One of the lesser-known races in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, Shifters are humanoids with a bestial aspect. They are commonly believed to be the descendants of Humans and Lycanthropes and as such, exhibit watered-down lycanthropic characteristics; they may exhibit some animalistic physical features such as wide eyes, cat-like flat noses, unnaturally hairy bodies, pointy ears, etc.
But the main characteristic which gives them their name is the ability to enhance their beastly attributes temporarily. This transformation differs from that of classic lycanthropes in that they do not undergo full-body transformations. Shifters only have partial transformations of some parts of their body which changes their appearance and enhance their physical traits for a short time.
Shifters first appeared in the 3.5 Edition Eberron Campaign setting in 2004 as an exclusive race. They were later fully integrated into the greater D&D canon by being featured in the 4th edition’s Player Handbook 2 in 2009. Since then, Shifters have been a playable race continuing till 5th Edition.
Shifter Physical Traits
Shifters are humanoid in form although they tend to show their inner beast in their gait and posture. their heights range from 5 to 7 feet. Shifters mature quickly reaching young adulthood at the age of 10. Shifters.
Shifters differ in their physical characteristics based on their ancestral heritage. This separates shifters into various sub-races or tribes determined by the beastly characteristics which are the most pronounced in the individual. For example, some shifter may have long canines due to their lupine heritage, while others may have long razor-sharp claws due to their feline heritage. When Shifters transform, it enhances these unique traits making their transformations have different effects depending on the shifter’s subrace.
Beasthides: Beasthides are shifters whose most pronounced characteristic is their furrier and thicker skins. This sub-race claims to be descended from werebears or wereboars. This makes them exhibit a level of toughness that surpasses that of other shifter subraces. Shifting further increases their toughness.
Ability scores: +2 to Constitution, +1 to Strength
Shifting feature: gain 1d6 additional temporary hitpoints as well as a +1 bonus to AC
Longtooths: Longtooths are shifters with very pronounced elongated canines. They claim to be descended from Lupine ancestors (Werewolves). Upon shifting, longtooths gain the ability to use their elongated fangs as deadly weapons in combat.
Ability Scores: +2 to Strength, +1 to Dexterity
Shifting Feature: gain the ability to use your claws to deal an unarmed strike with a 1d6 +STR modifier as piercing damage.
Swiftstrides: Swiftstrides are very nimble shifters that may be descended from any werebeasts which is known for their speed and agility. They are more dexterous than the other subraces and are known to be very acrobatic. They make very experienced predators or even thieving rats. Shifting gives them bonuses to their swiftness and makes them very evasive.
Ability Scores: +2 to Dexterity, +1 to Charisma
Shifting Feature: gain +10feet walking speed and the ability to move up to 10 feet as a bonus reaction whenever an enemy comes within 5 feet of you. This movement also doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity.
Wildhunts: Wildhunt shifters can be descended from any were-animal which tracks its prey. From their ancestors, they possess great wisdom and insight. They are constantly alert and are quick to familiarize themselves with their surroundings. This makes them very masterful hunters and makes them very difficult to catch unawares. When they shift, their hunter instincts become more heightened.
Ability Score: +2 to Wisdom, +1 to Dexterity
Shifting Feature: gain advantage on Wisdom checks. Also, no creatures within 30 feet can roll attacks with advantage against you for the duration of your transformation.
Other sub-races featured in 3.5 to 4th Edition include Broadwings, Junglerunners, Raptorleaps, and Razorclaws.
Most shifters, of all sub-races, share the ability to see clearly in dark to dim lighting for up to 60feet.
Shifter personalities and behaviours
Shifter psychology is also a product of their ancestry. They often share behavioral characteristics that reflect the werebeasts they descend from. This makes shifters have a wide range of emotional predispositions depending on their subraces. However, as a whole, shifters have some shared emotional qualities and challenges.
The Beast Within
All Shifters share a heightened connection to their emotions. Being descended from beastly progenitors they find it difficult to suppress their feelings and instincts, especially in stressful situations. This makes emotional outbursts and sudden mood swings very common among Shifters; outbursts of rage, crippling depression, etc. Many shifters learn to control their emotions but do so through almost monastic and ascetic intentionality. For this reason, it is always glaringly obvious to onlookers when a shifter is suppressing his emotions.
Shifters hold strongly to self-reliance as an ideal. They hold in high regard having the ability to survive on your own in the wild. This ideal could be the product of nature and nurture. By nature, animals are survivalists and so, being descendants, it makes sense that they would carry down a similar philosophy.
For the nurture basis, one only has to consider their history of the race to understand how this philosophy could have come about.
Shifters in Eberron are one of the most distrusted and unjustly persecuted race. Thanks to their ancestry and shared characteristics with lycanthropes, they have been on the receiving end of the continent’s hatred of werebeasts for centuries. The continent of Eberron has 12 moons which meant that the existence of the lunar shape-shifters was a constant terror to the people.
The destruction caused by werebeasts led the Church of the Silver Flame, in the year 832 YK, to launch a 50 year Crusade to wipe out the vile beasts from the continent. This crusade, also known as the Silver Purge, unfortunately, extended its reach to innocent shifter communities and nearly led to their extinction.
Shifters were mistaken to be lycanthropes by the church. And unlike lycanthropes which were rare, difficult to find, and powerful, shifters were much easier to find and weaker so they were hunted killed in great numbers. Furthermore, the church, ignorant of the difference between shifters and lycanthropes, saw the many deaths as a sign of success and even displayed the dead bodies of shifters as proof that lycanthropes were being wiped out. Survivors of this genocide were driven into the Eldeen Reaches.
Eventually, the shifters were acknowledged as a distinct race from the lycanthropes. However, it is believed that this concession was not of the church’s benevolence but the product of an agreement between the church and shifter leaders. This agreement was that shifters would scout lycanthrope dens for the church.
For this reason, distrust of shifters spread even more as other races saw them not only as dangerous lycanthropes but also now as traitors to their kind. This also made the shifters heavy with guilt and shame for selling out their distant cousins.
Shifters since that period developed a culture of constant vigilance, distrusting most races including their kind, suspicious of other cultures and religions, and being prepared with necessary survival skills to fight life’s challenges and escape coming danger. Shifters are taught to be prepared for the unforeseen future or “The Journey Yet to Come”.
Shifters strongly believe that personal freedom is their reward for self-reliance. Their strong desire for individualistic freedom makes it difficult to submit to rules and regulations. This makes living in a community very difficult for a shifter as they feel beliefs and norms are being imposed on them unfairly.
Despite their individualistic tendencies, shifters can’t help thinking like predators which see the benefits of hunting in packs. This behavior differs among sub-races. Longtooths and Wildhunts are particularly willing to join groups and make loyal companions. Razorclaw shifters are more independent. They still make loyal companions but they strive to carry their own weight.
Sub-race specific behaviors
Shifter behavior can also vary depending on sub-race.
Beasthides descended from boar and bear lycanthropes tend to be very blunt, rude, and stubborn.
Longtooths descended from wolves tend to be very fierce and savage,
Wildhunts tend to be suspicious and untrusting.
Razorclaws respect physical power
Dreamsights tend to be more calm and contemplative than other shifters
Cliffwalks are often shy and introverted
Culture and Location
Shifters have no shared culture. Due to their nomadic and individualistic philosophies, they never give themselves the time to form cohesive bonds with each other as a joint racial group. Instead, different shifter clans may exhibit different ideals and practices depending on their location and the challenges they may have been exposed to. For this reason, they also do not have a shifter language. Shifters all speak common.
Shifters have no lands to call their own but many shifter clans can be found in the Eldeen Reaches. This is either due to settling after the silver crusades or the desire to be as far away from the rules and beliefs of other cultures. Few shifters are known to live near larger societies communities in small enclaves sometimes located within human communities. Shifters in these enclaves make their living as guides, hunters, and military scouts.