Variant Eclipse Shapeshifting – The War Forms

Viktor Vasnetsov. Alenushka.1881 Oil on canvas...

Not so helpless as she appears

The query here is how to build a shapeshifter who more closely resembles the version found in the Player’s Handbook II – or, for that matter, Pathfinder and several other sources.

The basic version of Eclipse shapeshifting involves a serious transformation into another form – taking on both it’s abilities and limitations. Turn into a fish, and you’ll be able to “breathe” water. Turn into one with the ability to detect electrical fields nearby and you’ll get a whole new sense. On the downside, you won’t be able to breathe air, your eyesight will be drastically restricted, and you’ll suffer from many other limitations. After all, you’re a fish.

In a way, that’s what shapeshifting is all about – and it’s why a character can usually only do it a limited number of times per day. This kind of shapeshifting is a pretty serious change, and may well be a substantial strain and take a while to get used to.

Of course, that can involve a lot of complications for the game master and a major rewrite of the character sheet for each new form. If a game – and the applications for shapeshifting – revolves more around combat than around breathing underwater, or turning into a bloodhound to sort out who was at a party by the traces of their scents, or becoming an earth elemental so that you can ignore the terrible thirst and heat of the blazing desert, or turning into an arctic mouse so that your meager handful of grain will keep you fed for a month while you await rescue, or becoming a cobra to provide a sample of its venom for your alchemist to work with, or gaining the swimming abilities of an otter, then this kind of shapeshifting may not be for you. You don’t need a lot of detailed statistics to use shapeshifting as tool – but most games do need them for combat.

This takes us to a more game and combat-oriented style of shapeshifting – one that focuses on providing a specified series of bonuses rather than on “truly” turning into another creature.

This is the route that Pathfinder, the Player’s Handbook II, and a variety of other sources take. Personally I find it a bit jarring that – in such games – you can turn into a fish and still drown, or into an earth elemental that has no stomach and still need to eat, but to a certain extent that IS just me. Why SHOULDN’T shapeshifting just be a set of modifiers? It’s not like there are any actual magical shapeshifters available to compare “real” shapeshifting techniques with.

Ergo, here’s one way to build a shapeshifter like this in Eclipse. This character:

  • Can shapeshift all he, she, or it wants to.
  • Simply gains bonuses which are added to his or her base abilities, rather than modifying them.
  • Has a limited selection of actual bonus packages to pick from, regardless of what the form they’ve chosen at the moment looks like. Thus, if they take the “big predator” package, it doesn’t matter if they look like a tiger, a wolf, a carnivorous ape, or a dinosaur; they’re all going to be using the same package of abilities.
  • Cannot cast spells, speak, activate magic items, or use gear (it all vanishes and only comes back after the shapeshifter resumes his or her normal form) while in “animal form”. Ergo, any abilities purchased this way are at least Specialized – involving as they do a transformation with all those problems built in. That will reduce the costs of the entire package.

This, of course, is specifically designed to eliminate several headaches – the character sheet rewrite problem, the problem of shapeshifters combing through sourcebooks to find creatures with unbalanced abilities to turn into, and to eliminate the “Wild Spell” loophole that let a druid take a powerful form and still be a full spellcaster – and use gear that some associate helped him or her don after shapeshifting.

Eclipse handles the last two in other ways, but the first is a problem with any true shapeshift – and thus the way to eliminate it in Eclipse is to use something other than shapeshifting to simulate what you actually want. In this case we’re mostly going to go with Innate Enchantment and some Immunity.

Innate Enchantment; Specialized for Double Effect, Corrupted for reduced cost/only available in specific combinations for various forms. In general each ability is Spell Level One (the special abilities of animals generally equate to fairly low-level magic), Caster Level One, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated (x2000 GP) x .7 (personal-only where applicable).

  • Barkskin/+2 Natural Armor (1400 GP).
  • Bonus Strike (The user gets one extra attack at his or her full BAB, 1400 GP).
  • Breath of Air (User need not breathe for three minutes, as a continuous enchantment he or she need not breathe at all, 1400 GP).
  • Enhance Attribute/+2 Str (1400 GP).
  • Flesh Ward (DR 5/Slashing, 1400 GP).
  • Grant Simple Physical Feat/Cleave (1400 GP).
  • Grant Simple Physical Feat/Improved Critical (Natural Weapons) (1400 GP).
  • Grant Simple Physical Feat/Improved Overrun (1400 GP).
  • Grant Simple Physical Feat/Flyby Attack (1400 GP).
  • Grant Simple Physical Feat/Mobility (1400 GP).
  • Grant Simple Physical Feat/Great Cleave (1400 GP).
  • Growth (The user goes up one size category, 1400 GP).
  • Lesser Shield (Only a +2 Shield Bonus but usable on others, 1400 GP. Technically what we want is natural armor – but since our shapeshifter is specifically prevented from using shields, this has the same effect – and will accommodate massive armor class bonuses for high levels).
  • Mage Armor (+4 Armor Bonus, 1400 GP. Technically what we want is natural armor – but since our shapeshifter is specifically prevented from wearing armor, this has the same effect but will accommodate massive armor bonuses for high level forms.
  • Magic Fang (Natural Weapons become +1, 1400 GP).
  • Natural Weapons (1d8, Crit 20/x2, may make a full attack using two limbs at full BAB, 1400 GP)
  • Quickness (+10 Movement, 1400 GP).
  • Resistance (+2 Resistance Bonus to Saves, 1400 GP).

That’s a 25,200 GP effective value – for a total cost of 17 CP after the Corruption.

Now, this is an obvious supernatural ability – but we don’t want it to be readily dispelled. Ergo, Immunity/Dispelling, Specialized and Corrupted/only to protect innate enchantments, only those used to simulate the shapeshifting ability (Common, Minor, Major, 2 CP after Corruption and Specialization).

We don’t want this to cost XP either – it is emulating a class feature after all – and so we’ll want Immunity to the XP cost of buying Innate Enchantments, only for first level effects at caster level one (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 1 CP).

Now, we will need a few other things for some forms:

  • Celerity/New Movement Mode/20′ Flight, Corrupted/requires physical wings, room to spread them out, and so on (4 CP).
  • Immunity/Extra Damage from Critical Hits (Common, Major, Major – protecting against the first thirty points of critical hit damage, 4 CP after the overall specialization)

That neatly covers the usual list of combat enhancements at a total cost of 28 CP. Of course, the original package is designed both to replace the Druid’s shapechanging ability and animal companion and to be slightly more attractive (while still being more manageable) than those two abilities. As it happens, Druids normally spend 21 CP on Shapeshifting and 6 CP on their Animal companion – for a total of 27 CP. Not quite a perfect match, but plus or minus one point is pretty trivial.

This being Eclipse, of course, we don’t have to stop there. This is a good package for land-based combat, but what if you want to shapeshift to be stealthy? Or to function underwater? Or to track someone by scent? None of those abilities are a part of the standard package.

Fortunately, all you’ll have to do is to replace a few of those innate enchantments or spend a few more points buying a some more; for a mere 6 CP – one Feat – you can add six new “1400 GP” functions to your forms. Don’t forget that you can double their effects if necessary to match up with the kind of creature you want.

You want to be able to turn into alert critters with sharper-than-human senses? Add a few of the following innate enchantments.

  • Advanced Hearing: The user can hear extremely high and low frequency sounds, and can target unseen creatures within thirty feet without penalty with a successful listen check. (The doubled-up version eliminates the check or functions as sonar).
  • Low-Light Vision.
  • Scent.
  • Skill Mastery / +3 Competence Bonus to all Wisdom-Based Skills.
  • Tracking Mastery: Gain a +5 enhancement bonus to Survival/Tracking checks and an immediate reroll if a Survival/Tracking check fails.
  • Underwater Sight: You can see normally underwater.

You want to be smaller, sneakier, and quicker? Add…

  • Camouflage: Gain a +10 Circumstance Bonus to Hide Checks.
  • Catsfoot: You may move silently with a +5 bonus while moving at normal speed.
  • Reduce Person (1400 GP). You may become one size category smaller.
  • Skill Mastery / Gain a +3 Competence Bonus to all Dexterity-Based Skills.
  • Vital Strike: Add +2d6 Sneak Attack
  • Weapon Mastery / Gain +3 BAB with Natural Weapons.

You want to be tough as nails?

  • Endure Elements: Become immune to ordinary weather effects.
  • Glimpse of Rage: Gain a +10 Morale bonus on Intimidation checks.
  • Immortal Vigor I: Gain +(12 + 2 x Con Mod) HP.
  • Relieve Poison: Gain a +4 Enhancement Bonus on Saves versus Poison and a -2 on the damage resulting from failed saves (From the Hedge Magic spell list on this site).
  • Relieve Illness: Gain a +4 Enhancement Bonus on Saves versus Disease and a -2 on the damage resulting from failed saves (From the Hedge Magic spell list on this site).
  • Wrath: Gain a +2 Morale Bonus to Str and Con, +1 Moral Bonus on Will Saves, and a -2 to your AC while active.

If you want to communicate with animals, or lead a pack, or some such, you’ll just have to buy those abilities separately; they aren’t really a part of a physical shapechange.

13 Responses

  1. Just so you’re aware, polymorph spells in Pathfinder do include the ability to survive in the assumed form’s natural environment:
    Chapter 9: Magic, p. 211-212:
    “Polymorph: …If the form grants a swim speed or burrow speed, you maintain the ability to breathe if you are swimming or burrowing.”

    • That has been inserted into the online SRD under “Helpful Notes” for the polymorph spell series (for example, here; ).

      Now, this article isn’t really specifically about Pathfinder – it’s more about a power from the Player’s Handbook II – but taking Pathfinder as a representative example…

      This note now tells us that taking the form of a cetacean allows you to breathe water and that taking the form of a gopher lets you breathe when buried in the earth.

      It also still tells us that – while earth elementals that don’t have lungs to begin with can breathe when buried in earth and no air is available – they can still drown when underwater and no air is available.

      That still doesn’t really work as a simulation does it? The first two, at least, are incorrect and the third is really rather difficult to make sense of.

      Sadly, there really is no simple rule that can reduce the complexity of actual organisms into a few lines of text (or taking biology courses would be a great deal easier). If we want simple rules for turning creatures into other kinds of creatures we’re going to have to be content with results that do not at all correspond with our sense of what “actual” physical transformations should be like.

      Which way to lean depends on the game and on how much you want to consider the biology of creatures in your universe. I like to, but that’s just me – and my tendencies may or may not correspond with those of any significant part of the interested group.

      • Wait, you mean walruses CAN’T breathe water in real life??? I’ll just stick with otters and penguins for my deep-sea swimming forms, then.

  2. Wait, walruses aren’t cetaceans. Dammit, I have to stop posting when I’m high on cold meds.

  3. […] Unlimited-Use Shapeshifters, Players Handbook II or Pathfinder […]

  4. […] can be done in a number of ways. The first ways that come to mind include Innate Enchantment (as in this power package), through some of the later abilities in the Path of the Dragon, through converting a high-level […]

  5. […] is straightforward; he grants his channelers the use of the War Forms with the Heightened Senses package and the ability to Speak with […]

  6. I decided to ask about it here, as it’s a question about Shapeshift spell from practical enchanter.
    Basically, I understand everything up to deep physical form. I start to have troubles when it comes to “Major Magical change”, as pratical enchanter’s says, that: “Such spell can give the user any desired type subtype, or template…[…] “. Template is something what bug me the most. It’s not specified form; It doesn’t have hit die. So in theory if I can add any template (and they are basically unrestricted, as changed form don’t have hit die as I said earlier) That spell is really powerful.
    So the quest is: I adds template to my level, or template works like I would have char with ecl race, for example: If I would shapeshift into half dragon, who is as I remember race with ecl +3, then my 7 level char would simply lose 3 level in his/her class first, then she would get that template benefits?

    • Well, it’s important to remember that the Shapeshifting Spell Template is not a spell in itself; it is (as covered in “How to use this book” on page six) a tool for designing individual, specific, spells. So it isn’t a “really powerful spell” – although specific Shapeshifting spells in general have been powerful effects since first edition.

      In this particular case, there weren’t (and still aren’t) many SRD spells that worked with templates to take a look at – but there are more such official spells in the system now. For example, take “Bite Of The Weretiger”. That is a spell of level 5 (Druid) or 6 (Sorcerer/Wizard), is Personal Only, lasts only one round per caster level (-1 spell level), and gives the user many of the extraordinary benefits of being a weretiger but none of the supernatural ones, such as it’s infectious bite. It notable doesn’t include it’s Damage Reduction – but the type of that ability is not noted in the SRD. Fortunately, the fact that it is penetrated by silver indicates that it is magical in nature, rather than extraordinary. Otherwise the spell does match the basic elements of the template well enough.

      So working from the Shapeshift Template… we’d start with level (-1) (Basic) -1 (Duration) +4 (Major Magical Shift) = Level 2. This, of course, is the Aspect Of The Tiger spell (Pages 91-92). But isn’t something wrong?

      Yes it is – spells directly derived from the Shapeshift Template take away a variety of abilities, while the Bite of the Were-(X) spells only add them; they may be restructuring the user’s body, but it’s not by making a full shapeshift. Secondarily, Bite Of The Weretiger uses the modifiers for a Large tiger while keeping the user at Medium size instead of making the size adjustments – a substantial benefit. Both of those will call for ad-hoc modifiers of about +2 spell levels each. I didn’t include such modifiers in the spell template because they’re a blatant distortion of how Shapeshifting normally works – and because the Bite Of The Weretiger spell only appeared after The Practical Enchanter was written. That gives Bite Of The Weretiger a base level of six.

      I’m going to guess that WOTC thought that “Bite Of The Weretiger” was more of a Druid thing than a Sorcerer/Wizard thing since they were already shapeshifters and often melee fighters, and so gave Druids a -1 spell level price break – but that sort of thing is why The Practical Enchanter notes that it doesn’t concern itself with what spell list a given spell should appear on. It’s only concerned with spell complexity, not with what class might provide a bonus.

      Now, I picked Bite Of The Weretiger at random, and it matches fairly well. Some of the others do not. For example, Bite Of The Wererat is only level two for Druids – and while it doesn’t have the size modifier problem (since wererats in general are medium sized) and has much less of an “only adding things” problem (since wererats don’t normally lose much), it does include things like a +6 enhancement bonus to Dexterity and other benefits that would normally require multiple second level spells even with the short duration. Packing all of those effects into a second level Druid spell seems like a bit much (although the third level Sorcerer/Wizard version works better)- but that nicely illustrates that the Bite spell series didn’t have any general underlying structure to begin with.

      Similarly, there are now WOTC spells for giving partial versions of the Half-Celestial Template and others – but they are all distinct spells.

      So no, you do not generally need to worry about ECL any more than you need to worry about it for someone using (Tensor’s) Transformation, the ninth-level Shapechange spell – or, for that matter, a fighter who is being affected by a strength-boosting spell. They’re getting a very temporary bonus provided by the energy of a spell. You might as well worry about adjusting the party ECL for the rounds a high-level Summoning is in play. After all, isn’t it a “member of the party” for that period?

      And I hope that helps! (If not, do feel free to ask more questions!).

      • Generally it answers my questions, so thank you for your help!
        Also, I was using P. Enchanter for a while and I know how to use it. Just I was never looking at shapeshift spell before. Numbers of option for that spell was so big, that variety of options and the fact that they looked a bit op for me, made me thinking if I understand description well.

      • Ah, my apologies for misreading your question there! I’m afraid that I’ve had rather a lot of people who didn’t realize that Spell Templates were for designing spells, and were not just spells you could learn and tinker with on the fly – and so made a great fuss about being afraid to use them because the players might spontaneously come up with all kinds of unanticipated stuff. Thus you ran into the semi-canned “this again?” response. Still, I’m glad that you got what you needed out of the rest of it!

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