Monday, 18 June 2012

Druids

The Druid has always been a problematic D&D or AD&D character class, for me. I never understood the point of drawing a distinction between a druid and a cleric; like the barbarian, which is surely just a fighter who happens to be from a certain cultural background, the druid must surely only be a cleric who happens to worship nature, or a nature god, of some kind. The division between the two classes is entirely arbitrary and artificial, and also rather blandly Eurocentric (Christian versus pagan).

The D&D druid also flies in the face of almost everything I know about real druids (which admittedly isn't very much and is mainly gleaned from Julius Caesar's writings). These weren't hippy-dippy nature lovers, by most accounts: they were astronomers and diviners, who also acted as judges in Celtic society and had a penchant for burning people alive in giant wicker structures, a la Edward Woodward. 

That said, the druid is also probably my absolute favourite 2nd edition AD&D class, and the one I played the most during my formative years. I put this down to two factors:

1) Shapechanging.
2) You get to call yourself a "heirophant".

Over the next few days I'm going to put up my 'take' on the druid as a character class for LOTFP, focusing on these two factors: shapechanging and heirophancy. Watch this space.

23 comments:

  1. No one knows who they were, or what they were doing...

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  2. Sounds phancy! I am looking forward to it. Especially how the heck you interpret hierophancy.

    Druids in AD&D really suffered from spells that were weak and fruity (literally, in the case of "goodberries"). They weren't great fighters, and the two things together put them very much under the shadow of the cleric. I had this in mind in my own recent attempt at developing the class.

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    1. From what I gather they went too far in rectifying this for 3rd edition - I know a lot of people complain the Druid was "overpowered" in that, if you set store in such concerns.

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  3. I like giving them the Khopesh sword. In Unearthed Arcana they were like: "this is Egyptian, we know, but giving it to druids works for us." Totally.

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  4. I think of Barbarians as Fighters with the raging shtick. Though I more properly call them Berserkers.

    I see Druids as specialty Clerics. They have spent so many generations focusing on Nature that they now differ from the original Cleric class. I like the PF version of the Druid class best though. Shapechanging is just awesome.

    One thing I do as a GM is require Druids to only use natural, non-metallic weapons and armour. But I loosen the restrictions on what type of weapons they can use so long as they aren't made of metal.

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    1. Don't Druids have that restriction anyway, or am I misremembering? Been so long since I've played AD&D.

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    2. I changed the "no metal" restriction to "no iron". Bronze weapons are authorised. I find that the iron taboo fits better with the "uncivilized" , fairy-touched vibe of the D&D Druid.

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  5. 1. Looking forward to reading your take on the class!

    2. All that wicker-mannery was historically based? I'm intrigued...

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  6. Depends on context, and I never have had an easy time placing druids, but my instinct these days is "Druids are what elves* have instead of clerics."

    * or comparable vaguely supernatural humanlike being

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  7. I thought the druid class was inspired by the druids of the Lyonesse cycle of Jack Vance (which are NOT happy-hippy tree huggers!)

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    1. Yeah, as Roger says, the Lyonesse books were a bit too late for that. Actually I'm reading the trilogy at the moment - finished the second one last night.

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  8. The first Lyonesse book was published in 1983, so no.

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    1. My bad, then.
      I got this impression reading a scene where three clan chiefs are arguing. Then comes a druid who tells then to shut up and stop their dispute. As the protagonist admires his authority, he is told that the only reason the druid stepped in is that their quarrel was disturbing a couple of birds in a sacred grove.
      Maybe it was the other way around?

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  9. Don't mind me I'm just discretely in the corner here waving a banner that reads "druids are all about human sacrifice yo!"

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  10. Jesus Christ strikes me as the last person you'd say isn't all about human sacrifice.

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    1. Human sacrifice and cannibalism

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  11. LOTFP alredy has rules for sacrificing things to get a bonus on the Summoning spell so you can hack that if you like.

    Add a plus for however many times you can wind their entrails round a tree.

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  12. I like Druids, weak or no, but they do seem like prime candidates for a lot of hacking. I always picture them looking vaguely like the unabomber -- crazy-eyed radicals with twigs and squirrels stuck in their hair.

    The one thing that always drives me nuts, though, is that too many people seem to think there is no "nature" underground (i.e., Druids are no good in a dungeon-based campaign). As if dungeons were some sterile, well-maintained environment. If dungeons are anything like real-world tunnels or cellars, they would be filled with all sorts of mildew, slime molds, rodents, insects and other avenues through which a druid could work his magic. "Nature" does not have to equal "forest".

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  13. Something that bugged me about Druids is that, since they also became the default 'Shaman' class, they had no magic that dealt with anything spiritual (though I suppose that is more a fault of D&D than just the class).

    I disagree that barbarians are 'just fighters' though. Sure, you could play a fighter and call him a barbarian and run it that way. But the game mechanics assume all fighters to be heavy plate wearers (as soon as they can afford it). Outside of setting restrictions on armor availability, sacrificing that element of the character for flavor reasons is tantamount to only using a dagger, or a wizard player deciding their character can't cast higher than 2nd level spells. It's doable but both unrewarding and works against the assumed mechanics. The class (or setting and DM) has to provide something to encourage surrendering your armor wearing class ability or else its just not a good idea.

    Obviously ignore this is your idea of a barbarian is someone running around in plate armor as soon as possible. ;)

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    1. Conan wore armor whenever it made sense and was possible.

      Also, many referees do a good job about armor benefits (AC) and not such a good job about the drawbacks (encumbrance, penalties to stealth, penalties to social reaction rolls, etc).

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