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The D&D movie has already inspired a full overhaul of one D&D class

A new rule would simplify druids — and, yes, you could turn into an owlbear

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

When the original trailer for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves arrived in July 2022, fans were pleasantly surprised at how joyful it seemed — especially the sequence where one of the characters shape-shifted into a white, feathered monstrosity called an owlbear to kick some ass. Rules lawyers cried foul, however, since 5th edition D&D as written would never have allowed that particular transformation. Now a new set of official playtest materials aims to retcon that continuity issue, and it’s doing it in the most player-focused way possible.

One D&D is the working name for the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons, which is expected to launch in 2024 for the game’s 50th anniversary. For the last several months, developers at Wizards of the Coast have been publicly playtesting new rules to see how they perform. These playtest materials are called Unearthed Arcana, and a new set dropped on Thursday. Inside are the proposed early playtest changes for the druid class, and it’s a massive rework of existing systems.

Why is Wizards proposing this change to the druid class? The answer is simple, says lead rules designer Jeremy Crawford. The druid is currently the least-played class in D&D, and Wizards is obligated to do something about that. Recently, designers drilled down into the 2014 text published in the Player’s Handbook and determined the druid’s mechanical flaw. Since druids can use their Wild Shape power to change into any beast with a challenge rating of 1 or lower, that means their options are spread across many, many different books — including obscure titles like Acquisitions Incorporated.

Instead of sending would-be druids to the library every time they want to cast Wild Shape, which Crawford calls an “iconic” part of the modern druid class, they’ve simplified things. New playtest materials offer the druid three statblocks to choose from — Animal of the Land, Animal of the Sea, and Animal of the Sky. Now, instead of taking on the stats of the animal they want to transform into, druids simply pick one of the three statblocks and use the listed defensive stats and offensive abilities. But, in this paradigm, it’s up to druids to choose what they look like.

So can you look like an owlbear, just like Sophia Lillis’ character? “Absolutely!” said Crawford in a YouTube video published alongside the release. Or, at least into an owl/bear... thing:

Because we even put into this new version that your form can be a hybrid form that has characteristics of different animals — like an owl and a bear. Because we also have seen over the years [...] there are druid players who want to shapeshift, but they have one thing that they want to shapeshift into. They want to be a bear, or they want to be a squirrel, and maybe once in a while something else, and don’t want to feel like they have to choose a form because it happens to have an enticing statblock. Instead now you have statblocks tailor-made for you, as a druid, and you decide what the creature looks like.

A page from the Unearthed Arcana showing the wild shape changes proposed for One D&D. Image: Wizards of the Coast

Does your small creature — say, an opossum or a squirrel — have the same stat block as a large one? At the moment, yes... yes it does. But this is a playtest, gang, and if that drives you up the wall then you’re encouraged to leave some feedback beginning March 20, when the playtest opens for fan feedback.

Of course, longtime fans of D&D can reminisce about just how absurd this all is. Weird, unique critters like the rustmonster and the owlbear look the way they do because, in all likelihood, either Dave Arneson or Gary Gygax went to a drugstore and bought a bag of funny-looking plastic dinosaurs in the 1970s.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves hits theaters on March 31.

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