Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today we're looking at a new (and rather unique) subclass for the druid: the Circle of the Guardians. While druids generally protect the natural order and use it to aid them in their work, the Circle of the Guardians takes this one step further, marrying martial prowess to natural magic to protect the Material Plane (or whatever your world calls the natural world) from extraplanar forces. So it's a more niche subclass, specializing in fighting fiends, demons, and other extraplanar creatures (whereas most druids are equally effective against any kind of creature).
If you are preparing to jump into Descent Into Avernus or a similar style campaign, definitely check this subclass out. We will start with the theme and background for the subclass, and then jump into its abilities.
I. Circle of the Guardians: Theme and Inspiration
Based heavily on the druids from Terry Brooks's Shannara Chronicles, The Circle of the Guardians is a druid conclave that looks past the petty squabbles of kings and forest clearing lumberjacks to the greater threats to nature: demon lords, fiendish armies, archfey, and rogue celestials that threaten your home world.
In Brooks's universe the druids have waged constant war to lock away evil, relying on a combination of both magical power (like most druids wield) and martial skill (which is generally less common among druids). So we want to make sure this druid is combat-capable both with and without spells.
We don't just want this to become an Oath of the Ancients Paladin or a caster-heavy Ranger, though: we want a flavorful subclass that still embraces the druid flavor that draws players to run them, giving useful abilities that will help the caster in and out of wild shape, and in and out of combat.
Here's the trick, though: we also don't want this to become, "The Moon Druid, but Better," so this led to some design questions regarding how wild shape would be used for this subclass. It's worth noting that, from a legal standpoint, we can't employ any of the tricks like they do in the Spores and Wild Fire Druids in recent books of using your wild shape for something unique as the wording for those falls outside of the Wizards of the Coast Open Gaming License (or "OGL"), so we will not be using those concepts here (cool as they are and useful as they would be). Instead we've opted to just leave wild shape mostly alone save for a few features that use banner language found in the OGL.
We also wanted to make sure you unlocked progressively better abilities as it goes on, as I'm somewhat disappointed with a lot of the high-level abilities for various subclasses (and classes, for that matter). So we wanted to keep the powerful stuff for later in the build so that you feel truly epic as you become one of the most devoted and experienced of the guardians of the world.
So with this in mind, let's look at the subclass.
II. Circle of the Guardians: Mechanics
You can find the details of the subclass here, easily printable for your game master to consider if desired thanks to the team at Homebrewery. Starting at 2nd level when you take the subclass you get two benefits: you gain the effects of Protection from Evil and Good all the time without it using your concentration as long as you are conscious (so aberrations, celestials, fey, fiends, etc. get disadvantage on attacks against you, they cannot possess, charm, or frighten you, etc.), which allows you to combat those creatures more effectively. This is especially useful since you will typically only have one good mental stat (Wisdom) and that stat carries over to your wild shapes, so you should be saved from a good number of saving throws outright with this ability.
It doesn't work once you go down or are asleep, so keep that in mind. But otherwise it's great.
The second thing you get is a cantrip from the cleric or sorcerer spell lists (so good access to various damage spells, or a way to pick up Guidance if you haven't grabbed it yet), and you gain proficiency with all martial weapons (which you did not have before), so this means you have a wide range of options for what weapon you will use.
At 5th level you gain a the Extra Attack feature, which is huge in that it allows you to capitalize on being a druid that doesn't go into wild shape as often as the Moon Druid, but also doesn't get Natural Recovery to recover spell slots like other druids. If your wild shape has multiattack it replaces this feature (so you can still get 3 attacks off of a sea lion, for example), and if it doesn't have multiattack you can still use the feature, so yay for Dire Wolves with 2 attacks once you get high enough in level. This helps to keep the beast wild shape more useful during combat, but like most non-Moon Druids you will probably still use your wild shape for utility most of the time.
At 6th level you gain increased resilience to negative effects that target your mind, as you gain advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws. This should help to keep you from being banished, having your brain taken over and/or replaced by a creature, or similar abilities (and again, you still have the benefits of Protection from Evil and Good active against extraplanar beings as well).
At 10th level you gain added damage of a natural variety when dealing damage with your weapons (so you can have lightning on your hammer, or a cold steel blade, or whatever you like each time you deal damage), and you also add an additional die of damage to your damage cantrips. This is only cantrips, so it's not going to make your area damage spells overpowered, but it does help to keep your cantrips a bit more relevant as the HP of your enemies climbs higher and higher.
And then finally at 14th level we get the capstone: a lot of monsters at these levels are getting resistances and immunities to damage, and against extraplanar beings you ignore their resistances and treat their immunities as resistances instead. This is huge, as it allows you to actually deal damage where otherwise the creature would be perfectly fine. Again, this only applies to extraplanar beings (so you're not getting anything against a dragon unless it's an aberration, fiend, etc.), but when you face these kinds of creatures, boom: really useful ability from a high ranking member of the circle.
Do I think this is better than the Moon Druid? No - the Moon Druid is so hard to kill so early in the game, and takes advantage of the druid capstone ability more than any other druid by far. I think it's a decent choice alongside other options if you're not as interested in just being a summoner or a back rank spellcaster, so if you want to have fun hewing through foes with useful abilities and standing tall against the darkness, may I recommend the Circle of the Guardians.
Until next time,