Shapeshifter Class

Here is a Shapeshifter class that I’ve been toying with. Frankly, I have no idea how this relates in power to other classes. Thoughts on this matter will be greatly appreciated.

Basically, the shapeshifter chooses one animal at first level – that is the only animal she will ever be able to turn into – and she may only take animal form a limited amount of time per day (starting at four turns per adventure session). I wanted the shapeshifter’s chosen animal form to be an adaptable part of the character, and not just a template the character takes on, so I chose to have the animal’s skills and Health increase as usual. However, I also wanted there to be risk: The shapeshifter is forever torn between her human and animal natures, and, when the animal’s Nature reaches 7, the shapeshifter is lost to the beast forever. At each level, the player chooses between increasing how long she can remain in animal form and another benefit the relates to her rustic, wild nature.

Let me know what you think!

Class Shapeshifter
Stock: Human
Raw Abilities: Distribute 8 points between Will and Health, with neither state below 2
Skills: Survivalist 4, Pathfinder 3, Hunter 2, Peasant 2, Scavenger 2
Trait: Blood of the Wild
Weapons: Axe, club, sword, spear, bow, dagger
Armor: leather and hide

At first level, the shapeshifter picks one animal (wolf, bear, hawk, eagle, owl, raven, deer, elk, snake, or any other that the GM allows). She may take this animal’s form for four (not necessarily consecutive) turns per adventure phase.

While in the animal form, she retains her own Will, intellectual skills (such as Loremaster and Theologian) Traits, and Wises, but takes on the animal’s Nature (including appropriate descriptors) and other attributes. Her instinct is replaced with an instinct appropriate to the animal. She also takes the greater rank (human form or animal form) in skills relating to the animal’s Nature descriptors (the GM and player should discuss this when the player chooses the animal). The animal is strictly unable to use Ritualist, Scholar, Arcanist, and any social or trade skills (with the exception of Laborer for certain animals, and Manipulator to intimidate other animals). However, the animal’s Skills may otherwise be increased as usual otherwise; so, while in animal form, the player tracks tests of Health, Fighter, Hunter, Dungeoneer, Laborer, Scavenger, Scout, Pathfinder, and Survivalist as usual and increases the animals skills appropriately. The animal has Circles and Resources 0 – the shapeshifter must be in human form to use these abilities.

To take animal shape, the shapeshifter must pass a Will test with obstacle equal to her human Nature. She may return to human form at will; however, the shapeshifter possesses two natures – her human nature and her animal nature – and she must test Will versus her own animal Nature when doing so. While the animal Nature is 7, the shapeshifter cannot shift back to human form; if Nature is 7 at the end of an adventure, she becomes that animal permanently (Will, intellectual skills, Traits, and Wises all become those of the animal, but the attributes otherwise remain unchanged).

At level 2, the shapeshifter chooses between increasing the number of rounds per adventure phase she can maintain animal form by one, or may take Brawler as the level 2 Warrior ability (which applies in human and animal forms).

At level 3, the shapeshifter chooses between increasing the number of rounds per adventure phase she can maintain animal form by one, or may communicate for one turn per adventure phase with animals similar to her chosen animal while in human form.

At level 4, the shapeshifter chooses between increasing the number of rounds per adventure phase she can maintain animal form by one, or may trade one of her human Nature descriptors with one of her animal Nature descriptors.

At level 5, the shapeshifter chooses between increasing the number of rounds per adventure phase she can maintain animal form by one, or may take Endurance as the level 4 Warrior ability.

This sounds more like a spell than a class.

And if not a spell, maybe a racial stock. Because as a class, I’m not sure what the shapeshifter does. The warrior fights, the thief steals, the ranger ranges, the burglar burgles. What does the shapeshifter do in his/her society? Is it a berserker? A shaman? Aboriginal hunter? A hermit?

What does Blood of the Wild do? Sounds cool.

The skills and weapons make this character seem like a tribal hunter-gatherer, which is cool. Survivalist 4 seems high, esp. with human special skill. I’d make it 3 with the possibility of a 4 if they choose it as their special skill or specialty. Then lower Pathfinder to 2 and add Scout 2 or some odd skill like Ritualist or Loremaster at 2 just to be weird.

Also: clubs are improvised weapons, so no need to put it on the weapons list. Throwing club/boomerang I could get behind as a new kind of weapon! Maybe a variant on the hand axe?

Is shapeshifting like a spell in that it takes no turns to change form? Also: by rounds do you mean turns or is this only for rounds within conflicts?

It’s an interesting idea. Needs grounding and simplifying.

I definitely cobbled this together as I was typing it here, although it’s been stewing in my brain for a few weeks. No time like the present to throw an idea to the crowd and let them rinse and spit. Thanks for being the first sounding board here. When you say that it needs simplifying, to which parts are you referring?

My personal vision for what the shapeshifter does in society is two-fold: I had in mind someone like Beorn, who is pretty much outside society altogether (sort of a really great woodsman or farmer, who can also turn into a fearsome beast to protect his territory); I also pictured a her in a tribal setting, where the shapeshifter is both revered and feared, someone in a societal limbo, who could as easily be a wise counselor or respected general as an outlaw menace or clan freak. For the latter, I am envisioning a role similar to that of skinchangers from A Song of Ice and Fire – albeit with a different sort of magic.

As for what I want for the player, I want a chance to have a character who naturally has a variety of skills, where the player has to balance two Natures in choosing between two skill-sets for different situations. I wanted a character with a serious risk, so I am pretty set on the two Natures part of this class. Thoughts?

Really, though, if a warrior fights and burglar burgles, then a shapeshifter simply shifts her shape. Perhaps I failed to capture this adequately in the mechanical description. I intend this to be a character that is at odds with both nature and society at the start, and perhaps chooses one over the other as she develops, or perhaps learns to accommodate both. I think that this could be better represented in the options at each level: One option should demonstrate a deepening of her animal nature, and the other should reflect a stronger conformity to society. Perhaps better abilities as counter-balances to extending the number of rounds per adventure phase the shift lasts would be the ranger’s Wilder (which is very useful for a nomadic clan), the bard’s Silver-tongued (albeit under a different name; I am thinking of a shaman or advisor sort of character here), or the Strider’s Stalker or Ambush Expert abilities (also highly useful in a tribal setting).

Here’s a little write-up for Blood of the Wild: Shapeshifters have the wild in their blood, the howl of wolves in their ears, an eagle’s wings waiting to burst from their back, scales under skin. Beasts know them as part of their pack, as predator, or as prey – perhaps even as the alpha wolf knows the runt. And, as men know wild animals, so too do they know shapeshifters. (Hopefully this conveys that the shapeshifter can relate socially to animals and humans in varying roles and to varying degrees; the first sentence is left as a blanket “I am of the wild” statement for the player to interpret creatively.)

Regarding “rounds” and “clubs,” old habits from different games led me to use these terms instead of “turns” and “improvised weapons.” And, of course, everyone can use improvised weapons, I suppose. Apologies for the confusion.

As for how long it takes to change one’s shape, I do think it should be “instantaneous,” in the sense that it takes no turns.

Ok, now that I’ve gone a hair’s width deeper, what are folks’ reactions?

Thanks for the clarification. I dig the Beorn reference. I think using him as a touchstone would help a lot. Taming animals, for example. Maybe Herding nature. A racial stock + class might be a good idea, Nature questions can really drive the development.

When I asked what shapeshifters do, it was more “what are they doing as murder hobos traipsing around in dungeons.” Sounds like they’re scary feral warriors. More like the WoW shape-shifting druid than the druid I made for Wanderers (basically a nature cleric). Good trait. I can see how that could be used against themselves — bad etiquette, bluntness when manipulating or convincing, acting all instinct-driven instead of rational when making decisions.

Your skills are a little on the nose. A little too useful. I’d draw from a list like:
Carpenter, Cook, Healer, Pathfinder, Peasant, Weaver

Like you’re a tribal villager who is getting by and you have this special talent that takes care of the other stuff. Skills like Fighter, Hunter, Laborer and Scout would be less important because hey, the shapeshifter can become as savage as a bear, cunning as a wolf, strong as an ox, sharped-eyes as a hawk, etc. And who needs Survivalist? You don’t need tools or fire, you have claws and fur…just find a cave or a burrow if you need to sleep out a storm.

I don’t like the shapeshifting rules. Too easy. If you turn into an animal, you’re that animal for the duration. The player can make rational decisions but the character has to rely on the animal’s three descriptors. You have your Nature rating and Might and that’s it…you can only advance Nature. Dangerous, because if your animal Nature gets too high you can’t change back. Too low and you become human, permanently? To change, test your will vs. your animal nature. The winner determines if you stay in your current form or change.

I wouldn’t worry too much about duration. That doesn’t seem like an interesting choice. Additional forms or higher Order of Might…those are cool level benefits. For example, up until a given level, you’re limited to no higher than Order of Might 2. Next level you can go up to Might 3 (dire wolf or bear) and higher levels you can become an animal of might 4 (giant spider) or even higher! Balance is if you spend all your time as a dire wolf doing dire wolf stuff, eventually you’re going to hit Nature 7 and run off into the woods forever. Or you’re going to be a lame dire wolf that has trouble hunting and stalking because you’re too human.

Yeah I was getting the hermit in the forest/jungle or the shaman in the cave vibe as I was reading your description. Sounds cool and fun to play.

I see what you’re saying about the skills. Peasant, Weaver, Pathfinder, Scavenger, and Carpenter are what I think I’ll go for. Scavenger just seems like the right choice to me for some reason.

I really like the idea of increasing Might as levels go up (perhaps not at every level, though). I can imagine additional forms working out well, but I would much rather have the player pick one form and stick with it. This guy is a were-bear. This lady turns into a hawk. Here we have a snake-person. That’s what they do. Torn between humanity and the wolf, like Bran in Clash of Kings.

So, I think I will offer a choice between increasing Order of Might and an ability to be used exclusively in human form (like the ones I mentioned). Hopefully this will create more tension between the human and animal forms. I do like the idea of changing one of the human nature descriptors, too, like the Monk’s third level ability. Or perhaps the other way around!

You mention “You have your nature rating and Might and that’s it…you can only advance Nature.” So, the animal form has no skills at all? Dang. That’s rough! I like it! What about Health and Will? Some of their uses will definitely fit into Nature, but neither seems entirely replaceable by Nature. I suppose that could just be part of the price paid for being an animal, though!

I see TB as a skill based game with small nods to a level based system, I feel this class is too reliant on the D&D trope of going up in levels is the means by which you increase your power; leaning toward a super-hero game that is at odds with the struggle to live as a mortal in a world full of super-heroes and monsters.

I prefer it much more flat in design and really enjoy the “leveling” approach of testing your characters beliefs, rather than increasing a characters might. In a way a TB character is Chris Pratt’s character in Guardians of the Galaxy; a normal human in a world of super-heroes, in direct contrast to the trope of a lot of fantasy where the protagonist is a super-hero in a world of muggles and 0-levels.

For me, for a warg (GoT) or shapeshifter (Tolkien) to work, it should eschew the wish fullfillment that is, for obvious reasons, very appealing when making character classes.

Can you specify which parts of the concept you are at odds with? Can you make suggestions for how to alter them?

Just look at the Denizens chapter for inspiration. Monsters have Nature and Might. Their descriptors cover what they can do. And yeah, this means NO tests for skills, health, will, resources or circles while in animal form. Rough life!

Since the animal can only act within the bounds of Nature descriptors (without using half Nature), having multiple forms would be really really useful… Still not sold on the idea, but I’ll consider it!