Let me tell you, I am so excited that this was the second place winner in the poll to decide what re-skinning topics would show up here on Notes of the Wandering Alchemist. Like many, I fell in love with dinosaurs long ago and that love never dies away. A significant portion of my undergrad career included studying dinosaurs and having watched the realization and acceptance of feathered dinos has been awesome. As you know, near the top of my one-shot list for this year is Predation which heavily features dinosaurs and I really want Tomb of Annihilation on my shelf because it doesn’t just have more dinosaur stats but also zombie t-rexes that vomit zombies. Need I say more? All that being said, the purpose of tonight is to talk about how easily you can take your Player’s Handbook and get yourself a dinosaur druid!
What Constitutes A Dinosaur
This is the first thing I want to cover for a few reasons. Among them is the fact that I am a biologist and am a fan of negating commonly held myths. I am also, however, a fan of using the word dinosaur to mean a lot more than it technically does. So let’s cover what I mean when I talk dinosaurs in this article. I mean everything that we thought of as children as dinosaurs. All the different plastic reptilians, all the things we see in books and movies. When I use it here, in our fantasy world, I am talking the broad stroke, scientifically-inaccurate dinosaur. I mention all this as a fair warning to those who are like-minded and/or well-versed in dinosaurs. Below I am going to include species that are very much not dinosaurs. Pterosaurs, dimetrodons, crocodilian ancestors, and more are NOT technically dinosaurs. Dinosaurs you would recognize include ornithischians (like triceratops or stegosaurus) and theropods (like raptors). The flying reptiles, the crocodilians, and the marine reptiles are all related but many are not technically dinosaurs. Except in D&D. Here they will be dinosaurs because there is already plenty to track in that game! Oh, and as a side note dimetrodon is more closely related to mammals as an early stage and branch of the groups that would lead to mammals.
Okay, so how do we go about making a dinosaur druid. If you look at the picture above there is an example of one of the simplest ways to do a druid that is connected to dinosaurs. Very tribal, with gear that represents something along the lines of what a barbarian might carry in the jungle. However, this druid comes from Pathfinder (and if you know the artist so I can ping them that would be great!) and that ceratops is probably an animal companion. That is more the type of thing you would find in a 5E ranger, not a druid. So how are we going to go about making a 5th Edition druid into something that looks like they live in Jurassic Park? Let’s consider the two builds: caster and shapeshifter. In the first case there is not a ton that we can do directly. We can skin some spells a little bit, flavor the gear they carry, and perhaps add some brand new spells that have a full dinosaur feel. This sounds like a lot of work and work is what I am trying to avoid in these articles. So what about the shapeshifting circle? I like this idea. What better way to be a dinosaur druid than for you to shapeshift into dinosaurs!?
Finding Dino Stats
One of the hardest things about the concept of a druid that turns into different dinosaurs is not going to be figuring out dinosaurs. Anyone who likes that idea and wants to pursue it probably has a wide range of dinosaur knowledge. At least with enough depth and a large enough list of names to get by at a D&D table. The problem comes to when you get into a situation where you need dinosaur stats. As circle of the moon druids well know, this is going to happen pretty often as the forms are a major way for them to contribute to combat. So we need stats. Luckily, dinosaurs are beasts, so we aren’t breaking any rules with our efforts. The Monster Manual has some, but they are mainly very large creatures. Huge, in fact, and that size category is pretty hard to work with when you are a player. Tomb of Annihilation features Chult, a land full of dinosaurs and a book with more dino stats. Even Volo’s Guide features additional dinosaur stat blocks. Just like work, though, this article doesn’t want to see you spending money you don’t need to.
Instead of buying books or building stat blocks from scratch, I am going to help you build some stat blocks using only your PHB. Working with your DM and the Monster Manual to expand on the concepts here will only increase the dinosaurs available to you. With the PHB, though, we can get nearly a dozen right out of the gate. In the back of the book are basic stats for things you might need as a player. These include basic animal familiars, advanced familiars for warlocks of the chain, and larger animals for both ranger companions and druid forms. These provide you with around two dozen animal options as a druid. Some are small and combat-useless. The others though give you a decent range of applicable CRs to pull from alongside a handful of flying and swimming options. What more could you ask for?
Dinosaurs of course!
Re-Skinning Normal Beasts
In order to convert our list of modern day beasts into a list of dinosaurs it is going to take some thought, but not a ton of work. The first thing I did was pulled up a list of dinosaurs to work from. You can grab your favorite reference book from the shelf, browse Wikipedia, or even use a wiki for a dinosaur-filled game like Ark. Whatever you do, it will help you have a nice reference beyond your memory. Wikipedia is especially helpful to get size references. Raptors range from the size of turkeys to larger than what we see in Jurassic Park, so it helps when you convert small, large, or medium beasts. The other thing you need, of course, is Appendix D of the Player’s Handbook. With those two lists you the power is yours!
We could go over a every beast, but I want to leave you some room to round out your own druid. Here we will focus on a handful of beasts to provide you some variety in stats. To begin we need some CR 1/4 creatures, the first you will have access to as a druid. One of the mainstays of druids is the wolf. It is a common animal in D&D games and it has some great abilities. Pack tactics make aiding a party easier and their bite grants you a chance to pull the target to the ground. It is also a great medium-sized carnivore. Personally, I think the best option here is the compy, or procompsognathus. You will recognize these from the first scene in JP2, but in real life they were larger than the chicken sized swarmers we saw their. Not much, mind you. At an average 3 feet in length, they weren’t quite wolf sized either. Still, many families of dinosaurs feature similar species of a wide variety of sizes. So let’s imagine compies as beings roughly 3 feet tall and at least as long as a wolf. Beyond that they fit the bill perfectly. They work in groups (an assumption like most behavioral aspects of dinos) and would probably drive prey to the ground for easier kills. Take your wolf stats, cross out wolf, and write in compy. Boom on dinosaur shape down!
Next we want to spice things up a bit. Sure we can turn into all kinds of little animals at CR 0 or 1/8 but we don’t NEED stats for those like we do combat forms. So, we need another combat form for low levels. Queue the boar. Where the wolf attacks and works the with a group, the boar charges, tramples, and doesn’t give up. Think again to Jurassic Park 2. When Ingen arrives one of the creatures that is captured are the especially stubborn pachys. These dome headed dinosaurs would ram their opponents. Given such hard heads, this probably would knock you to the ground. The size of these varied, but plenty fall within the medium range and one in particular fits the boar stats nicely. Stygimoloch happen to have a nice crown of horns on their head, the perfect replacement for tusks. And there we are! Two dinosaur forms.
In order to save time and get you to the table faster, I won’t go into as much detail on the next couple. With these, though, you’ll have plenty to start working with. Take the black bear stats and replace it with dimetrodon. These large beefy dinos make a perfect replacement for bears. Dire wolves can easily be replaced with the big and likely intelligent Utah raptors, a nasty upgrade from smaller compies. Brown bears can be replaced with dilophosaurs, because they probably didn’t hunt in packs like the raptors. Also I will take the time to mention they probably didn’t spit either. Some dinosaur some when probably did, but as for these that was a fabrication by Crichton to make things interesting. Finally we can take the tiger and replace that with allosaurs. These large predators may have worked alone (our social constructs around them do as opposed to raptors but its hard to say without deep paleontological study and theory). Without large arms, it is not beyond the realm of reason to say they pounced on prey, even if only to knock them down or latch onto the neck more easily. Still, it adds a dinosaur to our list and removes another pesky mammal.
With that we are up to six dinosaurs! This is pretty good, and can easily be expanded with some 0 CR little guys for moments when you need. But what about the whole flying and swimming thing. Surely I cannot leave you here all set and ready to claim the jungle without those options can I? I could….but I won’t! I have one example of each. First, the giant eagle is a perfect fit for a pterosaur. It is the right size and we can easily imagine a pterasaur that attacks the same way. For those who want some more, there are smaller fliers called dimorphodons. These look like smaller pterosaurs with t-rex heads. They are terrifying and awesome, but I will leave you to find a suitable stat block! As for swimming, I decided to go with reef shark. Crocodile too easily can be replaced with a crocodile ancestor. Oooooo scary it stands taller. Instead we can play as a liopleurodon, though a small one it might be. Similar in shape to the monstrosity that was in the water of Jurassic World, these aquatic reptiles would certainly pack a wallop at a length of 16-23 feet! What more do you need to know?
And there you have it. We have successfully taken the druid from the PHB and stats found in the PHB and made a reasonable and legal dinosaur druid. Now all you need to do is convince your DM to let you be from Chult and get to work thinking up some more forms for later down the campaign road. Maybe instead of Elementals you transform into huge dinos? Or maybe some form of celestial dinosaur? Get creative and let me know!!!