Pathfinder Druid Class Guide

Posted by Andrew E. on

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Wield the Power of Nature

Druids are the secretive naturalists of the adventuring world, mystical guardians of nature and conduits for the power of the earth that can transform themselves into animals. Druids are versatile spellcasters, and can be built as powerful magic damage dealers, healers, and party buffs, or they can focus on their transformations and ravage their enemies as mighty beasts or scout ahead as tiny and unassuming creatures. But to build your druid you’ll have to start by navigating pathfinder’s countless books for just the right options. We’ve done the work for you so just grab your animal friends and head to your favorite sacred grove as we go through everything you need to know. 

What Are Druids?

Pathfinder druids and other adventure game druids are originally inspired by a real-world people group from ancient Europe. Though those old roots have become a bit muddled and have shifted over the years druids retain a lot of those influences. Druids are entwined with the magic of nature, able to commune with beasts and attuned to the rhythms of the universe itself. Mechanically druids are full spellcasters with a surprisingly wide variety of extra features they can use to fit practically any role. A druid can blast away foes through pure magic, become the perfect creature for any problem, buff and heal their allies, or a perfect blend of all of the above. However, you want to sculpt your perfect druid, you’ll need to start out by understanding their class features first.   

 

Pathfinder Druid Class Guide

Druid Class Features

Hit Die

Druids get a d8 for their hit die which is great for a full spellcaster but on the small side for a front-line fighter, but should you try to play your druid that way you’ll have some excellent ways to mitigate that.

Skills

Druids are bad to middling when it comes to Skill ranks with 4 + Int Mod skill ranks per level. This is usually enough to keep up on a few key skills but expect to be lacking in quite a few skills.

Armor and Weapon Proficiencies

Druids get proficiency with a minor assortment of weapons, light armor, medium armor, and shields (except for tower shields. The weapons likely won’t matter, since if you’re planning on making attacks they’ll likely be with natural weapons. Druids also have an odd holdover flavor restriction that prevents them from wearing metal armor which makes that medium armor proficiency a lot less useful. Though if your DM is gracious you may be able to acquire better medium armors made from exotic non-metal materials like bone, dragon scales, chitin, or ironwood. 

Bonus Languages

You have the option of learning the Sylvan, which is spoken by many fey and intelligent woodland creatures. It’s important to note this doesn’t let you talk to animals, just other creatures that speak it specifically. Still, it’s a language that comes up fairly often.

You also learn druidic, which is a super-secret special language that only druids know and they’ll hunt you down and string you up if you spill the beans and teach some non-druid person about it. In all the adventures I’ve played I can only recall a single time in person when druidic has come up, and even then, it wasn’t a huge help. Druidic will likely be irrelevant unless your DM is specifically designing an adventure around it.

Nature Bond

One of your two most important and useful features beyond your spellcasting, you get to choose between a cleric domain and an animal companion. This is almost as important of a decision as your class archetype and will have a major impact on how your druid plays.

In the absolute broadest strokes, selecting a domain will provide you with some unique features and bonus spells, while animal companions provide an almost secondary “character” that allow you to make some very strategic combat plays as “two characters”. 

Druid Domains

Druids have the option to take a domain just like a cleric can, but their selection of domains is limited. Druids can select the Air, Animal, Earth, Fire, Plant, Water, or Weather domains, which you can get a better feel for from our cleric guide. 

Druids also get to select from the special “animal and terrain domains” which we’ll go over here:

Aquatic Domain

Technically quite good if you’re in an aquatic campaign, but absolutely lousy everywhere else. If your DM has explicitly stated that the campaign will take place underwater then give this a shot, but otherwise it should be avoided entirely.

Arctic Domain

The domain abilities are situational to the point of uselessness, but the high-level domain spells are actually quite good damage options not normally available to druids. If you happen to be gearing up for a high tier adventure this isn’t a bad option to serve up some cold damage, but I’d give it a hard pass for anything lower than 10th level adventures.

Badlands Domain

Potentially decent in a campaign where survival against the elements and sustenance is a major theme, but largely irrelevant otherwise. Most of the lower-level spells and features you pick up are so-so or situational, though at later levels you pick up some pretty nasty damage spells and the bonus spellcasting in elemental form is quite nice. I’d only recommend this domain if your adventure is survival-based or starting at high levels. 

Cave Domain

This domain gives you tremorsense at 6th level, which is amazing, a decent darkvision “sharing” ability, and some lousy spells. Quite frankly the tremorsense is enough to justify this option but be aware that you’re not getting much else. 

Crocodile Domain

Like most of the animal themed domains you pick up a familiar, but this one is also strangely melee centric. You gain a special attack called a “death roll” you can do while grappling an enemy, your spells are mostly focused on dealing natural attacks, and amazingly you even pick up a low-step sneak attack like a rogue. Consider this as a strong option if you’re planning on building a wild-shape melee focused druid. 

Desert Domain

Mostly terrible, even if your adventure is in a desert. Almost all the spells are middling at best and are already on the druid spell list. The big claim to fame here is the ability to summon jinni as per the planar ally spells starting at 8th level. I don’t think it balances out the rest of the domain though, and I’d recommend giving this one a pass.

Eagle Domain

You gain the fly spell as a druid, a lovely bird familiar, and evasion so long as you’re flying. If you’re planning on staying out of melee this is a fantastic option. Fly is difficult to acquire otherwise as a druid (other than wild shaping into flying things) and getting it here will allow you to flit away from foes while casting spells back at them.

Frog Domain

You’ll get a swim speed, some really bad spells already available to druids, a toad familiar, and a flavorful but sadly terrible “sticky tongue” ability to snag an enemy. I really can’t find any reason to recommend this one other than at a STRETCH the swim speed could be useful. 

Jungle Domain

You get trap sense, a weirdly limited climb speed, and a bunch of decent spells that are already on the druid spell list. Not particularly useful for jungles either. Trap sense is ok, but it hardly justifies the rest of the domain. I can’t give this one any sort of recommendation.

Monkey Domain

This domain gives you a solid slice of the arcane trickster class in the form of a ranged legerdemain and a monkey familiar which is by far one of the most useful options (thumbs). You also get bonuses to Acrobatics, Climb, Disable Device, and Sleight of Hand checks. Overall, this is an excellent domain if you want to dip your druid a bit into the realm of rogues and specifically arcane tricksters.

Mountain Domain

A mixed bag but the 8th level ability thin air is just fantastic. It’s a free action so you’re free to fight or cast alongside it, and it can just slowly and quietly stack up to kill your enemies. Beyond the awesome thin air, you get a decent but weird climbing ability and while the earlier domain spells are rather poor they get better the higher you go. Overall solid option, especially if you plan on diving into melee.

Panther Domain

This domain is centered around stealth and specifically darkness. You get a slew of quality darkness spells and stealth and initiative bonuses while sneaking around in it. However, most of the other spells are middling at best, and while the darkness bonuses and darkvision are fine, that’s about all you get out of it. Still, if you’re trying for ambushes this is an interesting and viable option.

Plains Domain

If you’re summoning horses, elephants, or other “plains” animals the duration is doubled, and you get domain spells that do just that along with some of the strongest early buff spells in the game. More than that you get the “pounce” special attack, and you’ll get to use it for wild shapes that don’t normally get to pounce. All of this adds up into a unique and extraordinarily strong domain. Best used for party buff druids or the odd mounted combat strategy.

Serpent Domain

You get a viper familiar and a lot of terrible spells and extremely situational features. The final domain spell crushing hand is excellent, but you shouldn't be picking your domain by their 9th level spell. Can’t recommend this one at all sadly.

Swamp Domain

The abilities are situational and bad regardless and the domain spells are almost all bad spells that are already on the druid spell list. It’s not even particularly good in swamps. Do yourself a favor and give this domain a pass.

Vulture Domain

You gain a sizable bonus against death effects and a better chance of reincarnating characters favorably. Fundamentally this domain is not quite for healers but for death denial and all your domain spells center around stopping death or bringing people back. Oddly flavored, but the effects are solid and can keep your allies from biting the bullet.

Wolf Domain

You snag a limited form of pack tactics and improved trip as a free bonus feat. Tripping is a solid combat strategy (which wolves do, go figure) and picking up improved trip is a welcome boon. Pack tactics is a powerful ability even when limited and can make the difference in a lot of combats. The spells are hit or miss though. Overall, it’s a middling but viable option for a melee druid best taken if you’re literally going for a wolf pack strategy.

Druid Animal Companions

Several classes gain access to animal companions, but druids get the best ones (or rather they get them without penalty). We could spend this entire guide going into animal companions since in a real way they’re their own characters. Depending on what creature you select, what feats you give them, and what ability scores you choose to increase, your creature could be a party scout, a damage dealer, a mount, or the party tank.

There’s a massive list of potential animal companions, but we’re just going to focus on some of the statistically strongest options (which as it turns out is mostly dinosaurs). That isn’t to say there aren’t other good options. If you love the idea of a wolf or a bear friend, you’ll still be mostly fine, these are just the choices that have a statistical edge. 

Allosaurus 

This iconic dinosaur has three attacks right at the start, a high speed, a strong AC, and once you hit 7th level you pick up grab and pounce as a powerful ability combination. Put everything together and it’s one of your absolute best options for damage dealing with an animal companion.

Ankylosaurus

This bad boy gets so much natural armor it starts out at a whopping 21 AC and when combined with a tail stun attack you have a tank and defender that can take the hits for your whole party. His toughness is surprisingly low though, try to prioritize it when picking ASI and buy your dinosaur lad some armor and you’ll be golden.

Arsinoitherium

Think of this guy as a prehistoric wooly rhino and you’re not far off. Mechanically it makes for an amazing mount / damage dealer that you can ride to victory while overrunning your enemies.

Their AC and Constitution are good enough to keep them stable, and their damage output on the charge is downright impressive past 7th level with 4d8+18 points of angry rhino to the face.

Big Cat

With 40-foot movement speed, 3 attacks, rake, grab, and pounce, any of the big kitties will serve you well as a damage dealer. If you’re feeling stabby they can also be used as mounts which means you could ride along and pounce right with them. Less AC but a higher average damage output than the allosaurus.

Deinonychus

If you’re having trouble picturing it, think velociraptor but featherier. These guys are fast and dangerous with a 60-foot movement speed alongside 5 attacks and pounce at level 7. They tend to be a bit of a glass cannon though, as they’ll lack the natural armor and hit points to really take as good as they give. Still an amazing damage dealer though if you’re willing to trade out that defense and go all in on offence.

Diplodocus

The best of the long-neck dinosaur options, these guys are one of the absolute best picks for a tank / mount. A bit less AC than the competing tank option ankylosaurus, but more hit points and better tail slap damage. If you plan on riding over your enemies on a dinosaur, I think this guy is your best option.

Elephant

One of the few non-dinosaurs that made the cut, the elephant is tanky, can serve as a mount, and can absolutely destroy enemies on the charge. You may run into a lot of situations where your DM says an elephant can’t fit, but for the rest of the time you’ll have a solid high AC, high hit point, high damage output mount.

Tyrannosaurus 

It should be no surprise that the classic iconic T-rex is one of the best options available. Where a lot of the other damage dealers mentioned here get their strength from a lot of attacks and pounces, the big T relies on a single massive chomp and grab. Pick the T-rex for a solid all-around damage dealer or just to say you have a pet T-rex. 

Tyrannosaurus 

It should be no surprise that the classic iconic T-rex is one of the best options available. Where a lot of the other damage dealers mentioned here get their strength from a lot of attacks and pounces, the big T relies on a single massive chomp and grab. Pick the T-rex for a solid all-around damage dealer or just to say you have a pet T-rex. 

Velociraptor  

As you may expect these clever girls are speedy damage dealers that rely on pouncing with a ton of attacks. They’re statistically very similar to the big cats, just with more attacks and worse grabs. Pick these over the cats if you value raw damage over grabbing potential and vice versa. 

Wild Empathy

Thematically this ability is supposed to let you calm down a rampaging beast, but in practice I’ve found that if the DM wants you to fight the T-Rex, the party is going to fight a T-Rex no matter how soothingly you talk to it. It’s also the only druid feature that relies on Charisma, which is incredibly awkward to make use of. Even if you pump up Charisma it’ll still be extremely situational, I recommend simply ignoring this feature all together. 

Woodland Stride

Picked up at 2nd level, this feature is meant to let you run right through brambles and other forest themed difficult terrain without penalty. Which is decent, if situational. However, it has the caveat stating that you’ll still get hit by magical difficult terrain which means 99% of the time this already situational feature just doesn’t work.

Trackless Step

Picked up at 3rd level, this feature says you don’t leave a trackable trail in natural environments. It doesn’t however provide this benefit to your allies, which means you can slip through the trees like a ghost, but your paladin will still trample his way through leaving a trail a cub scout could track. Strangely, about the only use I’ve seen for this feature is masking your trail from your own party, which isn’t ideal to start with. 

Resist Nature’s Lure

Picked up at 4th level, this feature grants you a +4 bonus to saves against fey and plant spells. As with any other type or source-based effects, this will either be great or do absolutely nothing. Just keep it in mind if your DM starts throwing evil fey at you.

Wild Shape

Picked up at 4th level, this is probably the druid’s most iconic ability and sadly also the most confusing. In pathfinder wild shape works like a polymorph spell, and polymorph spells in pathfinder are broken and not in a good way. We could spend the entire span of this guide twice over talking about how your forms actually work, how to optimize them, and some of the bizarre ways they function. For now, though, just know that while using a wild shape form seems like you should just use the creature’s stats out of the bestiary, but it only sort of does.

What wildshape essentially does is provide you with free castings of the beast shape family of spells and eventually the elemental body spells as well. 

As with the animal companions, there are an absurd number of forms available to you when it comes to what animal to become. So, for brevity we’ll just go through your statistically wild shapes for certain roles at the levels wild shape improves.

4th Level

  • Deinonychus is your best damage dealer option.
  • Cheetah is your best damage dealing option if your DM isn’t allowing dinosaurs.
  • Eagle for flying scouting.
  • Dire rat for non-flying scouting.
  • Electric eel for stealthy swimming.
  • Bull shark for angry swimming.

6th Level

  • Dire Tiger is your best damage dealer option.
  • Viper for stealthy scouting.
  • Hawk for stealthy flying scouting.
  • Giant Octopus for swim fighting.

8th Level

  • Allosaurus for making things dead.
  • Mastodon for chasing things down and making them dead.
  • Stegosaurus for defending and keeping others from making you dead.
  • Giant Squid for swim fighting.
  • Bats for excellent flying scouting.

Venom Immunity

At 9th level you just flatly get immunity to poisons. Simple, useful, and you’re now the party food checker. Really though, poisons come up more often than you’d think, and this is a solid buff.

A Thousand Faces

Free alter self would be a neat stealth option if you got it earlier, but by level 13 anybody you’d want to trick will likely see through this anyway. Sadly, you’ll likely get little use out of what was a cool feature concept.

Timeless Body

You stop aging at level 15… Yay? It’s a cool bit of flavor but unless your DM is playing around with time jumps or age traps this will literally never be useful outside of post-game epilogues.

Druid Ability Scores

The first thing you’ll need to figure out is if you plan on utilizing your wild shape feature for combat purposes. Basically, do you want to just play your druid like a pure spellcaster? Or do you want to focus on being a beast and tearing people apart with your claws?

For most builds, you’ll need Wisdom as high as possible. Even when focused on wild shape you’ll need your wisdom for buffing yourself and all your other class features.

If all you care about is spellcasting, then you’re basically done. Put some leftover points into Dexterity and Constitution to keep yourself from dying and you’re all set.

If you want to claw out some eyes, then you’ll also need a decent Strength, which is now stretching your needs between all three physical abilities and a mental ability.

Personally, I recommend prioritizing Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and then Strength, in that order.

Finally, both Intelligence and Charisma can be complete dump stats. Try to keep Intelligence at least at an even 10, but Charisma can go all the way down to 7.

Druid Spellcasting

Druids are divine “prepared casters”, which means you “know” all the spells on the druid spell list like a wizard, but you have to pick which ones you’ll cast ahead of time by spending an hour each day meditating.

Druids know their divine magic equivalent of cantrips called “orisons”, which are your 0-level spells.

You gain a number of spells per day, based on your druid level.

You’ve also got a feature called “Chaotic, Evil, Good, and Lawful Spells”. This is less a feature and more of a drawback, but with some flavor. This basically just stops your druid from casting diametrically opposed spells, so that good druid can’t cast evil spells, and your druid that’s all about the law can’t cast chaos spells.

Finally, with your spontaneous casting feature you get to turn any of your spells into summons, specifically the equal level of summon nature’s ally.

Going through every spell level by level available to druids is far beyond our scope, but we CAN point out some of the key early spells you’ll likely want to pick up.

0 Level

  • Guidance. If you have a few seconds to prepare before a skill check, give it a bonus for free! A wide swathe of skill checks happen while time is not of the essence, and I guarantee you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this spell.

1st Level Spells

  • Cure Light Wounds. There will basically never be a time you’ll be sad you prepared this. It’s saved countless character lives since the game began and it’ll keep being useful so long as damage needs healing.
  • Entangle. The classic “nature” spell entangle is a solid crowd control option that can swing the combat at the early levels. Use it to swamp out choke points or keep the mob at bay.

2nd Level Spells

  • Barkskin. Can you feel a fight coming on? Barkskin up before it starts. This spell makes you significantly more survivable in any situation and I’m almost always glad I cast it before a battle.
  • Stone Discus. Like scorching ray but for druids and it’s rocks. I feel like this one gets overlooked a lot but it’s the strongest single target damage option you have at 2nd level. Just keep in mind you actually have to hit with them using ranged attacks which will require a decent Dexterity.

3rd Level Spells 

  • Mad Monkeys. It sounds silly, but this spell can completely solve a ton of situations. Bad guy has a mcguffin/wand/staff/treasure? Nope, the monkeys have it now and they’re running away with it! Seriously, it’s embarrassing how many combats I’ve seen fizzled by a literal barrel of monkeys.
  • Thorny Entanglement. Like entangle but sharper, if you can keep your enemies trapped in a small room this can be a cast and forget nuke that shreds everything while you’re safely waiting for the carnage to end in the next room over.

Natural Spell

Finally, when it comes to druid magic, the most important piece of the puzzle isn’t a specific spell but a feat. The feat natural spell will let you cast spells while in a wild shape, which DRASTICALLY makes your class better. I honestly feel like it should just be built into the class, but as it is just make sure you prioritize taking this feat as early as possible.

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