All the hooplah about Druids?

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You know, I've been playing 3.5 core for about 10 years, been visiting these forums for most of that time, and in that time, I've heard many of you say that the 3.5 Druid is one of the most powerful core classes.  And though our group has seen many a straight druid come and go, along with straight everything else classes (We tend not to multiclass alot, we are not power-gamers, but role-players instead), I just fail to "get it".

I know this prolly should be on the optimization forum, whatever/wherever that mythical place is, but I don't care to optimize sheist.  But I'd really love to know why it seems so universally agreed that "druids can mop up the floor".  I can think of about only one instance where somebody said a high level wizard was the only better or equal class.

What playing "trick" or whatever or "cheesy cheat" didn't I pick up on?  The class seems balanced fine to me.

Neue

The base premise is that the druid, if you’re using core only books, has more options in that setting than the other classes across the most levels. Druid has average bass attack and healing magic at low levels like a cleric, a decent weapon selection, and after a few levels they gain access to wild shaping which gives them more combat options. They get an animal companion which can be pretty useful at lower levels and is essentially an extra body to control. Over all a decently built druid needs the least amount of items to make them effective and can do the most all at once, casting spells well in an animal form that gives massive bonuses to abilities and giving multiple natural attacks.

The base premise is that the druid, if you’re using core only books, has more options in that setting than the other classes across the most levels. Druid has average bass attack and healing magic at low levels like a cleric, a decent weapon selection, and after a few levels they gain access to wild shaping which gives them more combat options. They get an animal companion which can be pretty useful at lower levels and is essentially an extra body to control. Over all a decently built druid needs the least amount of items to make them effective and can do the most all at once, casting spells well in an animal form that gives massive bonuses to abilities and giving multiple natural attacks.

Basically this.  The animal companion (especially the Riding Dog, with war training) is practically a 1st-level fighter at 1st level... and it comes as a class feature.  Wild shaping + animal companion means that you get two spells for the price of one (if you're wildshaped, you can cast Animal Growth on yourself and have it affect your AC).  And, as icing on the cake, druid's the only class that gets to spam Summon spells.
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I do, however, have one last lesson on this subject. That last one? The only build in this post that can one-shot average opponents[by dealing twice as much damage as they have HP? I would argue that it is not optimized. Why isn't it optimized? Because it's overkill. Overkill is NOT optimizing. This means that there are portions of this build dedicated to damage which can safely be removed and thrown elsewhere. For example, you probably don't need both Leap Attack AND Headlong Rush at the same time. You could pick up Extra Rage feats for stamina, feats to support AoO effects, feats that work towards potential prestige classes, and so on. However, you could also shift our ability scores around somewhat. I mean, if you're getting results like that with 16 starting Strength, maybe you can lower it to 14, and free up four points to spend somewhere else - perhaps back into Charisma, giving you some oomph for Intimidating Rage or Imperious Command if you want. You can continue to tune this until it deals "enough" damage - and that "enough" does not need to be "100%". It could easily be, say, 80% (leaving the rest to the team), if your DM is the sort who would ban one-hit killers.
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I haven't played a druid, so forgive me if I'm missing something, but I know that Druids can't wear any form of metal armor (not including the Ironwood stuff). Doesn't this help to balance the class with the other cores by lowering a druid's potential AC overall, or does Wild Shape effectively bypass that problem?
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Like most of the other top-tier classes, the druid gets full spellcasting which gives up to 9th level spells, to which you add a lot of other little special abilities (including the animal companion, as Lashius has mentioned), and underneath which you've got a Hit Die with solid features (3/4 BAB, d8 hit points, two good saves, 4+Int skill points).

And then you add wild shape which not only allows you to become an effect melee combatant while ignoring your base Strength and Dexterity, but which lasts for hours, is available from a lower level than any comparable shape-changing effect, and (with the addition of a single core feat) still allows you full access to your spellcasting abilities including the use of material components and foci that are melded into your form (which is a unique benefit not available to other spellcasters changing their form).  It's additional excellence on top of the already-excellent access to the flexibility and diversity of full spellcasting.

Oh, and did I mention that the full spellcasting in question includes the ability to spontaneously cast summon nature's ally spells, providing access not only to extra allies for direct combat purposes, but (starting with summon nature's ally IV) creatures with their own spell-like abilities or spells .  Basically all the typical summoning advantages.

So you've got full divine spellcasting with built-in summoning on a solid HD base, plus a potent and long-lasting wild shape, plus your animal companion for extra utility, plus the usual scattering of other nifty little benefits that many (but certainly not all) classes tend to get.  And unlike certain other classes, such as the monk, it all fits together very nicely (at least with Natural Spell, in the case of wild shape and spellcasting).  It's a solid package of excellent abilities.
I haven't played a druid, so forgive me if I'm missing something, but I know that Druids can't wear any form of metal armor (not including the Ironwood stuff). Doesn't this help to balance the class with the other cores by lowering a druid's potential AC overall, or does Wild Shape effectively bypass that problem?

Wild shape essentially bypasses it, since any combat you enter past level 5 is probably going to involve transforming into a useful animal form.  You can, of course, get armour enchanted to still work in wild shape, but it's later on, and is just icing on the cake.

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Actually, I would say that rather than being really powerful, the Druid is just never weak, if that makes sense. Basically, they're pretty versetile since they have pretty nice spellcasting (slightly limited, nature-themed list but still full progression), an animal companion who can compete with the party melee character for output, and at later levels the ability to Wild Shape into a more devastating fighter themselves. Thus, they can bring more melee pressure to the table, and/or act primarily as a caster.


Doesn't this help to balance the class with the other cores by lowering a druid's potential AC overall, or does Wild Shape effectively bypass that problem?


Before L5, it's pretty balancing - it basically means you have to splash your cash quite a bit or be limited to +3 from Studded Leather. A secondary issue is that you can't use Mithral, so if you want to stay mobile, you need to stick with a Dragonhide Chain Shirt (+4 AC) at most. When you get Wild Shape, you don't really want armour anyway, but if your game is running from L1 and might end by L5 or shortly after, that's not going to help you.

What I mean by saying that the Druid is very solid but not "really powerful" is that there is no broken cheesy trick they use, beyond Natural Spell + Wild Shape (which is a Core, Rules-as-Intended approach) - they're just numerically good.

If the Druid just had the spellcasting (and the restrictions) they'd probably be worse than the other full casters since their spell list is worse, but the ability to cast SNA spells spontaneously would likely keep them competitive. Give them an Animal Companion who's maybe not as good as the party Fighter, but about on par with a henchman a level or two lower (and on which you can cast Personal-range spells) and wow, it's like looking at two below-par-but-not-by-much characters, which add up to more than one good one. Wild Shape is just stupid, especially with Natural Spell.

Can a Druid be beaten? Sure. Can you build a more powerful character? Probably. However, it's very hard to build a Druid wrong. Just take a Riding Dog animal companion and Natural Spell at L6 and you already have a tough character. 
I have a more specific Druidry question, but I'm going to start it as another thread. 

Thanks for the input so far.
I'd like to add that I gave a pretty involved description of the "optimal" way to play a druid in a core-only environment before level 5 in this thread. The ability score method is a bit different, but the basic premise and priorities are the same.

They're far less weak there than people think, particularly because of the animal companion - at early levels, that's what's doint the fighting, while the druid stays out of melee. The fact that they can't wear leather armor just means they have to get weaker (read: cheaper) armor; add to this their weapon choices (the best of which are free) and they'll be able to devote their starting cash to things like barding for the animal companion (possibly online by 2nd level at latest with no real dent in your own gear). This actually makes a surprising difference, particularly if the druid's hanging back.

And then Wild Shape hits, and all bets are off.

Neue, the Druid Handbook is worth browsing, just to see what's out there. Note that virtually all of that is handed to the druid on a silver platter - they get every compatible wild shape form in every book, ever druid spell in every book, and every possible companion animal in every book, all without investing a single feat or skill point. Skillwise they don't need much of anything (most would say Concentration, Knowledge (Nature) and either Survival or Spellcraft depending on the game) and they get 4 skill points per level (enough to max those skills with an 8 Intelligence; human (the best druid race by a longshot) get an extra point that they can spend on perhaps the most powerful skill ever, Diplomacy). Featwise the only thing they really need is one feat in the core books, which lets them act as caster/summoner, warrior, and beastmaster all at the same time (and even in the same round, with some spells: swift to cast, move+standard or FRA to attack, and free to direct their animal companion). 

All of this is given to a druid without any real investment, which means that when people designed feats for the druid, they had to compete with THAT. Thus, you get feats like Greenbound Summoning or Rashimi Elemental Summoning (breaks the CR system wide open) and Dragon Wild Shape (yep, 'nuff said from the name). If you're already getting a free car, then any vehicle you expect to get when you pay for something has to be at least a performance vehicle, and when everyone else is paying the same price and working up to a car in the mid-levels, you might detect a hint of imbalance here.



The PHB2 variants - shapeshift in particular - were very good at taking the druid down several notches. It's still very powerful as its casting is impressive, but at least it's no longer a clear winner at Tier One. (Switching it to use the Spirit Shaman's casting system would probably bump it all the way down to a mid-to-low Tier Two, or possibly a very high Tier Three depending on what feats or spells are available.)

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These are NOT all my creations! The lead authors are identified as follows: [TS] Tempest Stormwind, [AR] Andarious Rosethorn, [RT] Radical Taoist, [SN] Sionnis, [DH] DisposableHero_, [SH] Seishi.

[TS] The Pinball Brothers: Large And In Charge (Melee, Lockdown, Charge, Juggling)
[TS] Ashardalon Reborn: I Will Swallow Your Soul (Melee, Fear, Negative Levels, AoE, Theme)
[AR] "A"-Game Paladin: Play That Funky Music, Knight Boy! (Team Support, Melee, Theme, Single-Class)
[RT] Uncanny Trapsmith: Get in, make it look like an accident, get out. (Skillmonkey, Stealth/Scout/Infiltration, Unorthodox Methods, Theme)
[AR] Wizsassin: *Everything* is permitted. (Spellcaster, Support, Sneak Attack, Utility)
[TS] Phantom Rush: General Gish Gouda. (Gish, Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Early-Entry PrC)
[TS] Storm Knight: Another kind of gish. (Melee/"Gish", Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Unorthodox Methods)
[TS] Inevitable Nightmare: The weapon you only have to fire once. (Melee, "Unorthodox" Methods (no charging), Reliability)
[AR] Captain Constitution: The number one threat to America. (Melee, TOUGHTOUGHTOUGH, Defense, Theme)
[AR] Nuker: I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down! (Spellcaster, damage, blasting, damage)
[TS] Dread Lord of the Dead: Let the Reaping Begin! (NPC-only, Variable (combat/casting/leadership), Iconic Villain, Theme)
[AR] Heavy Crusader: No Rest. No Mercy. No Matter What. (Melee, Damage (No charging), Variable, Theme).
[TS] Gun Fu: It's bullet time (Ranged, THEORETICAL, Twin weapons, Theme)
[RT] Face First: We should talk. (Psionic, social, mind-control, info-management)
[SN] Chaingun Porcupine: Never Enuff Dakka. (Ranged, Skirmishing, Spike Damage, Incarnum)
[RT] Always On Edge: The Mortal Draw deals death. (Melee, Generalist, Dungeoneering, Stunt)
[AR] Feral Druid: Real feral taste. Zero druid calories. (Melee, offense, damage, murder)
[RT] Rusty!: Man's Best Friend (Sentry, Support, Backup, Rearguard)
[RT] The T3 (Tashalatora Triple Threat): My Kung Fu is More Powerful (Hybrid, Flex-Function, Melee, Caster)
[RT] The #1 Snoipah: Boom. 'Eadshot. (Caster, Theme, Spike, Trapscout)
[AR] Dreamblade: Rest in Pieces. (Melee, Damage, Single-Class, Combo/Momentum)
[AR] Evasion Tank: “When fighting angry blind men, is best to stay out of the way.” (Melee, Tank, Unorthodox Methods (attack negation), Theme)
[DH] Psycarnum Warrior: ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA Start (Melee, Tank, Psionics, Incarnum, 1337 h4x)
[AR] Heavy Weapons Elf: WHO TOUCHED MY BOW? (Ranged, Cohort, Damage, Unorthodox Methods (ranged ToB))
[RT] Gnowhere Gnome: A little man who wasn't there (Caster, Stealth, Single-Class, Elusive)
[AR] Uberflank: I got your back. (Melee, support, stunt, teamwork)
[TS] Flip the Bird: Everyday I'm shuffling (Ranged, harrier, unorthodox methods (ranged ToB / off-turn movement), support)
[DH] Eat Sleep Gank: Real Ultimate Power (Stealth, Assassination, Spike, Magic Versatility)
[AR] Slash and Burn: Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death. (Melee, Theme (flex-style), Damage, Stunt)
[RT] Edge of the Light: Cut, Fade to Black (Melee, Defense/Offense, Momentum, Tactical)
[RT] Quiet Murder: Cut throats, not corners. (Melee, Stealth, Harrier, Tactical)
[TS] Wand Overdrive: Say Hello to my little friends. (Caster, support/artillery/variable, wand specialist)
[RT] God Hand: What did the five fingers say to the face? (Melee/Gish, Unarmed, SAD, Theme)
[AR] Zero Buff Time Gish: Try to keep up! (Gish, Speed, Movement, Opportunity)
[TS] Robo Tackle: I Am Iron Man. (Melee, setting-specific (Eberron), positioning, theme, stunt)

[TS] Holy Fire: Just getting warmed up! (Casting, damage, theme (fire), theme (sacred), blasting)

[TS] Groundhog Mage: ♪Let’s do the time warp again♪ (Casting, stunt, setting-specific (Faerun), spell stamina / versatility, spontaneous wizard)

 

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Seishi: I think it might be fun to have a one-off [game] tuned fairly, but with the intention of wiping the party. 

DisposableHero_: if [my campaign] has taught me nothing else, it is that with this group, nothing tuned fairly will ever wipe the party

RadicalTaoist: I've been throwing **** at this group that's 5 levels over CRed in DFN, and have yet to wipe the party.

Oh, there's no denying the Druid is a competitive class even at levels 1-4 (and actually, even at L5 you only have 1 use of Wild Shape per day) but you have to approach it a bit differently. You can't just say "Oh, you have Wild Shape, so you win". Also, at that level, the armour is a deal. Sure you can hang back, but you can still get shot. Still, you're better off than Wizards and 3rd level is probably when the Riding Dog companion is best (and at L4 the Leopard is competitive).

I think the point to bear in mind with the Druid is what TS is saying (and what I was trying to get at before) which is that they don't need to be optimised. A Wizard can be monstrously powerful, but if you load up your book with Comprehend Languages and Magic Aura, you suck. A melee character can dish out great pressure, but has to be built right. Even if, as a Druid, you memorise a slew of random condition-curing spells you likely won't need and Detect Snares and Pits, your animal companion will operate just as well as that unoptimised Fighter plus your party will never get caught in bear traps again!

Not to mention the fact that the next day, you can reload with a whole different set of spells to see if they work better.
Id say a wizard is more powerful than a druid, but that a druid is easier to build powerfully. A druid just needs to take natural spell at level 6 and have a high wisdom and they can be the most powerful guy in most parties. Any further optimization is just extra. They could seriously just not pick any other feats, and be fine. 

End of the day, their animal companion is almost as good as a solid fighter, and if the fighter doesn't optimize it can probably be more effective. Thats a single class feature. They also have wildshape, which again, is better than many entire classes on its own. Also they get full spellcasting. Their list isn't as impressive as some of the other full casters, but its still better than any class without it. They have three features that are almost as good as an optimized other class, and generally better than the average PC with no optimization. With any optimization, they can easily be top dog unless the rest of the party is optimized to a very high level. 

If you ask any first time player to build a druid, and say something like "oh and don't forget to pick natural spell at 6th level" you can be competitive with most optimized builds found online and generally any build found in your paticular group. Any damage done by poor spell and animal companion selection can be undone with a nights rest or some meditation. Your feats don't really matter so any bad ones they picked become "flavor" and they may stumble on some awesome ones. Augment summoning is pretty obvious and its awesome.

Consider what happens when you ask a first time player to play a wizard.  They prep magic missle 2 or 3 times, and fireball a couple more. Ask them to play a fighter, and they will take toughness and maybe an exotic weapon like the orc double axe. 

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"

"Your advice is the worst"

Id say a wizard is more powerful than a druid, but that a druid is easier to build powerfully.

*snip*



From the Tao of Optimization:
4.
A Druid is like a Cleric:
He lacks the power of a Wizard
Yet adds in versaitility.
This is the truth
Of the CoD:
Having 300 when you need 100 once
Is not optimal.
Having 100 whenever you need 100
Is.


An optimal wizard is overkill in most cases. A stock druid doesn't need optimization to rise to the challenges that are present in those "most cases".

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These are NOT all my creations! The lead authors are identified as follows: [TS] Tempest Stormwind, [AR] Andarious Rosethorn, [RT] Radical Taoist, [SN] Sionnis, [DH] DisposableHero_, [SH] Seishi.

[TS] The Pinball Brothers: Large And In Charge (Melee, Lockdown, Charge, Juggling)
[TS] Ashardalon Reborn: I Will Swallow Your Soul (Melee, Fear, Negative Levels, AoE, Theme)
[AR] "A"-Game Paladin: Play That Funky Music, Knight Boy! (Team Support, Melee, Theme, Single-Class)
[RT] Uncanny Trapsmith: Get in, make it look like an accident, get out. (Skillmonkey, Stealth/Scout/Infiltration, Unorthodox Methods, Theme)
[AR] Wizsassin: *Everything* is permitted. (Spellcaster, Support, Sneak Attack, Utility)
[TS] Phantom Rush: General Gish Gouda. (Gish, Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Early-Entry PrC)
[TS] Storm Knight: Another kind of gish. (Melee/"Gish", Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Unorthodox Methods)
[TS] Inevitable Nightmare: The weapon you only have to fire once. (Melee, "Unorthodox" Methods (no charging), Reliability)
[AR] Captain Constitution: The number one threat to America. (Melee, TOUGHTOUGHTOUGH, Defense, Theme)
[AR] Nuker: I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down! (Spellcaster, damage, blasting, damage)
[TS] Dread Lord of the Dead: Let the Reaping Begin! (NPC-only, Variable (combat/casting/leadership), Iconic Villain, Theme)
[AR] Heavy Crusader: No Rest. No Mercy. No Matter What. (Melee, Damage (No charging), Variable, Theme).
[TS] Gun Fu: It's bullet time (Ranged, THEORETICAL, Twin weapons, Theme)
[RT] Face First: We should talk. (Psionic, social, mind-control, info-management)
[SN] Chaingun Porcupine: Never Enuff Dakka. (Ranged, Skirmishing, Spike Damage, Incarnum)
[RT] Always On Edge: The Mortal Draw deals death. (Melee, Generalist, Dungeoneering, Stunt)
[AR] Feral Druid: Real feral taste. Zero druid calories. (Melee, offense, damage, murder)
[RT] Rusty!: Man's Best Friend (Sentry, Support, Backup, Rearguard)
[RT] The T3 (Tashalatora Triple Threat): My Kung Fu is More Powerful (Hybrid, Flex-Function, Melee, Caster)
[RT] The #1 Snoipah: Boom. 'Eadshot. (Caster, Theme, Spike, Trapscout)
[AR] Dreamblade: Rest in Pieces. (Melee, Damage, Single-Class, Combo/Momentum)
[AR] Evasion Tank: “When fighting angry blind men, is best to stay out of the way.” (Melee, Tank, Unorthodox Methods (attack negation), Theme)
[DH] Psycarnum Warrior: ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA Start (Melee, Tank, Psionics, Incarnum, 1337 h4x)
[AR] Heavy Weapons Elf: WHO TOUCHED MY BOW? (Ranged, Cohort, Damage, Unorthodox Methods (ranged ToB))
[RT] Gnowhere Gnome: A little man who wasn't there (Caster, Stealth, Single-Class, Elusive)
[AR] Uberflank: I got your back. (Melee, support, stunt, teamwork)
[TS] Flip the Bird: Everyday I'm shuffling (Ranged, harrier, unorthodox methods (ranged ToB / off-turn movement), support)
[DH] Eat Sleep Gank: Real Ultimate Power (Stealth, Assassination, Spike, Magic Versatility)
[AR] Slash and Burn: Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death. (Melee, Theme (flex-style), Damage, Stunt)
[RT] Edge of the Light: Cut, Fade to Black (Melee, Defense/Offense, Momentum, Tactical)
[RT] Quiet Murder: Cut throats, not corners. (Melee, Stealth, Harrier, Tactical)
[TS] Wand Overdrive: Say Hello to my little friends. (Caster, support/artillery/variable, wand specialist)
[RT] God Hand: What did the five fingers say to the face? (Melee/Gish, Unarmed, SAD, Theme)
[AR] Zero Buff Time Gish: Try to keep up! (Gish, Speed, Movement, Opportunity)
[TS] Robo Tackle: I Am Iron Man. (Melee, setting-specific (Eberron), positioning, theme, stunt)

[TS] Holy Fire: Just getting warmed up! (Casting, damage, theme (fire), theme (sacred), blasting)

[TS] Groundhog Mage: ♪Let’s do the time warp again♪ (Casting, stunt, setting-specific (Faerun), spell stamina / versatility, spontaneous wizard)

 

Want to see how the entire group rolls?
[All] Party Optimization Showcase: Dead for Nothing
[TS/RT/AR] Optimization Article: The Flash Step
[RT] Optimization Article: Kung Fu Witchcraft

 

Seishi: I think it might be fun to have a one-off [game] tuned fairly, but with the intention of wiping the party. 

DisposableHero_: if [my campaign] has taught me nothing else, it is that with this group, nothing tuned fairly will ever wipe the party

RadicalTaoist: I've been throwing **** at this group that's 5 levels over CRed in DFN, and have yet to wipe the party.

Its more of a case of killing it harder. A druid kills everything just fine. A wizard kills it super dead. In the end dead is dead, but some people want to go to for super dead. For them there is a wizard. 

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"

"Your advice is the worst"

I would point out that while a Fighter could be better at being a fighter then a druid, and a Cleric could be a better Helaer then a druid and a Wizard could be a better powerhouse caster then a druid, that none of these can be good at all three like a druid.


A wizard will find himself at the end of a pointy sword by himself, a Fighter will eventually run low on HP and have to retreat, Which is why you see group dynamics of Fighter, Cleric and Wizard, they work best when combined. A druid can Tank, heal, cast all by himself, so at the end of a dark dungeon, Sure the Fighter, cleric and Wizard in the group all rocked, but at the end of the day the druid shakes his head and says, "I could have done all that by myself." Which is probably why we find them in the wilderness all by themselves.

A fighter generally cant be better at fighting than a druid, healing is a waste, and a wizard has no need for allies. He can summon/bind/make his own. 


In fact, a Wiz/Cleric/Druid can jump between roles as needed depending on the day. The wizard needs to invest a minor ammount of his (infinate) gold first, probably. [In the context of this conversation I was walking about stupid high levels of optimization. In general play this whole conversation is irrelavent]

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"

"Your advice is the worst"

Firstly forgive me for not quoting the post to which I intend to refer, I'm on a mobile device and formatting is nearly impossible.
    Regarding the druid armor and weapon restriction, granted Forgotten Realms isn't ”exactly” core, running a druid in the realms makes it as simple as a patron god selection (meilikki) and the restriction becomes moot at level 1, and that adds even more early combat versatility and durability to the class.  of course that also opens the initiate of nature feat as well...