By: Mahrin Skel

    At first glance, the Druid doesn't look that attractive. I mean, everything a Druid can do, some other class can do better. Clerics have better defensive buffs and healing, Wizards have more efficient and harder-hitting Direct Damage spells, Shamans get the offensive buffs and Enchanters get the mind-blowing spells. And let's not even try and compare Necro and Magician pets to Druid's. Druid versions of all of these are generally inferior and limited.

    So why be a Druid, if you're not the best at anything? Well, a variety of reasons. For starters, there is one thing that Druids are better at than anyone else: Travelling. Camouflage at 5th, Spirit of the Wolf at 14th, Teleports starting at 19th and Group Teleports starting at 29th, nobody is better at going from Point A to Point B than the Druid. We're the Masters of the Outdoors, and guess where travelling happens? Enchanters make you wish you were dead, Bards are the life of the party, Shamans make you feel better about yourself, Clerics are a dead man's best friend, Magicians and Necromancers make their own friends, Wizards go boom-boom, and Druids go everywhere.

    There are fewer Druids than most spellcasting classes. Being outdoors oriented when the best loot, XP, and toys are in the dungeons doesn't appeal to many. But, I've never met a Druid that didn't like being a Druid. I've seen Wizards that were disappointed in the shortness of their spell list, Fighter-types that are unhappy with the quality of their equipment, just about every other class suffers from "The grass is always greener" Syndrome. But Druids are like little kids on Christmas morning, pointing at all the neat toys Santa Geoffrey left under the tree. After all, it isn't so bad being the acknowledged Master of 75% of the zones in the game.

    If the Druidic tool kit is short on big hammers, it certainly is not short on screwdrivers, wrenches, etc. Druids get at least one of every kind of spell in the game, from Damage Over Time to Invisibility. You name the situation, they have a spell to match, the Druid is never left going "What can I do?" Say what you like, nobody does flexibility like a Druid.

    Of course, flexibility doesn't mean anything unless it helps you *kill* something. You have to kill things to make levels, you have to make levels to get the next Rank of toys to play with. What can the Druid do that actually lets him make levels, and how does he do it?

    Outdoors, just about anything he wants. Tracking, Camoflage, Spirit of the Wolf, decent offensive spells and reasonable healing, in the wild spaces of Norrath you have no equals. You can join any party and be an asset, or you can go off on your own and be a party of one with few problems. Now, for RP reasons you may find it hard to bring yourself to kill normal animals, Elephants and Bears and such, but if you don't get over that leveling is going to be much harder. Not impossible, but definitely more difficult. Kill Elementals every chance you get, though, you've got better spells for them and there's no RP consequences to these violations of the Natural Order.

    In the Dungeons is where you pay for that. Spirit of the Wolf, Camouflage, some of your better offensive spells, and for all practical purposes your Tracking skill, stop being effective or working at all. In dungeons you have one thing going for you, however: You can fill in for either a Cleric or a Wizard. A party might be a little better off with a "real" Cleric or Wizard than with you, but they are much better off with you than with nothing at all. You can Heal, you can Buff, you can finish off "runners", you can act as artillery and call down AOE spells. Just don't try and do it *all*. Nobody has that much mana, figure out what your party needs, a Cleric or a Wizard, and play like one.

    Druids are very good at Soloing, staying solo-viable much longer than most classes. When you start out, you'll depend mostly on melee, reserving your mana for that little extra push to kill off a mob and for Healing after a battle. For a brief period in the early teens, you can play "Wizard style", hosing all of your mana into Ignites for a fast kill. Enjoy it while it lasts, by 17th or so Ignite simply won't do enough damage to kill most blue mobs, you'll have to switch to longer battles, opening with Sting Swarm and letting the mob beat on your damage shields while you whittle them down with melee. 17th to 21st is a long haul, but the payoff is worth it: Teleports at 19 that will keep you from ever having to wait for a Ferry again, and Tracking at 20th, which will make hunting in the outdoors *much* easier.

Offensive Spells:
Although you don't get 1 every rank, you usually get 2 every other rank (10 levels). One is a straight Evokation attack spell, just about even in effectiveness with a Magician of similar level. The other is usually a "Triple Action" Conjuration, Damage + Blowback + Stun, and is *extremely* effective against Casters. You also get a *very* effective DOT spell, Stinging Swarm. Although this spell takes nearly a minute to have full effect, and you can only have one active at any given time, it will remain your "Bread and Butter" opening spell for a very long time.

Defensive Spells:
In pure defensive buffs, you do all right but not great. The "Skin like Wood/Stone/etc." series of spells adds AC and HP at about 80% of the effectiveness of the Cleric equivalents, but Druids have the best angle on "The best defense is a good offense", with Damage Shields that defend *by* doing damage. The "Shield of Thistles/Barbs/etc." series is exactly equal to the Magician damage shields, but in addition to those you have the "Thistle/Barb/etc.coat" which can be stacked with the Shields. Never underestimate the power of these spells, they have two things going for them: They increase in efficiency as the difficulty of the fight does (because the target will get hit more often), and they cannot be resisted at *all*. Keep your best Skin and Coat up at *all* times, if there is any chance you'll be fighting.

Utility Spells:
Here is where a Druid cleans up. You get nearly every utility spell you can name, from a 5th level outdoor-only Invisibility, through Spirit of the Wolf (does incredible things for your outdoor survivability), to Teleports that can take you (and at higher levels your party) anywhere in the world. Utility spells are the best spells of all, and only a couple of classes can claim as many as the Druid. Spirit of the Wolf is another spell you'll *never* want to let wear out.

You only really get one skill that is special, but that one is *very* special: Tracking. Past 20th level, it gets increasingly difficult to find mobs of the "right" level to be fighting, especially outdoors. Just in time for this, Druids get Tracking, which can let you home in on a mob of just the right level, rather than wandering around and hoping to get lucky. Beyond that, you get Forage at 5th, Meditation at 8th, Dodge at 15th, and the opportunity to "Specialize" in a spell skill at 30th.

    A Druid is not a second-rate Cleric or Wizard with a tree-hugging fetish. Played properly, it is one of the most enjoyable and fun classes. If you value flexibility and exploring more than toys and loot, it just might be the perfect class for you.

-Mahrin Skel