The wardens of the wild, druids are seen as strange, primitive, and powerful. The keepers of nature, these casters are empowered by a force that's often older than the gods, allowing them to bend the raw elements to their cause. While they may be good, evil, or otherwise, there is no denying the potency of a druid who has chosen to take the field.
With that said, it can be hard moving past the stereotype of the crazy hermit in fur pelts who's into sex, death, and religion in a very nighttime tele sort of way. So, if you're trying to stretch outside the box for your next druid, consider the following suggestions.
Tip #1: Pick A Specialty
When you hear the word nature, what comes to your mind? Is it the chirping of birds in dark forests? Bears roaming mountain streams? Wind shifting the dunes in the desert? Crocodiles cutting through the waters of the swamp? The stillness of the arctic tundra? The screeching of bats in the darkness of a cave?
All of these examples, and many more, are part of nature. However, chances are good that your druid doesn't travel from one extreme climate to another (and if they do, that's a pretty rocking character concept on its own). So ask yourself what aspect of nature your druid considers their little niche. Is it big cats? Expansive forests? The open ocean? Do they embrace the roar of earthquakes, the blast of forest fires, or the howl of the storm? Whatever speaks to them (literally or metaphorically) probably has a big impact on what sort of druid they are.
Tip #2: What Kind of Neutral Are You?
Another quirk of the druid class is that members are required to have a capital N in their alignment. This restricts their spell choices, as well as the actions they're allowed to take. However, being neutral isn't about doing enough good and evil that, at the end of the day, they balance out (that sort of behavior is the kind of motivation you'd see from a villain rather than a PC). It's about the methods you use to achieve your goals, and the things you believe in.
For example, a druid might be tasked with maintaining the balance between nature and civilization in a particular region. A neutral good druid would see that the sentient races have needs just as surely as the forests and the animals do, and would most likely try to work with the local settlement to find solutions that helps everyone come out as winners. This might lead to interesting steps, such as training farmers in new means of agriculture so they don't need to clear so much land, and showing people how they can live in harmony with their surrounding environment. A true neutral druid might simply declare that everything from a certain point onward is out-of-bounds, and that no one is allowed to take resources, use the land, etc. past that point. A neutral evil druid might offer aid one day, when the town is falling to a drought, but then send a plague the next season to cull them in order to make sure there are never too many or too few people to upset the local balance.
Think about your druid's goals, their methods, and how they try to resolve problems. Do they prize life, or do they have a Nihilistic, law-of-the-jungle sort of outlook? Do they view only nature in its rawest form as acceptable, or do they see that nature exists everywhere, from the frozen peaks, to the heart of the city?
Tip #3: Were You Trained, or Chosen?
We tend to think of characters with druid levels as all being part of some global faith. As if being a druid is not just a set of skills and abilities, but also a membership in a particular organization. And while that is a valid interpretation, it is not the only possible way to play the class.
Compare the druid to the cleric for a moment. Clerics are often thought of as priests, but nowhere does it say that a cleric has to be a part of an organized religion. They might be part of a small, local sect, a nearly forgotten tradition, or just someone a god spoke to one day. Druids have the same sort of wiggle room when it comes to their origins.
As an example, you might be a follower of old nature worship, and someone who professes a faith in nature as a force. You might be someone who worships a nature god, and who uses that as their gateway into the divine power of being a druid. Or you might be someone who was given the mantle by nature itself, empowering you to act in its best interests, and guiding your hand through signs in the forests, words from the birds, or in the pattern of storms.
How you came into your power, and what you do to maintain it, is often just as informative about the kind of druid you are as what your area of expertise is.
Tip #4: What Are You Opposed To?
One of the major factors of most druid characters is the things they are opposed to. It's just as important for other PCs, but druids tend to get stereotyped as being against civilization. Of course, these characters are usually wearing hand-crafted leather armor made in a tanner's shop, and carrying a crossbow with quarrels that were shaped on a lathe, so just being against the march of progress might come across as a little hypocritical.
So, instead, really knuckle-down and think about what your specific druid gets a bee in their jockstrap over. Is it deforestation, particularly on an industrial scale? Is it pollution? Is it the circumvention of nature's law by creating undead? Is it cruel practices of hunting that cause suffering, and endanger a species?
These are all good options, and there's no reason to limit yourself to one. If you're a champion of nature, though, it's important to have a clear image in mind of what it is nature wants you to do with that mantle. You need to know what motivates you, and what drives you, in order to go in the proper direction.
Tip #5: Who Are You, Other Than A Druid?
This is another problem that clerics often run into; they become so defined by the source of their powers that they never really get a full-fledged personality, history, or character arc beyond serving the force that grants them spells.
Ask who your druid was before they were given power. What did they want out of life? Who raised them? What did they believe? What were they trying to do with their lives? How has becoming a druid changed them?
As an example, did your character want to be a druid? Or was it a responsibility they accepted in exchange for something else? Perhaps your character was a soldier who was injured on the battlefield, and they were given a new lease on life if they would agree to serve nature's needs. They agreed, and in exchange for their hand or leg being regenerated, they started on their path to fighting the enemies of the green, instead of their home nation. Alternatively, was your character noble born, but they found their calling among the trees and brooks rather than at court? Do they use their position within the gentry, combined with the power of their magic, to bring about change in their nation? Was your druid the child of a farmer, or a butcher, or a miner? Did they continue going in their original direction, or did they veer onto another course when they were accepted by the green?
You can find examples of all of these druid ideas and more in:
Fleshing out who your character is as a person, what organizations they belong to, who their friends and family are, etc. will help you create a more unique individual, and someone who stands out as a person, rather than the party member that's always getting called the druid because no one can be bothered to remember their name.
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About the Creator
Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.