Today, I will be analyzing combat tactics Archdruids from the D&D 5e book Volo?s Guide to Monsters. Archdruids are sworn to protect nature and generally like to live away from civilization with a couple apprentices and fey friends. With phenomenal Wisdom, above average Dexterity and no more Strength than a commoner, the archdruid in its natural form is a long-range spell sniper. It?s slightly above average Intelligence and amazing Wisdom lets the archdruid make very accurate assessments of how strong the party is combined, and reasonably good guesses about the strengths and weaknesses of any given PC.
An archdruid?s main goal is to get everyone to leave its forest (or whatever other piece of nature it?s protecting) alone. It prefers to accomplish this goal without violence if possible, but if your PCs are messing with an archdruid, they probably won?t be scared off easily. If the archdruid thinks they might listen to reason, it will try to approach them socially to prevent fighting. When it comes to combat, an archdruid will give its life before letting their forests fall but will consider retreating if it?s likely that they can get reinforcements.
Archdruids most unique feature is Change Shape, which lets it turn into any beast or elemental of CR 6 or lower. Like high level player character druids, the archdruid adopts the game statistics of its chosen form but can still cast spells that don?t require material components. Unlike player character druids, the archdruid can transform into all elementals that are CR 6 or lower, not just the generic 4. Also, an archdruid doesn?t get an extra hitpoint reservoir from transforming: It has 132 hitpoints and that?s it.
Even though it doesn?t get extra hit points from transforming, the archdruid?s three CR 6 forms each have features that an archdruid will want to take advantage of in combat. The Mammoth can deal massive amounts of damage with its stomp and trampling charge attacks. The Invisible Stalker grants invisibility, flying and resistance to non-magical physical attacks. The Galeb Duhr can summon additional Galeb Duhr to fight alongside it. In special situations the archdruid might choose a different form, such as a giant shark for swimming or an earth elemental for burrowing, but in general, it will stick with its CR 6 options.
Of those three forms, the Galeb Duhr is the least useful to an archdruid. It deals significantly less damage than the Mammoth and doesn?t have the invisibility or flying of the Invisible Stalker to make up for it. Its Animate Boulders feature is potent, but it requires concentration and a Conjure Animals spell cast at 5th level is almost as good. (16 CR creatures are worth 3,200 modified XP while 2 Galeb Duhr, which are CR 4 when they can?t bring other rocks to life, are worth 3,300 modified XP). It?s better for the Archdruid to gain trampling charge or invisibility and use its concentration on something else.
Between the Mammoth and Invisible Stalker, I honestly can?t say which form is better. The Mammoth deals more damage but the Stalker is much better on defense, and both can be enhanced through use of spells. If the archdruid has allies and the chance to cast Heroes? Feast before combat, Mammoth is a bit better, but in the end the choice comes down to which form you think would be more fun for your gaming group. I?ll analyze tactics for both forms, but before we can tie it all together, we need to look at the archdruid?s spell list.
Like many spellcasters, archdruids are awash with spells that require concentration. They don?t have many spells that directly deal damage and have quite a few that are useless in combat. The restriction on material components while in beast form means that an archdruid can?t cast Hold Person, Sunbeam, and Wall of Fire, after it transforms.
Druidcraft, mending, speak with animals, animal messenger, beast sense, locate creature, and commune with nature are for use in regular forest life, not in combat
Don?t require concentration
Meld into Stone and Water breathing have situational uses. . . and that?s about it
Foresight is an amazing buff that the druid will cast on itself or an important ally if it suspects a combat will happen but has too long a casting time to be used once fighting is underway. The archdruid doesn?t have the intelligence of an archmage or mindflayer, but it can make reasonable assumptions about whether those adventurers encroaching on its territory will cause trouble. If in doubt it will cast foresight, choosing an advantage in possible combat over a spell slot that otherwise won?t see much use.
A Hero?s Feast will be thrown for allies if the archdruid has significant warning
Cure wounds, Heal, and Mass Cure Wounds can be used to heal allies or the druid itself, though it probably won?t end up using Heal considering what else it can do with its 6th level spell slot. If it has multiple allies, the archdruid will keep a 5th level spell slot in reserve for Mass Cure Wounds.
Poison Spray and Produce Flame are puny compared to a mammoth?s stomp, and significantly weaker than an Invisible Stalker?s multiattack, so they probably won?t see much use.
Firestorm is the best damage dealing spell in the archdruid?s repertoire. When I first published this article, I thought that archdruids would only use it as a last resort due to the danger of burning down trees and bushes. However, as Liamnicholasnz pointed out in a comment, an archdruid can choose to leave plant-life unaffected by this spell. With this in mind, an archdruid that?s willing to kill will use Firestorm immediately after Change Shape. If an archdruid would rather leave its enemies alive, it won?t use Firestorm until its seriously wounded.
Tree Stride is an excellent escape hatch assuming that there are lots of trees nearby. If an archdruid might want to retreat and call reinforcements, it will always keep a slot in reserve for this spell. If its fighting to the death, not so much.
Animal Shapes might be the best spell an archdruid can cast, assuming it has a couple allies. This spell can turn up to 10 woodland friends into CR4 elephants or stegosauruses, greatly multiplying their hp and damage output. If the druid has 3 or more low CR allies, this spell is by far the best use of its concentration
Conjure Animals is the archdruid?s go-to spell when it doesn?t have low CR allies, or if its concentration on Animal Shapes drops. As mentioned in themonstersknow.com?s article on lizardfolk, it?s most effective when used to summon large numbers of weak creatures instead of one or two strong ones. If able, the archdruid will upcast it to 5th level, doubling its effectiveness. When cast at 5th level to summon 16 CR creatures, the archdruid can expect this spell to occupy an adventuring party of 4 for about 1.5 rounds, dealing about 40 damage
Hold Person will be up cast to 5th level to catch as many enemies as possible. However, for it to outstrip Conjure Animals in terms of damage, the archdruid needs a couple high CR allies to take advantage of the paralysis it causes.
Sunbeam is useful for ranged attacks and is especially great in combination with the Invisible Stalker. Its material component means that the druid will have to spend a turn in humanoid form before using Change Shape, but Sun Beam is worth that risk.
Wall of Fire will probably never be used. It can only be cast in human form, and isn?t powerful enough to justify exiting beast form
Entangle and Faerie Fire give advantage on attack rolls. This is completely unnecessary for a lone archdruid with Foresight and it needs some really amazing allies for these spells to be worth bypassing Conjure Animals.
Stoneskin could be used to give the druid resistance to physical damage, but with all the other spells it can concentrate on, there?s really no reason to cast this.
Similarly, Dominate Beast will probably never be used
Now that we?ve looked at spell lists, we can pull everything together and see what an archdruid will do in combat.
For its first action in combat, the archdruid casts Animal Shape if it has 3 or more low CR allies. If it doesn?t but has 2 or more allies of CR 4+, it casts Hold Person, boosted to 5th level to try and snag the whole party. If neither of these conditions is met, the Archdruid casts Conjure Animals boosted to 5th level to summon 16 CR animals if it?s planning on becoming a mammoth, or casts Sunbeam if its planning on being an invisible stalker. Animal Shapes or Conjure Animals could be cast after transforming, but the archdruid will cast them before to give its transformed allies or summoned creatures an extra turn.
On round 2, the archdruid uses Change Shape to transform into a Mammoth or an Invisible Stalker. If the archdruid wants to kill its enemies straight off the bat, it casts Firestorm immediately after transforming. After that, the tactics it uses depends on the form it chooses.
If it chooses Mammoth, it will proceed by using trampling charge to engage with an enemy and then pounding them into the ground with stomp. If it chooses Invisible Stalker, it will harry its enemies from a distance with Sunbeam if it?s active. If Sunbeam isn?t up, the archdruid will follow much the same tactics as an ordinary Invisible Stalker: dart in for a multiattack, selecting opponents that appear to have a low AC, then get out of melee reach before the end of its turn. Regardless of what form it chooses, an archdruid will use Mass Cure Wounds when allies are seriously injured (preferably before their Animal Shapes are dispelled) and will cast Conjure Animals if it loses concentration.
When an archdruid is seriously wounded (Reduced to 52hp or less) it starts to get worried. If the druid has a hope of gathering reinforcements, this is the time to cast Tree Stride and get out of there. If the archdruid is planning on fighting to the death, it casts Heal on itself if its 6th level spell slot is still available, restoring itself to nearly full HP. If the archdruid can?t cast Heal, and the party seems to be dealing less than 23 damage to it each round, it casts Cure Wounds on itself, boosted to 4th level (It?s 5th level slots should be saved for Mass Cure Wounds or boosted Conjure Animals). Once healed, it will continue fighting in the same manner it did before.
If an archdruid is seriously wounded and has run out of healing magic, it is finally desperate enough to bring out the big guns, even against enemies it would rather not kill. If it hasn?t cast Firestorm yet, it does so now, using the highest level spell slot it has left. It recasts Firestorm until its 7th, 8th, and 9th level slots are all expended (Foresight and Animal Shapes are great, but if they haven?t already been cast, it?s too late) then fights to the death, using Conjure Animals and its Change Shape attacks to the bitter end.
Powerful Archdruids are great, but what about the weaker ones? They shouldn?t be limited to what?s in the Monster Manual! To expand the horizons of how you can flavor NPC druids, I created spell lists for 7 specialities: everything from Floromancer to Stone Shaman.
If you want these spell lists, Subscribe to my email list. I?ll only be offering them until September 6th, so sign up quick!