Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Druids of Dwimmermount (Part I)

From The Strategic Review, Volume 2, No. 1 (February 1976)
I've had very mixed feelings about the druid class for a long time, in part because, in all my years of playing Dungeons & Dragons, I've only ever refereed a single long-running druid PC (and he started out as a magic-user who, through a badly-worded wish -- "I wish I could cast druid spells. -- became a druid). The other part of it is that I've never been happy with their popular portrayal among gamers as beneficent environmentalists. Perhaps I simply enjoyed De Bello Gallico too much in high school, I don't know, but, for whatever reason, I've always viewed the druids as somewhat sinister, a view that much later received some support from OD&D's Supplement I, where druids are a type of human "monster" served by barbarian followers. And then there's the alignment chart above, in which druids, while still Neutral tend toward Evil (and Lawful Evil to boot).

The take on druids I've adopted in the Dwimmermount campaign ties into the alignment system I've adopted, where I make a distinction between Neutral and Neutral (Balance), with druids being associated with the latter. And then there's the oft-forgotten note in later printings of the LBBs, which stipulates that "Clerics of 7th level and greater are either 'Law' or 'Chaos'." I've been intrigued by this obscure comment since I first came across it several years ago and, as I pondered it, I thought it an interesting if the order of druids was composed of former clerics, who apostatized from their original faiths and joined this Nature cult. Consequently, druids use the same XP and spell charts as clerics, although their spell selection, armor and weapon restrictions, and other abilities are somewhat different.

Clerics can become druids at any level, but the higher the level of the cleric who joins their order, the more power he gains from doing so (as explained in Part II). For this reason, clerics view druids with extreme distrust and often hatred, seeing them both as apostates and as competitors. Druids are thus unwelcome in
The friendly face of Nature
many civilized realms; they generally live and exert their influence in the wilds and among barbarian peoples. Lawful folk consider their philosophy of Balance inhuman, especially since it often involves the sacrifice of human beings to appease elemental powers.

Below is a listing of the thirteen druid level titles. I'll post more specific details on the class in Parts II and III, which I'll put up tomorrow and Thursday of this week. I worked these details up several months ago when it looked like the druids and their place in the world would become an important part of the campaign. That never happened, but who knows what the future holds? When and if the druids do appear, it's possible that I'll alter my initial ideas as better ones come to me through play. For the moment, though, I thought people might enjoy seeing what I'd originally imagined.

The text in the quote box below is hereby designated Open Game Content via the Open Game License.

Druid Title
Initiate of the First Degree
Initiate of the Second Degree
Initiate of the Third Degree
Initiate of the Fourth Degree
Initiate of the Fifth Degree
Initiate of the Sixth Degree
Initiate of the Seventh Degree
Initiate of the Eighth Degree
Initiate of the Ninth Degree
Master Druid
High Druid


  1. "...I've never been happy with their popular portrayal among gamers as beneficent environmentalists. Perhaps I simply enjoyed De Bello Gallico too much in high school, I don't know, but, for whatever reason, I've always viewed the druids as somewhat sinister,..."

    Yes! That mirrors my own frustrations with the portrayal of druids in D&D and your more sinister is similar to the one I used "way back when." Your interpretation of druids as apostate clerics open intriguing possibilities: perhaps they've had a revelation that the gods of Law and Chaos are all false, or alien invaders, and that the worship of "Nature" represents a return to the "authentic religion" of this world.

    Regardless, I hope your campaign takes a turn toward their involvement, since I'd love to see how your ideas play out in practice.

  2. When druids regularly put people into wicker cages and set them on fire, they've got the right vibe.

  3. You should play in our AD&D2e campaign then. The druids, after over 6 years of play, have earned a reputation as largely alien in motivations and more often than not a double edged sword when they are encountered or sought out.

    I've always been a fan of one of the very few truly good ideas that came out of TSR's Complete Druid's Guide, the idea of the "Shadow Circle." A secret sect within the druidic organization that has decided that civilization itself is adversly affecting the balance and so seeks to topple it. They are composed of druids who are part of the mainstream order, but who convene in secret hidden behind masks and completely unaware of the identity of each other. So one could actually be the Arch Druid and nobody would ever be the wiser for it.

  4. I have heard Fight On #11 might run a vaguely druid-themed adventure featuring little in the way of environmentalism. Just a rumour, though.

  5. Interesting concepts, James!

    I have to admit, I'm less than excited about the common presentation of druids in d&d myself, so I separated them into two groups: one that's more like the typical d&d druid and another that is the "true" druids, or the originals of whom the typical is only a degenerate shadow, ruthless and unsentimental in the extreme in their pursuit of a very specific image of balance.

  6. I didn't recall that this displayed Liches as the same alignment as Hobbits, Ents and Unicorns....

  7. I'm intrigued that nature itself might be evil, and human kindness a lone light in the darkness. Very Cathar/monastic. I also like your idea that top druids might be best trained outside druidic orders in enemy cleric camps - this means either a would-be top druid should stay lurking deliberately in clerical orders or, just maybe, that the druids have to headhunt powerful clerics to lead them, persuading them to make sincere conversions when already powerful. Devilish! While mid-level druids who converted too early are pretty much doomed to second string status. Machiavelian!

    The best ever sourcebook for druids is The Golden Bough. Those are my druids: death-dealing, castrating grove guardians, who value a club of live oak over any mere shiny metal or dusty scroll.

  8. The Liches thing caught my eye too. As it's printed twice under LG and LE I assume it's an error.

  9. That Liches are listed twice might be an error, but I've always liked the idea that there might well be a LG version of the Lich, with the intent behind traveling the path to Lichdom determining the final alignment of the Lich.

  10. As the Dark Eye (das Schwartze Auge) got several times mentioned on last Open Friday, I might try a translation of the description of the druid class in the first edition:

    “Any inhabitant of Aventuria having met a Druid, can confirm you that these eery figures cause an uncomfortable feeling of insecurity among all those who are unsure of their own strength. Some even talk about an aura of danger felt by those who approach them. Moreover, there are rumors of evil rituals, or even human sacrifices. This does not help spreading love for the Druids, one suspects. Yet, some legends in Aventuria evoke many heroic deeds by some Druids against misery and corruption, but this is hardly sufficient to make them look appealing. The distrust they cause comes from the fact that nobody knows their science. No one wrote about it. No layman has access to it. Besides, the Druid makes vows never to reveal his knowledge nor put it in written form. It is not clear why the Druids takes part in adventures. Greed doesn't seem to be the motive . Indeed, gold and gems that play an important role in human relationships are of no value for them. We do not advise you, however, to try to seize a Druids' booty. Horrible stories circulate about the fate reserved to the fool souls tho tried .
    Moreover, thirst for knowledge doesn't seem to justify their participation in adventures. Magicians, spend their time chasing for old books to enjoy all spells listed in the world. On the contrary, Druids seem to completely despise such acquisition. Some pretend that the Druids to participate in the adventures in the sole purpose of delivering combat rituals and renew their strength by shedding the blood of the vanquished. The constituted authorities are obviously questioning such assumptions. But they are nonetheless widespread in the population. The Druids, meanwhile, remain silent, as always.”

  11. Back when I played AD&D I ran an entire campaign where the antagonists were a group of evil (or at least, far from beneficent) druids. The hierarchy and spells made for a great baddie list. I had an entire 'branch' of the druidic order gone rotten. The campaign was the Stormlands campaign, my best AD&D one ever. http://www.quest-bird.com/nehwon/nehwon_index/node7.html#SECTION00071000000000000000

  12. Circle Orobus from Hordes by Privateer Press for the win on making druids some bad ass people who the civilized nations fear.

  13. In Andre Norton's Quag Keep, the druid is definitely not a good guy. :)

    We know from archaeology that the Celts really did sacrifice young handsome guys in good condition who had money. So you can see where successful, high ability score adventurers might find themselves invited to the villages of handsome young Celtic warriors -- the ones who don't want to make the ultimate sacrifice to solve a crop failure or invasion problem. :)

    The whole "kill people in three ways at once to appease three different gods" would also be open to criticism by any folks allergic to being hung, hit on the head, and drowned in a peat bog.

    If you went with bards as Celtic prophetic persons, they might have some very big ethical and religious difficulties with the druids' expectations (or the rest of the party would be justly suspicious of them).

  14. The best ever sourcebook for druids is The Golden Bough. Those are my druids: death-dealing, castrating grove guardians, who value a club of live oak over any mere shiny metal or dusty scroll.

    Yes! Definitely.

  15. The Liches thing caught my eye too. As it's printed twice under LG and LE I assume it's an error.

    It's hard to say. At one point, Gary might have toyed with the notion of good liches. I find the notion pretty goofy myself, but they are Neutral in alignment, albeit with a marked tendency toward Evil.

  16. Would the cleric become a druid of equal level to that of his [previous?] cleric level? Would the cleric cease advancing as a cleric, retaining his cleric level, but losing access to cleric spell/turn undead, and begin advancing as a 1st level druid? Something else, perhaps?

    A 6th-level cleric, for example, who becomes a druid would cease to be a cleric and henceforth be a 6th-level druid, losing access to all clerical abilities and perks except those shared by the druid class.

  17. What's the reason for shape-changing curing damage?

    In my write-up, it's purely because of tradition -- the druids in AD&D and Supplement III have it. As to why, I have no idea. That's something I should have asked Dennis Sustare.

  18. James, if I had one request I would love to know how you see your druids viewing undead (are they unnatural?) What about the other planes? The whole idea of what is natural versus what is not seems like a fun area for discussion.

    I'll know the answer to these questions once I use them in play :) I suspect, though, druids would see the undead as supremely unnatural, just as everyone else does. In the Dwimmermount campaign, the undead are primarily the result of demonic magic and influence and demons exist outside the natural order.

  19. Interesting that level 1 has only six spells, while the others have ten each.

    That's purely an artifact of the fact that both clerics and druids have a very limited 1st-level spell selection in OD&D. I could pad out the list with some spells from AD&D to give them 10 at each level, but, when I made the class, I was determined to stick only to what's in the LBBs + Supplements.

  20. What would you do if you had a cleric who wanted to become a druid?

    I'd probably allow it, with the caveat that, unless the other PCs were keen on adopting the druidic philosophy too, there might well be conflict between the new druid and his companions. Now, I'm not opposed to intra-party conflict at all, but experience teaches me that such conflict typically ends with one or more PCs dead. I suspect that's what would happen to a cleric-turned-druid who did so contrary to the wishes of his comrades.

  21. Do you have anything in mind for how spells might be uncommonly available? I.e. are certain high level spells castable as normal while others just don't exist, or do they require special research or rituals or anything like that?

    Honestly, I've given it very little thought. I can only say that I decided, when the campaign began, that there'd be no spells above 5th for clerics and 6th for MUs. However, I like some of the spells introduced in Supplement I for the higher levels and so I always had this notion that there was some way to learn them with effort and time. I never quite figured out what that way might entail specifically and I've not yet had occasion to do so (the highest PC in the campaign is only 7th level).