Now, I know many of you experienced players who just clicked on the link in order to continue reading this post are thinking, "But you can't do all of that stuff as well as the parent class that you mimic! And you don't have a lot of the utility that the parent class has either!" And of course, you're right. If you really want to cast power-bubbles, block with a shield, use poison, or turn your enemies into sheep, then you'll have to stick with the standard class with the best reputation for doing that.
The problem with the parent classes is, while you may have more tools to fill one or two roles in a group adventure, you're basically limited to those roles for as long as you play that character. A priest can heal or deal shadow damage, for example, but you'll never find one able to tank very effectively. A warrior can tank, of course, but he'll never get a chance to sit back and heal others for a while when he's sick of tanking all the time. The rogue and the mage can both do damage, but neither can heal or tank, whereas with a druid, you might sacrifice a little bit of the effectiveness and utility that other damage-dealing classes have in their main roles in order to fill any role you like best in any given season, sometimes shifting between roles in the course of a single battle, meeting any particular need in a way that no other class can (and getting invited to groups more often because of it).
The only possible exceptions to this rule are the other two hybrid classes, the Paladin and the Shaman. Each of these can fill all three of these roles in a pinch too, but their effectiveness in all three compared to the Druid is debatable. For example, a paladin may be able to tank and heal, but I seriously doubt that a retribution paladin's damage could compare to that of an equally geared feral or balance druid. Shamans, of course, have excellent damage, as well as strong healing power, but while they can tank for a while in a pinch, that's not their strongest suit, and they are unable to specialize for it the same way that a druid or a paladin can.
So, as you can see, that the Druid is the only class with basic abilities to fill any particular group role with near-optimal efficiency. The trick is that you have to tailor your talents and gear just right in order to get the job done. Gear is a particularly tricky issue for druids, since we need to collect 3 or 4 totally different sets of gear to wear for different situations and talent specs. Some druids, of course, choose to say things like, "I'm a feral/moonkin/healing druid! I never ever heal/tank/... dps? ... EVER!" but most druids really enjoy the versatility of their class and get a kick out of being able to switch roles when the situation demands it, especially if they can get some advance warning before a battle starts and get their specialized equipment on in time. Just today I was going through an instance with some friends of mine and a nice little robe with some extra spell damage dropped for us. Neither the mage nor the priest in our group needed it, so I got to pick it up and take it home with me, on the off-chance that I might respec my talents to become a spell-slinging moonkin someday! That's one big point for the collector and conservationist in me: being a druid means that I can make use of a wide variety of items, mixing and matching for effectiveness, and at the same time save that many more items from going to waste or being disenchanted!
Now to be honest with you, there are some things you should be aware of before starting out as a druid. First, no matter how much I say about how wonderful and versatile we are, the fact is that no single druid is really good at all these different roles at once. Talents make a huge difference in terms of your effectiveness, and even if you specialize your talents in the right way, you'll need the special gear to back it up too. For example, I'm a feral druid at the moment, so I can tank and rip things in melee pretty well. I can also heal in moderately dangerous encounters, but in a really tough fight, you'll want a true healing priest, paladin, shaman, or restoration druid to cover your back. The same is true in reverse for a restoration or balance druid -- they'll be able to heal or nuke things from afar, or even off-tank in an emergency until things get under control again, but you wouldn't ask them to be the main tank for your raid.
Another issue that many druids have, is that we feel underpowered when it comes to PvP. Now, I'm not saying that druids are less powerful than other classes, but as one forum poster aptly put it, "Druids are a strong PvP class, but they take a lot of strategy and finesse. Your up front burst damage can be surprisingly good, but if it's not enough to drop someone fast, then you have to start strategizing." Strategy and finesse are the key words here. In order to use a number of your abilities for any given situation, you need to be in the right form to use them, so that means you may have a delay of a couple seconds while you're shifting. It's best if you can know both the situation and your own abilities well enough that you can shift into the right form in anticipation of what you'll need to do before you need to do it. This is true across the board, from PvP to PvE, and it's something that the best druids practice for a long time in order to get good at. Many druids say that, while you can be a one-trick druid without too much trouble and still get by okay, there's a lot to learn for a druid who wants to be a true shift-master, doing just the right thing at just the right time. The learning curve can feel really steep sometimes (I'm leveling a hunter alt as well as a warlock at the moment so that I can have that great easy-PvP feeling whenever I get frustrated) but the learning pays off in the end, with a solid set of skills well mastered.
So, there it is. Druids are awesome fun to play, with lots of choices available to suit your shifting moods and playing needs, and they provide an excellent challenge for the player who wants to always have something new to learn, and discover new ways to get better and better all the time. But I've had my chance to go on and on about druidic fun -- now it's your turn. If you're an experienced druid player, what wisdom would you share with us regarding what you love most about playing a druid? Or if you're a new druid, or considering playing a druid, are there any druid issues I missed or just briefly touched on here that you'd like to see us write about in more depth?
Awesome Malfurion Stormrage Uber-Druidy fanart by Pulyx on Deviant Art.