew what she had to do. She took up her mother’s mantle and set out to try and undo the foul curse that held her soul captive.
Circle of the Moon
Moon Druids are a popular subclass pick, and for good reason. Moon Druids are very powerful and the ability to turn into wild beasts and elementals to embody nature’s wrath is super awesome. Moon Druids offer us a lot of possibilities as their lore is pretty vague. Another question to consider when making a Moon Druid is what is your favorite animal form and why? Obviously you will pick whatever has the best stats, but on days without combat, think about what animal you retreat to for relaxation. How does it connect with you? And how does it change your perspective of the world? Someone who connects most with a tiger is going to be very different from one who enjoys the form of a rabbit.
What do you Value About your Circle?
Moon Druids are described as “changeable as the moon”. This implies a lot of adaptability and wanderlust within the circle. Moon Druids have no need to protect one area like Land Druids might. They embody the power, the fury, and the vengeance of nature itself. Moon Druids are constantly on the move, seeking out places that require most of their attention. Their ability to turn into elementals only adds to this idea of nature’s wrath. Perhaps you were angry at the destruction of the natural world, maybe you are a part of a circle of lycanthropes, or perhaps you yearn to run free with the wildcats through the savannah.
What is your Relationship to the Natural World?
As stated previously, Moon Druids value the freedom and ferocity of nature untamed. Feeling the strongest connection to the beasts of the world, you admire their primitive savagery and innocence that separates them from the “civilized” or “intelligent” creatures. But not all the beasts you may value will be big furry mammals. You might admire the tenacity of the dung beetle, the cunning of the water snake or the ferocity of the crocodile. Cultures throughout history personified animals and made them embodiments of certain virtues. The animals you have seen and connected to should be examined by their virtues and how they inform your worldview.
Example Character Concept
Hual Hadi, Medjai
Since time immemorial, the Medjai have stood as guardians of the desert and keepers of the ancient civilization that dwelt there millenia ago. Though all their kings are dead and their palaces reduced to rubble, the Medjai have remained vigilant, keeping unwary trespassers from defiling sacred tombs and releasing untold horrors on the dunes. The Medjai revere the spirits and animals of nature, depicting their gods as a fusion of both man and animal.
Hual Hadi, a prominent member of the sect of Medjai known as the Order of the Jackal, was tasked with guarding the tomb of Queen Subira, an unholy abomination who was sealed beneath the sands so as to never return and wreak havoc upon the world. Sadly, he failed in his duty when a strange and powerful warrior from the north defeated him and took the Heart Scarab of Queen Subira. This phylactery, containing the vile soul of that sorceress, is now gone.
Ashamed of his failure and wishing to atone for his sins, Haul Hadi leaves his home and his clan to seek out the other desert clans and claim their forms. With this power he hopes to enact judgment on the foolish trespasser and regain his honor.
Druids are a very interesting class with a lot of fun and unique ways to play them. While no class should ever make you feel pigeonholed into one specific playstyle, Druids’ versatility provides even more opportunities for exploration than most classes. A connection to nature is really the only guiding principle when it comes to Druids. Within that framework, however, we have a lot of room for expression. Nature takes many forms, not just the forest trees. It is perhaps even more complex than most humans. We often take nature for granted, but we need it more than it needs us. Consequently, we as a society need druids. Perhaps now more than ever.