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Improvise, Adapt, Overcome
Changelings hide right under our noses, sometimes while wearing our noses. Changelings get to re-sculpt themselves like Clayface whenever they like and if you can’t come up with some shenanigans with that you’re just not trying hard enough. Their origins are mysterious and secretive, and so are they most of the time. So, stick with us as we delve into the hidden world of changelings and go through everything you need to know.
Changelings cropped up way back in 3rd edition and they’ve gone through a few lore shifts since the olden days. Originally, they were descendants of doppelgangers (which makes total sense) but the current lore leaves their real origins a mystery beyond a legendary blessing of a mysterious traveler.
Currently, changelings are a scattered people without a strong culture to build upon, rather they usually disappear into other cultures. Most human settlements have at least a few changelings hidden within them, living their lives or even multiple lives with their neighbors completely ignorant of the deception.
There are also roaming changeling tribes, caravans living the life of their traveler god and never staying in one place long enough to be discovered. These tribes will sometimes take the guise of thieves’ guilds, or entertainers, or thieving entertainers.
Or rarely, some communities accept changelings whole cloth, and the shapeshifters are simply regarded as regular members of society. Such situations are sadly few and far between, persecution of changelings is rampant as it’s hard for many to accept a people that can be anyone.
Obviously, a changeling’s appearance can change at any moment, but they do have a true form. Their true skin is usually grey or pale white, and their facial features are blank slates to an unnerving degree. They’re typically thin and gaunt, and their hair is usually silvery with an occasional green or pink tint.
But what are you doing wearing your “true” face? You can be anyone you want! Changelings can reshape themselves to look like anybody, there’s a few minor limits there but for the most part you can look like whoever you want!
Changelings tend to form “personas”, full identities that they live with for extended periods of time. Changelings put a lot of thought and work into these personas, and in ideal circumstances they can last a lifetime and form real relationships wearing these personas. For many changelings, a persona can become their real life, and become who they are. Keeping their true nature a secret can become all-consuming in these situations, especially if they’ve married.
When they’re just tricking a guard or using a face for a little while, they call it a “mask”. A thing to be put on or taken off like an accessory. These are appearances that have little to no thought put into them, and don’t usually withhold the force of thorough scrutiny.
A single changeling might be known as “Captain Jackdaw”, “Old Lady Withers”, “Knuckle Sandwich McGee” and “Steve”, but to a changeling a name is just another trait to be traded out like an old coat. However, there is a true name to every changeling, and it is usually only shared with other changelings or those it has absolute trust in. Their true names are usually simple, monosyllabic, and genderless.
Changeling True Names: Aic, Arx, Bic, Duc, Dug, Hukt, Im, Jik, Jirx, Mas, Mis, Nug, Oz, Pags, Pim, Sirs, Tors, Vaen, Von.
Your Changeling character has the following racial traits.
Ability Score Increase: Your Charisma score increases by 2. In addition, one ability score of your choice increases by 1.
Age: Changelings mature slightly faster than humans but share a similar lifespan — typically a century or less. While a changeling can transform to conceal their age, the effects of aging affect them similarly to humans.
Alignment: Changelings tend toward pragmatic neutrality, and few changelings embrace evil.
Size: Your size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Shapechanger: As an action, you can change your appearance and your voice. You determine the specifics of the changes, including your coloration, hair length, and sex. You can also adjust your height and weight, but not so much that your size changes. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change. You can’t duplicate the appearance of a creature you’ve never seen, and you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have. Your clothing and equipment aren’t changed by this trait.
You stay in the new form until you use an action to revert to your true form or until you die.
Changeling Instincts: You gain proficiency with two of the following skills of your choice: Deception, Insight, Intimidation, and Persuasion.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and two other languages of your choice.
This is fundamentally a basic build with the shapechanger ability wrapped around it, but let’s still go through each ability and what it means for your new character:
Ability Score Increase: +2 to Charisma is a BIG boon to any charisma based spellcaster or any player just trying to be the face of the party.
However, the star of the show here is oddly enough the flexible +1. Unlike every other flexible stat in 5e, you can actually select the same ability score as your main stat. This means you can choose to have a +3 Charisma bonus at level 1. This is HUGE. At first, I thought it was a typo and they’d errata it away, but they confirmed that this is how it’s supposed to work. That means changelings have the completely unique ability to have an 18 in an ability score at level one, which means a +4 bonus.
Arguably, this makes changelings one of the strongest all-time race choices for Charisma-based casters like Bards, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Warlocks.
Forgetting this huge boost for a moment, if you select Dexterity for your flexible point changelings also work well as “face of the party” Rogues. And picking Strength allows you to make a damn fine Paladin.
Age: Human lifespan +. Not particularly special but you’ve got some extra time for convoluted backstories.
Alignment: Changelings tend to be pretty laissez faire neutral, but those thieves’ guilds are calling, and you can feel free to run them evil if you’d like.
Size: You’re medium-sized, but really, you’re any height and weight in that range that you feel like being so don’t worry about specifics.
Speed: 30-foot standard speed, always better to see than a penalty.
Shapechanger: This trait is really what makes the changeling unique, and it’s extremely strong. It’s also unfortunately an ability that a lot of players will end up misusing so let me get you past the common pitfalls.
Firstly, you are not an ooze, you can’t mush yourself through cracks or anything like that. Boiling down all the limitations on the ability means “You can look like anybody” not “you can look like anything”. It’s still insanely good but you’re not a mimic.
Secondly, you can’t imitate halflings or gnomes. You are medium sized, and that means you can’t take the form of anything small-sized and smaller, or large-sized and larger.
Finally, your shape-changing doesn’t include clothes. So, keep that in mind when you try to impersonate a guard while still wearing a prison jumpsuit. If you want to carry out convincing disguises, I recommend that you also buy a lot of outfits.
Now that we’ve gotten through the pitfalls, I want to emphasize just how strong this power really is. These transformations aren’t illusions, they’re not something to be seen through or detected magically. Your face really IS a new shape, and people can poke and prod you all they like without discerning your true nature. Some people just treat this like free castings of disguise self but it’s so much better than that.
Changeling Instincts: A bonus skill proficiency is nice, two of them are better, and choosing 2 from 4 of the strongest skill options is just perfect. You’ll more than likely be needing Deception and Persuasion unless your class or background nabbed them already, pick what you need.
Languages: I feel like they were really trying to nail home the “adapted to other cultures” aspect with this. Pick any language you feel is relevant to your backstory and use the other for whatever language you expect to encounter on your next adventure.
Changelings lend themselves strongly towards sneaky and “face of the party” builds, but that can mean a lot of different things. Also, you should never feel beholden to a typecast in 5e, as the system doesn’t push hard into power gaming and you’ll be hard pressed to make your character “wrong”. But, if you’re interested in builds that make optimal use of your abilities as a changeling, the following build ideas are good starting points for your next changeling character.
Assassin of Many Faces
Probably the most straightforward use of the changeling’s abilities. The assassin's assassinate ability (say that 5 times fast) functions when the enemy hasn’t acted in initiative yet, and that includes hiding in plain sight as somebody else. All the assassin’s later abilities really compliment the changeling and make it far easier for you to acquire official clothes, paperwork, and even things like signatures and mannerisms. More than any other class, assassin lets you work your way into anyplace.
Bard of Infiltration (Unearthed Arcana)
Changelings make great bards already, but I love the combination of shapechanger and the college of eloquence ability universal speech. You gain universal speech at 3rd level, and it allows you to magically communicate with practically anything and when combined with your shape changing you can blend in with practically anything. Imagine sneaking into a raiding tribe of gnolls AS a gnoll and speaking perfect gnoll back to them. Creative players can definitely abuse this power.
Shapeshifter of Cthulhu
The most common way for a changeling to get caught out is by having incomplete information, mind reading solves that problem nicely. Build a warlock and pick the great old one as your patron. This archetype gives you straight up telepathy, a ton of mind spells and mental protections in case the enemy has their own mental warriors. Especially great for blending into cults and other nefarious magical organizations.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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