With the release of Primal Power not so far off, the first previews of the book are coming out, with some very promising material. Today I'll talk one of the most innovative concepts I've seen in a while - the Swarm Druid.
Swarm Druids are one of the two new builds for Druid PCs featured in Primal Power (the other being Summoner Druids, shown in a playtest article long ago), and they are based on a bizarre idea that, somehow, fits the flavor of the class perfectly. When most druids can shapeshift into a beast form, resembling some kind of ferocius animal, the Swarm guys turn into dozens, or hundreds, of tiny creatures. The picture below should give you an idea of what it looks like.
The swarm in action.
This, to me, is one of the most awesome character concepts I've ever seen. Perhaps the most obvious use is to become a bug swarm (flies, roaches, worms), but it's far from the only possibility. Upgrading to vertebrates, we can find several other horror classics: rats, snakes and even bats. But why stop there? Particularly cruel druids could explore the 'adorable' route - imagine their enemies being swallowed by a horde of kittens, puppies, and the like.
Regarding the mechanics, the swarmers come with an interesting twist, both in their defenses and offensively. These druids have Constitution as their secondary stat, but instead of adding this modifier to their AC (as their Guardian Druid counterparts), they use it to gain resistance to damage. This comes with several limitations (it doesn't work against area attacks, nor if you're wearing heavy armor, and you have to be in beast form), but it is undoubtedly a very strong mechanic. At lower levels, the Swarm will be able to almost ignore minions, and stand toe to toe with many types of monsters - as long as they keep away from brutes. The combination of abysmal Druid AC and huge brute damage means these monsters are a natural counter to the Swarm.
Though I haven't seen it in play yet, I'm liking this way of defending, at least at lower levels. However, I'm concerned that it won't work that well at Paragon Tier and beyond, when the loss of AC becomes more pronounced, and the damage resisted is a much lower percentage of what your enemies will be dealing. I expect some feat enhancing the feature for characters above 11th level will fix this problem. At any rate, it will be interesting to see a Druid type that is very resilient in beast form, but quite vulnerable as a humanoid.
The article shows four new attack powers associated with the new build. All of them are either close burst or blast, so we can expect close attacks to be a major theme for swarms, which isn't surprising. There also seems to be an emphasis in attacks that temporarily boost the Druid's defenses, also a natural fit from a flavor point of view. The new at-will is called Swarming Locusts, and will easily become a favourite among Druids of all kinds. It is a close blast attack that works in beast form and creates a zone of insects that distract your enemies for a turn, and it fills a very needed niche - beast form attacks with areas or controller effects. I always liked the original array of beast attacks, but all of them targeted a single melee enemy, feeling more like a defender's powers to me. With this new power, you can now build druids with both close and ranged area attacks, plus a strong melee basic attack, all of them at-will.