This week and next, I’m building lesser-known Avengers using the 5e rules. It’s a passion project, but it’s also a chance to talk about Dr. Druid, and that’s something I don’t get to do often enough.
The Lion of Olympus
The son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Hercules’ strength and endurance (and ability to consume vast quantities of alcohol) are legendary. For thousands of years, he has slain monsters, performed great labors, and traveled the world defending humanity against predators, divine and mortal alike.
Like many Avengers (Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, Vision, Dr. Druid, and others), Hercules started out as a foe, enspelled as he was by the Enchantress. Freed from her control, he joined the team and served as both an active and reserve member for many years.
His abilities are well-known: he’s incredibly strong, largely invulnerable, and immortal. This is the Marvel Comics Hercules, and not the Kevin Sorbo version, so he’s into his mead but less preachy.
Hercules joined the Avengers as a replacement for Thor, but he never really gelled. He’s strong and gregarious, but that’s about all he has going for him. That, and unwavering loyalty. More than any Avenger, loyalty is his defining quality. He’s strong and tough to hurt, but not invulnerable: at one point he was beaten into a coma by a mob of super-strong opponents.
My only aim, for this build, was to hit as hard as possible, as often as possible. I had to bend the rules a little bit to make it work, giving him a larger weapon and changing a couple of spells, but none of the breaks are major. The larger weapon looks cool, but two more damage on every hit isn’t going to break the game.
I wouldn’t put him in armor. I know it’s risky, but he gets a ring and bracers, eventually, and his AC is 13, which is low for a front-line fighter. Maybe give him a shield. There is no gameist reason for his Charisma to be 17, except that it made sense for the character, so moving around Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma would get him up to a 15, which isn’t bad. With protective spells and a shield, he’ll be okay.
I wanted to give Hercules a fighting chance at excellent stats, so I rolled them instead of picking them the way I’m picking them for everyone else. Otherwise, though, this is a fairly straightforward build.
The variant Entertainer makes sense for him. He really enjoys fighting, and makes a show of it whenever he can. I traded Performance for History, though, because he lived through a lot of history, and his Performance skill will be fine, based on his Charisma.
I didn’t want to make him a barbarian. I wanted to make him a fighter, the God of Fighting, but barbarian fit too well. Besides: look at that picture. The guy is a bear. It turns out that the barbarian powers make a lot of sense, for him: he’s tougher, faster, and more durable than a normal human. The non-totem abilities don’t fit as well, though. I’ve never seen him speak with animals or commune with nature. Instead of beast sense and speak with animals, I’d give him augury and comprehend languages, as a ritual, to represent his divine understanding and long life of travel. Instead of commune with nature, I’d just give him commune, to represent his ability to talk to his relatives.
I considered giving him a Belt of Giant Strength, but in 5e it doesn’t makes sense for someone with an already high Strength to wear one, and I wanted his Strength to be (largely) based on his innate abilities.
Anthony Druid was a Harvard-trained psychologist who thought that it would be more interesting to study the occult, go to Tibet, become a master of the mystic arts, and be a super-hero.
He joined the Avengers, became chairman, was mind-controlled, and the lost in time. Not his best day. As a psychologist, you think he’d have seen the “villain posing as an ally to manipulate your teammates into giving her ultimate power,” think a mile away. Physician heal thyself, I guess.
Druid isn’t an actual druid, but a pulp-style action hero who can control his body, levitate, use telepathy and telekinesis, create illusions, and detect magical energies. Eventually, he became an avatar for the “Druidic gods” (whatever those are), but that was well after his time with the Avengers, and about thirty minutes before he was burned to death and stuffed in a garbage can. With that background in mind, I’m going to give two options for him: a Wizard/Cleric and a Mentalist (which fits the pulp theme better, I think, but is my own creation, so YMMV – Mentalist part 2: tricks and spells).
Hacking Dr. Druid
Dr. Druid is the worst Avenger. Every list of Avengers says so. He was a terrible hero, a terrible leader, and a terrible person. As leader, he was tricked into betraying the team, and he eventually got himself killed (although that was hardly his fault: the guy writing his series was told at the last minute that it was a 4-issue mini-series, so he killed off his main character in a fit of pique).
The character has a long history and was the prototype for Dr. Strange. He wasn’t even a druid: that was just his name. When he was a practicing doctor, the sign on his door said, “Dr. Druid.” That’s like Captain America being called “Captain Rogers,” instead. The not-so-secret identity. He was, on all levels, just an awful Avenger.
The thing is, all the traits the make him a terrible Avenger: lame powers, a giant ego, flawed heroism, and self-sacrifice, are the traits that would make him a great PC. He would be so much fun to play, as a character. He knows a lot, but he thinks he knows even more than he does. He wants to do the right thing, but messes it up half the time, because he is too confident in his own abilities and doesn’t play well with others. That’s a lot of meat to work with, as a PC in the right group. His entire arc was about redemption, trying to become a better person and not being quite good enough to manage it. That’s a very human story, I think. Most of us can relate to being seduced by an alien villain and then becoming lost in the time-stream, right?
I considered “acolyte” for the background, to represent the time studying in the mountains and his interest in the occult, but the flavor wasn’t quite right. Maybe I need to write an “occultist” background. For now, the sage works just fine: it gives him an extra skill to choose from (so that his skills are the same no matter which build he uses), gives him extra languages.
For the Mentalist, it was tough to choose between Man of Bronze and Mystic. The Phantom doesn’t work at all: Dr. Druid is definitely not “immune to being charmed.” In fact, it’s his greatest weakness. The Man of Bronze would have been fun, and some of the abilities fit, but Druid is never depicted as the “peak of physical perfection,” the way Doc Savage always is. Still, trained by monks hiding in the mountains? The Mystic it is. The Mystic is a re-skin of the Great Old One Warlock, without all the Lovecraft, and I think that works well. Telepathy is the core of Druid’s powers, and if we add telekinesis through spells and tricks, we round out the character. The Ritual Caster feat allows him to keep picking up Cleric spells as rituals, which feels in-character for him. The Magic Initiate feat, at 4th, has the same effect, representing his attempts to seek different kinds of knowledge.
The Awakened Mind boon is basically the Keen Mind feat, without the ability boost, because the feat is almost pure flavor, and isn’t really worth a feat. It’s much more fun to give it out as a reward, I think. Both builds take the War Caster feat at 12, to represent Druid’s inner calm and ability to find his center in even the most stressful situations, thanks to his mystical training.
The Wizard/ Cleric multiclass version is a little broader, but a little less powerful, because of the spreading-out of the ability scores. Druid is supposed to be good at everything, and I thought it would be fun to represent this with the broadly average ability score and the human “bump all stats by one” (with one alteration, trading a couple of points around so his Intelligence is a little higher). That seemed like an interesting choice, and not one that gets made a lot. This way, he’s better than most human at everything, but doesn’t stand out in any one area (and his abilities are primed to multi-class).
I honestly can’t decide which of them I like better. The Knowledge Domain Cleric gives him more access to skills, which fits his powers, and the Illusion School does the same, but the Mentalist fits the story of the character well, as a pulp hero.
His magical items should never be offensive, but should be all about knowledge, finding hidden things, and taking advantage of his knowledge. Even more fun would be to have a lot of minor magical items all the time, potions, bags of tricks, feather tokens, and so on, so that he always has something to pull out of his bag.
That’s Dr. Druid!
What do you think? Is Druid as great a PC as he is terrible a hero? Which build looks like more fun to play? Does Hercules capture the majesty of myth without breaking the rules (much)? These aren’t the “larger than life” heroes from the movie, I don’t think, but they are exactly the right size for a party of PCs.