D&D 5E Wildshape with Spell Slots

TheHand

Adventurer
So in an upcoming game, one of my players wants to play a Druid inspired by the movie (Honor Among Thieves). I remember seeing some discussion a month or two back where someone proposed using spell slots in place of a class resource in order to Wildshape, and that got me thinking. I think this theoretical druid used spell slots to also turn into more powerful forms, so for example a Level 1 Spell Slot might let you turn into a CR 1 creature, and a Level 3 Spell Slot might let you turn into a CR 3 form.

I'm willing to try to homebrew this as a druid subclass 'replacement' for Circle of the Moon, but before venturing into the unknown I thought I would see if anyone has already tried something like this, and if they had, what kind of experience they had with it. Any pitfalls, balance issues, suggestions?
 

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Stormonu

Legend
Preface: It’s clear the characters in D&DHat are experienced, not 1st level characters. Talking with my son, and seeing their NPC stats, we calculate they’re about 10th-12th level ability. In the big chase scene, Doric not only uses her 2 wild shapes, but uses her 4th+ spells for additional changes via polymorph (and we see the villainess use a couple polymorphs to give chase too). Overall, that counts for all seven of her shapechanges.

That said, I still think allowing the Druid to give up spell slots for transformations is something that should be possible.

With 1st level spells, we see summon familiar under arcane spells. For the Druid, that should be sufficient that if the druid burns such a slot they should be able to replicate a “scout” class shape - about CR 1/8.

2nd level spells we see Alter self and Summon Beast spells, the latter looks like about a CR 1/2 equivalent.

3rd level sees spells like Conjure Animals, which can get you a beast of up to CR 2.

4th level gives you access to Polymorph, which gives you access to beasts of CR equal to your level (though, really, it should be fixed at CR 7, with “at higher level” to get better forms - somehow the team skipped/missed that).
 
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TheHand

Adventurer
I'd love a Druid that could cast my morning Goodberry and use the rest of their spells on wildshaping.

Please, keep tuning this, and then get it on the guild or somewhere else I can toss you money
I appreciate the encouragement, but I don't think I'm a dedicated enough soul to make the pdfs. However, I'm happy to share what I've got and if anyone wants to take this and run with it, they have my blessing.
 

TheHand

Adventurer
Thanks for all the input! It was very helpfully.

Here's a rough look at what I've come up with. Disclaimer: My group is pretty casual, so I'm not too worried about optimization, and I don't realistically think this game will go past Level 7-8, so I didn't bother to map out higher level features.

This hack is meant to work as a druid subclass that echoes Circle of the Moon, so the CR's and power levels of wildshapes are meant to roughly fall into place with what a Moon Circle druid could do. Also, since these druids will be using their own HP instead of the creature's HP, I'm being less strict with the CR values. To make up for not getting to use a creature's HP, I'm giving the druid some Temporary HP each time they wildshape.

For Beast Forms, I'm going to craft some templates (in the spirit of Conjure Beast, Find Steed, as per the suggestion above from @Quickleaf), rather than use monster stat-blocks. As we all know, the beast stat blocks are all over the place in terms of capability and are fairly limited, so I want to bring both versatility and parity to them... they're still a work in progress.


Lingering questions:
-Are the temp hp values I assigned for wildshapes fair? Too high? Too low?
-Since I'm stealing the class' core feature, Wildshape, should there be a replacement? Maybe something like the 1D&D's Channel Nature feature?

Everything is still subject to change, so let me know if anyone sees any egregious flaws with my plan...

CIRCLE OF THE WILD FLURRY

Wild Flurry Spell Shaping (Level 2)
At Level 2, when you take this circle, your Wildshape class feature becomes integrated with your spell slots and is replaced with the following Ritual and Spells:

You gain the following Ritual:

Form of the Harmless Spy
Casting Time: 1 minute (Ritual)
Range: Self
Components: S
Duration: 1 hour, concentration

You assume the shape of a small or tiny beast that you have seen before. The beast has a CR of 0. You retain your own Hit Points and Hit Dice while in this form, but all other normal rules for Wildshape apply.

And you gain the following Spell, which is always Prepared.

Wildspell Beast Shapes
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: S
Duration: 1 hour

You assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before. The statistics of this form are based on one of the following templates: Skirmisher, Brute, Swift, Aquatic, or Aerial

You retain your own Hit Points and Hit Dice while in this form, but all other normal rules for Wildshape apply. You can end this spell as a Bonus Action, reverting you back to your normal form.

When you cast this spell you gain 8 temporary hit points, which last for the duration of the spell.

At Higher Levels: The duration of the spell increase by 1 hour, the statistics of your form increase (as per template) and you gain an additional +4 temporary HP.

Note on Templates:
Cast at Level 1, the Templates should be similar in power to a CR ½ Beast. Cast at Level 2, CR 1; Cast at Level 3 CR 2, etc. Templates will not have multiattacks until cast at Level 3 or higher.

Skirmishers = Emphasize speed and attacks, with potential features like Ambush Predator, Pack Tactics, Pounce, or potentially even poisons.
Brute = Emphasize strength and heavy attacks, more temp HP. Potential features may include grapples, slows, and ‘sentinel’ reactions
Swift = Built purely for running fast. Weak attacks. Might have potential features for minimizing Opportunity Attacks or something like “evasion” or “uncanny dodge”
Aquatic = Built for being in the water, but not very effective on land
Aerial = You can fly, but will have less combat power than a Brute or Skirmisher.


Monstrous Spell Shaping (Level 6)


At level 6, all of your Wildshape form attacks count as magical for purposes of overcoming resistances and immunities.


Wildspell Monstrous Shapes
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: S
Duration: 1 hour

You assume the shape of an “beast-like” Monstrosity, Fey, Celestial or Fiend that you have studied, subject to DM Approval, with a CR no greater than 2.

You retain your own Hit Points and Hit Dice while in this form, but all other normal rules for Wildshape apply. You can end this spell as a Bonus Action, reverting you back to your normal form.

When you cast this spell you gain temporary hit points equal to its Constitution Score, which last for the duration of the spell.

At Higher Levels: Increase the CR of potential shapes by 1.

Elemental Spell Shaping at Level 10? TBD??
 


Quickleaf

Legend
Thanks for all the input! It was very helpfully.

Here's a rough look at what I've come up with. Disclaimer: My group is pretty casual, so I'm not too worried about optimization, and I don't realistically think this game will go past Level 7-8, so I didn't bother to map out higher level features.

This hack is meant to work as a druid subclass that echoes Circle of the Moon, so the CR's and power levels of wildshapes are meant to roughly fall into place with what a Moon Circle druid could do. Also, since these druids will be using their own HP instead of the creature's HP, I'm being less strict with the CR values. To make up for not getting to use a creature's HP, I'm giving the druid some Temporary HP each time they wildshape.
If you're not using the temporary hit points to determine when the Wildshape ends... I think you'd be better off cutting that entirely out of the picture.

I'd also have a conversation with your player if they are hoping to have a concentration spell in effect and then Wildshape while maintaining concentration. Examples might be barkskin, faerie fire, healing spirit, pass without trace, etc. Some of those concentration spells make for cool thematic additions to the Wildshape that would not be possible to another spellcaster using polymorph, for instance. But this really depends on play style and how high of a level you plan on going – for more experienced gamers and/or higher level games? I would probably aim for a different way to determine when Wildshape ends – maybe even requiring dispel magic / antimagic or incapacitation (e.g. being reduced to 0 hp).

For Beast Forms, I'm going to craft some templates (in the spirit of Conjure Beast, Find Steed, as per the suggestion above from @Quickleaf), rather than use monster stat-blocks. As we all know, the beast stat blocks are all over the place in terms of capability and are fairly limited, so I want to bring both versatility and parity to them... they're still a work in progress.
That's definitely one way to do it. I wasn't suggesting you needed to go to all that effort rewriting beast stat blocks, because even with the variability of Beast stats, esp. if you're going to allow emulating specific Monstrosities or other non-Beast types, the variability doesn't break anything.

Lingering questions:
-Are the temp hp values I assigned for wildshapes fair? Too high? Too low?
I question the need for the temporary HP in the first place. I'd only keep them if you're going to use a "when you have no more of these temp HP, you revert to your true form" qualifier.

-Since I'm stealing the class' core feature, Wildshape, should there be a replacement? Maybe something like the 1D&D's Channel Nature feature?
Possibly, Channel Nature could work. I think if you make what you're presenting appealing enough, there's no need.

Everything is still subject to change, so let me know if anyone sees any egregious flaws with my plan...

CIRCLE OF THE WILD FLURRY

Wild Flurry Spell Shaping (Level 2)

At Level 2, when you take this circle, your Wildshape class feature becomes integrated with your spell slots and is replaced with the following Ritual and Spells:

You gain the following Ritual:

Form of the Harmless Spy
Casting Time: 1 minute (Ritual)
Range: Self
Components: S
Duration: 1 hour, concentration

You assume the shape of a small or tiny beast that you have seen before. The beast has a CR of 0. You retain your own Hit Points and Hit Dice while in this form, but all other normal rules for Wildshape apply.
While you have locked in the CR at 0, it's unclear if the existing Wildshape restrictions – no swimming speed @ 2nd-3rd levels, no flying speed @2nd-7th levels – are still being kept in place or changed.

One thing to consider with this cantrip is side effects. Could a PC transform into a mouse to escape manacles or slip through a grapple? That's potent.

And you gain the following Spell, which is always Prepared.

Wildspell Beast Shapes
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: S
Duration: 1 hour

You assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before. The statistics of this form are based on one of the following templates: Skirmisher, Brute, Swift, Aquatic, or Aerial

You retain your own Hit Points and Hit Dice while in this form, but all other normal rules for Wildshape apply. You can end this spell as a Bonus Action, reverting you back to your normal form.

When you cast this spell you gain 8 temporary hit points, which last for the duration of the spell.

At Higher Levels: The duration of the spell increase by 1 hour, the statistics of your form increase (as per template) and you gain an additional +4 temporary HP.

Note on Templates:
Cast at Level 1, the Templates should be similar in power to a CR ½ Beast. Cast at Level 2, CR 1; Cast at Level 3 CR 2, etc. Templates will not have multiattacks until cast at Level 3 or higher.

Skirmishers = Emphasize speed and attacks, with potential features like Ambush Predator, Pack Tactics, Pounce, or potentially even poisons.
Brute = Emphasize strength and heavy attacks, more temp HP. Potential features may include grapples, slows, and ‘sentinel’ reactions
Swift = Built purely for running fast. Weak attacks. Might have potential features for minimizing Opportunity Attacks or something like “evasion” or “uncanny dodge”
Aquatic = Built for being in the water, but not very effective on land
Aerial = You can fly, but will have less combat power than a Brute or Skirmisher.
Those seem like reasonable guidelines. Looks like a good start!

Monstrous Spell Shaping (Level 6)

At level 6, all of your Wildshape form attacks count as magical for purposes of overcoming resistances and immunities.

Wildspell Monstrous Shapes
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: S
Duration: 1 hour

You assume the shape of an “beast-like” Monstrosity, Fey, Celestial or Fiend that you have studied, subject to DM Approval, with a CR no greater than 2.

You retain your own Hit Points and Hit Dice while in this form, but all other normal rules for Wildshape apply. You can end this spell as a Bonus Action, reverting you back to your normal form.

When you cast this spell you gain temporary hit points equal to its Constitution Score, which last for the duration of the spell.

At Higher Levels: Increase the CR of potential shapes by 1.

Elemental Spell Shaping at Level 10? TBD??
Am I right in reading that Wildspell Monstrous Shapes is a 3rd level spell (since this druid gets it at level 6? So if a level 7 druid upcast it at 4th level, they could turn into a CR 3 Owlbear or Displacer Beast, for instance?

I would definitely remove Fiend from this list.

I probably would reserve Fey & Celestial as expansions accessed at higher levels.
 

TheHand

Adventurer
Am I right in reading that Wildspell Monstrous Shapes is a 3rd level spell (since this druid gets it at level 6? So if a level 7 druid upcast it at 4th level, they could turn into a CR 3 Owlbear or Displacer Beast, for instance?
Yes, I think I omitted that from the description. It should be a 3rd level spell.

Thanks for all the other insights and suggestions, very helpful in balancing this subclass out!
 

TheHand

Adventurer
While you have locked in the CR at 0, it's unclear if the existing Wildshape restrictions – no swimming speed @ 2nd-3rd levels, no flying speed @2nd-7th levels – are still being kept in place or changed.

One thing to consider with this cantrip is side effects. Could a PC transform into a mouse to escape manacles or slip through a grapple? That's potent.

Good question, my gut reaction would be to omit those restrictions, but I'll think on it... I'm not too worried about this player exploiting flying, swimming, etc, but still something to consider.

As written, it's a 1-minute ritual with a somatic component, so I think if you were restrained you wouldn't be able to reasonably escape, and it would be useless in combat.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I have some experience with a similar concept (level 1-6, ongoing campaign) as a player, so let me explain what I'm playing, and the potential pitfalls we've noted.

I'm playing a soon-ish to be published new class, the apothercary. It's a bit like if an alchemist had warlock style casting (a few slots coming back on a short rest) with theories instead of invocations/infutions. One of the subclass, the mutagenist, can use its spell slots to transform into a large, bruting version of themselves - essentially "hulking up" (int and str switch, lots of temp HP, AC/speed boost, big fist damage). As you go up in level and the level of your spell slots goes up, so does the power of the hulk form. It's a lot of fun!

This character is clearly different from a druid, but I think we can see the parallels to your proposal? So here is the pitfall:

In combat, my PC is far better hulking up than doing anything else. This is true because unlike the warlock, the apothecary doesn't have a "killer cantrip" as a backup, so once I run out of spells I'm not very useful - but a slot turned into a hulking will last the entire fight. It also doesn't help that in my party my PC is the tank, so he's sort of needed jumping around making a huge nuisance of himself and punching foes.

Because of this, I almost never cast a spell outside of combat that isn't a cantrip or a ritual. I need to conserve the few precious slots I do have to use in combat. If a fight erupts and my PC is out of slots, his combat effectiveness plummets.

So that is my observation/warning: if using spell slots to attain your "combat form" works really well... you may end up with a PC that almost never uses spells! Now the short rest vs long rest-based structure of spell slot gain makes a difference, but I don't think it entirely removes the problem either.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
How about this:

Rapid Wild Shape
Bonus action spell, 2nd level
Duration: 3 hours (Concentration)

The Druid wildshapes into a CR 1/2 creature she has not wild shaped into since her last long rest. This spell may also be cast as a reaction losing a wild shape; if leaving wild shape was triggered by being reduced to 0 HP, the damage first applies to her normal HP.

The Druid has her usual limits on creature type and abilities for the shape she can enter, but this use of wild shape does not count against her uses of wild shapes.

At higher levels: If cast as a level 3 spell or higher, the CR limit is 1 plus 1 for every spell slot level above 3rd.

---

This gives the druid a lot more uses of wild shape if they want it. The ability to cast it as a bonus action or reaction is a significant benefit. It also matches the speed of that chase -- getting hit or disrupted, then transforming into a new form basically instantly. The limit on one use of a shape per long rest avoids "I'm a bear, you hit me and I become a bear, you hit me and I become a bear" which may be mechanically optimal but it is very monotonic.
 

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