The recently released D&D Monsters by Type document from Wizards of the Coast points out some interesting potential wrinkles in the druid’s wild shape ability in the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Let’s take a look.
The description of wild shape says: “…you can use your action to assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before.” Note that “beast” is a specific creature type in D&D 5e. The druid’s level sets limits on the type of beast form assumed: A maximum challenge rating (CR) of 1/4 and no flying or swimming speed at 2nd level, max. CR of 1/2 and no flying speed at 4th level, and a max. CR of 1 and no movement limits at 8th level. The Circle of the Moon druid archetype increases the CR limits to druid level divided by 3 and rounded down (minimum of 1).
Given these guidelines and taking a look at the Beast table of D&D Monsters by Type, what do we note…?
Dinosaurs. Right off, the allosaurus, ankylosaurus, and other dinosaurs are on the table. Now, they’re CR 2 and 3, respectively, but a 6th or 9th level druid of the Circle of the Moon could turn into them. Sadly, turning into a T-rex would require a 24th level druid, but triceratops is available at 15th level, plesiosaurus at 6th level, and pteranodon at 8th level (because of the flying speed) – even a non-Circle of the Moon druid can turn into a pteranodon.
Giants. All of the various “giant” varieties of normal animals are on the beast list, meaning druids can wild shape into giant crabs, giant bats, or giant eagles, to name a few, so long as they qualify. Only a handful of giant animals are beyond the reach of non-Circle of the Moon druids, notably the giant scorpion and giant shark (cue the Jaws theme…).
Bugs. Likewise, a variety of insects and arachnids are also on the Beasts table, meaning druids can wild shape into giant centipedes and fire beetles, with higher levels opening up flying insects.
Climbing. While swim and fly speeds require higher level wild shape, beasts with a climb speed are fair game right from the get-go, so a druid can turn into a spider or a giant centipede to climb up walls or across ceilings.
Stealth. Similarly, there’s no size limit on wild shape so, while an ordinary mouse isn’t listed on the Beast table, a CR 0 rat is, so we can presume that a druid can also turn into a field mouse or other tiny creature for stealth purposes. In urban areas of most D&D worlds, stray dogs, cats, rats, and mice are so common as to go unnoticed, perfect camouflage. Presumably amoebas and bacteria are not classified as beasts, however, disappointing Disney’s version of Merlin from The Sword in the Stone. Still, a class variant of druid able to wild shape into diseases… (Eberron’s Children of Winter, anyone?)
Poison. Some of a druid’s potential wild shape forms are also poisonous: the giant centipede can do 3d6 poison damage, and the scorpion 1d8 poison damage, with the spider doing 1d4 poison damage. At 4th level, various snake forms become available as well.
Swarms. One of the most intriguing implications of the Beasts table is that it (and the Monster Manual) list various swarms as “beasts,” meaning—according to the wild shape description as written—it should be possible for a druid of sufficient level to turn into a swarm of rats, ravens, or flying insects! An 8th level druid can do the cool fantasy movie trope of turning into a flock of ravens and flying away, while a 6th level druid of the Circle of the Moon can turn into a swarm of poisonous snakes!
Variety. Even without some of the cool stuff above, there are a lot of options.
A 2nd level druid can wild shape into a(n): axe beak, boar, camel, draft horse, elk, giant badger, giant centipede, giant fire beetle, giant lizard, giant rat, giant weasel, giant wolf spider, mastiff, mule, panther, pony, rat, riding horse, scorpion, spider, swarm of rats, or a wolf.
A 4th level druid can wild shape into all of the above as well as a(n): ape, black bear, constrictor snake, crocodile, giant crab, giant frog, giant goat, giant poisonous snake, giant sea horse, giant wasp, poisonous snake, reef shark, rhinoceros, or warhorse.
Obviously, one of the primary controls on wild shape, other than the mechanical limits on forms, is the clause “that you have seen before.” If there’s no way the druid character has seen a pteranodon before, for example (because all of the dinosaurs in the setting live on an isolated island the druid hasn’t visited), then that shape isn’t available. Seeking out and studying some exotic beasts in order to learn their forms might even be a goal for a druid adventurer. Still, even within its limits, there’s a lot of hidden potential in the wild shape ability for players of druid characters to explore!