November 29, 2016

[Unearthing the Arcana] Druid Circles and Wild Shape, Part 1

Unearthing the Arcana is a column for me to study the design and thought process of the latest Unearthed Arcana rules put out by Wizards of the Coast. This column aims for me to point out some observations I've made on the rules, imagine its impact at the table and raise discussions of how it would be used or played if it becomes official.

Moving down the alphabetic order from last week's Clerics, this week we have the Druids. Not only do we get 3 new Druid Circles, but we also get a new optional rule for Wild Shape Forms. So I will be doing a two-part series for this Unearthed Arcana, with this post covering my thoughts on the new Druid Circles, and the next one on the Wild Shape optional rules.

Now, onto joining the Circle of Dreams, Circle of the Shepherd, and Circle of Twilight.

Circle of Dreams

  • Introducing a dice pool mechanic with Balm of the Summer Court which already is deviating from the Druid's design from the Player's Handbook. Not always a big fan of new mechanics being added to the standard design, and it makes things worse with the additional calculations of how many dice does the Druid have and can spent, followed by how many hit points regained and temporary hit points granted. I don't mind the effects more than I mind how clunky and how many additional parts are added to do this. There is certainly a better way to do this. I would have preferred something more akin to Bard's Bardic Inspiration dice.
  • Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow is an odd feature but it certainly does make this Circle more attractive to have in a party, although as a DM I don't often use a party's campfire as attraction for random encounters.
  • Hidden Paths is effectively casting Misty Step on yourself or an ally, but I rather it be a feature that can only be used once, and then regained after a Short Rest than having to track 1d4 rounds later. 
  • Not sure how the name Purifying Light has anything to do with the Feywild, and it is also feels out of nature to this Circle's flavor. The wording is also a little unclear whether the Druid has to spend two spell slots to cast the healing spell and Dispel Magic (I'm assuming the Druid doesn't have to prepare Dispel Magic) or gets to cast it for free with its level equal to the spell slot of the healing spell cast. Does that mean when casting a healing spell on more than one target, the Druid has to expended the use of this feature, along with the number of spell slots for each target? And what if the Druid use this feature when casting a healing spell with a spell slot lower than 3rd level? 
  • This is the second class in this new series of Unearthed Arcana to have a Feywild flavor as a subclass, which is probably more fitting than the Bard. But I'm not feeling much of the Feywild vibe than I would like it to be. Maybe having some features related to Charms would spice things up a bit. 

Circle of the Shepherd

  • First off, I don't know how many players are not going to get laughed at for playing a Druid from this circle because of the name. I get the flavor the name is supposed to convey, and it is probably the animal companion Druid that 5th Edition has been waiting for, but it could certainly use a better name.
  • A good effort in imitating the Barbarian's Totem Spirit as a Spirit Bond which is slightly more powerful and boosts the party within a 30-foot radius.
  • The Beast Speech feature should be the same as the Warlock's invocation which is also called Beast Speech
  • Have not much to say about Mighty Summoner as it gives a fairly minor boost to Conjure Animals, but it does give a nice touch of making the summoned animals' attacks magical, which is similar to the Circle of the Moon's Primal Strike
  • No complaints for Guardian Spirit, which is comparable with the Circle of the Land's Nature's Ward.
  • Faithful Summons is an interesting feature with an interesting trigger. For those wondering why only CR 2 beasts, because that is what can be summoned with a 9th level spell slot. I might not mind that the summoned beast be able to stabilize or heal 1 hit point to the Druid, because the default position is that the summoned animals would be to protect the Druid who would not be able to command them without another party member bringing the Druid back up.
  • Why doesn't this Circle give the Druid an animal companion? 

Circle of Twilight

  • Again with the dice pool mechanic for Harvest's Scythe, with even more calculations to do and tracking for undeads killed and allies healed. No thanks.
  • Would have like to see Speech Beyond the Grave in the Unearthed Arcana Cleric's Grave domain (I mean it's already in the name), and the Druid can have the Grave domain's Eyes of the Grave feature in return.
  • Watcher at the Threshold is similar in design to the Circle of the Land's Nature's Ward and the Circle of Shepherd's Guardian Spirit, and the added Advantage to Death Saving Throws is huge.
  • Paths of the Dead could potentially be the most powerful of the 14th level features that a Druid gets, and I'm not sure if it should be regained after a short rest.  

This being the third Unearthed Arcana since the new schedule, I'm starting to notice that the designers are trying to push for additional mechanics to classes. Personally, I'm not a big fan to that approach to design because it is likely for it to go down the path of making future options to that class to supersede those that are in the core rulebooks. I much prefer sticking to basics like they did with the new cleric domains, and I had certainly hoped that 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragon would have stayed with the standardize approach with more diversity than complexity.

I know this is still supposedly a very early draft of the new class features, but I will definitely be sharing my thoughts on this when the next survey comes. However, I would also like to hear what you have to say about this as well, so don't be afraid to drop a few comments.

Stay tune for my next post on the new Wild Shape Form rules!

Last Updated: 29/11/16

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