Tuesday, September 2, 2014

7 Myths Everyone Believes About Druids

Listen, you've got it all wrong.

Frequently, the picture you see of a druid is some green-haired boy scout cavorting atop a white wolf, or gazing soulfully into the eyes of a moose.  They're depicted as serene bringers of balance and peace, who live in harmony with all life.

Nope.  No.  Nein.  Druids are creatures possessed by the cold spirit of Nature.

Druids love natural spaces.  It's even fair to say that druids feed on them.  They feed on the snow that falls on ancient pines.  They feed on the weevils gnawing on roots.  They feed on the hunger in a wolf's belly.

Because these things are Natural, they are Good, for at least one definition of "Good".

Then what is Bad, in the eyes of a druid?  Why, all the things that destroy the natural order.  Rationality, math (druids hate math), language, money, metallurgy, fur trappers, philosophy.  The philosophy of a druid is "no philosophy".  And true, druids use language to talk among themselves, but it is always tinged with a bit of self-loathing for this reason, a reminder of their distance from Nature and from what is Good.

Nature is red in tooth in claw.  Nature is hungry and rapacious.  Nature is self-absorbed.  Does a panther care about anything beyond it's own well-being?  And because these things are Nature, they are also Druids.

Every druid's dream in life is to become a giant grizzly bear, fat and unchallenged.

Have you ever heard wolves howl IRL?

Myth #1 - Druids hate fire.

Druids love fire.  There is no better way to raze a town than to burn it.  Fire is the great equalizer.  Druids love a dry summer storm.  Thatched roofs ignite so readily under lightning strikes, like they've been waiting for the flame.  Druids call to the winds, and the winds call back, blowing the inferno before them, across the town.  Forest predators pad through the streets on quick paws.  Farther back in the smoke, you can see the naked, blood-painted druids moving from house to house, methodically exterminating dogs.

Druids hate domesticated dogs.  Aside from being able to track them back into their secret caves in the forest, dogs represent a traitorous element among the animals.  Domesticated dogs are wolves that have been twisted so thoroughly in the hands of their masters that they hold nothing but love for their oppressors.  Dogs are an abomination on par with the undead.

Myth #2 - Druids hate to see a tree burn.

Druids don't care about a tree.  Druids care about the forest.  And not even the forest-as-a-collection-of-trees, they care about the eternal forest, the forest that will exist long after all of these trees are dead, and also somehow exists behind them.  The template from which this forest grew.

The pulse of Nature is one of death and rebirth, twined together as tightly as two anacondas fucking.  An animal is born, and is promptly eaten.  Another animal is born, eats and grows, procreates, then grows old and is eaten.  Chaos and apathy.  This is Right and this is Good.

Forests burn.  This is part of their cycle.  Take a break from this blog to read about wildfire ecology.  I'll be here when you get back.

Druids bring balance wherever they go, but it is rarely the sort of balance that you are expecting.  What's more abhorrent to Nature?  A forest fire or farmland?

Civilized folk must be very careful when using forest fires to fight druids.  Fires are useful because they deprive druids of food and animal resources.  But on the other hand, fire is one of a druid's elements.  Other things that druids can bend to their will: wind, rain, nitrogen fixation.  Those who would use forest fires against the druids often live just long enough to see their forest fire turned against them.

Druids will sometimes set forest fires themselves.  It's their greatest resource when a king sends an army into the forest after them, as kings invariably do.  Druids guide the wildfire, and sometimes even extinguish it after it has done its job.

A druid's magic is broad, crude, slow, indistinct, subtle, and immensely powerful.  Compare this to a wizard's magic, which is fast, localized, instantaneous, precise, and often flashy.  A wizard's magic is a bullet fired from a gun, while a druid's magic is a gentle, sustained breeze.  But which of these two things requires more joules of energy?

Myth #3 - Druids exist in harmony with all living things.

Druids can barely live in harmony with each other.  These people are possessed by spirits of Nature, figuratively but also possibly literally.  When one commune meets another, it is like two wolf packs catching sight of each other across the timber line.  Sometimes there is murder.  Sometimes there are "marriages".  Sometimes they exchange small bits of news and go on their way.

Even within a stable circle of druids there is tension.  Like wolf packs, druids have their alphas and their betas.  They have their breeding pairs and their marginalized members.  Druidic power is invested in them in proportion to their standing, so advancing through the ranks of the druids involves killing your superiors (and usually eating them--druids are frugal).

This is what the average person knows about druids: They are wild people who live in forests who will murder you on sight.  Also, they're magic.

And for most people, that's the beginning and the end of it.  Forests are wild, untamed places.  On Earth, humans venture into them to go hunting or collect mushrooms.  On Centerra, no sane person would go into a forest--any forest--because of the druids (and various beasties).  Nobles go hunting in carefully tended game preserves, but these are small and semi-analogous to golf courses.

Sometimes the druids do not have the power to assert complete dominion over their forests, and so are forced to let travelers through.  Even hunters might be tolerated (with occasional murders to keep them feeling unwelcome, but not so many that it brings armies and wizards down on their heads).

Druids hate elves only slightly less than the rest of civilization.  True, elves have a very small ecological footprint, but they also build houses and wear shoes.  And besides, elves have a lot of powerful spellcasters. Mostly elves and druids try to pretend that the other one doesn't exist.

When elves and druids do fight, it's godawful.  Weeping treants marching solemnly into a bonfire, epileptic wolves gnawing off their own legs, that sort of thing.

Myth #4 - Druids want cities and forests to coexist in harmony.

Druids hate cities.  They hate the concept of cities.

Sometimes, when a trapper is filling his canteen by a creek and a druid drops out of the trees--eyes wide and teeth bared--and proceeds to murder the trapper with a sharpened rock, the trapper dies thinking that the druid hates him.  But that's not true.  The druid looks right through him and sees the city.

When the druid bites out the trapper's jugular vein, the druid can taste the dirty rainwater dripping off the gargoyles.  When the druid pulls out the trapper's heart and eats it, he can feel concrete foundations crumbling between his molars.  He didn't kill a man, he killed a piece of the city.

Because the druid knows that the Forest is not just a collection of trees.  It is a spiritual place that everything will return to, if given enough time.  And like the Forest, the City is also a spiritual place, greater than the sum of its cobbles.  But the City doesn't come from the World.  The City comes from the mind of Men, and that is why the druid takes extra pleasure in smashing the trapper's brains out with his rock.

If the druid had any sense of symbolism, he would eschew the process of eating the trapper's brains.  But symbols are profane, another tool of the City, and so the brains are carefully scooped up with dirty fingers and swiftly eaten.

Myth #5 - Druids don't destroy cities.

Let me tell you two stories.  Here is the first one.

During the Time of Fire and Madness, the elves were safe in their tree, which was called Eladras.  They were safe because the Great Tree did not touch the ground.  It's roots were in the moon, and it's branches grew downwards into the atmosphere, and brushed the tips of the highest mountains.  This is where the elves lived, and because they were safe from that great tragedy, they were able to preserve a great deal of knowledge and tools from What Came Before.

But the Great Tree was broken in 511 TFM, and fell to the earth among the knuckles of the Elterspine Mountains, where it died.

Here is the second story.

The druids of the Kerwood conspired with the dragons of that place to put an end to the cities.  (Wild dragons--as opposed to civilized dragons--have deep and profound reasons to despise cities, but those are outside the scope of this retelling.)

They called themselves Roa Junyo, which in the old tongue means "Confederacy of Beasts".  They planted seven seeds together.  Oak, ash, ivy, thistle, mandrake, dandelion, and a seed from the Great Tree, Eladras.  (Fuck if I know where they found it.)

The tree that grew from this union was called Aglabendis, the Second World Tree.  It grew a foot a day for a hundred years, and Roa Junyo used it to wage war on the world.  It sent roots throughout the entire world.  Castles crumbled under its patient predation.  City walls were ground to dust over the course of a year.  Millions were driven from their farms into the wilderness, where most of them starved.

For a hundred years, Aglabendis was implacable.  Dragons and druids torched the great cities, while Aglabendis' heavy roots mutilated their bones.  The Great Library of Asria was put to the torch.  The Immortal Palace of the Peacock Emperor was shoved into the sea.  Dragons landed in the great cattle markets of Kelzon and glutted themselves on the cows found there, then laid themselves down to sleep amid the mud and the blood and the gore, while the few remaining cows kicked at the paddock gates for a way out.

Crown jewels were captured and melted down.  The gold was mixed with pig iron, and the resultant slag dumped over the deep parts of the ocean.  Paintings were smeared with feces and thrown into the wells, which were then collapsed. (In fact, this is where the famous Portrait of a Pale Girl was recovered.)  All farm animals were killed and eaten, and what could not be eaten (most of it) was left to rot.  Pearls were fed to swine.

Roa Junyo was a terrible foe.  They did not want anything that the cities could offer, just destruction. No normal spies could infiltrate their ranks.  Men would rather have fought orcs than the naked ranks of the druids.

In the height of Aglabendis' power, the tree used its roots to conduct raids.  After spending months growing beneath a fort or a town, they would suddenly erupt from the ground, crushing wagons beneath their bulk.  They were also usable as tunnels, and so the dire roots also vomited out bears, wolf packs, and wasps.  (Cities quickly came to respect the power and utility of few million wasps during a raid.)

Armies and heroes assailed the Second Great Tree.  They sometimes made it as far as the lower branches, where the druids and dragons waited for them.  Aglabendis' roots were annointed in their blood.

In the end, it was internal strife that brought down Aglabendis.  After a disagreement drove the dragons away, a team of halfling assassins from Tau Solen managed to poison the Second Great Tree.  It's dessicated limbs have mostly fallen to the ground, and its trunk is host to teeming swarms of insects and fungi.  The tree has been rotting for the last three hundred years, and only now is the decomposition nearing completion.  Aglabendis was said to be divine, and strange things surround its wood.  (See also: The Great Rot)

The druids have not forgotten their defeat.  Many of them wish to resurrect Aglabendis, or claim that the Second Tree is still alive, at its heart.  But the feral dragons are almost extinct now.  Roa Junyo is beyond revival.

Myth #6 - Druids can reincarnate the dead.

The truth is more complex.

Here is the account of Yanekon the Trepidatious, a scribe of Talamasca who lived with the druids of the Hornscar forest for nine months as part of a hostage exchange, until his writings were discovered an he was skinned alive as a result.

". . . and whose chieftain was a certain Dorval, who body was being consumed by a rotting curse contracted from an unconsecrated tomb.  Dorval came to the druids seeking to be reborn, and thereby be cured of his affliction.

For this mircale, Dorval offered territorial concessions and [. . .] certain mercenary services.  Both Dorval and the archdruid spit their blood on each other's hands atop the Unbroken Stone, and it was agreed.

Dorval was annointed for three days with lavea oil.  Then his body was smeared with boar fat and he consumed one thousand black flies.  Then a hole was dug beneath the roots of an oak tree, and a small room hollowed out.  Dorval was placed into the hole.

Then I saw a enormous white wolf being led to the hole.  Its eyes were keen, as it was when the druids' hand are upon its mind.  The wolf entered the hole beneath the oak, and it heard the screams of the aged Dorval, who cried Bloody Murder and described the treachery of druids.  But his cries were quickly silenced.

The next morning, the wolf emerged from the hole, its muzzle bloody and its belly distended.  The wolf lay down beside the campfire, and the druids retrieved the bones of Dorval from the hole.  Not a scrap of flesh was left.  The white wolf had eaten him whole.

The sleeping wolf was placed on a bier and the druids administered spring water to its mouth.  Over the next three days, all of its fur fell out.  The most horrifying noises came from its bones, which I could observe moving beneath its skin like slugs.  The wolf's face changed, becoming that of a young man.  On the third day, the wolf sat up and inspected it's body with visible delight.

The wolf said that its name was Dorval, but that he was confused as to what happened in the hole beneath the oak tree.  The druids refused to answer his questions [. . .] and sent him away."

Myth #7 - Druids never die, since they do not age.

In the year 949 TFM, King Hammurad-Ura was waging war against the druids, with great success.  Word reached him that the archdruid of the Riddlewood, a man named Hangul, wished to discuss the terms of surrender.  His advisers cautioned him that the druids have no respect for truces and promises, seeing them as tools of a decadent mind, but the king agreed to meet the archdruid anyway.

Archdruid Hangul was admitted to Castle Iagatro at dawn.  Since the archdruid was naked, except for mud and parasites, it was understood that he would be bathed and dressed before he would be admitted to the king's presence.  But during this process, the archdruid used his powers of transformation to slip away and then elude pursuit.

The archdruid was found a short time later, and was promptly blasted into a bloody mist by the king's royal wizards, but not before the archdruid had raped the queen.

Three months later, King Hammurad-Ura had completed his project of pacifying the Riddlewood, and caravans passed through the eastern half in safety.  The Riddlewood druids were killed or driven into hiding.

Six months after that, the queen bore a son named Uriahl.  The truth of his conception was kept secret, even from the boy.  By all accounts, the king and the queen raised Uriahl as their own son, and was treated with kindness and affection.  The kingdom was entering a period of peace and prosperity, and the king was able to spend time with his sons.

When Uriahl was nine years old, he murdered his mother, two half-brothers, and drowned King Hammurad-Ura in the garden fountain.  Using a conflagration as a distraction, the boy slipped out of the castle.  The last witnesses describe how the prince discarded his clothing and fled into the Riddlewood while running on all fours.

The young prince ran to a secret grove, where the found the surviving druids where he knew they would be.  The druids were overjoyed to see him, and licked the blood from his uncalloused feet to show their submission.

The boy apologized for his nine-year absence, and demanded that his thorny crown be replaced on his brow.  The druids happily obliged.  Their archdruid had finally returned to them.

How to Use the Shit You Just Read

If you want to have happy, hippy druids in your game, that's cool.  Hopefully the above paragraphs have given you some ideas for how druids can be interesting bad guys.  I've tried to give druids a bit of a culture, too, instead of just thinking of them as a character class.

If one of your PCs is a druid, consider giving them an attachment to a certain enclave of druids, or at least a certain forest.  Context is important, and druids have a really good hook.

If you and your players are into this sort of thing, you can also challenge them to answer druidic philosophy questions.  What is natural?  Why is natural good?  How do druids co-exist with cities?  How civilized should a druid be, and how feral?

Seriously, dudes.  Druids have connotations with wilderness, reincarnation, killing the archdruid to take his place, AND they can turn into animals.  Why aren't they the coolest class?

If pictures of dead wolves make you angry, consider doing something about it.  North American wolves have got it rough.


  1. Everything known about druids fits on one page of roman propeganda to justify invading europe - they were terrorists who had to be stopped and had piles of gold

    i have lots of druids and other alignments - i have undead making black druids, blood druids, mutant making formarian druids and many more

  2. Awesome. Stealing, borrowing, and adapting some this for some of the druids in my game world.

  3. This a brilliant!
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Written poorly. Everything you are trying to tell us is just some story from somewhere else. It's all anecdotal, and of very little substance.

    Further, I completely disagree with many of your points, including this belief that all druids love or hate something, including /specifically/ all of the things you've pointed out.

    Why do you think druids are wolves? Almost everything you've mentioned might be true for an evil character, but never for any other type.

    1. Haha, yeah, it's *anecdotal*. Why didn't this guy do some *empirical research* into fantasy magic wolf people before posting, amirite?

    2. Seriously, dude. Put some more effort into factually analyzing your world. It's not like giant world trees growing from the moon or wolf based reincarnation are subjects of fantasy or something. It's shameful that you would create such wild speculation on something so real and close to all of us. You treat this as if it were some sort of GAME where you and your friends sit around a table pretending to be things you aren't.

    3. Seriously, dude. Put some more effort into factually analyzing your world. It's not like giant world trees growing from the moon or wolf based reincarnation are subjects of fantasy or something. It's shameful that you would create such wild speculation on something so real and close to all of us. You treat this as if it were some sort of GAME where you and your friends sit around a table pretending to be things you aren't.

    4. Neceros the only thing worse than a peacelove tree hippy druid is a forum troll. Go away and stick with your munchkin number crunching.

    5. I love when people get personally offended, because it means there's something to it.

      Logic supersedes all writing. If druids tried to destroy all the cities there would be nobody left. Simple.

      Just use logic and you'll be fine. Stop doing things emotionally.

    6. Destroy all the cities! Now there's a great idea. The death of higher-level comprehension and a blissful return to instincts. Druids can finally stop teaching language to their children. That idea gets the druid lick of approval.

      Actually, the druids are right about one thing--there are some things in Centerra that are dangerous to comprehend. See also, the Book of Tigers, or the Madness of Avool.

      When the world ends, it won't be because of wolves and ducks and field mice got together and opened the door to something terrible. It will be People Who Wrote Shit Down.

      (It's comprehension and semiotics that druids abhor, because these things are a blight on the natural world in the same way that necromancy is. Wolf "language" is a lower order language--those are just remembered associations. Wolves don't combine abstract symbols in their heads to form new expressions; they just react to semi-taught, semi-instinctual association.)

      Like, if someone asks you what three times five is, and you answer, you aren't just trading blunt Pavlovian responses, you're doing a lot of high-level shit in your brain.



    7. Deeply disappointing at times. Some really great stuff for creating villainous ecoterrorists but truly shallow

    8. I think Neceros's complaint (unbeknownst to them) is about the way Arnold presents his articles. Rather than saying "Here are some ideas for you to use" or "This is how it works in my game" (which, I presume, is how Arnold intends them to be read), the articles act as though Arnold knows everything about the subject and is stating the objective truth.

      I can see how Neceros can reasonably take offense to (apparently) being told "The way you play is wrong."

  5. Replies
    1. I have, but it was too rigid. Too close to 3.5, and old. Outdated. I've played many different rpgs, and I enjoy Shadowrun, D&D 5e, Mutants & Masterminds, WoD, Dungeon World (and all the *world series), SAGA, and probably more.

      Which ones do you play?

    2. currently just GMing a D&D 5e campaign, though I might be starting one of those *World games next weekend

      You do realize that all of your complaints about this post, and your flippant commentary about logic, makes you sound like a person who only plays one way with no deviation or creativity, right? Your last statement is especially ironic since it's an appeal to use logic and your initial comment seems rooted in an emotional response since you seem to have missed the sentence "Hopefully the above paragraphs have given you some ideas for how druids can be interesting bad guys."
      Druids can act evil, and for a Chaotic druid in Dungeon World all of the points above could be considered true - or even declared true by the player.

  6. Brilliant. Just Brilliant. I'm making one of these in a game for next week. Nicer, but not much.

    Thank you.

  7. How would you do one of those Druids as a playable class in either LotFP or D&D 5e?
    Or anything you fancy really, I'll convert it.

    1. If one of my players wanted to be a druid in LotFP, I'd probably just have the player run a cleric or magic-user, perhaps with some slight tweaks. None of the great flavor and backstory described in this post actually requires *rules*.

      As for 5e, can't you just play a druid? Again, this post is really about how the GM could present druids in a setting and how the player could run a druid, not the special powers or skills of druids. So just play a druid and have him burn the occasional farm.

      Actual historical druids, I believe, were just a kind of pagan priest. I'm not sure there was any special emphasis on nature - I suspect that may be an artifact of the post-pagan perspective, seeing these people as innately barbaric and thus less urbanized. But many believe that they sometimes practiced human sacrifice, so I appreciate any non-cuddly hippie version of druids.

  8. "Logic supersedes all writing. If druids tried to destroy all the cities there would be nobody left. Simple."

    That could well be the dumbest thing I have ever read on the internet. You've just contradicted yourself in two sentences.

  9. Druid is the perfect anarcho-primitivist, I loved <3

  10. Beautiful Post!
    i have to say i've wanted to hear this for a while. Of course i have my own take but agreed that a druid could be the most diverse class playable, period. Either the old way of conquering nature or the new way of letting your garden grow a little wild looking. Could be murderous or not. I'm thinking cities are really filthy. I don't see why a druid would be filthy or nude. That doesn't make a lot of sense. If cities are filthy, and they are, then a druid might be a very well kept happy go lucky person indeedy. Also why would a druid hate math or logic? I think a druid would be like "ok well i'm not actually a dumb wolf, i have to be cool with what i am. Let's love logic sometimes, eat with a knife and fork, have some class, man!". I like the Moss Boss, Leaf Chief post this was linked to. Describing "what if" a druid found purpose in being a big time real estate owner in order to control the way land was used to serve his (and nature's) purpose. Heck, throw on the suit and tie. It's not an abomination or the other teams colors. It is what it is. There's a lot of neutral thinking to be had, right? No reason to pigeon hole a class one way or another. I'm getting the idea for a druid who is in love with math, nature, philosophy, astronomy, and has to burn a lot of stuff also.
    THANKS, K.
    but other than great stories there has to be an answer "what can this guy do in the dungeon" to make it useful to the party and fun to play, right? So hopefully i'll never leave a druid's stuff only useful in the trees.

  11. Really great post! i have a hard time with my Druid because they are dragonborn, and pairing those two together is rather challenging, but given the badassery found on this page, I have plenty to work with. Thanks!

  12. I love the concept of the misanthropic, perhaps slightly mad, rage driven druid.
    I wish there were ways to incorporate the ancient continental Celtic druid concept as well, but alas, little is known.

  13. Thanks so much for this, I'm about to play a nature cleric who thinks druids are wierdos. Bravo!

  14. This is awesomely made. Thanks!

  15. I still think you should publish a setting book for Centerra. It'd be great to have all these wonderful posts in a nice volume with maps and all.

    Hope you're doing fine with COVID!

  16. Just wanted to say that this is one of my favorite fantasy pieces on the internet. I'd love it if you decided to pick it back up and write a "7 myths about" for more character archetypes. Seeing non traditional takes on wizards and paladins would be amazing.

  17. Ants create complex societies. They raise armies to lay waste to other ants and farms and cattle to feed said armies, driving entire species of insects extinct in the process. They embody civilization and the emergence inherent to it far better than humans ever could.

    And what about animals that are intelligent as individuals? Many animals are capable of using tools, and crows are even capable of crafting them. Primates bypass instinct to consciously teach their young lessons, giving rise to culture in the process. There are many, many animal species that have been proven to be capable of doing math, and a few that can learn the languages of humans. Should these animals be seen as an affront to nature?

    Nothing about the supposed sins of humans, in the real world or in fantasy, are truly unique to them. They create their structures and their weapons using the materials that nature gave them. Their destructive behavior is a product of the survival instinct inherent to all creatures, the one that you espouse as good and right, because the natural order of things as described demands that no animal should care about what is good and right above what keeps it fat and happy.

    So what makes humanity, an animal which has followed its instincts to the logical extremes, antithetical to nature? Perhaps the fact that they themselves claim to be apart from it is enough. After all, the game itself was designed by humans. But none of the reasoning you note here indicates anything inherently unnatural about humanity. If anything, it implies that they represent the goal of every animal to have ever existed, as do all of the intelligent races in the game.

    (Also, wolves don’t have alphas and betas in the wild. I know this article is older, but that alone immediately brings your credibility down a peg.)

    1. We are the only species that writes things down. Or paints, or composes, or builds according to plans. To an extent you are correct but we are the only species which glorifies information and hoards it. And information lasts forever and ever. It is the very idea of building upon what our ancestors knew that separates us and makes our way of living a civilization.

      And that's what the druids hate. Nature is wild, survival of the fittest. No matter who you are or what you become you can never overcome the combined efforts of all your ancestors. To them it's not standing on the shoulders of giants, it's a great chain that drags them down. Once everything is Known there is no more Nature. Then, finally, no one is Free like only a wild animal can be.

  18. I just stumbled onto this stealing most of it and looking at all your other stuff

  19. One of my personal favourites of all times. I've decided to put these druids in my Beyond the Wall game (has a kinda bronze age/celtic setting, nothing historically tied) , although they are no playable characters but one of the many parties the players can come across. They aren't too savage also, and there are magical creatures with enough power to keep them in line. Also, the setting has humans recently arrived (druids are one of the two human parties, the other es the PCs village) so there is a lot of primitive forests and little "urbanized" settlements; so everything looks sorta fine. Although, I'm using them as threat pack and the danger will build up as the campaign goes.
    I've bestowed the druids with the power of destroy words (as ripping it out of existence), including true names (Beyond the Wall is heavy about true names); 'cause things don't need labels, they just are, and a name is like a chain to constrict the true nature of anything.

  20. When the Romans colonised England, they left the druids alone because those were some scary ass weirdo motherfuckers, even for their highly trained murderers and slavemongers. This is perfect.