Druid Wild Shape 5e Guide

By Jake Morley •  Updated: 12/10/21 •  24 min read

When you first think of D&D 5e druids, the chances are that you’ve also thought about their most iconic ability: Wild Shape. DnD 5e Wild Shape is a class feature that you gain at Level 2 that allows your druid to turn into various beasts from the world of D&D.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s start with the basics first. Once you’re done reading this 5e Wild Shape guide, you’ll be an expert on the ins and outs of using and optimizing this feature.

Wild Shape 5e Basics

This section won’t go into the nature of beast shape limitations. Instead, we’ll focus on the other rules and stats that players and DMs need to keep in mind when playing a druid. These are specific limitations that come into play while you are transformed.

What is Wild Shape?

Wild Shape is a class feature for druids in D&D 5e. It allows druids to take on different animal forms and use them for combat or utility purposes. Only druids who have reached the 2nd Level get access to this feature.

Wild Shape will speak to the child in all of us who loved learning about animals. If zoology was a niche interest for you, this is the class feature for you.

Wild Shape Vs. Transformation Spells

What makes Wild Shape different from other transformation magic available in D&D 5e?

It may seem that the feature is similar to the spell Polymorph. While there are similarities in aesthetics and stats, they are very different spells. All player stats are replaced by the new form’s, whereas in Wild Shape, only some change.

Not only that, but other shape-changing spells, like Alter Self, are specific for humanoid forms only. These will not turn a person into an animal and allow someone to move fluidly between the two states. Instead, they can disguise themselves as other human-like creatures temporarily.

On top of that, there is a difference in the limits. Wild Shape can last as long as 10 hours at Level 20, whereas other spells usually have shorter limits.

Finally, Wild Shape is a feature a druid can use consistently and still be themselves. They can’t get stuck in their animal form, which is not permanent. They do not lose certain traits, such as their Intelligence, and can still interact with their party as sentient creatures.

Wild Shape Rules and Limitations

Like any other class feature, Wild Shape has its own set of rules that you need to adhere to while playing. While some DMs are more flexible than others, these other DMs might ask their players to follow game mechanics to the letter.

Time Limit

To start, you can stay in Wild Shape for a limited amount of time. You can stay Wild Shaped for as many hours as your druid level, halved and rounded down.

For example, a Level 3 druid could only stay in Wild Shape for one hour. Alternatively, a Level 10 druid could stay in Wild Shapes for five hours at a time. A level 20 druid could only remain in Wild Shape for 10 hours as a maximum.

This time limit is in place across the whole druid class, expansion books included. There are no features that you can take to increase the time even further.

Ability Scores and Proficiencies

Some of your Ability Scores stay the same, but others can change dramatically. Specifically, your Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores remain the same while in Wild Shape.

All your other Ability Scores are replaced by that of the creature whose form you’ve assumed. While this can boost lower scores, it may also drop statistics that you are good at.

However, this isn’t going to reflect on your other character stats. You hold onto all your skill and saving throw proficiencies and may even boost them if your creature has a better bonus than your own.

One drawback is that using Wild Shape could impact your language and mobility skills. If your animal cannot speak humanoid tongues and doesn’t have hands, you cannot use skills related to those.

On top of that, you might run into trouble when it comes to communication with your party members or other allies. Your druid could be in a particularly intimidating form and run into a friendly NPC who they can’t talk to properly.

Hit Points and Hit Die

Your HP and hit die change to match that of the creature you’ve become. These will be listed in the stat block that you are using. This will undoubtedly be lower than your regular player’s health.

Once your HP drops to 0, you revert to your humanoid shape and are back at the health you had before you Wild Shaped. This effectively means that Wild Shape can operate as a form of temporary HP, and you won’t be knocked unconscious unless your humanoid form drops to 0.

However, damage that takes you past 0 in Wild Shape will roll over into your regular form. If you have only 5 HP left as a creature and take 10 points of damage, you will lose 5 HP as you revert.

Spellcasting

You cannot cast spells until druid Level 18. This is a natural class upgrade and not linked to a specific druidic Circle. Once you reach Level 18, you can cast using verbal and somatic components.

Unfortunately, you cannot substitute or compensate for material components. You can still use them, but you can’t magically summon them, and this feature will not cover the material cost.

You can, however, maintain concentration spells or take specific actions to continue using spells. For example, you could have transformed when Crown of Stars was active and can then use those star motes to attack while in beast form.

Class and Race Features

Most class and race features will remain active while in Wild Shape. However, any features related to physical ability are changed to that of the animal you chose.

For example, some races have darkvision as a racial trait. During Wild Shape, you will not have darkvision if your animal form does not. On the same note, a Tabaxi druid could not use Cat’s Claws while Wild Shaped as a beast that does not have claws.

This could create some interesting character moments. Some race features have practical boosts that can roll over into Wild Shape, such as poison resistance from lightfoot halflings. The Mask of the Wild feature for wood elves is another example; you can hide in any lightly obscured terrain or natural phenomena with that trait.

A particular race feature that has gotten notice recently is that Dragonborn druids can still use their breath weapon while Wild Shaped. What’s more terrifying than a regular tiger? A tiger that can breathe lightning, that’s what.

Technically, using a breath weapon is allowed in the basic D&D 5e rules for Wild Shape. As long as the creature can exhale, they can use a breath weapon. This applies to other races as well.

Jeremy Crawford confirmed this on Twitter when he said that ‘a racial trait works with Wild Shape unless that trait requires anatomy that the beast form lacks.’

Mr. Crawford is a principle rules designer for Wizards of the Coast and lead designer of the Player’s Handbook. He has also had a hand in designing most of the expansions for D&D 5e. If anyone knew how Wild Shape properly functions, it would be him.

Equipment

This section can be contentious and could cause some arguments at the table when there are communication errors. What happens to your equipment is up to interpretation, so make sure you and your DM are on the same page about what happens to it.

The Player’s Handbook offers three basic options for what happens to a player’s gear when they Wild Shape.

Option one is that the gear falls to the ground or is shed as you transform. Your druid will need to reclaim their belongings after a fight and will have to take time and armor themselves if that is something they were wearing before.

Option two is that the form absorbs the gear. Your character would have the equipment, but it cannot be accessed while in Wild Shape. This could take the form of specific markings on your beast shape, or it could just vanish in favor of the animal’s other features.

Option three is that your beast is now wearing the gear. The equipment cannot change to fit your new form (unless it is enchanted), and all gear that your druid cannot easily wear must either be merged or dropped to the ground.

These are not the only options you have to choose from. Nothing is stopping your table from developing a special rule about what happens to gear while in Wild Shape.

At the end of the day, this comes down to personal interpretation and what you and your DM want to do. Communication about what happens with gear is vital for knowing what will happen and preventing conflict.

Wild Shape by Level

Wild shape is a skill that upgrades throughout your first eight levels. If you are a Circle of the Moon druid, you can also get other upgrades as you receive new Circle features at higher levels. We’ll talk about moon druid Wild Shape rules later.

Before diving into the main skill upgrades, you need to have a firm grasp on the concept of a Challenge Rating and how that impacts 5e druid Wild Shape.

Challenge Rating

Challenge Rating is the main limitation for Wild Shape forms.

Challenge Rating is a rating system to show how difficult an enemy will be to defeat. It is calculated by showing what level a party of four adventurers would have to be to win the fight without significant trouble.

For example, a mammoth has a CR of 6. That means that four adventurers at Level 6 could easily attack the mammoth and kill it without significant party injuries.

The CR of an enemy can also determine the Experience Points their defeat is worth. This is a sliding scale and can range from 0 CR beasts worth 10 XP to a 17 CR beast worth 18,000 XP.

CR ranges from 0 all the way up to 30, with the tarrasque at the top. 30 is the highest CR available in D&D 5e, but it is not always the highest that can come to a table.

This doesn’t include homebrewed enemies. Many homebrewed creatures will fall between these two numbers, but DMs sometimes create creatures with much higher CRs than other beasts of the same type.

Level 2

At Level 2, you can turn into any beast that is ¼ CR or below and doesn’t possess a flying or swimming speed. This is a pretty limited group, and you won’t find many magical or Large sized beasts on the list.

No flying or swimming speed can be marked on the beast’s stat block. This means you cannot turn into a frog, for example. A frog has both a swimming speed and a regular ground speed and is thus off the table.

Animals in this category tend to be weak, domesticated, or otherwise not a huge threat. You could turn into any barnyard animal right alongside the humble squirrel or chipmunk.

Level 4

At Level 4, you can turn into a creature with a CR of ½ or lower and possesses a swimming speed. This widens the field, but not by too much.

You can become aquatic and earth-walking creatures, meaning that the frogs that weren’t allowed in the Level 2 limit are now available.

Level 8

Level 8 means that you can turn into a beast with a CR of 1 or lower. You can take on forms that have a flying or swimming speed. This means that the only imitation on your Wild Shape is the Challenge Rating.

A CR of 1 can seem relatively low for the class, especially when you look at the other critters out there. It’s easy to feel small when you’re looking up at a CR 15 purple worm. However, there are still so many creatures you can turn into!

Not only that but higher CRs are typically reserved for magical beasts and other humanoid enemies your party will face during the adventure. They tend to be more aware than other creatures or beasts of burden you meet on a journey. These are usually people who are members of societies and civilizations.

Some beasts you meet are even Awakened or can speak in humanoid languages. Typical animals are rarely rated at over a CR of 1.

5e Druid Wild Shape List by CR

This is a druid Wild Shape list 5e. The beasts listed below are potential Wild Shape forms that a druid could take from the Player’s Handbook. It is by no means a complete druid Wild Shape list, but this should give you a place to start with.

There are all kinds of other shapes you could hypothetically take that appear in other expansions, but for the sake of this article, we’ll stick to the PHB list of beasts. If you don’t see a form you want to become, look in other expansions for the stat block.

You can find this list in Appendix D at the very back of the manual on page 304. There is no list of exclusively Wild Shape compatible animals in this Appendix; a selection of enemies is also available.

Challenge Rating ¼

A few creatures have a maximum CR of ¼ and cannot fly or swim. This is the primary Wild Shape limitation for a Level 2 druid.

Some forms you could take are:

Like we discussed above, these are typical, rather unremarkable animals. They do not typically have magical abilities and are expected to see out and about, especially in civilizations.

Challenge Rating ½

Moving up at Level 4, you can take on the forms of beasts that have a CR of ½ and that have a swimming speed as well. This is the case for the basic druid with a Circle other than the Circle of the Moon.

Beasts with a CR of ½ without a flying speed are:

Branching out more, you see the first aquatic animals appear on the Wild Shape list. There are less common animals and animals that pose an obvious threat.

Challenge Rating 1

Finally, at Level 8, you can take on the shape of the creatures that have a CR of 1 or higher. This considerably widens the field for you and can involve some iconic or valuable animals. They can have flying or a swimming speed, so there are no limitations on the creature you can become from a physical motion standpoint.

The final creatures you could become are:

Level 8 limitations in place, there are so many new creatures you can become. This is where the flashier animals creep out, and you finally unlock iconic flying creatures like the giant eagle or the common raven.

As stated above, these are only some of the creatures you can become with Wild Shape. The possibilities are endless, especially if you and your DM work together to homebrew different animals.

Circle of the Moon Improved CR Wild Shapes

The Circle of the Moon has a more exhaustive CR list than the typical druid. They are more at home among the wild creatures of the world, and this reflects over to the animals they can turn into. They rely heavily on Wild Shape.

As the Player’s Handbook says, “Changeable as the moon, a druid of this Circle might prowl as a great cat one night, soar over the treetops as an eagle the next day, and crash through the undergrowth in bear form to drive off a trespassing monster. The wild is in the druid’s blood.”

This Circle is heavily focused on Wild Shape upgrades, so if you want to have a character focused on their animal shapes, this is the Circle for you. All but the final Circle of the Moon upgrades focus on Wild Shape, and the last promotion is for other shapeshifting.

Circle of the Moon

Circle of the Moon is one of two druidic Circles offered in the Player’s Handbook to choose from. It is primarily designed for druids who want to utilize Wild Shape more than any other Circle.

There are four Circle of the Moon druid features in the PHB that affect beast shape 5e. We’ll go through all of these and explain how you can use these while Wild Shaped to get the best effects.

Combat Wild Shape

Combat Wild Shape is one of two Circle features that you get at Level 2 when you first select the Circle of the Moon.

You can use Wild Shape as a bonus action instead of an action. This means that you could make an attack or cast various spells and then transform into your beast form, all in the same turn.

Druids in the Circle of the Moon can also expend a spell slot to regain 1d8 HP per level of the slot expended. This has to be done in Wild Shape and cannot be done outside of it.

Circle Forms

This is the central Circle of the Moon feature that improves your Wild Shape abilities. You can turn into more dangerous animals at lower levels and exponentially outstrip other druids at higher levels.

A Level 20 Circle of the Moon druid could hypothetically turn into a beast with a maximum CR of 6. To compare, any other druid has a maximum CR of 1 for Wild Shape beasts.

This upgrade opens the field to all kinds of other, new animals that other druids could never turn into.

You could become an elephant as soon as druid Level 12; this form has a CR of 4. At Level 18, you could take the form of a mammoth, which has a CR of 6 and a +7 to Strength.

Primal Strike

Primal Strike is a special Circle feature that allows your attacks as a beast to count as magical to overcome specific resistances and immunities to non-magical attacks or damage.

In practice, this means that your bite attack is classified as a magical attack when you fight a person who has magic resistance. This only works if the enemy you’re attacking has these resistances, though, so keep that in mind when biting someone who isn’t magical.

Elemental Wild Shape

Elemental Wild Shape allows a 10th Level Circle of the Moon druid to turn into elemental beings. While these are technically not beasts, this feature is another reason why Circle of the Moon improves and expands Wild Shape.

These use the stat blocks for elemental creatures. You can become an air elemental, an earth elemental, a fire elemental, or a water elemental. These give you all kinds of boons and allow you to turn into a creature that is CR 5 consistently.

All of these come with their own unique powers, but they specifically allow you to take on new, elemental abilities that could be useful in other situations. They are also great opportunities for roleplaying content and practical use.

For example, if you need to get across a sea of fire, you could turn into a fire elemental and walk through it. Alternatively, you could fly as an air elemental to reach an exceptionally high area.

House Rules for Wild Shape

Some DMs will also make homebrew or house rules for DnD Wild Shape. These could make Wild Shape more limited or make the rules even looser; it will all vary from DM to DM and table to table.

Some DMs are much stricter about rules than others and err from what is in the Handbook over all else. Some are entirely loose with the rules and prefer to work together with their players to put together a system in the same original framework.

The only way to know what type of DM you are playing with is to talk to them and keep the conversation open. They will thank you for the communication later!

What Counts As a Beast

A particular issue that many DMs run into while DMing for druids is what animals are classified as a ‘beast.’ Typically, a beast is a term for any creature that is not humanoid and is not considered Awakened. However, this is still very wide.

This could count several magical creatures among them for most druids, such as pseudodragons or other smaller beasts. For Circle of the Moon druids, who have access to a higher CR limit, this could include wyverns, chimeras, and other powerful enemies.

What is a DM to do in this situation?

Ideally, you’ll set out guidelines for your player before you get past Level 2 or get too far into the game. The sooner you can lay down rules, the better. However, you can always talk to your players about modifications.

Make a firm statement about what counts and what doesn’t. If you don’t want to count magical beasts, say it directly. Be clear and concise. Don’t leave room for debate if you don’t want to negotiate the new rules.

If you want a more flexible rule, you could always impose an Intelligence score limit on beasts. This could mean that as long as the beast has an Intelligence under a certain amount, you could take its form. This would rule out many types of dragons and other more intelligent creatures.

Your players will appreciate the precise boundaries of what they can do and what you are willing to work with as a DM. Communication is critical and will lead to a better table experience for everyone.

What About Beasts That Aren’t Included?

You might also find yourself in the position that a player wants to take on a form without a stat block. Alternatively, they might also want to flavor the creature to fit a specific aesthetic or become a particular breed of animal.

This can be hard to work with, but there are a few easy solutions as long as you’re willing to be flexible with the rules of 5e D&D.

The quickest solution is to use a stat block close to the creature they want to be. That way, most of the work is already done and ready to use. You’ll only have to make a few tweaks here and there to get it where you want it to be.

For example, if your player wants to be a black widow spider specifically, you could use the basic spider stat block and say that the player turns into the specific species. You could change the Bite attack to deal poison damage on top of piercing damage.

However, you might find yourself in a situation where the specific type of animal doesn’t meet the other descriptors. A corgi is very different from a mastiff in terms of strength and size, but your druid might be dead set on being a corgi.

This is where you might want to homebrew a stat block for your player to use. These could be based on the original stat block for a similar creature, but you can make them your own and fit the creature your player wants to be.

It might take a little more work than just grabbing a stat block, but you’ll have prepared them for the future and given your player more options.

This allows you, the DM, to give your player certain features and detriments based on unique variations.

Let’s keep looking at the player who wanted to be a corgi. They may have a higher Dexterity than a giant dog, but they may have a lower Strength score. You could also give them similar bonuses to a mastiff but add other corgi-related features, like a herding instinct to move an enemy towards a place of your choosing.

Regional Beast Rules

Another homebrew rule that you and your DM should discuss is regional species and when you can use them. This specific problem can crop up, especially for Circle of the Land and Circle of Dreams druids.

Both of these Circles have a heavy focus on specific regions. The Circle of the Land draws power and expands spell slots based on regions, and the Circle of Dreams is tied to the Feywild.

This means that your druid might know specific creatures from areas that don’t appear on the Material Plane or are otherwise incompatible with the current party location.  For example, tropical birds from the druid’s jungle home.

Some DMs will waive these concerns, but others might buckle down on them. There are technically no rules stopping your character from turning into an Arctic beast, but it might be very uncomfortable for them.

If you do not want to give your players this chance, you can also cite the ‘fish out of water’ defense. Fish and other aquatic creatures cannot survive outside of water and other aquatic climes. Similarly, ice creatures can’t stay in a desert for too long.

No matter what, it all goes back to the same thing mentioned repeatedly: communicate with your players about the house rules and requirements at your table. You all will have a better time for it and will not run into too much trouble.

Final Considerations

Playing a druid and understanding Wild Shape is relatively easy. Both DMs and players can utilize this 5e druid Wild Shape guide to make their lives easier and prepare for sessions. DnD Wild Shape can be very complicated and hard to understand, but once you’ve got the basics, you can use it all the time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can you Wild Shape into 5e?

You can Wild Shape into any animal that meets the Challenge Rating requirements and the other level limitations in the table on page 66 of the Player’s Handbook. You must have seen the beast in person to Wild Shape into it.

Can you Wild Shape while Wild Shaped?

There here is nothing in the Player’s Handbook that says you cannot Wild Shape while Wild Shaped. However, your DM may impose a house rule about Wild Shape, or they may be more forgiving about Wild Shape rules.

What level can you Wild Shape 5e?

You can begin Wild Shaping after reaching Level 2. Depending on your druid level, there are creatures of various Challenge Ratings that you can turn into. Most druids after Level 8 can turn into animals that have a CR of 1.

Can you Wild Shape into a Tarrasque?

No, you cannot Wild Shape into a Tarrasque. The Challenge Rating of the creature limits wild Shape. The highest possible CR a druid could turn into would be a CR 6 creature for a Level 20 Circle of the Moon druid.

Can you Wild Shape into a swarm?

Short answer, no. Druids can only take the form of one creature that could be a part of a larger swarm but not become a swarm themselves. For example, you could become a single honeybee in a hive with thousands of other bees, not a cloud of a thousand bees.

Can you choose what your Wild Shape looks like?

The short answer is maybe, if you follow the other limitation rules. The longer answer is that the decision comes down to your DM and how they want to run their table. Some DMs will allow druids to change into magical creatures, while others will not.

Can you choose what your Wild Shape looks like?

Yes, you can choose what your Wild Shape form looks like. There could be distinctive markings on your beast shape 5e that match other features in your humanoid form. You could also choose to look like specific colorations.

Is there a best Wild Shape Creature?

There is no best druid Wild Shape creature 5e. There are so many forms to choose from, and all of them are useful in different situations. It all depends on the context that you are Wild Shaping in and your party’s needs.

Jake Morley

Jake, the founder of The Dungeon Rats, started playing D&D in 2012. He has continued to level up his player and dungeon master skills and wanted to share his journey and helpful knowledge with other like-minded individuals. He launched The Dungeon Rats in 2021 as an outlet for those interested in learning more about Dungeons and Dragons in hopes they can take what they learn and apply it at their own table!