D&D 5E Hack Your Druid: Alternatives to Wildshape

We just finished our Session Zero for my new campaign...it's a homebrew campaign setting based very heavily on The Seas of Vodari. It's a swashbuckling heroic adventure in the Age of Sail, in a world where Atlantis is real, dinosaurs never went extinct, and pirates rule the seas.

One of my players decided to roll up a druid, but he doesn't want to play "that same old druid everyone else plays." Specifically, he wants to get rid of the druid's Wildshape ability completely, and replace it with something else. When I asked him what he had in mind, he said "literally anything else, I hate Wildshape so much." Direct quote, no exaggeration. So obvs, I suggested one of the subclasses that would let a druid spend wildshape uses to do other things, like the Circle of Stars and its "Starry Form" ability, or the Circle of Spores and the "Awaken Spores" ability...but neither of them appealed to him. He wants to build a Shannara-style druid--one who is more in tune with the elements, feels more like a nature-based wizard than anything else.

In the moment at Session Zero, the first thing that came to mind (and which I quickly suggested to the player) is the Arcane Recovery feature of the wizard. Lose the ability to turn into animals, gain the ability to restore a handful of spell slots instead. The player shrugged and said something like "I guess that's fine, better than turning into something I'm not," so we tentatively went with that...but it was fairly obvious that nobody was really impressed with it. And for good reason, it's pretty friggin' dull.

So I'm fishing around for ideas that I might suggest to the player instead before the next gaming session. We are a clever bunch here on EN World, and I'd like to pick your brains. Does anyone have any ideas?

Awesome to hear about people running Vodari inspired themes.

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One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
I’m curious if you don’t mind me asking what you (and your player?) eventually ended up deciding on to use instead of wildshape @CleverNickName and how well did it go in gameplay?


Limit Break Dancing
I’m curious if you don’t mind me asking what you (and your player?) eventually ended up deciding on to use instead of wildshape @CleverNickName and how well did it go in gameplay?
Sure thing! I ended up creating a special subclass for his druid, called "Circle of the Sun." We traded out the Wild Shape ability for the Light Cleric's sunburst ability. Here's the crunchy bits:

Concept: a druid that can channel the radiant energy of the sun.

Circle Spells
2nd level: Word of Radiance cantrip
3rd level: Barkskin, Heat Metal
5th level: Daylight, Plant Growth
7th level: Fire Shield, Guardian of Nature
9th level: Flame Strike, Wrath of Nature

Radiant Magic
(2nd Level Subclass Feature)
You know the word of radiance cantrip. Druid spells you cast can cause radiant damage instead of their usual damage type, if desired.
Whenever you cast a druid spell while you are standing in sunlight, you can use your Reaction to regain hit points equal to twice the spell level.

(2nd level Subclass Feature)
You can spend one use of your Wild Shape ability to create a burst of radiant energy. Each hostile creature within 30 feet of you must make a Constitution save throw. A creature takes radiant damage equal to 2d10+your druid level on a failed save throw, and half as much on a successful one. A creature that has total cover from you is not affected. All magical darkness effects within this area of effect are automatically dispelled.

This part is still in development. The player wants a sunlight aura instead: no damage; he would just emit bright light in a 20' radius (dim light in another 20'), and that bright light is considered sunlight. Lasts for 1 minute, no concentration, costs 1 Wildshape use. This would let him "turn on" his other solar abilities, below. I'm troubleshooting this part right now, looking for things that it could break. It can wreak havoc on certain undead, but so far I'm not seeing any deal-breakers.

Solar Bond
(6th level Subclass Feature)
Whenever you cast a druid spell that deals radiant damage or restores hit points while you are in sunlight, you add your Proficiency Bonus to the damage or healing of the spell.

You no longer need to eat food in order to survive. One hour of exposure to sunlight provides you with all the food and nourishment that your body needs. (You still require water and rest as normal.)

Solar Emissary
(10th level Subclass Feature)
You become resistant to Fire and Radiant damage.
You are immune to the negative effects of extreme heat or sun.
You now regenerate while standing in sunlight. You automatically remove 1 level of exhaustion for each full hour that you spend in sunlight.

(14th level Subclass Feature)
You no longer suffer the drawbacks and penalties of old age, and you cannot be aged magically.
If you drop to 0 hit points while in sunlight, you can use your Reaction to drop to 1 hit point instead. Once you use this ability, you cannot use it again until you finish a Long or Short Rest.

Still very much a work in progress; I'm still working on that bit in blue text.
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Trade wildshapes for a kind of elemental metamagic so they can swap the element of a spell. Produce Fire can be turned into Produce Lightning. Thunderwave can be Ice Wave. Call Lightning can become Call Thunder, etc.

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