The Beast Within
Eberron gave us warforged, sky ships, elemental powered trains, and with all that goodness it’s easy to forget that we also got werewolf people! Shifters are the descendants of Lycans (were-people) of one animal or another. Have you always wanted to be part wolf? Or part tiger? Or part anything else for that matter? Shifters are the 5E answer. Are they worth playing? Pick your favorite were-animal and embrace your bestial nature as we go through everything you need to know.
Shifters or the “weretouched” are an often-persecuted people in Eberron. They’re descended from the children of humans and lycanthropes, retaining some of the shape-changing abilities and wild inclinations of their lycan ancestors. Shifters tend towards self-sufficiency, heightened emotions, and untamed chaos. Shifters make few attachments and are always prepared for the world to change around them. Freedom is their reward for independence, and they rarely allow their impulses to be restrained or hold any regard for silly “laws”.
Shifters tend to be fit and lithe with more animalistic features, but each shifter is related to a specific type of lycan and will have features uniquely suited to their ancestral creature. Playing a shifter means you’re largely free to pick an animal and develop your character around it. Is your shifter related to the classical werewolf with a canine snout and fangs? How about the feline features of a weretiger? How about the whiskers and scruffy fur of a wererat? Or go really nuts and build a big bulky werewhale shifter. Or the bristling fur and tusks of a wereboar. Shifters are a template you’re free to play around with, pick an animal and have fun!
Shifters have no language of their own and often live in blended communities. Their names typically overlap with the names of other cultures in their region. Many shifters prefer to keep their personal names for their friends and use “wandering names” with strangers. These are usually tied to a physical or personality trait.
Shifter Names: Badger, Bear, Cat, Fang, Grace, Grim, Moon, Rain, Red, Scar, Stripe, Swift, Talon, Wolf
Your shifter character has the following racial traits.
Age: Shifters are quick to mature both physically and emotionally, reaching young adulthood at age 10. They rarely live to be more than 70 years old.
Alignment: Shifters tend toward neutrality, being more focused on survival than concepts of good and evil. A love of personal freedom can drive shifters toward chaotic alignments.
Size: Your size is Medium. To set your height and weight randomly, start with rolling a size modifier:
Size modifier = 2d8
Height = 4 feet + 6 inches + your size modifier in inches
Weight in pounds = 90 + (2d4 × your size modifier)
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision: You have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Shifting: As a bonus action, you can assume a more bestial appearance. This transformation lasts for 1 minute, until you die, or until you revert to your normal appearance as a bonus action. When you shift, you gain temporary hit points equal to your level + your Constitution modifier (minimum of 1 temporary hit point). You also gain additional benefits that depend on your shifter subrace, described below.
Once you shift, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common.
The beast within shapes each shifter physically and mentally. The four major subraces of shifter include: beasthide, longtooth, swiftstride, and wildhunt. Choose a subrace for your shifter.
Stoic and solid, a beasthide shifter draws strength and stability from the beast within. Beasthide shifters are typically tied to the bear or the boar, but this subrace could embody any creature known for its toughness.
Ability Score Increase: Your Constitution score increases by 2, and your Strength score increases by 1.
Natural Athlete: You have proficiency in the Athletics skill.
Shifting Feature: Whenever you shift, you gain 1d6 additional temporary hit points. While shifted, you have a +1 bonus to your Armor Class.
Longtooth shifters are fierce and aggressive, but they form deep bonds with their friends. Many longtooth shifters have canine traits that become more pronounced as they shift, but they might instead draw on tigers, hyenas, or other predators.
Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Dexterity score increases by 1.
Fierce: You have proficiency in the Intimidation skill.
Shifting Feature: While shifted, you can use your elongated fangs to make an unarmed strike as a bonus action. If you hit with your fangs, you can deal piercing damage equal to 1d6 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.
Swiftstride shifters are graceful and quick. Typically feline in nature, swiftstride shifters are often aloof and difficult to pin down physically or socially.
Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Charisma score increases by 1.
Graceful: You have proficiency in the Acrobatics skill.
Shifting Feature: While shifted, your walking speed increases by 10 feet. Additionally, you can move up to 10 feet as a reaction when a creature ends its turn within 5 feet of you. This reactive movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks.
Wildhunt shifters are sharp and insightful. Many are constantly alert, ever wary for possible threats. Others focus on their intuition, searching within. Wildhunt shifters are excellent hunters, and they also tend to become the spiritual leaders of shifter communities.
Ability Score Increase: Your Wisdom score increases by 2, and your Dexterity increases by 1.
Natural Tracker: You have proficiency in the Survival skill.
Shifting Feature: While shifted, you have advantage on Wisdom checks, and no creature within 30 feet of you can make an attack roll with advantage against you, unless you’re incapacitated.
Shifters are a wild race both in lore and in ability structure. They’re practically 4 different races built together using subraces. To better understand them let’s go through each of their features one at a time.
Age: It’s weird to see age first without an ability score increase (but we’ll get to that in a bit). Generally, a bit low but not a weirdly low life expectancy.
Alignment: This pushes you towards chaotic neutral, which is (no surprise) common for beasts and more “wild” humanoids. Great for barbarians or druids but makes playing a shifter paladin a bit of a stretch.
Size: Standard medium size but with the fun Eberron style random modifiers.
Speed: Stock standard 30-foot movement, not a hindrance but nothing special either.
Darkvision: Darkvision is fairly common but it’s always a nice bonus. Don’t forget about it and you may run into some great opportunities for ambushing your foes in the dark.
Shifting: Now we finally get to the meat and potatoes of the race. The actual benefits of your “bestial form” depend on your subrace but they all function the same way using this feature. My first instinct would be to compare it to the druid’s wild shape feature, but it really functions closer to a barbarian’s rage feature. The short time limit (you only get a minute of bestial form) locks it hard into a “combat form”, one you’re encouraged to use basically every fight since it recharges on a short rest. Whatever subrace you pick, you’ll always get a tasty temporary hit point boost that almost justifies the feature on its own.
Languages: Most races get common + another one, shifters only get common. This is a bit of a downside but not a terribly harsh one.
Subrace: Other than the core “shifting” trait, the actual core shifter race doesn’t have much going on, because it’s all hiding in the subraces! You can practically think of each shifter subrace as a separate race entirely.
Ability Score Increase: Constitution and Strength would normally push you towards a martial class and the rest of the features support that. If you want to play your shifter as a direct tanky martial class, this is going to be your best option.
Natural Athlete: Free skill checks are always a nice bonus and considering the rest of the “martial” indications here it’s probably one you were going to pick anyway. With this you should be able to snag something else once you get to your class skills.
Shifting Feature: This is by far the strongest of the shifting features. Flat bonuses to AC are few and far between in 5e, and you get that alongside a bonus uptick in the free temporary hit points you gain from shifting. Generic AC bonuses aren’t the most exciting features, but they’re strong. I generally recommend every player who makes a shifter character to take the beasthide subrace option unless your build needs Dexterity or Wisdom as their core ability score.
Ability Score Increase: Strength and Dexterity can be attractive for most martial builds, but considering you’ll likely be choosing between this and the beasthide option for most martials, this is only the better option if you absolutely need to maximize your Strength.
Fierce: Any free skill check is nice to get, but I do find that Intimidation doesn’t see as much play as most. Still, check that box and free up the option.
Shifting Feature: On paper this looks fun but natural attacks simply aren’t great in 5e. Unless you’re pulling some shenanigans or all your weapons have been taken away, you’re almost always going to deal more damage with practically any other type of attack. It’s nice to have a weapon that can’t be “removed”, but considering the other options available to shifters, a simple bite attack is lackluster at best.
Ability Score Increase: Dexterity and Charisma is an extremely attractive combination for rogues, bards, sorcerers, warlocks, and some fighters. I feel that swiftstride and beasthide comfortably share the top-spot when it comes to shifter options, with beasthides representing the best option for Strength based martials, and Swiftstride representing the best option for Dexterity based martials and a slew of casters.
Graceful: Any free skill proficiency is great to snag, and Acrobatics is usually an auto-pick for any Dexterity class anyway. Get it here and free up that option for something else down the road.
Shifting Feature: 10 feet of extra movement is a considerable buff as it is, but that extra 10 feet of movement as a reaction can see you dancing away from boss monsters that would’ve swatted you down otherwise. A+ amazing, especially at early levels.
Ability Score Increase: Wisdom and Dexterity make this the only shifter subclass with a casting stat as the primary ability score. Perfect for clerics, druids, monks, and rangers. The stats here line up with those classes, but the shifting feature is still hit or miss. I regard the wildhunt option as a B tier out of the 4, but still a far more viable option than longtooth.
Natural Tracker: Any free skill proficiency is good, and Survival is a typically great one to get. Pop a checkmark into that box and free up the option later.
Shifting Feature: This option is tricky, because it sounds amazing until you remember the 1-minute time limit on your bestial form. It feels like it’s tailor made to negate ambushes, but you can’t adventure with it active. As it is, advantage on Wisdom saving throws can be a priceless bonus against some enemies, and negating advantage can give you a major edge in some combats, especially against wolves or kobolds or anything else with pack tactics.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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