In writing 30 Druids I was confronted by a large number of hcoices and possibilities I had never considered within the druidic range. Though space and numbers constrained what I was able to add to that specific 30 submission, it gave me a notion to further explore the nature of being a druid and how that can be extrapolated away from the long-bearded Britons in green robes and the Standard Green Druid (SGD from here on).
A Touch of Historical Accuracy
Druids were the priestly caste of the Celtic, or Keltoi peoples indigenous to central and northern Europe. As such they venerated spirits of the sun, moon, forest, fire, and animals. They and most of their culture were displaced or forcefully assimilated by the Roman empire and their culture. The British Isles were the last hold-out of the Celtic traditions, and most druidic images are generally associated with the Isles.
For further reading on historical druids:
For reading on present day druids:
Druids in Popular Gaming Culture
The position of the Druid has not quite followed the role of the historical druid, but neither has it ventured too far from it’s roots. A few basics remain constant from system to system, and game to game; the ability to heal, cummunion with nature, and ability to shapeshift into animal forms, and the limitation of wearing no metal armors. This forms much of the basis for the SGD, or Standard Green Druid. This chap is quite familiar being at home in the woods, preferring to be alone, tending plants and injured animals and guiding people through his domain. A few other guises have the druid playing the role of the curmudgeon, decrying the vandalism of civilization on the face of nature, but remaining a rather decent fellow.
As a whole, a druid is a member of a larger though nebulous Druidic Heirarchy. This organization lacks strict ranks, titles, and positions, even a defined area of control. The organiztion will have a nature oriented name, such as the Council of Oaks, the Verdant Order, the Brothers to Bears or some other moniker that denotes their primary focus.
The leader of a given organization bears the title Heirophant, also called an arch-druid. this is an informal position granted to the most influential, and usually eldest and wisest of the druidic elders. Functionally a meritocracy, the position of Heirophant is neither elected, nor hereditary, but can be passed from one elder to another with a general consensus. Most Heirophants will hold their tenure until they are too old and infirm to hold the duties associated with being the first among druids. Like Popes, heirophants tend to hold their seats for decades before relinquishing them.
Beneath the Heirophant are the Elders, those druids who have been involved with the organization for the greater part of their adult lives. Generally grey-headed and long of tooth these are the teachers of the younger druids, as well as the lorekeepers and such. The switch from being a normal druid to becoming an elder isnt a matter of reaching a certain rank, or being appointed by another elder, it is a matter of general consensus. You are an elder when you become one, as an adage could go.
The bulk of the druidic order are going to be rank and file druids. Most fantasy SGDs fall into this category. Initiated into the mysteries of nature worship and the spirits of the spirit world and such, Druids are the analog to priests, preachers, pastors, rabbis and the like. In the case of PCs, this is the rank of druid most commonly encountered, and in the case of PC druids, their basic starting rank.
Beneath the druids are the Ovates, or initiates of the Orders. These men and women, often still in their teens are being trained in the basics of druid lore, instructed in herbalism, animal handling, and the like. Most often an Ovate will be paired with a senior druid to serve as a mentor to the youth.
Duties of the Druid
Much like a traveling priest, the Druid tends to his flock across a large area without benefit of a central structure. While many druids tend sacred groves, these are more a part of the inner mysteries and forbidden even to the folk who follow the druidic ways who are not druids themselves. Rather, the druid is a traveler, a messenger of his Order. in a basic tribal, or near tribal society such as scattered bands of forest dwellers and such, the druid is the spiritual leader for the people. This comes mainly in the form of providing guidance and council to those who ask, reading omens and interpreting signs and omens and officiating ceremonies to celebrate the nature spirits and such. Unlike a priest, druids are unlikely to deliver sermons, preach of hellfire and damnation, or rouse their flocks into religious wars. Their main concerns are honoring the nature spirits and guiding their druidic folk to do the same, while also protecting the basic harmony of nature by limiting man’s impact on it.
Druidism and the Enviroment
By no means are Druids isolated to the leafy confines of the forest. Nature is everywhere, and by default if there is a culture to support them, druids can be everywhere also.
Druids of Stone - Residing in mountainous areas, these druids are in tune with the spirits of stone and sky, the mountains and the creatures that live there. In a less than forgiving climate, these druids are much more likely to be part of barbarian tribes and will be stronger in survival skills and tracking than plant skills and herbalism.
Druids of Decay - Not all druids worship the growing of life, some will invariably dedicate themselves to the other half of the cycle, death and decay. Found in fetid swamps among equally fetid swampfolk, druids of decay will be well versed in poisons, fungus, and the wet and noisome works of rot and decay. Unlike necromancers, these druids follow the natural order of decay that feeds back into the cycle of life, rather than the unnatural sorceries that raise the undead and rip living essence from things.
Druids of Sand - The ocean is a vast area of life, and there will be druids well versed to the movement of the tides and the songs of fish shoals. A variation of this idea is the Druid of Coral, a druidic caste for merfolk and aquatic species. The water aspected druids would be capable swimmers and understand the motions of moon and wave to support their communities of fisher folk.
Druids of Grass - Inhabiting the vast plains, the grass druids are trackers and hunters, protectors of the great herds and a watcher of weather for the plains folk under his guidance. While not at home in a forest, the grass druid will have many of the same basic skills as the SGD.
Druids of Towns - While uncommon, the idea of an urban druid isnt quite new. this caste sees the town/city as a living organism equal to the forest or mountain, in need of it’s own harmony. These druids will seek to have better planning in city growth to ensure the most harmonious flow of people and natural essence. A mix of civil engineer and Feng Shui practitioner, the urban druid likely represents and underculture beneather a larger ‘civilized’ faith.
The Druid as an Ally
Druids in most RPGs have some impressive combat and natural magic abilities rendering them as valuable and often potent allies. While the SGD is well represented in various forms (Allanon of Shanarra, Strider of Middle Earth) there are other incarnations of the druid that are not quite as prevelant or well portrayed.
The Beastmaster - mastering the realm of summoning and controlling animals, the beastmaster is normally unnoticed. His talents keep dangerous beasts away from the folk, and enducates the folk with the proper methods for avoiding dangerous animals and how to have better kinship with those that arent so dangerous. The beastmaster has a natural kinship to animals wild and domesticated, and likely has a good number of animal hangers-on.
The Hunter - Nothing about respecting nature means that the druid is a pinecone munching tree-hugger. Nature provides for the hunter just as it provides for the hunted and this druid is a stalker, trapper, and hunter. While magic skills might be lacking, the physical abilities and combat skills are likely to be a match for most basic martial character types.
Druids as Antagonists
Not all druids are going to be friendly. In fact most druids are going to be rather hostile towards outsiders and strangers. The land can only support so many mouths and most outsiders tend to not come from druidic traditions. In this arena, the druid becomes an enemy to the characters and a foil to the progressionist of civilization.
The Beastlord - Much like the beastmaster, this druid has communion with beasts, but unlike his friendly counterpart (Dar!) he leads his host against those who would civilize the ‘folk and settle into the druids claimed territory. While one end of the spectrum has the druid eating through the towns grain supply with summoned vermin, the other end is the wurmcaller who’se magic draws reptilian giants, kin to dragons, to destroy the towns and holds of audacious ‘settlers’. As a foe, the Beastlord has strong combat skills, plus a host of supporting druids and combative folk, and not to forget, but the beasts of the land and sky. It is hard to keep secrets from a lord who has songbirds and rats and spies.
The Poisoner - Nature concocted poison long before man sharpened his first pointy stick, and the Poisoner carries on this tradition. As an assassin, the poisoner carries the judgement of nature to those who would desecrate it. While the Beastlord relies on brutal power and bloody battles, the Poisoner is an infiltraitor who insinuates himself within the ranks of the enemy to eliminate those who are in charge of expansionist colonization and exploitation of resources. A canny foe for a more intrigue based game.
The Luddite - The biggest weakness of the Folk is the relative lack of metal and metal goods. A nature reverent society isnt going to have the mining and smelting operations needed to produce iron and steel goods in quantity, hence why most druidic weapons are wood, antler, stone and bone. The Luddite sees the advances of civilization as blasphemous and in turn raises his hand against the tools of the settled. The Luddite druid and his folk would likely oppose magic, systematic agriculture (plows, harnesses, grain silos) and the entire process of drawing metal ore from the ground to turning it into finished goods. While one aspect of the Luddite can turn the other cheek and avoid the magic and technology, the other aspect seeks it out and destroys it with nature magic and force of will.
The Eco-Terrorist - Much akin to the Luddite, the Eco-Terrorist opposes not the tools of society, but society itself. A saboteur, this druid fouls crops, releases livestock or places pox on them, and can range from being a general nuisance (weeds in the corn, AGAIN!) to a general threat (Carnivorous plant in the well) to a major danger (green mold spores wipe out another village).
Far from just the standard green druid, the druid himself has a wide possibility for personal abilities, natural preferences, and role as ally or antagonist. it is my sincere hope that after reading this, you the reader will come away with a few new ideas for druids that you didn’t have when you started reading.