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Pathfinder 2e - Practical Guide to Wild Shape

Last Updated: December 16th, 2019

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks.

  • 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.

Introduction

Wild Shape is complicated. From level 1 it immediately offers access to a complex shapeshifting mechanic, allowing you to adopt a new form to suit nearly any situation. However, the mechanics of Wild Shape (and the spells which it replicates) are complicated. This guide will briefly explain how polymorph spells work in general, then will delve into options which affect Wild Shape.

How Wildshape Works

The spell Wild Shape is complicated, and it inherits rules from the Polymorph trait. Before we go further, let's disect the text of both so that we clearly understand exactly how the spell works.

The "Polymorph" Trait

The Polymorph trait is described on page 301 of the Core Rulebook. While its text amounts to two paragraphs, it's extremely dense text.

These effects transform the target into a new form.

Fluff text

A target can’t be under the effect of more than one polymorph effect at a time. If it comes under the effect of a second polymorph effect, the second polymorph effect attempts to counteract the first. If it succeeds, it takes effect, and if it fails, the spell has no effect on that target.

While not specifically relevant to Wild Shape, it does mean that other spellcasters will have trouble polymorphing your while you're using Wild Shape.

Any Strikes specifically granted by a polymorph effect are magical.

This is helpful for overcoming damage resistances. You can't use weapons or cast spells, so without this creatures with damage resistance to nonmagical attacks would be a massive problem for Wild Shape.

Unless otherwise stated, polymorph spells don’t allow the target to take on the appearance of a specific individual creature, but rather just a generic creature of a general type or ancestry.

You can turn into "a dog" or "a dwarf", but you can't turn into "Joe's dog Fido" and you can't turn into "Joe the dwarf".

If you take on a battle form with a polymorph spell, the special statistics can be adjusted only by circumstance bonuses, status bonuses, and penalties.

There are three types of bonuses, and item bonuses are left out. This means that items which boost your AC, your attacks, etc. won't apply. This includes options like Handwraps of Mighty Blows which would otherwise seem like obviously good options, as well items like armor. Even if someone puts armor on you after you change forms, as-written you don't benefit from your armor's item bonus to AC.

Unless otherwise noted, the battle form prevents you from casting spells, speaking, and using most manipulate actions that require hands. (If there’s doubt about whether you can use an action, the GM decides.)

Very few Wild Shape forms allow you to speak, and very few have hands. Even in cases where you have both, you still need to return to your humanoid form in order to cast spells.

Your gear is absorbed into you;

Anything you're wearing or carrying is absorbed, so no one is going to run off with your bag of holding while you're temporarily a bear. It's unclear what happens in odd situations like if you have a mouse in your pocket.

the constant abilities of your gear still function, but you can’t activate any items.

Remember that item bonuses can't improve the statistics provided by the spell, but if you have items that provide constant abilities like damage resistance those would likely apply.

The Wild Shape Spell

You infuse yourself with primal essence and transform yourself into another form.

Fluff text.

You can polymorph into any form listed in pest form...

Pest Form is a useful form for scouting and for hiding in plain sight, but it's not useful in combat. You don't get the ability to fly until 4th-level spells (character level 7), but you can still do a lot by turning into common animals like rats.

...which lasts 10 minutes. All other wild shape forms last 1 minute.

Pest Form gets an extended duration specifically because it's not useful in combat. For other forms, you only get 1 minute per casting of Wild Shape. If you're in a fight which runs longer than 1 minute you'll need to either re-cast Wild Shape or resort to other options like casting spells.

You can add more forms to your wild shape list with druid feats; your feat might grant you some or all of the forms from a given polymorph spell.

You get Pest Form for free at 1st level and Animal Form for free at 3rd level (see below), but other options come from feats. I'll discuss Wild Shape feats below.

When you transform into a form granted by a spell, you gain all the effects of the form you chose from a version of the spell heightened to wild shape’s level.

This is a very important piece of text. You gain all of the effects from the spell which provides a specific form. No two spells provide overlapping forms, and each spell provides different effects like different numerical statistics, so it's important to understand the differences. I'll include a table highlighting some of these differences below alongside an investigation of Wild Shape Forms.

Wild shape allows you to use your own shapeshifting training more easily than most polymorph spells. When you choose to use your own attack modifier while polymorphed instead of the form’s default attack modifier, you gain a +2 status bonus to your attack rolls.

Each of the spells that define Wild Shape give you a specified Attack Bonus. This is a fixed attack bonus that replaces your own Unarmed Attack attack bonus unless you choose to use your own attack bonus. While these attack bonuses are often high, you may be able to exceed them with some effort. This line provides you an additional +2 bonus if you do so, making it easier and more worthwhile. Investing in Strength and in a set of Handwraps of Mighty blows will allow you to (slightly) exceed the attack bonuses provided by the spells, but you need to maximize your Strength and consider your Handwraps of Mighty Blows to be your most important magic item in order to do so. If you want to do this, great.

If you want to spend your resources elsewhere you'll only be behind by something like +2 at level 20. Honestly, it's not worth the hassle unless you're multiclassing into Druid from something that goes higher than Expert in proficiency with Unarmed Attacks.

Because Focus Spells heighten their spell level automatically, you often gain scaling benefits from individual Wild Shape feats which may keep a single feat releveant for several levels. For example: Animal Shape provides improved temporary hit points, statistics, and size as the spell level increases all the way to 5th level spells.

Heightened (2nd) You can also wild shape into the forms listed in Animal Form.

Even if you don't take feats to add additional forms to Wild Shape, you still get to use forms from Animal Form. Animal Form scales at every spell level up to 5th, so you can continue to rely on these forms for a long time. However, the size of your animal form increases, and the spell is lost is you don't have enough space to expand. Unfortunately, you can't choose to use a lower level version of Wild Shape, so you may need new Wild Shape feats just to get access to forms which are small enough to accomodate small spaces.

The feat Form Control allows you to extend the duration of Wild Shape considerably by reducing the effective spell level, which may allow you to mitigate this size increase issue, but you'll likely have better results by using higher-level forms instead because they'll provide better statistics and more effective attacks.

Your Character

Wild Shape is a powerful feature, and if you plan to rely upon it heavily you should build your character accordingly.

Ability Scores

Constitution is absolutely irreplaceable. You get a small pool of temporary hit points when you cast Wild Shape, but they won't be enough to keep you alive. The Druid only gets 8+ hit points per level, so you need Constitution to make up the difference.

Strength is optional (at least for druids). You can very slightly exceed the attack bonus provided by Wild Shape's various forms by maximizing Strength and investing a ton of gold in Handwraps of Mighty Fists, but you'll only exceed the provided attack bonuses by something like +2 at level 20, so I don't think it's worth the effort when you could invest those precious resources elsewhere. Unless you plan to take the Form Control feats, you can dump Strength.

Classes multiclassing into Druid will benefit much more from high Strength. Because you can't get the higher-level Wild Shape feats, your own attack bonus will exceed the highest bonuses you can get from Wild Shape forms.

Skills

Many spells which provide forms for Wild Shape provide a fixed bonus to Athletics or Athletics which replaces your own, provided that the spell's bonus is higher. In most cases this bonus is very high relative to your level, and even if you invest heavily you'll be unable to exceed the bonuses provided by the spell. However, it's still wise to be proficient in both skills in the event that you adopt a form which doesn't provide a bonus to one or the other.

Feats

Many feats still function while you're using Wild Shape.

General Feats
  • Fleet: The benefits should apply while using Wild Shape, and the extra speed can make a big difference for forms which have speed worse than a typical humanoid.
  • Toughness: Druids only get 8+ hit points, and while you can easily afford to invest in Constitution, you still need the extra hit points if you're going to be in melee frequently. Temporary Hit Points from your Wild Shape forms help, but they won't hold up if you stay in one form for extended periods.Reactions you may draw a lot o
Skill Feats
  • Assurance: Assurance in Athletics will allow you to better capitalize on the Athletics bonus provided by most forms. You might also consider Assurance in Acrobatics, but I'm not certain that it's worth the feat. See my Practical Guide to Assurance for more information.

Archetypes

Druids get to do a lot, including turning into a melee combat monster with Wild Shape. However, they get no feats or abilities to supplement their Strikes. Taking multiclass archetypes in Barbarian, Champion, Fighter, or Monk can add a number of fantastic new options to allow you to succeed in melee combat. Even simple, low-level class feats like Sudden Charge can make a big difference in how your druid fares in combat, but also look for great options like Attack of Opportunity.

Other classes that take the Druid multiclass archetype for Wild Shape will likely see numerous difficulties. Animal Shape will likely provide the best forms that you'll ever see, and since Wild Shape spells override your AC, Wild Shape will rapidly become a dangerous option beyond level 10 because your AC while using Wild Shape will be so poor relative to your normal AC. It's also unclear if the Striking effect on Handrwaps of Mighty Blows works while in Wild Shape, so your Animal Form damage will almost certainly lag behind other options.

Magic Items

Druid's Vestments

1,000gp is a lot for what you get. An extra focus point per day which you can use in a pinch is nice if you're built around Wild Shape, but the time you can afford this you should have plenty of options to rely upon if you run out of Focus Points.

Handwraps of Mighty Blows

Handwraps of Mighty Blows are important, but not essential. The Item Bonus doesn't add to the attack bonus provided by Wild Shape spells, but if your own attack bonus (with the extra +2) with Unarmed Attacks is higher than the bonus provided by the spell you're replicating you can use that attack bonus instead. It's not clear how the Striking property applies to unarmed attacks provided by Wild Shape, but I assume that it doesn't apply at all.

Wild Shape Feats

Druids have long list of feat options which add additional forms to Wild Shape. In fact, you could spend every single one of your class feats (except the feat gained at 2nd level) on Wild Shape-related feats, and you would still need to skip two feats. That means both that there is room for you to pick options which appeal to you, and that there is room to skip over bad options. You might even choose to experiment with individual feats and retrain them if they don't prove useful or if you get a better feat which makes a previous feat obsolete or redundant.

In general, feats which add forms to Wild Shape will replicate the effects of a specific spell such as Humanoid Form or Aerial Form. These spells are all on the primal spell list, so even if you don't select the feat you can still cast the spell to adopt forms specific to that spell. You only want to take feats for forms which you intend to use frequently in combat, or feats which provide some other benefit. If you took a feat which you are no longer benefiting from, you should retrain it at the earliest opportunity.

  1. Wild Shape: Essential.
  2. Form Control: In combat situations you can recast Wild Shape, provided that you have enough Focus Points. However, the ability to remain in a Wild Shape form for an entire hour means that you could adopt a form and remain the form long enough to Refocus, and you can remain in your new form through several fights if you choose to do so. However, using Wild Shape in this way reduces the spell level of Wild Shape by 2, often reducing statistics provided by the spells which provide your Wild Shape forms.

    If you plan to remain in a single form through several combats, expect to invest in Strength and in Handwraps of Mighty Blows. Because the spell's level is reduced, you'll be able to more easily exceed the attack bonus provided the spell, and using your own higher attack bonus will make you much more effective despite the reduced effects of the spell.

    Perhaps the most important usage for this feat is when using Wild Shape outside of combat. Insect Form gives you the ability to use Pest Form for 24 hours, but you're limited to flightless pest forms which have terrible land speed and no other movement types. By comparison, you can use Form Control to turn into any form which you can normally access, allowing you to adopt forms with movement types and senses which allow you to easily scout areas or travel long distances in your adopted form.

    It's also totally unclear how this works if you attempt to assume a form using Wild Shape below the spell's minimum spell level. RAW it appears to be allowed and it doesn't seem to have any drawback, but I think that's an overlooked abuse case.

  3. Thousand Faces: Too situational, and you're never going to use this in combat because it has no combat benefit.
  4. Insect Shape: In combat, Anial Form will be just as effective. Outside of combat, Form Control will do a better job addressing the desire to remain in a form for extended periods.
  5. Ferocious Shape: Grants acces to Dinosaur Form, which is the top combat option at several spell levels. However, the passive benefit from the feat (+1 to the Athletics bonus granted by your Wild Shape forms) isn't worth keeping the feat around once Dinosaur Form becomes obsolete, so expect to retrain this. Also, at the first level it's available Animal Form will be more powerful, so wait to take Ferocious Shape until 10th level.
  6. Soaring Shape: Access to flight is too powerful to ignore, and the combat options are close enough to Animal Form and Dinosaur form that you don't give up a lot of damage output to get the ability to fly. Even when Aerial Form itself stops being useful, the passive benefit allows you to choose a type of damage resistance when you enter Wild Shape. You also gain access to the Phoenix form when you later take Monstrosity Shape.
  7. Elemental Shape: Only useful for the fire resistance. Air Elemental is tempting as a travel form, but it's not so much better than what you get from Aerial Form that it's worth the feat, and all of the combat forms lag behind Dinosaur Form significantly.
  8. Plant Shape: Only useful for the poison resistance, and that's not enough to justify spending a feat.
  9. Dragon Shape: Your best option at a few levels, and it comes online just in time to replace Aerial Form. You also get to choose some damage resistance as a passive benefit of the feat, so it remains useful long after the forms become obsolete. You get the same amount of damage resistance from the same list as Soaring Shape, and I can't imagine that they stack so you likely get to choose 5 points of damage resistance to two types.
  10. Monstrosity Shape: The best (and only) form options for two spell levels. Make sure that you kept Aerial Form so that you can use the Phoenix.
  11. Perfect Form Control: Permanent Wild Shape. Even if you prefer to go about your life in your normal form, you can begin the adventuring day with Wild Shape, Refocus to get back your Focus Point, then spend the whole day wild shaped with a full focus pool. However, you can't change forms without reverting to your original form (unless you also have True Shapeshift), and since this works off of Form Control it still reduces the spell level of Wild Shape by 2.
  12. True Shapeshifter: The Kaiju is your ultimate combat form. Except for its lack of special movement types and ranged attacks, nother can compete with it.

Wild Shape Spells and Forms

Form options below are evaluated relative to other forms within each spell.

Wild Shape Spell Statistics
Spell Lvl Size Reach THP AC Atk Dmg Acr Ath Senses
Aerial Form 4 Medium 5 ft. 5 18+ +16 +5 +16 - Low-light vision
5 Large 5 ft. 10 18+ +18 +8 +20 - Low-light vision
6 Huge 10 ft. 15 21+ +21 +4 (x2 dice) +23 - Low-light vision
Animal Form 2 Medium 5 ft. 5 16+ +9 +1 - +9 Low-light vision, imp. scent 30 ft.
3 Medium 5 ft. 10 17+ +14 +5 - +14 Low-light vision, imp. scent 30 ft.
4 Large 10 ft. 15 18+ +16 +9 - +16 Low-light vision, imp. scent 30 ft.
5 Huge 15 ft. 20 18+ +18 +8 - +20 Low-light vision, imp. scent 30 ft.
Dinosaur Form 4 Large 5, 10, or 15 ft. 15 18+ +16 +9 - +19 Low-light vision, imp. scent 30 ft.
5 Huge 15 or 20 ft. 20 18+ +18 +6 (x2 dice) - +21 Low-light vision, imp. scent 30 ft.
7 Gargantuan 20 or 25 ft. 25 21+ +25 +15 (x2 dice) - +25 Low-light vision, imp. scent 30 ft.
Dragon Form 6 Large 5 or 10 ft. 10 18+ +22 +6 - +23 Darkvision, imp. scent 60 ft.
8 Huge 10 or 15 ft. 15 21+ +28 +12 - +28 Darkvision, imp. scent 60 ft.
Elemental Form 5 Medium 5 ft. 10 19+ +18 +9 -/+20 +20/- Darkvision
6 Large 10 ft. 15 22+ +23 +13 -/+23 +23/- Darkvision
7 Huge 15 ft. 20 22+ +25 +11 (x2 dice) -/+25 +25/- Darkvision
Insect Form 3 Medium 5 ft. 10 18+ +13 +2 - +13 Low-light vision
4 Large 10 ft. 15 18+ +16 +6 - +16 Low-light vision
5 Huge 15 ft. 20 18+ +18 +2 (x2 dice) - +20 Low-light vision
Monstrosity Form 8 Huge Varies 20 20+ +28 Varies - +30 Darkvision
9 Huge Varies 25 22+ +31 Varies (+1 die) - +33 Darkvision
Nature Incarnate 10 Medium or Gargantuan Varies 30 25+ +34 Varies - +36 Darkvision
Plant Form 5 Large Varies 12 19+ +17 +11 - +19 Low-light vision
6 Huge +5 ft. 24 22+ +21 +16 - +22 Low-light vision

Aerial Form

  • Bat: An immediate counter to invisible creatures. You give up a small amount of damage in exchange compared to the Pterosaur, and the Bat is the slowest option, but you also get a secondary Agile attack. If you're not facing enemies which you can't see, use something else. Otherwise, go straight to the Bat.
  • Bird: The fastest option, and you get a secondary Agile attack, but the Bat and the Pterosaur both deal more damage, so unless you specifically need the extra speed look elsewhere.
  • Pterosaur: The Pterosaur boasts the most damage, imprecise scent, and good speed (though admittedly not as much as the Bird's). The Bat will do better against unseen foes, but if you're already a Pterosaur and you get surprised, you'll still do just fine. Tragically, you need both Dinosaur Form and Aerial Form to get access to the Pterosaur using Wild Shape.
  • Wasp: If you're focusing on a single target, the Wasp will deal much less damage than other options. If you're spreading attacks around to inflict ongoing damage, or if you're having trouble hitting a foe, ongoing damage can be a great option. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

Animal Form

  • Ape: A climb speed, and damage only slightly lower than the maximum. You also have opposable thumbs, which is useful for things like opening doors and carefully manipulating objects which would otherwise be difficult while you're an animal. Unfortunately the rules of the spell dictate that you can't make any attacks except the built-in fist, but your GM might let you do things like using a shield. If you're not planning to take advantage of the Ape's hands, consider the Snake instead.
  • Bear: Similar to the Canine, but the bear trades 10 ft. of extra speed for a secondary Agile claw attack with significantly reduced damage. I think the damage on the claw attack is too low compared to the jaws attack to justify, but if you find that Agile is helpful this may be more effective for you than the Canine.
  • Bull: Literally just a worse canine.
  • Canine: One of the fastest options, and matches the highest damage available. A great, simple, go-to option with no frills.
  • Cat: The Cat strikes a balance between the Bear and the Canine, keeping the Canine's speed but sacrificing damage in exchange.
  • Deer: The fastest option, but you give up a little bit of damage in exchange. The Deer is only 10 ft. faster than the Canine and the Cat, and considering 40 ft. is already significantly faster than a typical humanoid I think they're fast enough.
  • Frog: The frog's big appeal is the 15-foot reach on its tongue. Most player characters can't manage 15-foot reach, and combined with your gradually increasing size, this allows you to cover an impressively large portion of the battlefield. Tragically, the Druid doesn't have any built-in options to make Reactions when enemies move, so consider a multiclass archetype to pick up Attack of Opportunity or something similar. The frog also trades a bit of damage for this capability, so if you're not benefiting from the extra reach look for other options.
  • Shark: Your only option underwater. Matches the highest damage available, lets you breath underwater, and a decent swim speed. You may only get one option, but it's a pretty good one.
  • Snake: The only option with three movement types, the Snake works in a variety of situations. The Snake's fangs deal an average of 8.5 damage, falling between creatures that deal 2d6 a(vg. 7) and those that deal 2d8 (avg. 9). Because part of its damage is poison, you'll have trouble with creatures that resist or ignore poison damage, but you may be able to more effectively handle creatures that resist physical damage types. In general, the Snake is versatile and capable, but it seems like in any specific situation there is a different form that will do better. If you don't need to use all three movement types, the Ape is fine while climbing, the Shark is better in the water, and the Canine is better on land.

Dinosaur Form

  • Ankylosaurus: Almost identical to a Brontosaurus, but the Ankylosaurus gives up 5 ft. of reach for Backswing.
  • Brontosaurus:
  • Deinonychus: The fastest Dinosaur Form option, and it deals persistent bleed dsmage, but at 1 point of persistent damage it's hardly worth consideration. I'm not sure if the persistent bleed damage increases with spell level since "1" isn't a die.
  • Stegosaurus:
  • Triceratops: The most damage of any Dinosaur Form option by a large margin,
  • Tyrannosaurus:

Dragon Form

Paizo went to great lengths to try to make different dragon forms distinct, which resulted in forms using a dizzying variety of damage dice combinations. While this sounds neat, I find it incredibly frustrating because it makes it difficult to compare options on the fly. Every form has a bite attack, an Agile claw attack, a tail attack with improved reach, and a breath weapon. In addition, dragon forms vary in land speed and frequently have a special ability like a movement type.

  • Black: Average bite damage 13 + 7 acid, average claw damage 16.5, average tail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 60-ft. line, average damage 38.5 acid. The highest swim speed of any dragon form by a large margin and an extra Horns attack which matches the tail's reach but deals less damage.
  • Blue: Average bite damage 11 + 6.5 electricity, average claw damage 16.5, average trail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 80-foot line, average damage 39 electricity. Adds a burrow speed and an extra Horns attack which matches the tail's reach but deals less damage.
  • Green: Average bite damage 13 + 7 poison, average claw damage 16.5, average tail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 30-ft. cone, average damage 35 poison. Adds a swim speed and the ability to avoid difficult terrain from non-magical foliage, as well as an extra Horns attack which matches the tail's reach but deals less damage.
  • Red: Average bite damage 13 + 7 fire, average claw damage 14, average tail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 30-foot cone, average damage 35 fire. Adds the ability to ignore the Concealed condition from smoke and an extra Wing attack which matches the tail's reach but deals less damage, which is especially frustrating because it deals the same damage type so it appears to have absolutely no useful function.
  • White: Average bite damage 10.5 + 7 cold, average claw damage 16.5, average tail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 30-foot cone, average damage 35 cold. Adds a climb speed, but it only applies on ice and you can already fly, so I'm not sure why you would want that.
  • Brass: Average bite damage 13.5 + 5 fire, average claw damage 16.5, average tail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 60-foot line, average damage 37.5 fire. Adds a burrow speed and an extra Spikes attack which matches the tail's reach but deals less damage.
  • Bronze: Average bite damage 11 + 6.5 electricity, average claw damage 16.5, average tail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 80-foot line, average damage 39 electricity. Adds a swim speed and an extra Wing attack which matches the tail's reach but deals less damage. Also the wing attack deals slashing damage for some reason.
  • Copper: Average bite damage 13 + 7 acid, average claw damage 16.5, average tail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 60-foot line, average damage 35 acid.
  • Gold: Average bite damage 13 + 7 fire, average claw damage 14, average tail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 30-foot cone, average damage 33 fire. Adds a swim speed and an extra Horns attack which matches the tail's reach but deals less damage.
  • Silver: Average bite damage 13 + 7 cold, average claw damage 16.5, average tail damage 16.5. Breath weapon 30-foot cone, average damage 36 cold. Adds the ability to talk on clouds.

Elemental Form

  • Air: This is not a form for fighting. 80 ft. fly speed and not triggering reactions is fantastic for escaping, and if you use Form Control to extend the duration to an hour it could be a great option for traveling, but 1d4 damage isn't nearly enough damage at this level, even with the damage bonus provided by the spell. Even if you just want this as a travel option, Form of the Dragon is only one spell level higher and gives you a 100 ft. fly speed, so this form quickly becomes obsolete.
  • Earth: The simplest Elemental Form option. It has the highest attack damage and a burrow speed, but it's also very slow compared to other elementals.
  • Fire: Faster than the earth elemental, and you trade some immediate damage for ongoing fire damage. If you plan to perform a single Strike each turn, if you're fighting an enemy that you can't hit reliably, or if you're facing multiple enemies, the ongoing fire damage can be a big help. However, it won't stack with itself so if you're repeatedly attacking the same creature and you're not having trouble hitting it, the Earth Elemental may do more damage more quickly. Don't forget: When the spell heighters to 7th level, your ongoing damage dice also double with the base damage dice.
  • Water: I would only use this in the water. On land, if you need to Shove you can still spend an Action to make an Athletics check to Shove, and the spell provides a decent bonus to do so. Weirdly, you don't get to breath underwater, so you can turn into a water elemental and drown somehow. Talk to your GM and hope for errata.

Insect Form

  • Ant: Faster than the beetle and you get a climb speed, but you give up a huge amount of damage for the extra movement. The best comparison is to the Centipede, which is very slightly slower but deals ongoing poison damage.
  • Beetle: The most damage, but no special abilities or movement speeds or anything.
  • Centipede: Slightly slower than the Ant, but the Centipede's persistent poison damage will likely deal more damage in total than the Ant.
  • Mantis: Comparable to the Beetle, but you give up a little bit of damage for dramatically improved speed and imprecise scent.
  • Scorpion: Excellent speed, Darkvision, and imprecise Tremorsense with an impressive range. The Scorpion's stinger matches the Centipede's damahe, and you get a secondary Agile attack, though the damage is so much worse than the Stinger damage that I don't think Agile makes up the difference.
  • Spider: Almost identical to the Centipede, but very slightly reduced damage in exchange for Darkvision and the ability to shoot a web.

Monstrosity Form

  • Phoenix:90 ft. fly speed, 15-foot reach, and good ongoing fire damage, plus an ongoing fire aura which doesn't allow a save or anything, so you can turn it on and fly around while you gradually wear your enemies down.
  • Purple Worm: A lot of damage and good ongoing poison damage, plus you automatically recover from some problematic status conditions. Plus a 30-foot burrow speed.
  • Sea Serpent: An impressive 90-foot swim speed, and Spike Race allows you to run through enemies dealing a big pile of damage, though if the enemies can make Reactions you may draw a lot of damage as a result. Consider the risk vs. reward carefully.

Nature Incarnate

  • Green Man: Less damage than the Kaiju, but you get a ranged attack and aura that makes enemiees Clumsy 1. I think the Kaiju is a better go-to option, but the Kaiju can't do anything about flying enemies who are beyond its reach, and the Kaiju is Gargantuan while the Green Man is only Medium, so you can't walk a Kaiju through most doorways or dungeons so the Green Man might be a better form for just hanging out and living your life. But at that point, just revert to your humanoid form and cast spells.
  • Kaiju: Resistance to physical damage, a terrifying 30 ft. reach, tons of damage, and multiple attack options. Against single targets, jaws will do most of the work, but against multiple foes don't hesitate to use Trample. You don't need to worry about Multiple Attack Penalties with Trample like you do with strikes, and you get to move twice your speed with a base speed of 50 ft. so you can cover 100 ft. without any further enhancements to your speed.

Plant Form

  • Arboreal: The most speed and the most damage of any Plant Form option, and you can speak in this form.
  • Flytrap: The slowest Plant Form option, and the least reach. You do get a bit of acid resistance, but that's not the big draw here. The Flytrap's big selling point is the ability to Grab a target as an action after a successful hit. This is a helpful crowd control option, but with low speed and reach, you'll likely need to cast Wild Shape while you're already in extremely close range.
  • Shambler: A swim speed and a bit of electricity resistance, but if you don't need either of those the Arboreal is a better choice.

Best Wild Shape Forms by Level

Even after reading (or writing) the above information, it's difficult to parse exactly which forms are most effective at any given spell level. Let's look at those options and what makes them so effective.

Spell Level 1

At this spell level Pest Form is the only option available to you. The forms are all identical, so there's not much to consider here. Pick something common in local area so that local creatures won't notice you.

Spell Level 2

2nd-level spells brings Animal Form for free, which by default makes it your best combat option. The Canine, the Frog, and the Shark are great go-to options.

Spell Level 3

3rd-level spells introduces access to Insect Form. Insect form offers some interesting capabilities than Animal Form doesn't offer, including Tremorsense and persistent poison damage. However, beyond those capabilities Animal Form's options are roughly equivalent. If you choose to take Insect Form, add Scorpion to your lift of go-to options.

Spell Level 4

Aerial Form and Dinosaur Form both become available at the same time, and as much fun as it is to turn into a dinosaur, the upcast Animal Form options have startlingly similar stats to the forms offer by Dinosaur Form. Both options give you the same size, senses, AC, attack and damage bonuses, and the same Athletics bonus. The damage dice are similar, and while Animal Form options all have 10-foot reach, Dinosaur Form options may have higher or lower reach and adjust their damage up and down slightly to compensate. Perhaps the easiest comparison is between the Canine and the Stegosaurus: the only difference is that the Canine has 10 ft. better speed.

Unlike Dinosaur Form, Aerial Form offers something new at this level: flight. Flight is an absolutely crucial tactical option that you absolutely need to have. Your best Aerial Form option is the Pterosaur, but tragically you need both Aerial Form and Dinosaur Form to get access to the Pterosaur, and there's no way to do that at this level.

Instead, use the Bat. It's basically a flying Canine with echolocation, though at this level Aerial Form only makes you Medium and you only have 5 ft. reach. The flat damage bonus is only +5 (4 points lower than 4th-level Animal Form's +9), so you're giving up size, reach, and some damage in exchange for Aerial Form's flight. Stick to Canine if you know a fight will remain on the ground, but don't hesitate to turn into a bat if you can gain anything at all from flying.

Spell Level 5

5th-level spells is the highest level for Animal Form and Insect Form, and the first level for Elemental Form and Plant Form.

Animal Form and Dinosaur Form still compete for space, but unlike 4th-level spells, the 5th-level versions have a crucial difference: Dinosaur Form doubles your damage dice. Animal Form's flat damage bonus is two points higher, but going from two damage dice to four damage dice is a considerably larger bonus. Since all other things between the spells are nearly identical, Dinosaur Form is the clear winner between the two.

Elemental Form is disappointing. It looks really fun, but it doesn't offer anything new at this level. Dinosaur Form will be much more powerful in combat, and while Aerial Form can't compete with the Air Elemental's speed, I doubt that you're going to spend a class feat to get a slightly faster form for overland travel.

Plant Form is a weird option. You get resistance to poison damage, and the numbers are slightly offer from other Wild Shape spells at the same level. Plant Form grants higher AC (only by 1, so not a huge difference) and a higher flat damage bonus, but most everything else is slightly worse than other spells. Plant Form's attacks only deal two damage dice, and despite the relatively high fkat damage bonus Dinosaur Form will still deal more damage (2d8+11, avg. 20 from Plant Form; 4d8+6, avg. 24 from Dinosaur Form). Unless you're facing a lot of enemies which deal poison damage, I can't think of a good reason to use this when Dinosaur Form can do most of the same things with higher damage output.

Despite the introduction of Elemental Form, Aerial Form remains the leader in flying options, but because it doesn't double its damage dice until 6th level, so you really want to keep fights on the ground if you can.

Spell Level 6

Much like 5th spell level, your spell options change dramatically at this level. Animal Form and Insect Form are gone, and this is the last level for Aerial Form and Plant Form. Dinosaur form is still on the table, but it doesn't get anything at 6th level, and we finally add Dragon Form.

Aerial Form doubles its damage dice at this level, bringing its damage closer to Dinosaur Form. Aerial Form's flat damage bonus is still lower than Dinosaur Form so your total damage will still be lower, but Aerial Form is no longer dramatically weaker than Dinosaur Form.

Dragon Form is powerful and exciting, immediately catapulting to the top of your options. The fly speed is more than double the highest you can get from Aerial Form, even exceeidng the speed of the Air Elemental. The bite damage matches the damage of the best Dinosaur Form options, and you get additional attack options like claws, tails, etc.. Finally, you get a breath weapon which allows you to easily handle groups of foes. This is, without question, simultaneously the most versatile, useful, and powerful form available to you at this level.

Elemental Form and Plant Form continue to be awful.

Spell Level 7

We finally lose Aerial Form, but it's no big loss since we have Dragon Form. Dinosaur form sees its final improvement, and since Dragon Form doesn't improve Dinosaur form takes a significant lead in size, reach, and damage output compared to Dragon form. However, Dragon form doesn't let you fly so Dragon Form is still your best option in the air or if you need AOE damage.

We don't get any new spell options at this level, but you can be either a dinosaur or a dragon and I don't know why you would want to be anything else given that you have two of the coolest options I can think of.

Spell Level 8

At this level we lose every previous option except Dragon Form, and Dragon Form gets its final (and only) improvement, increasing your size and reach and providing some modest numerical increases that bring it back on par with Dinosaur Form's attack damage, though Dinosaur Form still gives you better size and reach. Dinosaur Form also gives you similar temporary HP and AC, so it's still usable despite a relatively low attack bonus.

This level introduces Monstrosity form, and while the options are limited they're all pretty good. Phoenix directly competes with Dragon Form, and while your movement speed is slightly lower the Phoenix's damage will be slightly higher than the Dragon's, and Aura of Flame can replace breath weapons. However, you lose the ability to change energy damage types by changing types of dragons, so Dragon Form is still useful when fire damage isn't. You need to have Aerial Form to get access to the Phoenix, but it was good for a long time so hopefully you haven't retrained it. If you did, Dragon Form will suffice.

On the ground and in the water, the Purple Worm and the Sea Serpent easily outdo existing Form of the Dragon options. Purple Worm also has the highest burrow speed of any Wild Shape option, allowing you to easily travel underground.

Spell Level 9

Monstrosity form is the only option at this level. You add one die of damage and some other numeric increases, but nothing funamentally changes from level 8.

Spell Level 10

Nature Incarnate is the only option at this level, so naturally it's the best option. The Kaiju is the only gauranteed option, but it's the biggest, baddest melee monster you could ever hope to be.

If you have Plant Form you can also turn into a Green Man. It's medium sized with a good ranged attack, so it's a fine option for just walking around among normal humanoids, but you can't speak or cast spells so you'll probably do better if you revert to your humanoid form.

Tragically, Nature Incarnate doesn't offer any flying forms, so the Phoernix remains your best flying option.