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[Meta] Playing a Shifter Hybrid: Unofficial Addendum [Jul. 18th, 2010|01:39 pm]
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Brought to mind by Sythyry's recent post and my own thoughts therein about how shifter hybrids are presented in the sourcebook.

The sourcebook descriptions of the ailments suffered by shifter hybrids are somewhat vague. Herein I present my own efforts at defining some game-relevant portions of them. Specifically, this is meant to deal with shapeshifting, and the pain thereof, in the context of combat or other sensitive, time-critical tasks.

Shifting: Shifting takes d6 actions, during which the shifter hybrid is immobile and suffers Trouble d20. The shifter hybrid can attempt to force it to take a single action(see "Shapechanging Skill", below). After shifting, the shifter hybrid has Trouble (EDIT)1/2 d6, rounded down(/EDIT), which decays at 1 point per action. You may be suffering additional Trouble from clothing that no longer fits. If your forms are dissimilar enough that the clothing will not accommodate the new form at all, you suffer an additional 10 Trouble during the shift as you burst out of it. If you are wearing leather armour, it is similarly ruined. If you are wearing something stronger(including chain mail, which, while flexible, doesn't stretch without difficulty), you suffer d10 damage and additional Trouble - the Trouble also remaining after the shift - as it cuts into you. Borrowing someone else's armour is unwise.

Time Between Shifts: After spending a second hour in a given shape, roll d6 + Will. On a roll of 4 or more, nothing happens. On a roll of 1-3, suffer trouble 3. Every additional consecutive hour without shifting automatically adds Trouble 3(or 1 per third of an hour, if working with small time scales; in this case, you should roll to know if your first point of Trouble arrives after 1 1/3 hour, not Trouble 3 after 2 hours). Once the shifter hybrid does shift, the Trouble of the other form no longer applies, but is still there, decaying at 3 points every third of an hour until reaching zero(1 point per 3 WT minutes, 9 per hour), and finally being discarded after the next 1/3 hour(see "Early Shifting", below). You are aware of how "sore" the other form is(its accumulated Trouble).

Shapechanging skill: Shifter hybrids start with a special craft skill, Shapechanging. This starts with 15 points(level 5). I'm torn on whether or not I want to allow adding experience during character creation, but leaning toward "yes, allow it". This skill has two functions:
  • Trigger a shapechange. Either before your body is trying to do so, or to speed it up to take a single action. Roll Shapechanging + Will + d20 vs 10 + any Trouble remaining from the target shape(see above). If your roll meets or exceeds the target, you are able to change shape in a single action. If you do this under stress and the d20 botches, the pain from shifting will stay at d6 until you shift again, either naturally or, if deliberate, into a shape with no lingering Trouble. (That is, you can't get around this by changing back 5 minutes later unless you were in that form for little enough time that it has no Trouble.)
  • Resist a shapechange when the body is trying to do it. If your accumulated shifting-related Trouble is no greater than your Shapeshifting skill + Will, you are able to remain in your current shape against the urge to change. If that trouble is no more than half your Shapeshifting skill(rounded up) + your (full, unhalved) Will, you can change your mind and trigger a quick transformation without it necessarily counting as a stressful situation; if the Trouble is greater, any attempt to force a quick change will automatically roll a stress die. (This does not, of course, prevent the situation from being stressful for other reasons. If you're in the middle of a fight, triggering a transformation will be a stress die even if you're not feeling any shifter-pain at all.) Similar to hammer-casting, this does not involve any roll.

Early shifting: If you shift into a shape that still has Trouble associated with it, it immediately resumes accumulating. If you have resisted changing to the point that you have 18 Trouble, it will take two hours just to clear it. By that point, your other form will also have 3-6 Trouble. Once the Trouble associated with a form decays past zero, that form will have the usual hour before any chance to suffer Trouble; if it has only just reached zero, it's still too soon, and will begin accumulating trouble immediately. Pushing yourself too far may sometimes be necessary(to keep up a disguise, perhaps), but it will have lasting consequences as well as the immediate pain.


Life as a shifter need not be all bad. As an adventurer, the benefits are substantial, especially for a mage who will pick up at least one extra knack in a Verb.

How to deal with it? There are ways. Need to fight, want to shift during it, and want to stay lucid? Banish the Pain will reduce all related Trouble. Want good armour? Enchant it with Mu [Nn] to change when you do; or if your other form isn't suitable for armour, a more complex enchantment to morph it into a harness, or Mu [Nn] Co to meld it into your body, or Mu [Nn] Lo to shift it into a pocket realm for the duration. Hop around as a Sleeth with mighty claws and teeth, and when you're up against armour, shift into a bipedal shape and watch your armour grow back out of your hide, and your weapon come to hand. Want to cover up the time it takes to shift? A Quick Instant talisman is your best friend, and not that hard to get with a couple charges per day. There are ways to get around the main disadvantages of being a fighting shifter.

And that's part of why I don't think these rules are too much.

[User Picture]From: terrycloth
2010-07-18 05:10 pm (UTC)
Shifter Hyrbid is an advantage that costs a lot of points -- it probably doesn't need to be nerfed this heavily. I know I'd be seriously pissed if changing took more than one action, or if 'painful' meant 'trouble lasting through the whole fight', instead of for one action, like temporary trouble from everything else (botches, hinder attacks, etc.).

The rest of it is fine though.

Edited at 2010-07-18 05:14 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: mharreff
2010-07-18 08:00 pm (UTC)
Short version: There are plenty of advantages from shifter hybrid as it is, even considering the social disadvantages, and I don't think putting restrictions on the shapechanging is unreasonable. It's not impossible to change in combat - if you pump that skill to 10, you can do so freely as long as the other shape is "rested". And I don't think your comparisons about lasting Trouble are apt - causing Trouble is pretty much what a lot of people in a fight do, and there are many source of more severe, longer-lasting Trouble.

In detail:

What I'm trying to avoid is free use of the shifter hybrid advantages in an odd sort of martial art. A Herethroy/Sleeth, for instance, could alternate between the deadly claws and teeth, and the tough carapace and extra limbs, depending on what was coming his/her way. Make that too easy and it gets overpowered.

Shifter Hybrid's extra experience and knacks alone are liable to make for a 7 point advantage's worth, and that's not even counting the other esoteric goodies that a hybrid might pick up. Like, say, Rassimel fast learning and poison recovery? You can't get those on their own for 7 points.

A Hinder attack is not making something hurt, it's just being a nuisance. Compare Cripple, which does attack the body - and that is lasting damage, causing Trouble until the injury is healed. Not just a matter of life points being restored, but the wound itself being healed. Botches are not a good counterargument - plenty of botch rolls cause lasting Trouble(sprained muscle is a single botch). See also the many, many spells which have no purpose but to cause Trouble, lasting P/5 actions and doing substantially more Trouble than I've outlined here. Some of the Mentador spells that do so, specifically do so by pain - and that from Eyes of the Drill of Pain lasts s6 actions or, on a botch, until next dawn.

The book says changing takes an action, I will grant. And I'd be willing to drop the concommitant Trouble to 1/2 d6 (rounded down), again decaying with each action. But honestly? Compared to the many things that can cause Trouble, 3 for a round(then 2, then 1, then gone) is nothing.

This is steeper than the bare-bones outline in the book. I freely admit that. But I think it should be. It makes perfect sense for the process to be somewhat disorienting as the body rearranges itself - it is already manifestly not as gentle as any other form of shapechanging there is, whether by spell or by Simple Shapechanger. I will also note one thing I forgot to mention: You may be immobile on those following actions on a forced shift, but you get those actions. Specifically, you can cast spells so long as you can concentrate past the Trouble. Given that one of the major bennies of being a shifter hybrid is additional magical knacks and abilities, they would be very suitable as mages.

(I should note that I've also made the target roll for changing shape on the spot easier than for the Simple Shapechanger advantage - 10 instead of 15, unless you're trying to do it when you haven't been in the other shape very long.)
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[User Picture]From: terrycloth
2010-07-19 12:12 am (UTC)
What I'm trying to avoid is free use of the shifter hybrid advantages in an odd sort of martial art.

Well, why the hell would you want to do that? That's an interesting character concept right there, that you're going out of your way to *prevent* it? It's a lot *more* interesting than the obvious cheese of being an orren/rassimel super-skill-monkey or a mage with an extra knack, or whatever.
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[User Picture]From: mharreff
2010-07-19 07:19 am (UTC)
Because if you actually roll up a character with it, they have an insane amount of advantages for the cost, and they don't need to be handed more without working at it a little?
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[User Picture]From: terrycloth
2010-07-19 07:57 am (UTC)
Um... no, they really don't. It's half your advantage points just to take it, and you only get half the species xp of your secondary species -- which makes the xp gain about a +2 or +3, and most of the comparable +3s come with free spells. You get a knack that would cost 3, and the the species advantages which generally are only useful while in the species form, although there's a few exceptions. Eg, orren/rassimel xp advantages, which is why that's a cheese combo.

They're getting a bit of a bargain, compared to ala-cart, because the choices are very constrained, and there's an attached -4 or higher equivalent social disad (although it's not counted against the disads you can take, so it wouldn't be balanced to count it at full value). That fits with the balance in the rest of the system, if you compare 'get an extra block of xp' to the various xp advantages and whatnot.

But, more importantly -- if you want to nerf it, making it more complicated and less fun and weakening the *weakest* and most flavorful use of it (that is, *actually using the transformation*) is really not the way to go.
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[User Picture]From: mharreff
2010-07-19 02:25 pm (UTC)
You want an expensive advantage? Try Cley Vampire. That's a one-trick pony that's likely to get you killed if you use it, or exiled just for having it. You need to touch someone to use it, making it risky to use in combat, especially for a mage who would get the most mileage out of it. And it's +9.

I'm trying to leave room to get around the difficulties of shifting in a tight spot, but I fail to see why it needs to be completely free.
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[User Picture]From: quoting_mungo
2010-07-22 11:03 am (UTC)
I have to question how useful Cley Vampire is to an adventurer, though. It looks more like an advantage listed for the benefit of GMs building Big Bads; realistically, if you ever use Cley Vampire, unless it's you and the monster(s) you target and no one else around, it's as likely as not that your party will turn on you. (Honestly, I'd say significantly more likely than not, except for player "inertia"; players tend to be naturally disinclined to turn on one of their own.) If you're willing to use it to its full extent (like a Big Bad might), it's nasty. If you aren't (like most sensible people), it's not nearly as big a deal. Note that I'm not saying the advantage cost should change, just that it is an advantage with seriously limited utility that might not do the character much good.

The proposed house rules for shifter-hybrids are mostly an attempt to assign game mechanics to the transformations. I personally like the idea of shapes growing "sore" when pushed (how else do you stop players from going to "powder their nose", going through with the forced shift in private, waiting a couple of minutes, then doing a voluntary shift back?), and having some kind of codified mechanics for when a character won't be able to withstand the urge to shift anymore relieves the GM of having to make arbitary judgements on the matter. Since the sourcebook specifically says changing takes one action, that's the only part I'd modify about the proposed rules (and likely replace the quick-changing roll with a (possibly more difficult) roll to avoid Trouble from the change-related pain — it makes sense to me that a shifter-hybrid who's pushed zir ability (ie accumulated Shapechanging skill) would be potentially less impaired by the pain because it's an accustomed form of pain, much like many human women go about their business mostly ignoring menstrual cramps because they're used to that type of pain).

That's also how I perceive the notion that it shouldn't be free to use the shifting to your advantage; if the pain mentioned in the advantage description is purely "cosmetic", without game mechanical teeth, the painful transformations are pure flavor.

(Also, shifter-hybrids on average lose about 25 years of their natural lifespan (assuming "natural death" comes at 69+d10 years of age, though a -25 or -30 penalty on a lifespan roll is probably more likely, so I'm just comparing that way to get some kind of a number to work with), and the range of natural lifespans for most people is 45-170; a Sleeth might well die of natural causes before zir shifter-hybrid friend. The main disadvantage there is that they cannot achieve immortality by magical means unlike other species.)

Honestly the biggest disadvantage a shifter-hybrid gets is the fact that armor and possibly also weapon(s) get(s) prohibitively expensive (magic item being a +3 advantage at standard).

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[User Picture]From: Deskairn
2012-09-04 10:39 am (UTC)
Some advantages are expensive because they're not generally for player use. See: Shifter Hybrid, Major Noble, Cley Vampire, and Charmed Life, all of which are overpriced for their benefits, precisely because people look at them and go 'oooooh, interesting character concept'.

They're bad ideas for various reasons. All those advantages would cost a bit less if players didn't need to be saved from themselves. The high cost is a soft-ban. Extreme disadvantages are in the same boat.
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