Shapeshifter Questions

I recently thought it would be fun to create a character who was a (magical) animal who shifts into other animal forms, and human form, rather than shifting from human to animal. I rather quickly ran into a couple of problems, one in character generation and one in play.

First, the Bjornaer chapter of Mystery Cults includes a system for converting the Characteristics of a human shapeshifter into the characteristics of her animal form: when the character's original Characteristic and the default for the animal in question are different, you use the greater of the two if they're both positive, the lesser if they're both negative, or otherwise the sum of the two. That's kind of an inelegant kludge, but it works reasonably well.

However, it breaks when an animal shifts into another animal form, or into human form. It's particularly obvious for human form: since the default for a human is 0 in all Characteristics, the human form will have exactly the same Characteristics as the animal form. It's actually not much better for switching from one animal to another with very different Characteristics, especially if there's a big difference in Size--try it with a couple of examples and you'll see what I mean.

At a minimum, you should probably remove the Size adjustments to Str and Qik before figuring the new stats (this rule wasn't around when Mystery Cults was written), then add them back in afterwards. That doesn't fix all of the problems, though.

Pre, incidentally, is the hardest problem, because animal Pre and human Pre mean two different things (see Mystery Cults, pg. 38).

You might do it this way:

Int: doesn't change.
Pre: subtract the default for the species from the character's Pre, and add that number to the default for the new species.
Everything else: take the average, after modifying Str and Qik for Size.

What this does is to allow the new form to be influenced by both the default Characteristics of the old form and the ways in which the particular character's Characteristics differ from the defaults, except for Int, which shouldn't change at all, and Pre, which is implicitly linked to Size, and thus suffers from the same problem you get if you take an average of Str or Qik (that is, you're in effect averaging the Sizes of the two forms).

Another possibility, though, for everything except Int, is to do the same thing as I'm suggesting for Pre (this would automatically account for the Size mods to Str and Qik). That has the advantage of making the new Characteristics depend more on the ways in which the particular character differs from the species defaults, and the disadvantage that the species defaults no longer influence the new Characteristics.

Oh...also note that RoP: Magic makes the defaults for animals are minimums, at least if you're using character guides (see the section thereon in the "Characters"; sometimes, in RoP: Magic, it's hard to tell if a rule is intended for general usage, or one specific type of character), which rather complicates things (and also makes some Bjornaer have at least one Characteristic that's worse than every single other member of their heartbeast species). I guess that makes sense if you're using the Magic Animal rules mostly to create Beasts of Virtue, which are by definition above average, but it seems silly for other animals. The upshot, in any case, is that using the second method above, a shapechanging animal would always have Characteristics that were the default or better for the new form, meaning, for example, human Characteristics all 0 or positive. Maybe we should use the default as guidelines and let animals take lower? Or even just let them take Characteristics the normal way, and then add the defaults to the purchased stats? (Either would also obviate the need for so many purchases of Improved Characteristics.)

Which one of the two options you favor depends on whether you think it's more "realistic" for an average cat, changed into human form, to be more dextrous and alert than an average human. I'd lean toward the latter, though.

The second problem I ran into was an apparent contradiction between the "Ringing the Changes" sidebar in Mystery Cults and a spell in Societates. The former says that a character who uses the Shapeshifter Virtue has an innate ability to change shape, the upshot of which is that he's considered as being under a magical effect only during the time of the change, which makes detection of the true shape impossible at other times. That would also imply, I would think, that the shapeshifter would be immune from spells that tried to reverse the change by destroying the effect (that is, PeVi spells--a MuAn[Co] spell would still work). However, the PeVi spell The Heathen Witch Reborn, Societates specifically applies to targets that have changed shape using Shapeshifter. Any ideas how this seeming conflict should be resolved?


IN previous editions you used a scale model for the conversion. The animal characteristics were the default. Then you added to it according to your own (human) characvteristics:

+0 if your human characteristics were +0 or +1
+2 if your human characteristics were +2 or +3
+3 if your human characteristics were +4 or +5

Same for negative numbers in yoru human characteristics. Rather easy and it does not break the system, but a strong human will still be a strong wolf. :slight_smile: In your example, Size would not be modified unless the character had Giant Blood or was a Dwarf.

You could do the same for your animal.

If you are uncomfortable with the Witches and shapeshift thing, just claim that witches are not^true shapeshifters; after all it is a learned power for them, and they need to perform a ritual to change shape. Since it is not so intrinsic to their natures, they can be transformed using the heathen witch reborn, while a true shapeshifter could not.


I'm actually just curious what the intended rule is supposed to be, though it looks like a case where one author unknowingly contradicted an earlier one.


I've found things seem to work fine if I remember to adjust for both Sizes to see the base Characteristics, use those for comparison, and adjust the result for the Size of the new form afterward. It may not be perfect, but it does seem to work fairly well.

Even so, by the books better human Presence gives better animal Presence and worse gives worse, so I see no problem within the rules for treating Presence like any of the rest of them.


I'm not clear if you're using the Mystery Cults rules or not. If so, I don't understand your remarks. Yes, if you adjust Str and Qik for Size (this is not a matter of "remembering", but of using a house rule), the results are somewhat passable, but not ideal, especially going to human form from animal, because the default of 0 for all human Characteristics means you just take the animal Characteristics in the human form, unmodified except for Str and Qik.

Perhaps you haven't considered carefully the right examples. Looking at the "Book of Mundane Beasts", it appears that there's an adjustment to Pre equal to roughly the Size of the animal in question. If you're coming from, say, a mouse, that means a Pre of -8--and that's not because the mouse is particularly ugly, and should be ugly in human form, but solely because it's small. Take even the cat: cats are not reputed to be ugly animals, and yet a default cat has Pre -2. Using the Mystery Cults rules, it would have Pre -2 in human form as well--that is, the average cat is ugly when it becomes a human. I suspect actually that have a Pre of -2 rather than the (assumed) default of -3 indicates that cats are supposed to be somewhat aesthetically pleasing, but using the Pre unmodified in human form gives just the opposite result.


I think it's more an issue of things being vague than of a house-rule. Some of the things seem to indicate one way, some seem to be the other way.

Right. I don't have a problem with that. I like a slow, sturdy animal becoming a slow, sturdy human or a quick animal becoming a quick human. That's OK for me. I'm not saying there can't be objections, but it's fairly straight-forward and has some reasonable results.

You seem to be confusing Presence with appearance. Who is better looking by the rules: Pre 0 + Venus's Blessing or Pre +1? I'm pretty sure it's the one with Venus's Blessing. If I want an animal to be particularly comely, I give it Venus's Blessing. Sure, appearance can factor into Presence, but that's far from all Presence measures. I thought in the case of many of the animals it was at least partly based on how aggressive or imposing a figure they normally are. Thus putting a mouse in human form makes a person who's likely to scurry around and try to stay hidden, while putting a bear in human form makes a person who's less likely to give ground or shy away.


No, there's no vagueness at all: the rules in Mystery Cults absolutely positively do not include any adjustment for Size. If the adjustments had been developed before the Bjornaer chapter was written, I'm sure the Mystery Cults rules would have taken Size into account, but that's not how it happened, and no one went back and retrofitted them. That doesn't really matter much to me: the RAW are obviously broken for some cases, and I'm OK with using house rules (like adjusting Str and Qik for Size) to fix that. I'm not sure why you need to convince yourself that doing so is part of the RAW, or at least an interpretation of them.

For animals within the range of Size -2 to Size +2, yes. Or rather, the problems are small enough that they can be overlooked. For animals outside that range, no, the results aren't reasonable.

No, I'm not at all confusing Pre with appearance: yes, Pre is a number of things, but appearance is one of them, and so it should count--and it's the most obvious component, hence good for illustrative purposes.

You think shy and retiring works for a mouse-turned-human? Yes, it does, but Pre -8 worth? -8, for a human, is way, way beyond the range of believable, let alone normal--and no, you can't get that low without being monstrously ugly on top of other things.

But think about other examples: do you really think a preening cat, made into human form and size, is going to be so unobtrusive as to merit Pre -2? Better yet, let's take a badger, also Size -3, hence probably also with a Pre of -3, maybe -2 since it's so fierce. In human form, presumably it's just a fierce...but it's Pre is negative. How about a magpie (Size -4, and prone to draw attention to itself with noise), or a wasp (Size -15)? Do those examples work as well as the mouse? How about a cow? And no, I'm not talking about a raging bull, but about mama cow standing inert and chewing cud. But she probably has higher Pre in human form than the cat does! The thing is, the way the rule is written, bigger animals, changed into human form, always have higher Pre than smaller animals, no matter what the behavior of the species in question. In fact--and here's the really weird thing--no animal in the "Book of Mundane Beasts" has a Pre higher than 0--and therefore, under your system, no animal transformed into a human can ever have positive Pre. You don't find that a little strange, especially for aggressive or attention-grabbing species?

When I started this topic, I really was looking for ideas no how to construct a good house rule. It's pretty obvious to me that the RAW doesn't work well; or to put it differently, it doesn't satisfy my gaming needs. If for some reason you want to defend it, that's fine, but I'd really like to hear some alternative ideas, or even just comments on the two alternatives I offered in the original post.


Well of course it doesn't work for animals, it's a rule for human. You have to repurpose your zeroes to the standard of your beast for it to work.

The generalized beast rule becomes:

  • If the original beast's (typical stat) is between your stat and the target beast's, add to the target beast's the difference between your stat and the original beast's.
  • Otherwise, take the one furthest from the original beast's typical stat.

When the original beast is human, all stats are zero and we get the same rule as HoH:MC p23. I can assure you this rules gives you the same result, no matter the original beast or the target beast.

For instance, a falcon shapeshifter:
typical falcon = str-6 sta+2 dex+1 qik+6
your falcon = str-4 sta+4 dex+2 qik+6
typical human = str-0 sta-0 dex-0 qik-0
your human = str-0 sta+2 dex+1 qik-0
typical bull = str+5 sta+3 dex-0 qik-1
your bull = str+5 sta+4 dex+1 qik-1

Yes, your str+2 got deleted in the transformation. Exactly like a str-2 is lost when going to falcon form.

I think instead of convincing me, you've convinced me of how illogical the Mystery Cults rule is. :slight_smile: I can see how it produces the same result--but I don't really see how that result makes sense.


I do not have MC (only ArM5 book I missed so far :frowning:) but after reading that I think I prefer the old 3rd and 4th edition rules for shapeshifting. Havin the trasnformed falcon "your falcon" rise 2 points of stamina "just because" is rather extreme, don't you think? I would still take the natural shape, asign stat modifiers for that (using the 7 point scale we all know) and then use that same 7 point scale to modify the stats of other creatures at a cost of +1 for each 2 points of stat variation (as posted above). The changes will not be as extreme as in the cases presented in MC. This worked well for (at least) 2 editions of the game, so I do jnot understand why it was changed...


That's pretty simple, but as I said in my original post, the one thing about it that will bother at least some people is that the old form has no influence on the new form. Thus, a cat changed to a human won't be more dextrous than average, a peacock won't be any prettier, and so on. Whether or not that's a bad thing depends on your sense of what's "realistic" (or mythic, rather).


Well, at least now you are convinced it is just as bad for humans as for beasts. :mrgreen:

"Your falcon" is exactly that, since it is the original form. The other "your" forms are derived from the falcon form using the generalized rule.

If you want that, it means you are not doing a 100% transformation, but rather use 80% of the target stats + 20% of the original stats (to which you could add "your" specific variations, or a fraction thereof). It'd also mean most human-form cat would have Small Frame.

Yes, obviously. However, the official version, and your extension of it, sometimes uses just the old form (including defaults plus your particular scores, sometimes the new ones, and sometimes something in between, so it's even less of a transformation than I talk about a one.


I do understand the problem you have. I think the issue may be that there is no simple solution. A big part of the problem is, as you've pointed out, an unclear specification of animal averages. But we may be able to come up with something or a couple things that do what is desired. I think we first have to figure out exactly what is desired, though. It could be that some things that are desired get in the way of others. I suspect if we can carefully state the goal(s), we can find a good solution. Some ideas, not necessarily exclusive of each other:

  1. It matters is how you compare to the average of a species.
  2. Parts of a species will carry over (so a Cheetah should make a fast-running person).
  3. The sizes of the species are irrelevant.
  4. The sizes of the species are relevant.
  5. Qualities should carry over like virtues and flaws.

Let's make a really clear list first and work from there.


PS: If you look at the rule for virtues/flaws carrying over, the application of size, and the examples of switching to other size species you will see that there is a contradiction about whether size needs to be ignored and applied after transformation or applied before transformation. That is why you have to make a decision: follow one part of the rules or another. This isn't a house rule, but rather a necessary choice between contradictory rules statements.