16 May 2022

How to Make Earthier D&D Monsters with the Druid Class

Molding the monsters we pit against the players is one of our most important jobs as Dungeon Masters and/or Game Masters in Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games. Sometimes, it's a difficult task. We don't necessarily want to throw goblins at the group for the fifth time, but cannot decipher a way to incorporate funkier monsters like flail snails or slaadi into our games.

Luckily, there's an easy way to bash monsters with an easy-to-understand, well-known segment of D&D: the character classes.

In the past, we've already mashed together various monsters with the Barbarian, Bard, and Cleric class. In this article, we're combining them with the Druid class.

Monsters Inspired by Druids

Between the many special spells and class abilities specific to the Druid, there's a wealth of inspiration for us to draw from for our monsters. Most Druid abilities are related to nature, be it animals, the ground they walk on, or the elements that help them survive and, sometimes, slowly erode their lives.

Listed below are twelve abilities we can attach to monsters. These things grant our monsters a flair of the druidic, a piece of the natural. If we already have a monster in mind, we can simply roll a d12 and attach this Druid-based ability to them, imbuing them with a unique piece of earthly magic, knowledge, or skill.

  1. Unnatural Natural Weapons: The monster has some sort of unnatural natural weapon, such as claws, fangs, or talons. They may use them as weapons in combat. Imagine a fire giant with fangs, a human barbarian with claws, or a bullywug with talons.
  2. Beast Shape: The monster can transform into an animal/beast appropriate to its challenge rating and environment such as a mammoth, a frog, or an elk. Its normal form takes on an appearance similar to its most-shaped beast. Think about a halfling with slimy frog skin, a hill giant with mammoth tusks, or a green dragon with massive elk antlers.
  3. Elemental Shape: The monster can transform into an elemental appropriate to its challenge rating and environment such as a fire elemental, an earth elemental, or a steam mephit. Its normal form takes on an appearance similar to its most-shaped elemental. Auras of each element may conjure around them, such as bouts of intense heat, bursts of strong wind, rumbling in the ground below them, or a consistent steam or dripping humidity in their vicinity.
  4. Monster Shape: The monster can transform into a monster appropriate to its challenge rating and environment such as a displacer beast, an ankheg, or an umber hulk. Its normal form takes on an appearance similar to its most-shaped monster. Imagine a dwarf with umber hulk eyes, a goblin with displacer beast tentacles, or a vampire with ankheg pincers.
  5. Avatar of Air: The monster transforms into an avatar of air. It can manifest small storms of lightning and thunder, control gusts of wind, and even fly. Perhaps it can loose bolts of lightning, too! It tends to work with creatures of air, such as air elementals, aarakocra, and flying beasts like wyverns, giant eagles, and rocs.
  6. Avatar of Fire: The monster transforms into an avatar of fire. It can thrust fireballs, manipulate present fires, and is nearly immune to all forms of flame. It might be able to transform weapons into fiery versions of their normal selves. It usually works alongside fiery beasts like fire elementals, azer, and salamanders.
  7. Avatar of Earth: The monster transforms into an avatar of earth. It can spawn fissures in the ground, is unusually strong, and its skin has patches of stone, granting it extra natural armor. Perhaps it has the ability to burrow in the ground as well! It sometimes works with creatures of rock like bulletes, earth elementals, and xorns.
  8. Avatar of Water: The monster transforms into an avatar of water. It can swim extremely fast, control water at will, and freeze patches of moving and still water. It may also posess the ability to communicate with aquatic life like sharks, minnows, and walruses. Most of the time, it works with watery monsters like sahuagin, water elementals, and triton.
  9. Animal Companion: The monster has an animal companion imbued with a druidic spirit such as a bear, a wolf, a rabbit, or an eagle. If the animal companion dies, the monster may resummon the spirit as a ritual the next dawn. The monster and animal companion can communicate telepathically, and the monster can look through the animal companion's eyes.
  10. Twist Growth: The monster causes a piece of natural vegetation to grow thorns. This could cause the vegetation to become difficult terrain, damage creatures, or even poison those who prick themselves with its thorns.
  11. Beast Speech: The monster is able to easily communicate with animals and can even mimic the sounds of certain beasts such as a bear's roar, a wolf's howl, and a cat's meow. Animals naturally trust it and will easily work with it unless the monster shows them harm.
  12. Grove Keeper: The monster is deeply connected to a specific piece of land, typically a small forest, rock shrine, or shallow cave. While it is in this area, it gains a set of lair abilities that empower it and/or weaken enemies. Perhaps a Druid monster in an underwater cave can cause the current to quicken and disrupt enemies, summon a swarm of voracious fish, and briefly heat the water to a boiling point!

If we would like to bash together one of these Druid-based abilities with an interesting monster, roll a d20 alongside the d12. Take the result if it's compelling, otherwise reroll!

  1. Kobold
  2. Myconid
  3. Gnoll
  4. Dryad
  5. Hill giant
  6. Manticore
  7. Young green dragon
  8. Fire giant
  9. Treant
  10. Vampire
  11. Adult blue dragon
  12. Androsphinx
  13. Death knight
  14. Mind flayer
  15. Beholder
  16. Aboleth
  17. Balor
  18. Ancient black dragon
  19. Ancient gold dragon
  20. Ancient emerald dragon

Eager for a bit more customizability? Roll a d8 to give the monster a root in a Druid subclass, too! This can serve as extra inspiration for more abilities or story ideas.

  1. Circle of the Moon
  2. Circle of the Shepherd
  3. Circle of Stars
  4. Circle of Spores
  5. Circle of Dreams
  6. Circle of the Land
  7. Circle of Wildfire
  8. Circle of Blood

Monsters with Druidic Roots

We need not only mechanically enhance our monsters with Druid-based material: why not incorporate druidic backgrounds into the stories of them, too? In fact, this might be the more compelling piece of using the Druid class in our games. Druids can make for excellent villains, especially those with a good reason for pursuing their needs and desires. After all, some of the best villains have motivations the player characters can relate to, or even agree with.

Outlined below are four Druid-based backgrounds for various monsters. They can be attached to a wide variety of foes, and even act as the starting point for a grand adventure or struggle against a Druid.

  1. Local poachers begin dying at the hands of a vengeful Druid. The Druid uses a variety of tactics to lure in the poachers and eliminate them with the cunning of thorny vines and the might of their dire bear animal companion. However, after the slaughter of the dire bear's cub, the Druid aims at the local village, eager to claim the lives of the poachers' families.
  2. Guided by omens from the skies, a Circle of Stars druid sets out on a crusade against civilization with a herd of beasts. They work with no other sentient creatures, just animals, some imbued with magical abilities.
  3. Against all semblance of natural order and tradition, a mysterious, powerful, and bloodthirsty Druid weaves together an alliance of lycanthropes. An opposing Circle of the Moon Druid reaches out to the player characters in an attempt to rally against this blasphemous foe, eager to slay them before their gains are too great.
  4. When a Circle of Wildfires Druid wrests control of a cult dedicated to the apocalypse of the Material Plane, flames erupt round the world. Cities begin burning, forests turn to ash, and volcanos bellow great spouts of lava and destruction.

In Summary

Just like all of D&D's other character classes, the Druid boasts all manner of inspiration for our monsters. It gives us monsters who can wield the elements of fire, air, water, and earth with ease and might; it gives us monsters who can shift between forms, creating opportunities for deception and wild battles with wacky foes; it gives us monsters who can take on even more bestial characteristics, and even ally with all sort of animal to challenge the group at every opportunity; and it gives us a compelling character type to pit against the party, one that might be a villain with an understandable point of view.

Join me in the next article when it hits, using the Fighter as a jumping off point for a variety of new monsters for our games.

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