One D&DUnearthed Arcana

UA 2023 – Player’s Handbook Playtest 6 Breakdown, Part Three

This time around, it’s druids, along with a new Circle of the Moon and our first look at the Circles of Land and Sea. I had… not much good to say about the previous UA Druid.

PH Playtest 6: Bard, Cleric, Druid


There’s a lot of change going on here, down to the fundamental playstyle options.

  • Druidic, the feature name, teaches you the Druidic language, makes Speak with Animals always prepared (I like that quite a lot), and lets you create messages that are hard for others to find or decipher, if they don’t also know Druidic. I love the possibilities of druidic communication in the wilderness, or even in a dungeon, that this opens up.
  • Primal Order (nice name-check of the original WotC RPG here) does for Druids exactly what Divine Order does for Clerics. You choose either the Magician or Warden features.
    • Magician parallels Thaumaturge, giving you an extra Primal cantrip and letting you add your Wis to Int (Nature) checks. I’m absolutely a fan of this, and you can reasonably expect that I’ll write a bunch of new Primal Orders over in my blog, just like I did for Divine Orders.
    • Warden parallels Protector, except that it grants Medium Armor Training rather than Heavy (because Druids otherwise only get Light Armor Training), as well as Martial Weapon Proficiency.
    • Maybe oddly, I wish this had a way to make Simple Weapons better for you, rather than going to Martial Weapons – weapons like greatclub, sickle, spear, and staff are iconic for Druids, in a way that most Martial Weapons aren’t. That said, are few Simple Weapons with Finesse, but Medium Armor means the game expects decent-to-good Dex, so you don’t have a spare good score for Strength.
  • Spellcasting works about like you think it does. Lot of text, but it’s the standard.
  • Wild Companion at 2nd level lets you spend a spell slot or Wild Shape to summon a fey familiar for a day, with no material cost. I hope that Druid PCs and their DMs would lean more into attaching personality and interaction to this familiar than “you get a new one each day, and it leaves when you finish a Long Rest” necessarily suggests. It’s a fine scouting feature for the early game, but for a lot of Druids there will be a lot of competition for that Wild Shape use.
  • Wild Shape at 2nd level is redesigned back toward what it does in 5e.14. Sorta. Hoo boy.
    • Wild Shape is a bonus action for all Druids now. There was never a good reason not to do this – it didn’t feel special enough as an improvement for the Moon Druid. (Design tip, try to avoid building a lot of limitations just so one character build can be special by ignoring them.) It just also never mattered because Wild Shape is out-of-combat only for non-Moon Druids, and this packet won’t be changing that.
    • The things that end Wild Shape are time (hours equal to half your Druid level), Wild Shaping again, becoming Incapacitated, or dying; you can also choose to end it as a Bonus Action. I like that you don’t drop out of creature form as soon as its hit points are gone – since 2014 I’ve said that doesn’t fit the way shapeshifting works in fantasy fiction, I never liked Wild Shaping mainly for extra hit points.
    • But you can’t just change into anything you’ve seen, and that is one hell of a reduction in power. You have three forms, scaling up to five by 8th If you enjoy Wild Shaping as a chance to play Wild Kratts, where you solve problems by thinking about real animals… well, now you have to pick your creatures. I do think that’s the main joy of Wild Shape for non-Moon Druids, sort of like the time the Stars Druid in my Dragon Heist game became a mountain goat for extra-stable footing to save his brother who was sliding into a pit.
    • You can pick creatures with a Swim speed right from the start, but Fly speeds still wait until 8th CR scaling is unchanged. There are no built-in Size limits.
    • You start at two uses per Long Rest, regaining one on a Short Rest, and scaling up to four uses per Long Rest at 17th
    • The stats that you get from your Wild Shape are different. You keep your Hit Points (and don’t gain the creature’s Hit Points in any sense), Hit Dice, Int, Wis, Cha, class features, species traits (this seems like it might get weird, extended across the various species), languages, and feats. You keep your saves (this was a major sticking point of the previous model) and skills and get any of the creature’s skills that are better than yours.
    • You still can’t cast spells, but you can keep spending actions on your own ongoing spells, like Call Lightning. Good luck finding the mouse in the underbrush that is calling that
    • Your gear still works if the DM agrees that it can fit onto your form, and otherwise either falls to the ground or melds into your form. So some forms can use rings, bracelets, collars, chokers, necklaces, amulets, and… oh no. Now we have to decide how a wolf would wear pants. More seriously, it’s going to bias Moon Druids heavily toward primate forms, I would think.
  • Druids get subclass features at 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 14th levels.
  • Druids get Ability Score Increases at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th levels.
  • Wild Resurgence at 5th level parallels the Bard’s Font of Inspiration: you can turn spell slots into Wild Shape uses. You can also, once per long rest, turn a Wild Shape use into a 1st-level spell slot. This might do interesting things to later subclass design – it’s okay to put a lot more pressure on uses of Wild Shape, since any of your spell slots can also be more uses. Much like Font of Inspiration, though, you can only create Wild Shape uses when you have none remaining.
  • Elemental Fury at 7th level extends the Primal Order feature with another selection, and closely follows the Cleric’s Blessed Strikes feature.
    • Potent Spellcasting adds your Wis modifier to Primal cantrips.
    • Primal Strike applies to either your weapon attacks or your Unarmed Strikes in Beast form, and adds 1d8 Cold, Fire, Lightning, or Thunder damage, but only once per turn. In the previous draft, this was a Moon Druid feature, but now it’s moved into the core Druid; this is also a lot more support for a caster form Druids using melee weapons than we’ve ever seen in 5e. Or 4e, for that matter. Maybe also 3.x, outside of some prestige classes that I can’t call to mind right now?
  • Commune with Nature at 9th level parallels Commune at 9th-level Cleric. Commune with Nature is always prepared for you.
  • Improved Elemental Fury at 15th level delivers a third feature in the caster/melee split.
    • Potent Spellcasting extends the range of your ranged cantrips to 300 feet. Nice to have, but probably doesn’t change the game for you that much? I guess some high-level games have fights at extraordinary ranges.
    • Primal Strike improves to 2d8.
  • Beast Spells at 18th level lets you cast in Beast form, for any spell that doesn’t have an expensive or consumed Material component. The Beast form is still not a great use of an 18th-level non-Moon Druid’s time and Wild Shapes, but okay. This is a vast improvement over the previous draft, where most of the class’s high-level features were quality-of-life improvements for Moon Druids only and had no obvious applications for other subclasses or playstyles. (It’s not too soon to explore a Druid subclass that uses Beast forms in a different creative way.)
  • Archdruid at 20th level gives yet another improvement to Wild Shape recharge (when you roll initiative, as long as you have none left), you can convert multiple uses of Wild Shape into a spell slot (2 levels per use spent, so up to an 8th-level slot once per Long Rest – also this explains why the extra recharge from this feature and Wild Resurgence require you to be out of uses), and Longevity (you now age at 1/10th your species’ normal rate).

Overall, I think this version of Wild Shape is too stingy with your forms, and there’s still just not enough draw for non-Moon Druids to use a Wild Shape. If that’s what you’re going with, change the feature name back to Channel Nature, and give an alternate use for it, like Healing Blooms but good.

The rest of this Druid is much better, in a lot of different ways at once. Not treating the Circle of the Moon as default even in the later levels is good. I’m very interested in the viability of a weapon-using Druid, though I think it has some unresolved ability score considerations that the Cleric gets around by using Heavy Armor.

Circle of the Land

I’m in a game with one Land Druid right now – a lizardman swamp Druid (hey, Thrashk!) – but I think for a lot of folks it has not been exciting enough in what it offers. In my gaming community I’ve seen a lot more interest in XGTE and TCOE subclasses.

  • Circle Spells are changed in that there are only four terrains, down from eight, and you can choose a different terrain at the end of any Long Rest. At 3rd level you now get a cantrip (instead of getting one Bonus Cantrip feature separately), a 1st-level spell, and a 2nd-level spell, instead of two 2nd-level spells, and at later spell levels up to 5th you gain one spell rather than two.
    • I think going with fewer lists is okay, but this is D&D and I think they should bring back Underdark or Cavern in some way.
  • Land’s Aid lets you use a Wild Shape for an effect that is basically Wither and Bloom from Strixhaven, scaling automatically at 10th and 14th levels. If you’re unfamiliar with W&B, it’s an AoE enemies-only damage spell that also heals one creature of your choice in that area. The damage is modest for its level, but the healing effect makes up for it.
    • This very much is Healing Blooms but good.
  • Natural Recovery at 6th level gives you one free use of one of your Circle spells (Arid with Fireball is going to be popular here), and regain some spell slots on a Short Rest as in 5e.14.
  • Nature’s Ward at 10th level grants immunity to the Poisoned condition (I’m not a fan of player-facing immunities, but Poisoned is probably not one of the worse ones for breaking monster design), and resistance to a damage type based on your terrain choice. This looks like a pretty solid feature overall.
  • Nature’s Sanctuary at 14th level lets you spend a Wild Shape to grow a spectral forest to grant half cover and your Nature’s Ward damage resistance to your allies within a 15-ft cube. You can move the cube as a Bonus Action. I like that you’re using Wild Shape to shape the wild, but a mobile spectral forest is an off-putting idea to me, even in the wackiness of high-level D&D. I think most folks don’t care about the visual aesthetics of spells and effects the way I do, but this doesn’t work for me. Sure, I can change the description, but… meh.

Other than Nature’s Sanctuary, I really like what the Circle of the Land is offering now. It’s decidedly spellcasting-forward, as it was before, but Nature’s Ward is useful wildly more of the time. I like the idea of Land’s Stride a lot and wouldn’t be sorry to see that show up again in some form. Natural Recovery moving later but getting a slightly stronger effect is okay. The change to Circle Spells signals a more complex daily tactical choice, since you’re picking a slate of spells together.

Circle of the Moon

As I talked about in the previous Druid draft, the Circle of the Moon has always been a kind of troubled subclass, because of how Beasts work in the MM. Last time, the Circle of the Moon had very little emphasis on the moon theme and a lot on elemental forms; this time, the elemental content is in the Druid core, and the lunar themes are prominent in the subclass.

  • Circle Forms increases your CR cap to 1, up from ¼. It gets overwritten later on. From a quick glance at D&D Beyond, Lion, Moorbounder, and Tiger are impressive at this level. The Nyxborn Lynx and Ice Spider are incredible. Aaaand… none of these can become a signature form for you, because Beast forms don’t scale with you.
  • Combat Wild Shape modifies your Beast form stats in several ways.
    • You get to keep your caster form AC, not including a shield, if it’s better than your Beast form AC. Beast forms have notoriously awful AC, so this is a low bar. It also strongly rewards the Warden choice for Medium Armor, and having at least 14 Dex. It also means you can carry over your ring of protection even if your Beast form can’t reasonably wear it, I guess?
    • You gain temporary hit points equal to the lower of the Beast form’s hit points or your Druid level x3. This is a helpful bit of extra survivability.
    • You can still cast Abjuration spells in your Beast form, as long as they don’t need expensive or consumed Material components.
    • Moonbeam is always prepared for you, and you can cast it in Beast form. Beast form with Moonfire spam? Is… is this Burning Crusade-era World of Warcraft? Because yes please. Only a little weird for D&D, but see above about lunar themes.
  • Improved Circle Forms increases the CR cap for your Beast form to one-third of your Druid level, and lets you deal Radiant (again, lunar theme) damage in place of your Beast form’s standard damage. The damage kicker of Elemental Fury at 7th helps a good bit to keep Beast forms in the running for damage output, but I think players generally would like to see higher-CR large cats, bears, wolves, and eagles.
    • Stacking Moonbeam on top of this should add up to competitive sustained damage output.
  • Moonlight Step at 10th level lets you misty step and gain advantage on your next attack before the end of the turn; you get Wis modifier uses per Long Rest, and can refresh uses by burning 2nd-level spell slots. If you’re going to play a kitty druid, you absolutely need skirmisher features to match.
    • I’ve said this a lot over the years, but I’d like to see a tanking option paired with this. Moonbeam is nice for area denial (as in, you can use it to induce enemies to move, or not enter an area), which can be an aspect of tanking.
  • Lunar Form at 14th level improves your Moonbeam, letting you move it for free once a turn, and your Moonlight Step, letting one of your friends within 10 feet tag along. That’s solid battlefield control and rearranging capability that will probably be a ton of fun to use creatively in play.

My concern about this is just Beast stat block scaling, and every new monster release needing to keep its beasts of CR 0-6 suitable for PC use. Other than that, this looks like a lot of fun to play. It’s not identical to the 4e Druid that I loved so much, but its dynamic is much closer than any other iteration of the Circle of the Moon we’ve seen so far. I would give this a try for a long campaign.

I think this also intensifies the concern about ability score dependency. Because you retain your Hit Points, I assume you don’t recalculate Hit Points for your form’s new Con score – so you need a good Con score. You bring your AC with you, so you need a decent Dex, even if you don’t use it for attack and damage. Wisdom still matters, because it adds to your healing throughput and spells you cast when you’re not in Beast form, but if you ever wanted to try a Druid with a low Wis, this is the one.

Circle of the Sea

This one is all-new. Of course, you’re reading Tribality right now and we have multiple sea-druid offerings of our own, so I’m sure I’ll have Opinions.

  • Circle Spells gives you a whole bunch of water-, cold-, and storm-themed spells, along with Hold Monster at the end for whatever reasons, as always-prepared.
  • Wrath of the Sea is your core gameplay power. You spend a Wild Shape as a Bonus Action to surround yourself with Ocean Spray(-brand Cranberry Juice Or Cranberry Juice Blends) for 10 minutes or until you are Incapacitated; at the end of your turn, one creature within 10 feet rolls a Con save, and on a failure they get juiced for (Wis mod)d6 thunder damage. So realistically 3d6-5d6 free damage to one target and pushes them 15 feet.
    • Okay, first of all, that’s a lot of free damage, but also, that combines incredibly well with Ray of Frost from Circle Spells. 10 ft away, +15 ft push, and -10 ft speed? Enemies with 30 ft speed and no reach are spending their action to Dash just to get to you in melee. (To say nothing of the horrible things you can do with this and Spike Growth’s difficult terrain.)
  • Aquatic Affinity at 6th level makes Water Breathing always prepared for you, and gives you a Swim Speed equal to your Speed; you retain this Swim Speed in your Wild Shape.
    • Since I did this in the Circle of the Deeps, I will say that your Water Breathing spells should also not be dispellable by anyone other than you, because Dispel Magic is such a potent murder weapon at great depths in the hands of NPCs.
  • Stormborn at 10th level gives you a Fly speed equal to your Speed and Resistance to cold, lightning, and thunder damage. Goodness, this feature is carrying a lot.
    • In all fairness, though, Aquatic Affinity will do nothing in the majority of your adventures, unless you’re playing Seas of Vodari or Under the Seas of Vodari or Call of the Netherdeep, all of which you should do.
  • Oceanic Gift at 14th level lets you share a tall glass of Ocean Spray (Wrath of the Sea) with a friend within 60 feet, and you can also have an Ocean Spray of your own if you use two Wild Shapes. That is so much passive damage that doesn’t take Concentration, even at 14th level.

In short, I think the Circle of the Sea might be too good right now – it’s kicking out around twice the damage of the very strong Archer form of the Circle of Stars (TCOE), for a single Bonus Action rather than a Bonus Action every turn. With that out of the way, I like the Circle’s gameplay and theme.

And that’s the Druid. I have some nitpicks, but overall this is in very good shape. The limited number of Wild Shapes you can prepare needs to get relaxed a bit, for situational applications. Using MM Beasts is a system mastery issue: players need to cruise through the MM or D&D Beyond to find Beasts in their CR range, and then compare their stat blocks. It’s not ideal, and that’s why WotC wanted to go to procedural stat blocks.

Next time: our first look at a UA Monk!