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Illustration of a howling wolf silhouetted against an enormous moon. The wolf is standing on a rocky outcropping. Below and to the left of them, trees are silhouetted against a gray sky. This artwork was created by Placidplace.


Overview: Each Shifter can shapeshift between one humanoid and one animal form, which are deeply connected. Humanoid and animal forms vary from person to person.

Language: The type of animal that a Shifter turns into is important, so different types of Shifters are categorized by their animal form. For example, there are Wolf Shifters, Antelope Shifters, and Dolphin Shifters. Each type of Shifter also has a WereName (for this “were” is pronounced “wehr”), making them WereWolves, WereAntelope, and WereDolphins. Both terms are regularly used.

Physical Description: As a magical species that originated from a group of mixed-species humanoids, Shifters have diversity in both their humanoid and animal forms. Most Shifters have humanoid forms that are mundane species, like Humans, Hobs, Orcs, and Merpeople. Of these, Humans are the most common.

For Shifters, mammal and bird animal forms are the most common, but there are plenty with marsupial, reptile, or amphibian forms. Insects forms are rare, as are magical animal forms, but they do exist. For example, there is a family of Unicorn Shifters that live in the Rainbow Hills.

It is important to know that being a Shifter is more than being capable of shapeshifting between humanoid and animal forms. Members of other species are capable of shapeshifting. What is distinct about Shifters is that they have a deep connection between their two forms and these two forms mark and enhance each other.  For example, a human that shifts into a coyote is likely to have enhanced senses in their human form and be larger than a mundane coyote in their animal form.

Senses: A Shifter’s senses match the form they are currently in, but may be enhanced.

Diet: Shifters can eat any food either of their forms is capable of eating, though it is best for them to eat foods their current form is optimized for. For example, an Otter Shifter with an Orc humanoid form will do best eating plants in their Orc form and eating fish in their otter form.

Common Mental Characteristics: The deep connection between a Shifter’s human and animal forms has a major effect on their mind, but the form that connection takes varies from person to person. Some Shifters have human-like minds that are significantly affected by their animal form’s nature, instincts, and communication patterns. These Shifters stay mentally the same when they shift between forms. Other Shifters experience a change from a more human-like mind to a more animal-like mind when they shift. A few Shifters have separate human and animal minds that switch off control when they shift. Meanwhile, other Shifters land somewhere on the spectrum between these three options.

In addition to the blending of human and animal minds, Shifters have the full range of mind and personality diversity that humans and animals both have. For example, while different species of animal have different typical temperaments, the temperaments of individual animals vary widely. This means that a Dog Shifter won’t necessarily be cheerful and friendly just because they turn into a dog. Just as individual dogs can be timid, aggressive, goofy, relaxed, quiet, defensive, curious, or playful, so can individual Dog Shifters.

Magical Affinities:

  • Animal Magic
  • Shapeshifting Magic
  • Air Magic: For those who shift into flying animals
  • Water Magic: For those who shift into aquatic and semiaquatic animals
  • Earth Magic: For those who shift into burrowing animals
  • Plant Magic: For those who shift into animals that have close associations with plants
  • Sensing Magic: For those who shift into animals with particularly keen senses
  • Animal-Specific Affinities: Shifters can also have affinities special to their animal, such as Attention Magic for peacocks and Communication Magic for parrots

Common Species Traits: Species traits vary based on each character’s humanoid and animal forms. Animal species traits include Skill Aptitude for Athletics, Climbing, Swimming, or Flying (based on their physical traits), Heightened Senses, Additional Sense, Amphibious, Unhurt by Falls, Permanent Defense, Flight, Additional Limbs, Built-in Tool, and Poisonous Skin.

Common Vulnerabilities: Vulnerabilities are also based on the Shifter’s humanoid and animal species. Animal vulnerabilities include Intense Curiosity, Noisy Form, Moist Skin, Cold Sensitivity, Heat Sensitivity, Dietary Restriction, Poisonous Skin, Intense Sleepiness, Sensory Sensitivity, and Light Sensitive Eyes.

Origins: A long time ago, a powerful burst of Animal Magic transformed everyone in the mixed-species community of Flower Bay, giving each person several animal traits and the ability to shapeshift into one type of animal. Much of this transformation was inherited by the community’s children and the people of Flower Bay became the first community of Shifters.

Prominent Cultures: Because Shifters originated in one town, they had a chance to develop a Shifter culture based on animal communication patterns and common needs, such as the need many had for a flock, pack, or herd. Shifters took this culture with them when they moved to other locations and it has blended with local cultures. There is now a great diversity of Shifter cultures.

Respectful Portrayal Note: Because there is a history of marginalized groups being compared to animals, especially people of color and disabled people, portrayals of characters with animal traits should be done with care. I recommend checking the traits you give to Shifter characters to see if they are similar to harmful stereotypes, especially when those traits combine with one or more marginalized identity.

In addition, anyone portraying a shifter with a human-like personality and an animal-like personality should be aware that Jekyll and Hyde type portrayals of dual personalities are stigmatizing for people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). A good starting point for avoiding harmful DID representations is making the animal personality realistically animal-like, staying away from one personality being good and the other evil, and researching myths and stereotypes about DID.


Shifters are part of the Crossroads Setting for the tabletop role-playing game, Magic Goes Awry. Click here to go to the list of vibrant and unique magical people from the Land of Crossroads.


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