D&D Race Guide: How to Play a Shifter
For a character that’s just a little werewolfy and gives you a ton of options to choose from, you may want to shift into a Shifter.
Also known as ‘wheretouched’ and thought to be descendant from humans and lycanthropes, Shifters seem like a playable character race that you’d expect to find in Ravenloft or one of the spooky supplements or modules. But this is actually a character option you’ll find in Eberron – Rising from the Last War. And like many things from Eberron, Shifters have a bunch of different layers that you may not expect. If you want to add something a little different to your next campaign, and pick a character that the rest of your table is almost guaranteed not to have, making a Shifter will definitely bring a few shifts to your table dynamics.
“Shifters are sometimes called the weretouched, as many believe that they are the descendants of humans and lycanthropes. They are humanoids with a bestial aspect; while they cannot fully change shape they can temporarily enhance their animalistic features – a state they call shifting. Whatever their origins, shifters have evolved into a unique race. A shifter walks on the knife’s edge between the wilds and the world around them. Do they embrace their primal instincts or the path of civilization?”
To start, the biggest descriptor of a Shifter based on their ability scores is ‘dexterous.’ While other classes will give two ability score increases, Shifters get just one +1 to their Dexterity. Like humans, they have a base medium build, usually coming in between 5 and 7 feet tall, and have a very normal walking speed of 30 ft. But unlike humans, a Shifter will reach maturity – physically and emotionally – at about ten years old and don’t often live to be older than 70.
An interest in personal freedoms and survival instincts generally shifts them towards neutrality and chaotic alignments. And they are one of the many player races with good darkvision, seeing well in dim light for up to 60 feet and darkness as if it was dim shades of gray.
‘Keen Senses’ give Shifters proficiency in their Perception Skill. And of course, there’s their shifting ability. As a bonus action, they can assume a bestial appearance, transforming for one minute or until they die. At which point they revert back to their normal appearance as another bonus action. Shifts give bonus hit points as well as other bonuses based on the variety of shifters the individual character is.
There are four kinds of Shifters – as well as a few bonus options from Unearthed Arcana, if you use those at your table. They are Beasthide, Longtooth, Swiftstride, and Wildhunt, and they are described in the source material as:
- “Beasthide often signifies the bear or boar: stoic, stubborn and thick-skinned.
- Longtooth shifters typically have lupine traits and prefer to run with a pack.
- Swiftstride are often predatory and feline, but a swiftstride could also be a cunning rat who darts through the shadows.
- Wildhunt shifters are born from any creature that tracks its prey.”
Beasthide have an additional Constitution increase of +2, ‘Tough’ gives them a bonus proficiency in the Athletics skill, and when they shift they gain an additional 1d6 temporary hit points as well as a +1 bonus to their AC.
Longtooth have a +2 to Strength and ‘Fierce’ gives them proficiency in Intimidation. Their shifting feature is elongated fangs that deal an additional 1d6+STE piercing damage as their unarmed strike.
Swiftstride have an additional +1 to each Dexterity and Charisma, and ‘Graceful’ give them Acrobatics proficiency. Their shifting feature increases their speed by 5 feet and lets them move an additional 10 feet as a reaction when an enemy ends their turn within 5 feet of them.
Finally, Wildhunt have an additional +2 to their Wisdom as well as another +1 to Dexterity and ‘Natural Tracker’ give them proficiency in Survival. Their shifting feature give advantage on Wisdom checks and no creature within 30 feet can take an attack with advantage.
With such a big variety of character types within the Shifter umbrella, there are quite a few good options for classes.
Artificer, Barbarian, Fighter, and Paladin would all take advantage of the extra Constitution afforded by Beasthide with their habit of being right where the action is. Similarly, Longtooth would make for a terrifying Barbarian or Fighter. Who would expect to show up to a sword fight and get bitten?!
Tips & Tricks
Shifter isn’t a terribly popular character pick. And I think this is in part because many people just don’t know that they exist. And fewer still know what they are or how to work with this character build. So if you want to go in the Shifter direction, a conversation with your DM may be in order. What do you think this character will be like at the table, and what do you want out of the game? Besides that though, this may be a time when building your character backward is the way to go. What class and background does your character have? And based on that, what kind of Shifter will you be building?
Have you ever played a Shifter before? Has there ever been one in your adventuring party? What kind would your or did you play? Let us know in the comments!