D&D 5e: Circle of the Shepherd Druid Guide
D&D 5e: Circle of the Shepherd Druid Guide
Role in the Party
Druids are an exceptionally versatile spellcaster class; they fill a similar role to a wizard, except with weaker high level spells and some different standout spells. A large chunk of the standout spells on a druid’s spell list are summoning spells; from Summon Beast to Conjure Animals, druids have a wide variety of summoning options that all have a dramatic impact; some more than others.
Shepherd druids excel at two things: summoning and support, which are the things druids are already good at. This subclass will make you more straightforwardly powerful than most druids, but some summon options need to be used carefully to avoid causing trouble at your table.
The Circle of the Shepherd Druid subclass is found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Click here to pick up your own copy of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything!
Circle of the Shepherd Druid Features
Speech of the Woods
At 2nd level, you gain the ability to converse with beasts and many fey.
You learn to speak, read, and write Sylvan. In addition, beasts can understand your speech, and you gain the ability to decipher their noises and motions. Most beasts lack the intelligence to convey or understand sophisticated concepts, but a friendly beast could relay what it has seen or heard in the recent past. This ability doesn’t grant you any special friendship with beasts, though you can combine this ability with gifts to curry favor with them as you would with any nonplayer character.
A ribbon feature that’s unusually thematic for a druid: being able to communicate with beasts without using a spell slot should be something every druid gets. A free language is also handy.
Starting at 2nd level, you gain the ability to call forth nature spirits and use them to influence the world around you.
As a bonus action, you can magically summon an incorporeal spirit to a point you can see within 60 feet of you. The spirit creates an aura in a 30-foot radius around that point. It counts as neither a creature nor an object, though it has the spectral appearance of the creature it represents. As a bonus action, you can move the spirit up to 60 feet to a point you can see.
The spirit persists for 1 minute. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
The effect of the spirit’s aura depends on the type of spirit you summon from the options below.
Bear Spirit. The bear spirit grants you and your allies its might and endurance. Each creature of your choice in the aura when the spirit appears gains temporary hit points equal to 5 + your druid level. In addition, you and your allies gain advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws while in the aura.
Hawk Spirit. The hawk spirit is a consummate hunter, aiding you and your allies with its keen sight. When a creature makes an attack roll against a target in the spirit’s aura, you can use your reaction to grant advantage to that attack roll. In addition, you and your allies have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks while in the aura.
Unicorn Spirit. The unicorn spirit lends its protection to those nearby. You and your allies gain advantage on all ability checks made to detect creatures in the spirit’s aura. In addition, if you cast a spell using a spell slot that restores hit points to any creature inside or outside the aura, each creature of your choice in the aura also regains hit points equal to your druid level.
Spirit totems are excellent abilities to use on the first round of important combats, especially if your table takes a lot of short rests since you can use this ability more often. The 30 foot radius is also extremely large, so it’s easy to fit all your allies in there.
The bear spirit gives some moderate temporary hit points, but you can likely give the buff to every single ally, including summoned creatures and even the wizard’s familiar. At high levels, you can cast a Conjure X spell and then give each of those creatures twenty or more temporary hit points, making them vastly more resilient. It’s also a solid buff if an ally wants to grapple an enemy or if you suspect the enemy has strength saving throw abilities.
The hawk spirit is another solid option since it’s almost a free advantage for an ally every round, but it drops off at high levels when allies are making multiple attacks per round, and advantage on one becomes less useful. It also costs your reaction, so do not use this if the enemy has Fireball and you want to cast Absorb Elements. The duration is short, and perception checks aren’t usually made in combat, so that aspect isn’t terribly useful.
The unicorn spirit is the least impressive of the three; damage isn’t distributed evenly between party members so some of that healing will almost always be wasted, and you usually won’t use healing spells every round in combat. It is a great option for bringing up multiple downed party members with a single healing spell at low levels, but you need to have not used your spirit on something else to do this.
At 6th level, beasts and fey that you conjure are more resilient than normal. Any beast or fey summoned or created by a spell that you cast gains two benefits:
The creature appears with more hit points than normal: 2 extra hit points per Hit Die it has.
The damage from its natural weapons is considered magical for the purpose of overcoming immunity and resistance to nonmagical attacks and damage.
The classic use of this feature is to make your Conjure Animals damage magical so that you can use it to destroy high challenge rating enemies. I have seen sixteen velociraptors from a 5th level conjure animals absolutely destroy powerful enemies, and being able to ignore immunity to that strategy is fantastic. However, there are several problems with the various spells this feature benefits from:
Summon Fey and Summon Beast are both strong spells that mostly deal nonmagical damage, but neither of them has hit dice! This causes them to gain nothing from the extra hit points part of this feature. Additionally, the fey from Summon Fey uses a shortsword, which is not a natural weapon, so it doesn’t even get an offensive boost. Conjure Fey can benefit from both of these, but the tiny selection of CR 6 fey (just two hags, or three if we count the MotM reprint of one of them) makes it a less powerful spell than it may seem at first.
For the multiple creature options, Conjure Animals is massively DM and table dependent, as is Conjure Woodland Beings. I’ve seen dungeon masters let the player pick whatever creatures they want, and if this is the case, this becomes an Epic feature. If your DM bans Conjure Animals, this is a Bad feature, and there are many tables in between these extremes. On average, you can expect this to be a good feature.
Beginning at 10th level, your Spirit Totem safeguards the beasts and fey that you call forth with your magic. When a beast or fey that you summoned or created with a spell ends its turn in your Spirit Totem aura, that creature regains a number of hit points equal to half your druid level.
Your conjure animal summons are disposable anyway, so you probably don’t care too much about their survival. This won’t prevent instant death from a red dragon’s fire breath or a storm giant’s multiattack, but it may be more useful for the beefier single creature summons who can expect to survive more than one turn of attacks. You’re still not getting much out of this though, and it’s only while your Spirit Totem is up.
Starting at 14th level, the nature spirits you commune with protect you when you are the most defenseless. If you are reduced to 0 hit points or are incapacitated against your will, you can immediately gain the benefits of Conjure Animals as if it were cast with a 9th-level spell slot. It summons four beasts of your choice that are challenge rating 2 or lower. The conjured beasts appear within 20 feet of you. If they receive no commands from you, they protect you from harm and attack your foes. The spell lasts for 1 hour, requiring no concentration, or until you dismiss it (no action required).
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
A 9th level Conjure Animals is amazing, but you have the worst option: four CR 2 beasts. However, you get to pick the beasts, and it’s one hour with no concentration so that more than makes up for it.
This feature is somewhat problematic since there are obvious ways to abuse it: an ally could case Hold Person on you before the big boss fight to get your concentration-free summons, but it does specify “against your will”, so you’re in this awkward situation where out of character, you ask the wizard to use hold person on your character, who is not willing but who is presumably very forgiving of the wizard… Yeah, talk to your dungeon master before you try this.
However, if it’s used in the intended way and it triggers when you’re incapacitated by an enemy, this is a solid free summon that you can deploy when you’re in danger. Your allies probably have the resources to bring you back up anyway, so you can be in mostly fine fighting condition while you also have some free summons.
You are the master of summoning: not even the wizard can match your power. You’re not just a one trick pony since you still have all the usual versatility of a druid, as well as some very good totem buffs you can hand out. If your dungeon master is foolish enough to let you pick the creatures, you may be the strongest party member.
The spells best suited to take advantage of your core class features are wildly DM dependent. It is also a headache to manage attack rolls for all your creatures unless you have a system for quickly resolving them; I highly recommend automating the attack rolls for Conjure Animals, and I also recommend that dungeon masters pick creatures that are balanced for the table and make sense given both the resource expenditure and the relative power of other party members. None of this is a house rule since the spell leaves so much up to the dungeon master, so deploy it as needed.
It’s also hard to justify casting a lot of other spells if your summon options are so good, so you may feel like you’re doing the same thing every fight at mid to high levels.
Best Race Options
No race has special synergy with the features of this class, but there are some thematic choices, as well as choices that provide limited use bonus actions:
The Monsters of the Multiverse goblinoids all have a fey flavor to them, as do elves, but the Hobgoblin’s bonus action help action synergizes well with your limited use bonus action and has several other useful features, such as gaining a boost to your rolls a few times a day when allies are nearby.
If your dungeon master lets all summons act on your turn or at the end of your turn, which is a common house rule I’ve seen several times, Harengon’s initiative bonus will allow you to cast Conjure Animals and then reliably nuke an enemy before they can even act. High initiative helps most spellcasters even if they’re not summoning, since they can set up spell effects for the other characters to use and temporarily eliminate some enemies before they can act.
The Firbolg’s Hidden Step lets you turn invisible: it’s up to your dungeon master what constitutes “making a damage roll” to end the invisibility, but damage from summons might not count if you’re not directly doing the damage. If they allow it, you can summon and then just vanish until the start of your next turn, and if they don’t allow it, it’s still a solid thematic choice due to the Firbolg’s connection with nature.
Choosing the Right Skills
Your wisdom score is high, which allows you to be the party’s wisdom skill expert. Animal Handling and Survival are thematic choices, and Medicine may be useful at some tables, but you’ll want Perception proficiency first. Or just summon eight creatures outside of combat and have them look for things on your behalf, that also works.
Your intelligence probably isn’t great, so you may want Nature proficiency to prevent the city-dwelling artificer from knowing more about the wilderness than you. Arcana is also a sensible choice with more general use.
With Pass Without Trace, you can break bounded accuracy on stealth checks with Stealth proficiency. +15 to a stealth check will let you sneak past almost anything even if you roll a 1 on the die.
Acrobatics proficiency may be useful to escape a grapple now and then, but hopefully, the big wall of creatures between you and the enemy will prevent this situation from happening at all.
Your strongest spells are immensely powerful, and enemies will want to break your concentration. You need War Caster or Resilient (Constitution) if you want to avoid losing your army of magical creatures and having it by the time you get Conjure Animals is ideal. Resilient (Constitution) is better at high levels but can help at any level.
Metamagic Adept is an exceptionally fun and powerful feat. Subtle Spell is my personal favorite choice since it prevents you from being counterspelled and lets you use magic in secret and Extend Spell is especially strong since you can extend one hour summons to two hours, possibly letting you and your party take a short rest without losing your summons. You’ll always want more short rests so you can use your totems more often. You can also extend a 9th level Foresight from 8 to 16 hours, which lets you cast it before a long rest and then have it up in the morning, and extending an Aura of Vitality increases the total healing from 20d6 to 40d6. This is a solid feat at any level.
Fey Touched is a half feat that can boost an odd wisdom score and gives you a free Misty Step and one other spell, and lets you use spell slots on them. Druids don’t normally get Misty Step, so you will be very happy to have it for free. This feat is especially strong at low levels when you don’t have many spell slots per day and want to boost your wisdom while also gaining other benefits, and it may be the best or second best Custom Lineage/Variant Human pick.
The Feylost background is useful if you want your druid to have a strong fey connection. You already know Sylvan for free, so you might as well pick the background associated with the plane. Maybe you’ll use Summon Fey and happen to conjure your old buddy Greg the Sprite or something, and you can say hi to each other.
Don’t want to put a precious proficiency in Nature but still want your character to make sense? Take the Urchin background and say that you grew up in a city and only recently ventured into the wilderness to become a druid. You can still be good at Survival since life alone on the streets is tough.
If all you want is mechanical power, any Strixhaven background except Silverquill Initiate (no Shield spell) will do. Take free cantrips and expand your spell list and gain free casts of a spell. Simple and powerful.
One level of Divine Soul Sorcerer will give you the Shield spell, a few other leveled spells and cantrips, maintain full spell slot progression for upcasting Conjure Animals, and a very useful ability that lets you add 2d4 to a saving throw once per rest. It can be hard to get the 13 charisma without giving anything else up though. If you love metamagic and love upcasting your summon spells, you could take three or more levels after hitting level 6 in Shepherd Druid.
Two levels of Fighter will give you Action Surge so you can cast Conjure Animals and another spell on the same turn, and starting as a fighter gives you constitution saving throw proficiency and heavy armor proficiency. Be aware that you may not be a very strong level 1 character if you do this.
If you want martial capability, five levels of Gloom Stalker Ranger before taking Shepherd Druid levels will turn you into a stellar ranged weapon combatant and a powerful summoner. The half casting even contributes to your overall spell slot progression.
Would I recommend playing a Circle of the Shepherd Druid?
This can be one of the most fun and powerful subclasses out there, but you need to make sure you’re at the right kind of table before using it. A table with a lot of weaker characters or a table with a dungeon master who’s not fond of summoning are the wrong places to play this subclass because you can cause headaches for everyone or overshadow other players with your massive number of Conjure Animals attacks per round. Talk to your dungeon master before you build this character.
Remember to cast other spells every now to avoid getting bored of summoning. Summon spells are amazing, but they are not always the right solution to a problem or even the only solution to some problems that they can solve. And remember, summon spells are useful out of combat too!