Pathfinder Class Analysis 4: Druid

 

Paizo's Iconic Druid

Paizo’s Iconic Druid

Core Concept: Druids are a class which I can take or leave. I understand that they’re a favorite for many people, but I’ve never felt the slightest draw towards playing one, nor have I ever GMed for one. That’s not to say I’d like to see the class removed from the game. Truth be told there’s only one of the nine core classes which I honestly think the game would be better without. The druid is fine, it’s just not my bag.

I actually quite like druids as NPCs. Given how the class’s priorities are described, I have no idea why a druid would ever accompany the party on any non-wilderness adventures. It isn’t hard to make up a reason, but any reason I can come up with is a special circumstance. Every other class has a very clear reason for adventuring. Either they’re out for fame and fortune, or they’re seeking knowledge, or challenge, or the destruction of evil.

But not the druid! The druid’s explicitly stated, number 1 priority is the protection of nature. How is that goal served by exploring a dungeon, or sorting out problems in a city? The only time a druid isn’t out of place is when they’re in nature, which seems like a terribly restrictive campaign to me.

Spells/Spontaneous Casting/Orsions: My thoughts on these abilities are not significantly different from my thoughts on the cleric abilities of the same names. So just read that, if you haven’t already. (The druid flavoring of Spontaneous Casting is kinda cool, though.)

Bonus Languages: The idea of a special Druidic language which only druids know has been around for as long as I’ve been aware of the class; but to my knowledge nothing really cool has ever been done with it. I don’t dislike it, it is flavorful, but I don’t really see the point of it. Druids can speak with other druids in secret? Whoop-de-doo.

I don’t think it would bother me so much if the game didn’t place so much emphasis on the absolute, sacrosanct secrecy of the language. What’s so important about it that teaching it to someone is verboten? Perhaps the druidic language allows a character to speak with trees or animals? That would be pretty cool.

Nature Bond: One of the many changes Pathfinder made to the classes as they were presented in D&D 3.5 is that many classes now include a choice at low levels. It’s a change I’ve never been able to make my mind up about. I like choices and I like customization, but I don’t like the excessive decision making that Pathfinder requires of players before they start to play the game.

In this specific case, Nature’s Bond allows the druid to choose between gaining a cleric domain to supplement their spellcasting, or gaining the services of an animal companion. If you’re a smarter gamer than I, you might notice that all of the ‘either/or’ abilities which were added in Pathfinder allow the player to choose between a cool ability for themselves, and a companion of some kind.

It would seem that this was done because companion creatures are complicated, nearly doubling the bookeeping work that the player must do on their character. Turning companion creatures into a choice is a clever way to allow players who like such creatures to keep them, while allowing players who don’t to play the class without the hassle of maintaining a second character sheet. It’s an elegant solution, but I may have an even more elegant one: make companion creatures simpler.

I realize it’s simplistic of me to say that as though it’s an easy matter, or as if everyone would agree with me, but I’m serious. My wizard’s familiar does not need feats and skill points.

Nature Sense/Resist Nature’s Lure: Both of these are filler abilities, and I hate filler abilities. They provide minor bonuses in strange edge-case situations, and nobody ever, ever remembers they actually have them when they need them. The only time anybody remembers what “Nature Sense” does is 20 minutes after they failed a saving throw against a fey creature’s spell-like ability.

Shit like this hurts the game. The rules of the game should support the players as they face the challenges of the game. The rules should not, in themselves, be a memory challenge.

Wild Empathy: While I really like this ability, I’m always a little frustrated by it because it relies on Pathfinder’s diplomacy check. And the diplomacy check is a pretty weak system already. Perhaps redesigning that ought to be a priority for me in the near future.

Woodland Stride/Trackless Step: These two abilities form an interesting parallel to the two bullshit filler abilities noted above. It’s difficult to really judge the relative strengths of abilities which are completely different from one another, but I think it’s fair to say that Woodland Stride and Trackless Step are roughly equal in ‘power’ to Nature Sense and Resist Nature’s Lure. But while those two abilities are frustratingly specific and impossible to remember, these two abilities are not. Lets briefly examine why.

  1. Woodland Stride and Trackless Step are both strongly thematic abilities. “+2 save v. spell like abilities from fey creatures” is somewhat related to being a druid, but it’s not really something you think of when you think of a druid. On the other hand, moving swiftly through thick underbrush without leaving any tracks is exactly what you expect from a nature-themed fantasy character.
  2. Both of these abilities are absolute. There’s no rolling involved, no bonus bonuses or penalties to take into consideration. They are very simple. You always move through heavy underbrush at full speed. You never leave tracks unless you want to. More abilities should be like this.

Wild Shape: The core ability of the druid class is, embarrassingly, one I don’t really have anything to say about. It works just fine as written. I suppose the only thing I would change is that druids being able to transform into elementals isn’t thematically consistent, I think. The elements != nature. The two are closely related, but while druids are depicted as being creatures who wish to preserve the balance of nature, elementals are depicted as creatures who care only for whatever element they represent. Fire elementals would be just as happy to see the entire world on fire; water elementals would love to see the world flooded, and so on.

But we’re pretty deep into opinion territory on that one. I wouldn’t call it a serious critique.

Venom Immunity: This is…fine. Druids are one with nature; so they eventually become immune to poisons. Somebody should tell Batman that Poison Ivy is a level 9 druid.

A Thousand Faces: I honestly don’t see how this is relevant to druids at all. It’s kind of a baffling ability, actually. Why do druids gain the ability to change their appearance? Is it because they can transform into animals and this was the next logical step? Is it because druids are secretive? I could really use some fluff here, but the class descriptions are almost entirely crunch in Pathfinder.

Timeless Body: So let me get this straight. Druids revere everything about nature. They revere its neutral disposition. They see beauty in fungus, predation, and decay just as much as they see it in a beautiful tree or a crystal lake. And once they become really really good at revering nature, their reward is to become removed from it?

If anything this seems as though it should be a wizard or sorcerer ability. It doesn’t make any sense for druids.

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5 thoughts on “Pathfinder Class Analysis 4: Druid”

  1. Personally I prefer to make Timeless Body read differently in that it makes the Druid take on functional aspects of nature into their bodies that negate the aging penalties in the way the ability already does. Plant-focused Druid? Maybe your magic suffuses you to the point that sunlight is so easily absorbed and utilized in your body that you just don’t age up until you die, or you age like a tree (slooooooooooooow). It’s not perfect but it’s convinced a lot of Druid players in my groups to think about how their abilities are reflected as parts of their characters.

  2. I both love and hate the druid class.

    1) I love the class’s flavor.
    2) Their abilities are cool and interesting enough that a player could base their entire character around just one of them.
    3) They’re versatile and can fulfill many roles: damage mage, utility mage, ranged fighter, melee fighter, and face for nature-related matters.

    However…
    1) The class’s flavor is blighted by filler abilities and useless mechanics. You mentioned a good example with the druid language. It’s flavorful, but what’s the point? There’s no benefit to knowing druidic. It would make sense if the language somehow attuned you with nature and let you talk to trees or nature gods.

    2) There’s little way to emphasize the different fun abilities. What if I wanted to focus on shapeshifting? I got nothing to do with that until level 4, which may be months of regular sessions. Even other casters can do things like grow claws at first level. Surprisingly, the druid archetypes do a terrible job of letting you build towards specific aspects of the druid.

    3) Despite versatility, there’s many aspects of the druid that hinder that in inexplicable ways. One that really grinds my gears is that druids are not proficient in bows. Why are druids not proficient in bows? Almost every fictional (and many non-fiction) culture that communes with nature crafts and uses bows. You’re telling me that a person so phobic to manufactured technology that they lose all power when wearing any significant amount of metal is perfectly fine using agricultural tools such as steel sickles, scythes, and scimitars but not a weapon very common to primitive societies?

  3. I agree with you that resist natures lure is very circumstantial and can be a memory challenge, but I think you should read over ‘nature sense’ again. Nature sense gives a flat +2 bonus to knowledge nature and survival. I know your skeptical of the skills system, but given the system those bonuses are very useful. Need to track someone and you have the track feat? Role survival. Need to identify a certain animal or monster? Role knowledge nature. Such situations come up a lot and are not “strange edge-case situations” as you put it.