One of the most often played classes of the Dungeons & Dragons pantheon is the Druid. Based upon the historical priests of the same name from Celtish antiquity, the beliefs and practices of these real-world members of this ancient Order of mystics share a great many similarities with other tribalistic societies throughout the ages.
Native American culture had their own such versions of nature worshiping religious figures. In shaping the values and traditions of their peoples, their beliefs in magic and the spiritual truths about the world around them infused their lives with many of the concepts that their Druid and Shaman role-playing counterparts are synonymous with.
In looking at the various incarnations of druids throughout the editions of D&D, and especially with the newest playtest for DND Next still in alpha phase where so far the druid is absent (although I can certainly attest to the power of the Barbarian), I thought it might be nice to inject some real-world sensibilities into the Druid class, accompanied by a Native American perspective. Regardless of the edition of D&D these mostly cosmetic additions should be an interesting flavor to your gaming experience. They’re certainly not meant to imbalance your game hence the bonuses offered in the descriptions should only be a single point, or at most two. Hopefully these ideas will provide you and your table some added layers of character nuance. Use them, enjoy them and- Game Forth!
Item Cost: 5 Gold
Application: 10 Minutes
Consumable : Once daily
Requirement: Druid or Shaman Class
Most shamans and druids the world over utilize body painting to connect with nature and to represent the primal forces they wish to tap into. Tied to ceremonies and specific rituals for healing, sending and prophesying, different patterns and colors constitute different boons your typical practitioner seeks to be granted with. The styles they adopt are generally particular to the gods, spirits or animal protectors they wish to commune with.
Amongst the different tribes of North America, there were similar ideologies around what each color and marking meant, but the exact interpretations were often regional and quite specific. By having your druid character apply paint to their visage, perhaps in the morning before dawn or perhaps beneath the stars in front of a roaring campfire, small boons may be teased out of the spirit and shadow world to aid the practitioner in their daily struggles. Based on the particular patterns and colors a druid may gain a bonus to a single check, an attack or receive temporary health from applying their comportment with the essence of the primal energies that surround them.
Ability: Cantrip, Ritual or Supernatural Ability (Su)
Requirement: Druid or Shaman Class
The practice of religious ceremony amongst the tribes of North America was universally accompanied by song and dance. Through rich oral traditions, the entire community of a tribe or neighboring tribes could engage in these affairs that were tied to significant events in their lives. Through such expression their faith could be experienced by the entirety of their peoples. Usually occurring within sacred circles, dances and hymns were a means of rejuvenating their connections with one another and strengthening the harmony with the natural world. These events were facilitated by the tribes spiritual leaders who infused the scenes with chanting and drumming.
A druid party member, while not necessary demanding their brethren to take part in such a celebration, nonetheless has the potential to inspire renewed faith and determination in her allies. Although not as potent as the soothing words of a bard, or as commanding as the inspiring words of a warlord, a druid may mix her chanting with just enough primal energy to restore her companions with a bit of strength from the very land around her.
By chanting sacred hymns that may typically last several minutes a druid has the potential to restore the health of her nearby allies. For all those who hear her song, a small allotment of hit points, perhaps only a maximum of four or some variable amount thereof are restored. Additionally a druids chanting may grant a second chance on recovering from certain small effects a party member is under, such as nausea, fatigue, persistent damage, a mild poison or staving off the effects of a disease.
Of course gaining the ability to affect her allies with chanting generally should come about as a boon to the player through storyteller discretion, perhaps a gift from a primal entity, or small quest that has significant importance to the land a druid calls home.
While not as powerful as true magical items, charms offer minor effects that primal druids and shamans can carry with them to gain small protections and insights against the world and its dangers.
Created by the druid himself, charms are designed as a means to focus the primal energies that the worshiper communes with and are infused with these primal spirits who then act as guardians and protectors to the worshiper.
While not intelligent in their own right, the spirits tied to these charms are disposed towards helping the druid provided they seek harmony with specific inhabitants of the natural world. For instance, a dream-catcher charm crafted from the shavings of an oak tree, plucked raven feathers and the webbing’s of a spider may be infused with spirits that demand a druid tend to these particular flora, mend a broken wing, and stay the hand of a home keeper who happens to have an arachnid roommate in their sights. Provided these interests are met, the most typical of these charms will then act as wards and seers on behalf of the druid.
Crafting cost: 50 gold
Weight: 2 lbs
Additional components: 2 raven feathers, oak shavings (5 lbs worth), spider webbing (2 lbs worth)
A druid can place a dream-catcher above or near them when they take an extended rest, and the spirits imbued in this charm provides protection over the course of that rest. Warding them against evil spirits, this charm can prevent intrusive agents from entering the druid’s dreams while they sleep.
Additionally, upon waking, the druid can become aware that such machinations took place by observing the webbings of the catcher. If malign forces attempted to enter the sleeper’s dreams, a dark tar-like substance remains in the catcher’s webs.
Crafting cost: 10 gold
Additional components: 1 rabbit foot (left hindleg)
While not unique to native North American tribes, this quintessential charm gifts its creator with the small amounts of luck believed possessed by its animal patron, especially when in tight situations.
When a druid fails a skill or their attack falls just short of hitting their mark, the wearer can call upon the spirit tied to the foot to grant them an immediate bonus to the failed attempt equal to their wisdom bonus. The bearer may do this only once per day, as even a rabbits luck is limited.
While a druid will generally never know much they have failed an attempt by, a wise druid will use the luck granted by the charm in the right situation.
The most difficult aspect of this charm is gaining the trust of the spirit it is wedded to and keeping it satisfied. The foot, which has to be the left hind leg of the animal, must come from a living rabbit; hence the druid may have a difficult time binding a rabbit he or she has personally assaulted. As a result, the foot is most often stolen from a rabbit trap set up by a trapper, which consequently may not endear the druid to the huntsman.
However the charm is obtained the protection of the charm comes from the animus of the living animal, and lasts only as long as the animal is satisfied, both its living self and its spirit self, meaning that an animal who meets an untimely end at the maws of a predator are the tip of an arrow, or a druid who has a succulent rabbit stew may find their boon has prematurely come to an end, often at the worse of possible moments.
Cost: Class Option
Requirement: Druid Class
For indigenous American tribes animal companions and totem guides was not simply a spiritual concept but could determine the outcome of an individuals very destiny.
As such, the spiritual members of the tribe were typically closely bound to a particular animal, sometimes even as early as upon their birth. Once an individual grew to adulthood, their own character and the way they were ultimately viewed by the rest of their tribe could mirror in many ways the personalities of the animals they were assigned.
Within the tribal cultures of the North there were specific traits ascribed to various animals, with some being seen as more noble, cunning or protective than others. All animals though were considered possessed by particular quirks that endeared them as spiritual sponsors to the individuals they bonded with.
The following list includes traditionally less common choices for druid companions but that have a rich narrative history amongst real tribes and can be easily adapted to fit any particular setting.
Beaver – Adaptable and industrious the beaver imparts upon their human counterpart a tenacity to achieve anything, even and especially in the face of adversity. While in private, a druid who follows the path of the Beaver may be nervous, arrogant and possessive, the mask they show the world is one of practicality, stubbornness and resourcefulness. Those looking to embody the traits of the beaver as a totem animal might be more adapt at a particular Craft or have a finer eye for Dungeon building than others, a helpful trait that can prove useful to the party overall.
Buffalo – The most revered animal to Native tribes, the buffalo was a symbol of fertility and abundance. They were closely associated with the earth and marriages between humans and buffalo formed the making of many a legend. To those who are blessed with a buffalo totem, leadership and the desire to maintain the health and well-being of their fellow party members should supersede all of their other desires. As such they come to hone their Diplomacy abilities more than most druids do. In return, the druid expects a firm hand in all the decisions made by her companions.
Coyote – Most tribes see the Coyote as a trickster, a shape-changer and a clown. Yet all perceive them as crucial to transforming their worlds, both the physical and spiritual ones that surround them. Druids who are chosen by a coyote companion, as it is typically the animal that chooses the druid and not the other way around, are blessed with a pranksters mentality. Amongst their companions, these jokes and pranks can become quickly tiresome, but over time their subtle prodding is revealed to be a clever way of changing ones understanding of the world itself. As such, druids with coyote companions typically are adept at Concealing objects, being subtle and maybe even borderline Thievish in nature, but they are all adept at talking their way out of bad situations, which invariably they are oftentimes the culprits of its making. However, every party ultimately comes to not only accept but value the odd wisdom imparted upon them by a coyote druid among them.
Elk – Blessed with stamina, an air of nobility and pride, a druid who takes on an elk companion is nonetheless somewhat aloof. Hard-headed at times, they display great courage and unfailing devotion, and are usually the last to seek out aid when in distress. However, even the prideful elk realizes that the cohesiveness of the party comes first, and while not always vocal about it, they always rise to any adverse challenge presented to them. To the elk druid, their ability to Endure any adversity and remain stoic is a badge of honor.
Horse – Swift and elegant, those druids who walk with a horse companion take the animals traits as valued lessons. A horse’s spirit can be both wild and fully domesticated and this duality between the life of the tribe and the desire to run free courses through these druids’ hearts. Ultimately they see the necessities of their group as the price of companionship but are always quick to find time for solitude, where their wild tendencies can be unleashed in their fullest. A druid whose totem is the horse generally places greater emphasis on Athletic and more physical skills than most.
Spider – Cunning, patient and an architect of great and deadly traps, those druids who take a spider as a companion are a much quieter, manipulative breed than their more outspoken brethren. The simple fact of choosing a giant insectoid creature as their personal guide tends to favor these druids towards more tactical concerns. Hence, intellectual pursuits like History, the Arcane arts, Forbidden or Forgotten Lore or even Religion may be a suitable passion that these druids have, quite counter to their primalistic natures. Yet these pursuits do not distract them from seeing the world as still inherently animalistic, and their more mental understanding of this can prove to be a very powerful weapon for any party to have.
Websites detailing some typical Native American Symbolism: