Admittedly, this is of lesser value than my other posts since it is a custom house rule in our game group. I will preface that I do not like to reduce (nerf), either actual or perceived, a player’s ability to play per the rules of the game. However, I enforce this particular one in my game world, unless a player presents compelling story that meshes with the setting. I understand this is an “old chestnut”, but this is just how my group and I developed it during Session Zero, before any affected classes were created.
Wild Shape & Conjure Animals House Rule
According to the D&D Player’s Handbook, Druid’s (starting at 2nd Level) can “use their action to magically assume the shape of a Beast that they have seen before.” Similarly, Druid & Ranger spellcasters are able to summon Beasts using the Conjure Animals spell (Level 3), but do not have a “previously seen” restriction. Both of these may create table friction between DMs and Players regarding the existence and/or witnessing of particular Beasts in the campaign world.
Ultimately, Wild Shape and Conjure Animals should marry flavor and story with the situational statistical bonuses that they bring.
The Beast Must Exist
Just because it lives in the Monster Manual or Dungeon Master Guide, does not mean it lives in the game world. However, it is my responsibility, as DM, to let my players who want to play Druids what creatures are available for them to shift into during character creation.
The Beast Must Be Seen
Of course, wild shaping into a Beast makes a broad assumption that a druid has witnessed that particular Beast before. How long? Who knows. Do they need to have a personal and intimate relationship with that Beast? Who knows. Can a druid have read about a Saber-toothed Tigers in a book, thereby “seeing” it? Who knows. Can I have divined it in a vision? Who knows. These should be addressed in Session Zero, if it seems like it should be.
Our House Rule
- Druids and Rangers roll for how many Beasts they know at the campaign start. Typically it is 2d6 worth of Beasts. There may be compelling story reasons why a character knows more or less, but this has been working for my group.
- Druids must have spent at least one hour studying a particular Beast in its natural habitat to be considered proficient enough to wild shape into it. The same applies to Druids and Rangers using the Conjure Animal spell. That covers both Beast’s existence and seen for us.
- Studying Beasts can/should be used as Downtime Activity. I make roll tables of certain ecologies where common and rare Beasts roam, so my Druids and Rangers can wander off and watch nature in their free time.
- Finally, no, my players cannot just “visit a zoo” or befriend a nobleman to peek at his aristocratic menagerie of exotic beasts.
Wild Shape Table
Here is a list of all the published Beasts from the Dungeon Master’s Basic Rules v3 in a table format. I provide all players with this table. The column headers are straightforward, but the column marked “?” is to mark whether or not the Beast may be used in the campaign world.
Here is a link to the table in PDF: Druid Wild Shape Table