Friday, 4 June 2021

Circle of Wildfire Guide

Welcome back to the Vault! I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I am currently playing a Circle of Wildfire Druid in a weekly Dungeons and Dragons 5E campaign, and I thought it would be fun to write a guide as to why and how I’m playing the character (primarily from a rules/mechanics point of view). I’m by no means stating this is the only way, or best way to play the spec, but rather how I’m using the options available to me.

I’m also not going to debate the merits of the Circle compared to the other Druid subclasses available; there are some good guides out there, and I’m assuming you are comfortable with the decision to play Wildfire. I’m also not getting into the whole “Unearthed Arcana version” vs “Tasha version” debate; Tasha’s is what we have as the final published version, and there’s no point crying over spilt milk.

Thematically a Wildfire Druid understands the natural cycle whereby destruction can be the precursor of creation; a forest fire can destroy existing vegetation yet also promotes later growth. This idea sits well with my character, Immerel, who having seen his previous home destroyed is now contemplating the health of the land in a more holistic manner (I’ve taken the option to re-spec from Circle of the Land to Circle of Wildfire).

Mechanically the Circle enhances healing and fire spells, whilst providing some other interesting options as well. We’ll discuss these in more detail, but there are a few other D&D 5E mechanics we need to touch on first, as these are relevant to the Wildfire discussion.

  • D&D 5E has a lot of resource management elements that players need to be aware of; primarily these are spell slots for casters, and pertinent for Druid’s the Wild Shape ability. These abilities are typically limited use and re-charge when the character takes a (short/long) rest. If you are limited in how often you can rest, then maximizing these resources becomes important. 
  • The number of activities a character can undertake in combat is determined by the action rules; i.e. standard action, move action, bonus action, reaction, etc. If you don’t use these abilities each round you are squandering opportunities to influence the battle field.

I hadn’t really appreciated this when I started playing D&D 5E, but I’ve come to understand these aspects of the game having played week in, week out for over a year! 

So let’s jump into the Circle of Wildfire abilities. First up is the defining feature; Summon Wildfire Spirit. This ability allows you to spend a charge of Wild Shape to summon a fiery flying elemental. This chap stays around for up to one hour, or until it or the summoner are killed. Whilst the spirit does scale with class level, it is not a tanky pet, but that’s fine as I don’t want to use it for soaking hits (although it could be used as such in a pinch). The spirit will follow instructions its master gives using their bonus action, and it has two signature abilities:

  • Flame Seed; a ranged attack doing 1d6 + proficiency bonus fire damage. No, it isn’t massive amounts but it still allows me to weaponize my bonus action.
  • Fiery Teleportation; a short range “Thunderstep”-esque ability which bamfs the spirit plus selected allies up to 15’ before detonating a 5’ fire based AOE at its prior location. This is the ability which sold the Circle to me; the capability to bonus action teleport, potentially every round just has so many options both in and out of combat.

We are limited to two Wildfire Spirit Summonings per short rest (as it is based on our Wild Shape ability), and so we need to be sure as to when we want to use the ability. Wild Shape is a key ability for Druids regardless of their Circle, particularly at low level as it provides a lot of utility in most pillars of the game depending on the form chosen. Add the ability to now cast Find Familiar via a use of Wild Shape (the Wild Companions feature added in Tashas), and we have a lot of options competing for those valued charges.  In a similar manner to preparing spells based on expectations of the upcoming adventuring day, it can be useful to think as to when and how Wild Shaping will be used.

At level 6 a Wildfire Druid gains Enhanced Bond. Whilst the Wildfire Spirit is active the Druid rolls an additional d8 on one application of fire damage or healing when casting a spell. Additionally, non-self-range spells can be cast from the spirit’s location. This essentially provides a level of upcasting to a number of our bread-and-butter spells:

  • Cure Wounds and Mass Cure Wounds are up-cast by one level, Healing Word is essentially up-cast by two levels.
  • Our fire based cantrips (most likely Produce Flame) are a tier higher than normally cast.

Whilst combat healing is widely regarded as inefficient, this feature does go a step to mitigating that particular weakness, and will provide a welcome buff when the timely heal is needed. 

One of the criticisms of the Wildfire subclass it that “it does fire damage and everything is resistant/immune”; however, we mustn’t forget that Druids aren’t limited to only fire spells, and we still have access to Moon Beam, Call Lightning, etc. Enhanced Bond simply makes the fire spells better, and does nothing to weaken the other options available.

The ability to cast spells using the Wildfire Spirit as the origin point is interesting, although it takes planning to use it effectively. Because the Wildfire Spirit acts immediately after its summoner, you either need to position the Spirit in the correct location the round before, or the summoner will need to Ready the spell, have the Spirit move into place (the trigger), and then cast. I quite like the tactical challenge this presents to me as a player. The fact that Readying a spell takes concentration (and a Druid has plenty of spells to concentrate on) adds another element of dilemma! 

I’m tempted at this point to look at the Circle spell list but I think we’ll keep on track with the remaining features. 

Cauterizing Flames (gained at level 10) is more bread-and-butter. If a creature dies within 30’ of the Druid or the Wildfire Spirit, then spectral flames emerge at that creature’s location. The Druid can spend a reaction to cause either 2d10+WIS MOD fire damage or cure 2d10+WIS MOD hit points to a creature within the same space as those flames, causing the fire to be extinguished. This can be done up to proficiency bonus times per long rest. Whilst the damage is nothing to write home about, this is going to average ~90 points of free healing at high level play, and is enabled by reactions which are not something Immerel will typically use every round.

I knew I had some Spectral Flames knocking about in the Vault!

Finally, we have Blazing Revival (gained at level 14); if the Druid falls unconscious then the Wildfire Spirit can sacrifice itself and the Druid is immediately revived on half hit points. Whilst this is an ability I hope to never have to use, it is incredibly potent particularly if there are no other healers on hand. This is very thematic and really does represent the subclass well.

So to summarize the Circle features, we have some abilities which improve the meat-and-potatoes of D&D 5E combat (i.e. damage dealing and healing) as well as some very interesting abilities presented through Wildfire Spirit itself. I’m playing in a fairly combat heavy campaign so these typically see a lot of use.

A Circle of Wildfire Druid also gains access to a number of spells which count as “always prepared”. Having played Immerel previously as Circle of the Land I really like this feature; more spells prepared means more options at the table top. Whilst not every spell is going to be useful in every adventure, there are some good options on the Wildfire list, and some of these are spells I’d typically prepare any way.

The first and second level spells give some good combat options (Burning Hands, Cure Wounds, Scorching Ray, Flaming Sphere) to the Druid in low level play whilst still allowing the character to prepare the “old favourites”. The third level options are great (Plant Growth is excellent for controlling large battle fields, and the addition of Revivify to the druid list is ace). 

At fourth level, Aura of Life is niche but useful under the right circumstances (against icky level draining undead). I like Fire Shield; concentration free damage resistance – yes please!

Finally at fifth level we have Flame Strike and Mass Cure Wounds; I think there are usually better options to be spending my 5th level slots on, a Mass Cure backed up with Enhanced Bond could be good. I wouldn’t normally prepare Mass Cure, but I have the option now!

In summary the Circle of Wildfire presents a solid option for Druids and is something I'm really enjoying playing:

  • It enhances the fundamentals of combat (damage dealing and healing)
  • It provides interesting and new tactical options enabled via the characters bonus actions and reactions

Thanks for taking the time to read the post and I hope you've found it of interest. If it's piqued your curiosity to play a Wildfire Druid (or you are playing such a character already) then let me know in the comments below.

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