Racial Traits breakdown
Before starting your new Druid, you'll need to decide which faction and race to choose. You probably already have a fairly good idea which you're going to select, and it's unlikely that racial traits will make much of an impact on that decision. It's still a good idea to be familiar with what extra abilities you'll have at your disposal.
If you choose to play the Alliance, your only choice for a Druid is the Night Elf. If you go with the Horde, then your choice is limited to the Tauren.
If you are a Night Elf, then you will start with the passive racial traits Nature Resistance, Quickness and Wisp Spirit. Nature Resistance adds +10 to your resistance against nature-based damaging attacks. Quickness adds +1% to your Dodge, and Wisp Spirit arguably is an ability you hope you won't be using too often, since it makes you turn into a Wisp Spirit on character death, boosting your travel speed on your corpse run by 50%. Of these, Quickness is by far the most useful, as in higher levels, especially as a Bear tank, that +1% Dodge comes in mighty handy.
Night Elves also have a racial trait with an activation, Shadowmeld. Shadowmeld allows you to enter stealth, but the effect breaks if you move. It is mostly useful early on for going 'away from keyboard' for brief periods of time in enemy-infested areas. However, in later levels, Shadowmeld is very useful for Druids and Rogues, because it adds an effective 1 character level to stealthing when in Cat form or as a stealthed Rogue.
If you are a Tauren, then you will start with the passive racial traits Nature Resistance, Cultivation and Endurance. As stated above, Nature Resistance adds +10 to your resistance against nature-based damaging attacks. Cultivation adds +15 to the Herbalism profession if you choose to train in it. And Endurance increases your total health by 5%. Endurance obviously benefits you more if you have high health... which is something a Bear tank in later levels will strive for.
Taurens also have their own racial trait with an activation, and it's a nice one. War Stomp allows you to Stun up to 5 enemies that are within 8 yards of you for 2 seconds, on a 2 minute cooldown timer. Having a 2 second AOE stun is highly useful, especially in your early levels when extra enemies join the fight. A quick War Stomp, followed by backing off and casting Entangling Roots on the extra mob is very, very useful. If you are a Tauren, you must work War Stomp into your playstyle. Also, the benefits of War Stomp in PvP to interrupt casters cannot be overstated.
All things considered, War Stomp has to win out over all of the racial traits presented here for sheer flexibility... but the sneakiness of Shadowmeld and the usefulness of Quickness are very nice consolation prizes.
Enough about racial traits. Let's talk about what you can do to prepare yourself before you even start your first quest.
User Interface Alterations FTW!
Here are a few suggestions I have on getting yourself ready to play as a Druid caster during your early levels. Almost everything I'm going to discuss is well known to experienced players, but if you have primarily played a melee class in the past, or especially if you are new to the game, some of this should be fresh to you, and will definitely be helpful.
The first thing you might want to do is go into your Options Menu via the Esc key. Select Interface, and place check marks beside Auto Self Cast, Auto Loot Corpse, and Instant Quest Text. Once you have selected these and any other options that you may be interested in, exit the Options menu and return to the game.
Auto Self Cast, as the tool tip describes, will make sure that any beneficial spells you cast when targeted on a non-friendly target will automatically be cast on yourself if possible. This is very handy when you are soloing, since it lets you activate a Healing Touch or instant cast Rejuvenation while in the middle of combat without having the 'select' icon appear to distract you from your fighting.
Auto Loot Corpse will cause your character to automatically add to your inventory the items and money from any target that you have loot rights to when you 'open' them, whether it is a chest or a corpse. You can achieve the same effect without having this enabled, by holding down the Shift key when looting a chest or corpse. If you do have this option enabled, you will see that holding down the Shift key will serve to prevent you from auto-looting, a very handy thing to keep in mind when playing with groups of people. Since in your earliest levels you will want to collect everything you can to sell to vendors, this is a good option to help you save time, as long as you have the bag space to collect everything, or make frequent trips to vendors to sell the trash off.
When you begin playing and accept your first quest, you will see that the quest text by default appears gradually, at a fairly slow rate of reveal. Selecting Instant Quest Text eliminates the wait, for those who want to get right to the bottom line - what do I have to do?
Leveling with empty pockets
For the first 10 levels, players with higher level main characters will likely be mailing their new alt cash to help them gear up early and purchase additional bags. For new players, or those starting characters on new servers or as a cross-faction, I recommend you learn two gathering professions as early as possible; Herbalism and Mining.
As you adventure and quest outside your initial starting area, you will come across many mining nodes and herbs that can be gathered. These can sell on the Auction House very well for your level, netting you anywhere from 10 silver to 1 gold per stack of 20 Peacebloom, Silverleaf or Copper Ore, depending on the economy of your server. Please take advantage of this to help you earn the money you will need to train, equip better gear, and purchase bags, potions and other consumables. There will be plenty of time to drop one or both of these professions when you reach level 20 or even 30, if you desire to pick up a crafting profession. And don't forget, if you are a Tauren Druid, you start out with a +15 to your Herbalism skill, right out of the gate. Nice, eh?
Druid Addons you shouldn't do without
For more experienced players, there are a few Addons that you can use to make life as a Druid much smoother. It takes a bit of patience if you haven't spent any time messing around with Addons in the past, but the benefits, even early on, are immense.
If you are unfamiliar with how to install Addons in World of Warcraft, you can find a very nice, very detailed guide here in WoWInterfaces' FAQs to help you out.
The main Addon that all Druids should at least try is some form of automatic equipment changer. I personally prefer ItemRack. When you install it, you may have to enable the 'Load out of date addons' option in your addon window at the character select screen, but I love this Addon.
As you level, you will most likely stick with one equipment set optimized for either Cat form DPS for faster leveling (high strength, agility, attack power, +Crit and stamina), or a set for Balance DPS casting. If you have the bag space, however, carrying around a set of equipment with healing stats on it (Intellect, Wisdom, +Healing) is a good idea so you can be flexible in the parties you may join for group quests.
When you do have multiple sets of equipment to manage, you will want to be able to switch your equipped gear out rapidly.
When you are actually in combat, the only equipped items you can change are Weapons and Idols. When out of combat, you can switch everything around at will. ItemRack allows you to create sets of equipment, whether just Idols and Weapons or your entire equipped inventory, that you can then switch between instantly at the touch of a small button on your minimap.
The sets you create do not have to be form related, either. I personally have sets in ItemRack for equipping fishing gear, changing Idols on-the-fly in combat, and with the advent of Winter Veil, switching over to my Santa suit while raiding Hogger. The important point here is that an equipment changing Addon takes the work out of finding your gear in your bags to swap out when you need to change your role in a party or raid.
Another Addon I would highly recommend adding is one that adds Time Left displays to your applied Heal over Time, Damage over Time and timed debuffs like Entangling Roots. Such Addons generally change your entire user interface, but they can be very valuable in judging when best to activate your next attack/spell.
The Addon I personally use for this is X-Perl UnitFrames, but there are many other ones out there that have some of the same functionality. X-Perl takes a little bit of adjusting, at least it did for my widescreen monitor, to get your windows and frames just where you like them. But right out of the box it adds large icons and Time Left functionality to the spells and attacks you cast on your target.
X-Perl also adds an Energy Bar tick indicator, which is just a confusing way of saying that when you shift into Cat form, the energy bar will pulse as you regain your 20 energy every 2 seconds.
Why is a Time Left indicator so useful?
In your earliest levels, you will be weaving Entangling Roots into your combat sequence a lot. Being able to see exactly when Entangling Roots is due to wear off of your target is very helpful in knowing when to start casting your follow up attacks.
In later levels, most Druids that raid as Cat form DPS apply Mangle once to get a bleed debuff on a target, and then Shred from behind as Energy levels allow. Mangle usually only gets re-applied when the bleed debuff is due to wear off of the target. Think of Mangle as an attack that, for a short period of time, allows your other attacks to do a lot more damage. Knowing exactly when your Mangle is due to wear off of the target is very useful.
Another of the great uses of Time Left displays on your target is when you are healing using Lifebloom, a very useful Healing over Time spell. With a Time Left indicator, you can clearly see just when a HoT is due to expire so that you can re-cast it just in time rather than too early, to conserve your mana.
Being able to see the Time Left on a Regrowth or Rejuvenation is handy when you are healing in any party or raid, but if you are healing with a lot of points spent in the Restoration tree and have Swiftmend, a spell that takes your Heal over Time and burns it up for a single big heal, a Time Left display will help you see exactly when the right time to cast has come.
Along with X-Perl UnitFrames, I like to use a complimentary Addon, Druidbar. It plugs directly into X-Perl, and what it does is add a Mana bar under your Energy or Rage bar when you are shapeshifted, so you can see exactly how much mana you have at any given time, in any form. Once you have some forms to play with, and you spend some time fast shifting, you'll find it very handy to be able to keep track of your mana while in Cat or Bear form.
What other UI Addons you might like to use is entirely up to you, but as I write this series of leveling articles, I will assume that you have chosen some method of seeing exactly when your timed abilities are due to wear off.
If you do not choose to install any Addons, you can still estimate when your timed abilities will wear off, but there will be a little more guesswork in timing combat actions around spells such as Entangling Roots.
Have no fear, however! You can play without Addons as a Druid just fine. These are only tools to help you concentrate on the playing and having fun, without having to spend quite as much attention on the drudgery.
For a list of more useful Addons for Druids, as well as some Macros designed for Druids by the player community, please check out the Druid Wiki, or our own Druid Addons WoW Insider post at Shifting Perspectives: Some handy addons for your druid.
If you are an experienced Druid and have an Addon that you particularly like, especially ones that may add 'Time Left' functions to your spell effect icons on the target, why not share them here? I'd love to see your recommendations!
Next week I will dive into the tactics and strategies of getting the most out of your Druid abilities in the early levels. Don't miss it!
Strategies for your first 5 levels ->