Pathology: The Moon Druid – Bark at the Moon!

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Welcome one and all to another breakdown of a path, and this time we have something a little more feral in nature.  I am of course speaking on the Moon Druid path in the Player’s Handbook. So what is the Moon Druid? How do they function in combat? How does Wild Shape really work? I hope to answer all these questions and more, and this promises to be a bit of a long post so I hope you stick around.

First, and foremost, the Moon Druid is the path for the Druid who wants to focus on being a Shapeshifter.  All of your unique powers and abilities are within this theme, either giving you the ability to assume more powerful beast forms, heal yourself in beast form, and eventually alter your body at will.  Now, my intent for this guide is to provide the following information

First, we are going to talk about what the Moon Druid’s role in a party is.  Then we will break down the Moon Druid specific abilities. Next we will discuss Wild Shape and how it works.  After that, we will move onto Druid Spells you might want to consider. Then it’s on to my personal suggested Wild Shape Forms for each CR level, and finally some house rules that I personally intend to use when I run games for those who want to play a Moon Druid.  So let’s dive right in!

The Moon Druid can best be described as a soak tank for the party.  Given the ability to shift into a variety of beast forms and how Wild Shape effectively gives you a huge pool of Temporary Hit Points to work with, a Moon Druid should try to take up as much space as possible in a fight, and get the enemy to focus on them.  If the enemy is hitting you, its not hitting a party member, and with the ability to heal yourself as a bonus action, it is very hard to take down a Moon Druid.

Additionally, with the way Wild Shape works, you will want to have your Ability Scores focused first on Wisdom, second on Constitution, and then Int and Charisma.  This is because Wild Shape will replace your Physical Stats (STR, CON, DEX) and leave your Mental Stats alone. Wisdom will boost your ability to cast spells when in Non Beast form, and the reason you want Con is to have a large buffer of HP in case you get knocked out of Wild Shape, as any damage that exceeds your Wild Shape HP will carry over to your normal form.  More HP equals a larger chance to survive big hits. And you WILL be taking large hits as your AC in most beast forms wont exceed 15.

Moon Druids get access by default to Spellcasting like all Druids, as well as Ritual Casting.  However they must prepare any rituals they want to use. You cannot, however, cast spells in Wild Shape until you reach level 18 and get Beast Spells, so keep that in mind.  At level 20 you get Unlimited Wild Shapes per day, but as far as Baseline druid abilities these are the only ones that really matter.

However, the unique Moon Druid powers are what we need here, and upon taking Moon Druid at level two you get the following: Combat Wild Shape, which allows you to shift into a Beast as a bonus action.  Additionally, while in Beast Form, you can spend a spell slot to heal 1d8 per spell level as a bonus action. Burn off a 2nd level spell, and get 2d8 HP as a bonus action. This lets you sustain your form quite easily, and since you can’t cast spells while in Beast Form until level 18, gives you a use of your spells beyond Concentration spells (Which we will discuss in a bit).  Also at level 2 you get Circle Forms. This lets you shift into a CR 1 beast or lower right at level 2, and then starting at level 6 you can shift into a Beast whose CR is ⅓ your level (so CR 2 at 6, CR 3 at 9, CR 4 at 12, CR 5 at 15, and CR 6 at 18). This is where the power of the Moon Druid comes from.

At level 6 Moon Druids attacks while in Wild Shape count as Magical.  This is how you deal with damage reduction of many enemies while being an angry brown bear.  At level 10, you can spend both your Wild Shapes to turn into an Air, Earth, Fire, or Water elemental.  These forms are very very powerful (they are CR 5, which would normally be a level 15 shift as a Beast) and are insanely potent.  Also, since these elementals have mouths and can speak, so can you as a the Druid. Finally, at level 14 you get what I consider the weakest power of the Moon Druid, casting Alter Self at will.  This lets you grow claws and other such things, and technically lets you shift your appearance if your DM allows it.

Now it’s time to discuss Wild Shape, one of the most confusing things about Druids.  You get 2 uses of Wild Shape per short rest. So you will be using the hell out of the short rest mechanic as a Moon Druid to maintain your power.  The easiest part about it is this: Wild Shape allows you to shift into a Beast of a specific Challenge Rating. Normally, the best you will get as a Druid is a CR 1 beast at level 8th, but the Moon Druid breaks that rule with Circle Forms so we ignore that.  However, at level 2 you can only shift into forms with NO FLYING OR SWIM SPEED! At level 4, you unlock swim speed but still cannot take flying forms. At level 8, you can now shift into forms with a Flying Speed. Wild Shape also lasts a number of hours equal to ½ your druid level.  Important tip: Once your Wild Shape lasts longer than an hour you can SHORT REST (since that’s only an hour) while in Wild Shape! Spend those Hit Dice your Wild Shape technically has to heal it! Get your Wild Shape’s back! Especially once you have Elemental Forms.

When you shift, it takes a Bonus Action for a Moon Druid to do so.  Your Physical Stats (Str, Dex, and Con) are replaced with the beasts.  Your Mental Stats (Wis, Int, Cha) stay as yours. You gain the HP and Hit Dice of the beast as well (So if you shift into a Bear which has 50 HP, your HP becomes 50).  I usually treat this as Temp HP since your Druid HP stays the same when you shift. Basically, when you Wild Shape your Beast HP is separate from your Druid HP, and any damage you take in excess of your beast form will apply to your Druid HP.  Also, if you drop to Zero HP in Beast Form you instantly go back to Druid Form. Example: You have 7 HP left in Beast Form and take a hit for 10 points. You lose the 7 HP, drop back into Druid Form, and the remaining 3 damage goes to your Druid form.

Any equipment you wear or hold will either have to be dropped or merged with your new form.  You do not gain the benefits of these items. If the item can be worn by your new form you can keep wearing it however.  You cannot cast spells while in Wild Shape form but you CAN Maintain Concentration spells that you cast prior to entering Wild Shape.  You can also use actions from spells while in Wild Shape, like Call Lightning (dropping those lightning bolts!). You lose all your special senses such as Darkvision unless the new form has it, however you keep all benefits from your race, class, ect if your new form can use them.  For example, my Yuan Ti Pureblood Moon Druid will always be immune to poison, but I lose Darkvision when I shift into forms without it. Also if your beast form has Lair or Legendary actions you don’t get access to them.

Now the confusing bit.  When you shift, you keep all your skill proficiencies and your saving throw proficiencies.  You ALSO gain those of your beast form! If you and the new form share a proficiency, such as say Athletics, you get the higher score no matter what.  But here is where things get interesting. Any skill that you have that is linked to a Mental Stat (Wis, Int, Cha) will always have the same bonus, as your stats there do not change (unless your beast form has a higher bonus and also has proficiency listed).  However, if you have proficiency in something that your beast form doesn’t, like say Stealth, your Stealth Check will change based on your Beast forms stats!  This is also the same as your Elemental Forms.

This is best described as an example.  Lets say in Druid form you have +2 to Dex, and are proficient in Stealth.  At level 2 that means your Stealth rolls will have +4 to them. +2 from your proficiency bonus and +2 from your Dex.  If you shifted into a form however that has +4 to Dex, your Stealth check will NOW be +6! Conversely, if your Dex is +5 when in Druid Form (+7 total bonus at level 2), but you shift into a beast form with a +3 to Dex, your Stealth will go back down to +5 based on your new modifier.  This is the most confusing aspect of the class to be honest.

Now let’s talk Spells.  Here is the big thing with Moon Druids and spells: You can’t cast any spells in Wild Shape form until level 18.  Simple as that. Because of this, you are looking at Rituals, Concentration Spells, and that’s about it. Until level 18 your spell slots are life you can use in battle with Combat Wild Shape Healing.  Because of this, here are the spells I suggest, as well as Cantrips, that you want to consider in my opinion. Mind you, as all preparation based casters you can change your spells each day.

  • Cantrips: Guidance, Produce Flame, Druidcraft
  • 1st Level: Cure Wounds OR Holy Word (just for emergency), Goodberry, Detect Magic, Entangle
  • 2nd Level: Flaming Sphere, Barkskin, Lesser Restoration, Moonbeam
  • 3rd Level: Call Lightning, Water Breathing, Sleet Storm
  • 4th Level: Ice Storm, Wall of Fire, Stoneskin, Conjure Minor Elementals, Polymorph
  • 5th Level: Mass Cure Wounds, Conjure Elemental, Wall of Stone
  • 6th Level: Heal, Sunbeam, Conjure Fey
  • 7th Level: Fire Storm, Regenerate, Reverse Gravity
  • 8th Level: Control Weather, Tsunami, Earthquake
  • 9th Level: Storm of Vengeance, True Resurrection

Now, a quick little tip.  The reason you want Concentration based spells is because once you shift, you can maintain concentration on the spell.  If you have, say Flaming Sphere active, you can still use your bonus action to move the sphere. If you have Call Lightning active, you can still call down strikes.  And here is something to keep in mind: Any Con Saves you have to make while concentrating on a spell in Beast Form will be made with the Beasts Con Bonus!

Also, as a suggestion, use Barkskin.  Since most forms have an AC lower than 16, casting Barkskin and then going into Wild Shape will make your AC a 16 minimum at all times.  This is a huge deal for many of the forms I am about to discuss, making your survivability much higher then it would be normally.

And how about those beast forms am I right?  Sadly, the Monster Manual does not have a lot of choices for Beast Forms, so you gotta make do with a few here and there.  Now, technically, Swarms count as Beasts (they are swarms of tiny beasts) but your GM may veto this. Here are my go to Beast Forms from CR 1 to 6.  Also, please be aware that most GMs are going to require your Druid to have studied the Beast before you can shift into it, or have some knowledge of the beast.  Also be aware at level 4 you can do Swim speed creatures, and level 8 you get Flight.

  • Druid Level 2 / CR 1: Dire Wolf, Giant Spider, Giant Eagle (at Druid Level 8)
  • Druid Level 6 / CR 2: Giant Constrictor Snake, Polar Bear
  • Druid Level 9 / CR 3: Giant Scorpion, Killer Whale
  • Druid Level 12 / CR 4: Elephant
  • Druid Level 15 / CR 5: Giant Crocodile
  • Druid Level 18 / CR 6: Mammoth.  That’s it. That’s your option.  There is nothing else at CR 6.

Each of these forms offers unique abilities.  For example, the Dire Wolf is a little faster then many things, and has Pack Tactics, where you gain Advantage if an ally is within 5 feet of your target, and can knock things prone if they fail a STR Save.  Or my favorite, Giant Constrictor Snake, which lets you Restrain a single target, forcing it to either suffer disadvantage on all attacks, let allies get advantage on melee attacks against it, or use its action to try an Acrobatics or Athletics check, DC16, to get out.

Also, just a suggestion when going into combat.  Start the fight by using your standard action to cast either Barkskin on yourself, Flaming Sphere, or Call Lightning, and then using your bonus action to Shift, and then move.  This gives you an active Concentration spell up to use, and frees you up to do all sorts of things during the fight.

Finally, the last thing we need to discuss, are some house rules that I feel help improve the Moon Druid a bit and bring it up to balance with everyone else.  First and foremost, is improving your attack roles with your Beast Forms based on your Proficiency bonus. In most cases, the CR of a beast is equal to a character level, which makes figuring out the effective Proficiency bonus for its attacks fairly simple.  Based on that, you can recalculate the attack bonus using your druids proficiency bonus plus the relevant stat for the attack. If your new bonus is higher, use that. This lets you use older forms (like say the Dire Wolf) for a lot longer as they will continue to have a scaling attack bonus.  I have been using this for my Moon Druid in my bi weekly Planescape game with my GMs Permission and it feels fine so far. Damage on the attacks doesn’t change, just the chance to hit, and only if it makes sense.

Next, another house rule is that I would allow Moon Druids, or really Druids in general, to assume Plant forms.  It makes sense that a class built around nature would be able to turn into Plane creatures. They would still follow the same CR Rules, just a few more forms added.

There you have it folks, the Moon Druid.  Hopefully you have learned a bit about this unique and interesting class.  Now, I have a confession to make here: I never wanted to play a Druid. You see, what prompted this entire article is the fact that in my friend / GM Saevrick’s Planescape game (we livestream it on his channel every other Saturday) I play a Yuan Ti Pureblood Moon Druid named Scarlett.  And this was not by choice. We rolled our character’s entirely at random, stats, skills, race, class, the works. And I ended up with the Moon Druid. Since I am the kind of guy who will power game / min max within the theme he is given, I decided to learn just how to make the best of this.

This article is the fruit of that research and learning, and I wanted to share it with you all because I realize just how insanely powerful these sort of Druids can become!  If you want to see me play Scarlett, simply follow my friend Saevrick’s twitch channel and join us one Saturday, or check out this Playlist that houses all the Youtube Archives and watch our group roll our characters and adventure in the world of Planescape.

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Oh and the title is a reference to this song!