Let's Play...A Low Wisdom Druid
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! We continue our Let's Play series looking at how to craft a useful but low Wisdom druid. We will start by looking at the high concept for the character, and then move into how to mechanically make this character useful to the party.
I. Character Concept
Wisdom is the "street smarts" (and "wilderness smarts") mental stat: it includes your survival instincts, your perception, and your ability to work well with animals. So what kind of nature loving person doesn't have high Wisdom?
Consider the Disney Princess who goes through the wild singing very loudly where there might be dangerous creatures about. Consider the fanciful nature lover who loves the idea of running through glens and woods, but doesn't actually know that much about said glens and woods. Consider the fanatic who loves nature because of its mystery, not truly comprehending why things are the way they are. Consider the husky shapeshifter alone in the woods who keeps to himself.
So to say that there's grounds for being a druid, being connected with nature, but not necessarily being gifted with the spells or practical knowledge. That's the type of character we are trying to build: someone who loves nature, cares for it, but is not a guru or shaman who is proficient in its secrets or uses.
So with this in mind, let's build out our druid.
II. Character Build
So, we need to state upfront that Wisdom is more than just a casting stat for druids. The druid is typically one of the scouts for the party, and typically takes proficiency in the Perception skill for this reason, so realize upfront that there's a lot of things you will not be as good at doing that you would normally do for the party because of this build. So plan accordingly: you'll want someone else to serve as party scout.
Second, a lot of the classic druid spells involve your Wisdom modifier, so keep in mind that your ability to heal and boost your damage will be weaker. We'll address spells first and then we'll talk about Wild Shape, as those are the two primary aspects of the druid, but before we do that it's worth noting that I would definitely recommend taking a shield with this build. You're going to want that extra +2AC most of the time, as you will need a good defense based on what you lose on offense. For weapons you can take pretty much anything you want, but I highly recommend a shield. It will help you stay alive longer.
The exception to this is if you intend to use a bow or other two-handed range weapon (which is a really good choice with this build - more on that later), in which case leave the shield at home. Or don't equip it. Make the choice, then build out accordingly.
So looking at spells, when it comes to cantrips, your utility spells like Druidcraft and Guidance are still solid choices: they don't change at all. Your attack spells, on the other hand, are a different matter. Typically druids have access to a sweet suite of attack spells, including Shillelagh and Primal Savagery to streamline their offensive stats (and Magic Stone if you want to attack from range), but these all lose a lot of their potency with this build, as you are less likely to hit with all of them, and less likely to deal damage with Shillelagh and Magic Stone. All of your saving throw spells will also be unlikely to deal damage, and your ranged spell attacks like Produce Flame will also suffer in their ability to hit.
See what I said about offense suffering? It's going to suffer a lot with this build.
Whatever you do, don't take Frostbite, Thunderclap, or Poison Spray: these are traps as they require a Constitution save, which is the easiest save to pass, against your spell save DC (which is lower thanks to not having a good Wisdom stat). But if you want to take a chance on Primal Savagery and Produce Flame (especially since the latter has utility uses a well), you can do that.
1st Level: Some of the classic choices are still good choices here: Absorb Elements and Goodberry are not penalized, and utility spells like Beast Bond, Speak with Animals, and Detect Magic are not affected either. So you have really good choices here, but realize that since your spell save DC is really low (9, if you can believe that), saving throw spells are really bad choices at this this. So maybe you take Entangle in case you know you're up against a low Strength target, but short of that, just don't.
Related, however, since Healing Word and Cure Wounds also use your spellcasting modifier, your go-to spells for healing are not as effective, and Healing Word in particular is not a good choice at all. So I don't recommend trying to be the healer of the group either.
2nd Level: 2nd Level tends to be more of a control and augmenting level, so it's actually not that bad for you on the augmenting side (control is going to be really bad, as your spell save DC is really low). Spells like Barkskin, Beast Sense, Enhance Ability, Heat Metal, Lesser Restoration, and Pass Without Trace will give you useful bonuses and don't take penalties due to your low stat.
Unlike 1st level though, we do get a 2nd level control spell that is not affected by the penalty basically at all, and that is Spike Growth. There is a save, but the save is to notice it, not to reduce the damage or movement penalty of the spell. So if you want to do some battlefield control, here's a good spell for you to take.
You can also take the new Summon Beast spell from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, just know that it has a low chance of hitting its target as it's suffering a penalty, but its AC and damage are unaffected.
3rd Level: As per normal, you get access to a wide range of utility spells at this level that are worth taking and suffer no penalty, so I definitely recommend Dispel Magic, Daylight, and Plant Growth at this level. You also get access to Conjure Animals which is solid at this level, and you get access to Summon Fey, which suffers from the same issues noted above for Summon Beast, but on the whole it's still good.
4th Level: Like the lower levels, your conjuring/summoning spells are still good choices here, but unlike those you don't get a whole lot beyond that. You also get a great buff spell in Stoneskin which will improve your resilience.
But a spell that I hadn't first thought of that could work really well here is Hallucinatory Terrain. It is a spell that requires an Investigation check (which, since a lot of creatures have a poor Intelligence stat, means they don't pass particularly well) to ignore the illusion, but that means that 1) it's an action for the turn to avoid it, which is nice, and 2) there's a non-zero chance that they fail the check, and thus still treat it normally, eating into actions on future turns to bypass it. So this can be a really good choice.
5th Level: These spells are generally very good for druids, and a lot of them are still useful for us here. Spells like Greater Restoration, Wall of Stone, Awaken, Antilife Shell, and Tree Stride are all still really good, and your conjure and summon spells are also still great by this point. But you also get access to Mass Cure Wounds, which is a great healing spell for you to take, as you can hit multiple targets with a 3d8-1 heal, which is anywhere from 2-23 points of healing (which is less than normal, but still good).
While I generally like the spell, I don't recommend Scrying: you'll fail a lot.
6th Level: Ah yes - we're getting to powerful spells now. You'd be surprised how many of these spells don't require a saving throw or a spell attack, so you don't feel the crunch as much on this one. Favorites at this level include Conjure Fey, Druid's Grove, Heal, Heroes' Feast, Move Earth, Primordial Ward, and Wind Walk. The vine option for Druid's Grove is subpar because the Entangle spell requires a saving throw, but against the right foe this could still be useful.
7th Level: The spells start constricting here, so there aren't a lot of good options, but at the same time you only get one slot each day, so you don't need that many. Mirage Arcane is a great utility spell, and with Regenerate you get a reliable healing spell that can also fix missing limbs, digits, etc.
I'm also going to recommend a damage spell, and that is Fire Storm. It does require a Dexterity saving throw, but with 7d10 fire damage, even if the target passes the save, they are still taking a lot of damage. I'd probably opt to boost a summon spell, but if you were looking for some high-end area damage, this one is pretty decent.
8th Level: Not a lot of great options at this level, but there's two I'll recommend: Animal Shapes as a way to add extra HP (and some useful attacks and abilities) to allies, and, even though it involves a saving throw, Feeblemind. This spell invokes an Intelligence saving throw, which, as we mentioned, is generally a lower stat for most monsters, so there's a better chance you pass. But in addition, the psychic damage done by the spell comes before the saving throw, so that's a guarantee.
In addition, though, if the target fails the saving throw, not only does it reduce the target's Intelligence to 1 (so it also makes it harder in the future to pass the saving throw), but the target can only repeat the saving throw every 30 days. That...is a long time between saves, and if they fail it remains. So that's huge. I feel like it's worth the risk of them passing the save outright, as you at least did the psychic damage, and at most you dramatically take a sorcerer, cleric, etc. out of action for a long time.
9th Level: Druids only get access to four 9th level spells, and in truth all of these are good to take, even though one of them requires various saving throws (as most of the effects do straight damage or apply a straight effect). I still feel like boosting a summon spell is a better call, but at least you have that option available in case you want it.
So with the spells considered, we should next discuss Wild Shape, starting with the fact that if you play a Circle of the Moon Druid you won't feel the effects of a low Wisdom score as much as other druids will. Since moon druids spend more of their time in Wild Shape than other druids, their spell suite can be a bit more niche than other druids as they will not use them as often in combat.
Now, at the same time, moon druids tend to use Wisdom for scouting in an animal form, and they maintain their Wisdom (and other mental stats) while in beast form. So it's not that moon druids don't feel the loss, but they kinda don't feel the loss as much as other people do.
For the rest of the druids out there, you're probably using your Wild Shape more for utility anyway, so you can probably use your normal shapes even with a low Wisdom. The big thing to remember is that you'll want a creature that gets advantage on perception checks if at all possible, as you're working with a lower innate Wisdom score. So if you need a sneaky creature, you might consider a weasel over a spider, for example.
And this brings us to considering what other stats you can bump up because of your Wisdom being so low. You can have a really high Constitution and Dexterity because we don't need a high Wisdom, increasing our resilience and offensive capabilities by maxing out our armor bonus while not in beast shape, and using a ranged weapon to deal higher damage to the target (though you don't get Extra Attack, so keep in mind that you'll fall behind the damage curve starting around 5th level).
It also means that, if you wanted to be a high Intelligence druid who studies plants and animals (Nature), you can probably do better at those checks than your average druid, as you'll have a higher Intelligence score than your average druid.
On the opposite side, you can also afford to go a lot higher on Strength than most druids, as you can still use Barkskin for your resilience, go two-handed on a spear or quarterstaff, and max out your Strength (or play a dwarf and gain proficiency with all axes and swing a battleaxe on the enemy). Most druids max out at AC18 anyway (and that assumes you have a shield), so if you have an AC16 from Barkskin you are basically already at the max for druids but with a much higher damage output.
So lots of options here - because druids typically have to go so heavily into Wisdom, they don't even really think about their other stats until around 12th level. This build opens you up a lot to focus on other things because what is typically most important to you doesn't matter as much anymore.
I really enjoyed this build; I hadn't ever thought of Beorn and the woodland Disney Princess as being possible options from the same build, but as it happens, here we are. I love how versatile this is, changing up the standard spells you take to add some extra options and flare.
In our next post in this series we'll be looking at the low Charisma warlock, which means we will definitely not be building a hexblade. So stay tuned!
Until next time,