Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Unearthed Arcana: Druid Circles Playtest Packet

Hey guys, we’re gearing up for a happy holiday season and we’re going to kick off by taking a look at the new Unearthed Arcana releases for the last month.  The Mad Wizards of the Coast are playtesting a bunch of new options for the core classes from the Player’s Handbook (my guess is as a prelude to releasing a new player’s handbook or options book).  These offer a lot of new ideas and spins for players looking to spice up the world’s greatest roleplaying game.  Today we’re going to take a look at the Druid archetypes.  Remember, these are playtest material, so they aren’t compatible with adventurer’s league play, yet.  We’ve got three new Druid Circles, Dreams, Shepherd, Twilight.  Each one plays a little differently, and adds some new options for our druid playing friends.  Let’s take a closer look at each Circle.

The Circle of Dreams
The Circle of Dreams encapsulates the love of the natural world and seeing the brightness and joy in it.  With strong ties to the feywild, the Circle of Dreams guards and protects the wonder and happiness in the natural world.   These druids have alternative abilities at 2nd, 6th, 10th, and 14th level.  

Balm of the Summer Court

At 2nd level, the Circle of Dreams druid gains a pool of energy, represented by a number of D6s equal to the Druid’s level.  As a bonus action, the druid can spend a number of dice from this pool up to half their druid level and target an ally they can see within 120 feet.  The Druid rolls the spent dice and heals the target a number of hit points equal to the die roll.  It also gains 1 temporary hit point per die spent, and its speed increases by 5 feet per die spent.  The speed boost lasts 1 minute.  The Druid refills the pool after a long rest.  Neat utility ability that lets a druid heal allies while continuing to cast spells or melee things.  Be aware you can’t heal yourself with this ability, so bring potions to handle your own business.
Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow
At 6th  level, the Circle of Dreams druid gets an interesting ability.  When the druid prepares for a short or long rest, they can invoke the fey powers to improve their campsite.  Inside a 30 foot radius from a point selected by the druid, the druid (plus allies) gain a +5 bonus to Wisdom (Perception) checks and the light from open flames isn’t visible outside the area.  This effect ends when the rest is over or the druid leaves the area.  It’s interesting, but it gets the most usage in an environment where the DM actively messes with the idea of a safe place to take rests.  The concealment benefit is handy, but situational.  
Hidden Paths
At 10th level, the Circle of Dreams druid has learned how to teleport short distances.  This ability works in one of two ways, but teleporting using this method trades movement speed for teleportation distance, so the druid can teleport 20 feet and walk 10 more.  The druid can also teleport a willing ally up to 30 feet anywhere the druid can see.  After either usage, the ability recharges after 1D4 rounds.  

Purifying Light

At 14th level, the Circle of Dreams Druid can use a spell that restores hit points (and uses up a spell slot) to also cast a Dispel Magic effect (at the same level as the spell slot used to restore hit points)on the target of the healing spell. If the spell multi-targets, you can use this ability on multiple creatures, up to the limit of three times.  The Druid can use this ability up to three times before needing a long rest to recharge.  
This is an interesting take on the Druid, and it feels like its hitting the theme of stewardship over natural wonders.  It has an excellent healing ability that doesn’t expend spell slots, a utility ability for resting (which does a fair job of protecting injured creatures by hiding them from those who might be looking) a battlefield mobility option, and a status effect clearing ability at higher levels.  Interesting choices and it looks fun to play.  

The Circle of the Shepherd
The Circle of the Shepherd is a beast focused archetype that combines the power and ferocity of wild animals with the strong ties to the spirit world that a druid can make.  It’s an interesting combination of abilities, so let’s look closer.  These druids have alternative abilities at 2nd, 6th, 10th, and 14th level.  

Spirit Bond

At 2nd level, the Circle of the Shepherd druid gains the ability to summon animal spirits that can influence the world around them.  It has to be summoned in an empty space within 60 feet of the druid, and radiates an aura with a 30 foot radius.  Once summoned, it cannot be moved, so plan ahead.  The effect varies by the animal summoned, but the highlights range from Temporary hit point bonuses equal to 5+ your druid level and advantage on Strength checks and saves, advantage on ranged attacks against targets within the aura, and a buff to healing spells that allows the druid to heal 1 target and spread some healing to the rest of his or her allies.  The spirit lasts for one minute, and recharges on a short or long rest.   For the druid who’s planning on standing and fighting, this Spirit bond ability gives a variety of options for creative encounter planning, and can change the battlefield in unexpected ways.  
Beast Speech
Also at 2nd level, the Circle of the Shepherd druid gains the ability to communicate with beasts.  This works both ways, (they can understand your words, and the druid can understand their noises.)  Remember the average intelligence of the beasts when attempting discussions of particle physics.  This does not make the beasts friendly to the druid, so also bear in mind angry bears.  
Mighty Summoner
At 6th  level, the Circle of the Shepherd druid gets a boost to its summoning abilities.  Any creature it summons gets an extra 2 hit points per hit die, and its natural weapons count as magical weapons for breaking through resistances and immunities. It’s a powerful boost to the already existing druid summoner concept, and is probably a key reason for choosing this Circle.  It doesn’t require an action to activate, and doesn’t require a recharge.  Very potent combination if you can summon a horde of somethings.
Guardian Spirit
At 10th level, the Circle of the Shepherd druid gains the benefit of a 24 hour Death Ward effect.  It recharges after a long rest.  

Faithful Summons

At 14th level, the Circle of the Shepherd druid is protected by the animal spirits.  If the druid is reduced to 0 hit points, or incapacitated against it’s will, the druid can immediately activate a conjure animals spell (at 9th level spell slot).  It summons four beasts that are Challenge Rating 2 or below, that appear within 20 feet of the druid.  If they do not receive a command, they move to protect the druid from harm/trouble/circumstances.  They stick around for an hour, and this ability recharges after a long rest.  Remember these critters are affected by the Mighty Summoner ability.  
This is a summoning focused druid option, which has its up and its downs.  The Mighty Summons ability lets a player utilize their summons effectively at higher levels of play, and it is very thematically appropriate in the choices for its alternative abilities.  I can see this character helping out with battlefield control by flooding it with animal minions to block charging paths and give the other characters time to enact a daring plan.  
The Circle of Twilight
The Circle of Twilight is an archetype that focuses on returning the natural order of the world by destroying the undead.  These druids actively hunt for places and lands infested with the undead to take the fight to them.  Let’s look closer at the Circle of Twilight druid circle.  These druids have alternative abilities at 2nd, 6th, 10th, and 14th level.  

Harvest’s Scythe

At 2nd level, the Circle of twilight druid gains a pool of energy, represented by a number of D10s equal to the Druid’s level.  When they roll damage for a spell, the druid can spend a number of dice from this pool up to half their druid level and roll those dice to add the result as necrotic damage to the spell’s damage. If this kills a hostile creature, the druid or an ally within 30 feet can regain 2 hit points per die spent to increase this damage, or 5 hit points per die if at least one target was undead. The Druid refills the pool after a long rest.  Most undead creatures are resilient towards necrotic damage, and i would have preferred this to be either 1D6 radiant, or 1D8 untyped damage.  The D10 doesn’t do a lot when you run into an undead critter that’s immune to necrotic damage.  Otherwise i think this a wonderful ability for a druid  that hates living creatures and wants to see them all dead.  
Speech Beyond the Grave
At 6th  level, the Circle of Twilight druid gets the ability to cast Speak with Dead on anything, without requiring material components, or sharing a language.  The druid can even communicate with things not ordinarily able to speak.  This ability recharges on a short or long rest.  Not the most powerful ability, but it can be used to find information and research other more serious forms of undead.
Watcher at the Threshold
At 10th level, the Circle of Twilight druid gains resistance to Necrotic and Radiant damage, and while not incapacitated, all allies within 30 feet have advantage on Death saving throws.  Neat ability, very helpful for keeping the druid upright when dealing with undead foes, and can situationally help keep the rest of the party alive.  

Paths of the Dead

At 14th level, the Circle of Twilight druid can walk the paths of ghosts and other incorporeal creatures.  Using this ability, the druid can cast Etherealness.  Once the spell ends, the druid can’t cast it again without a short or long rest.  
For a druid archetype built around the idea of hunting down and destroying undead, i think this one is lacking some extra firepower to get the job done.  Making its primary form of dealing extra damage necrotic seems less helpful against the chosen enemy.  The other abilities in this group work as a theme, but i think this one is severely hampered by the necrotic damage type.  
There are additional ideas and thoughts about how WIld Shape works and how to acquire beasts known.  Be sure to check those out.  We aren’t going to feature them beyond this note, so make sure you get a chance to take a look at the new suggestions in this UA packet.  This leaves us with fighter to finish this week, and then we’re on to Season 2 of Adventurer’s League.  

Game on, Game Fans.

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