Manifest Zone: Changelings, Shifters and Lycanthropes

I take part in a monthly Eberron podcast called Manifest ZoneThe latest episode explores changelings and shifters, with a related discussion of lycanthropes. This post is a chance to dig deeper into these subjects, so if you have questions, ask them in the comments. As always, these are my personal opinions – unless called out as such, this material is not canon and may contradict canon material.

SHIFTERS

Is the connection with nature of shifters different from orcs one?

I don’t think that orcs have a strong connection to nature. I feel that they are very primal creatures, driven by strong emotion and passion. The disciplined hobgoblin is naturally inclined to be a fighter; the wild orc makes a better barbarian. This makes them well suited towards the primal classes… but it makes them equally well suited to divine classes that embrace passionate beliefs. The Ghaash’kala paladin is just as logical a path for an orc as the Gatekeeper druid.

Looking to a shifter, I wouldn’t say that they have a connection with nature. But what they have is an animalistic side — instincts and behaviors that reflect their bestial aspect. And as opposed to the broad passion of the orc, this is something that is unique for every shifter — broadly defined by shifter type, but then further defined by their personal experience with it.

What is the key point when you play a shifter? Is there anything that they see in a completely different way from humans?

When I make a shifter, my core question is their animal affinity. I consider each shifter to have a connection to a certain type of animal, as reflected by their shifting ability. Think of it as a totem spirit that provides them with instincts and emotions. Unlike lycanthropes, this is not an overwhelming urge, and the intensity of these instincts varies my shifter. So if you take two longtooth shifters and say that they’re both lupine in nature… you have have one that has very strong wolflike tendancies, and the other who works as a blacksmith and just occasionally snarls when he gets angry. So the question to me is what is their animal nature and then how strongly does it influence them? Once you’ve made that decision, consider the animal and think about what traits would bleed over to the shifter and what that might mean.

Bear in mind that this is more mental than physical. Shifters share a common genotype, and when people see them, they are always recognized as shifters regardless of their shift type. A razorclaw shifter with feline tendencies may have features that are distinctly feline for a shifter, but you’d never mistake her for a tabaxi.

Do you see any tradition for classes that are not typically cool for shifters like shifter bards, sorcerers, warlocks or paladins?

I don’t see shifters as locked into any particular class. The wild shifters of the Eldeen Reaches might be more inclined towards primal paths… but that’s as much about their environment as their race. A shifter born in a city or raised among humans will adapt to that environment. One of the iconic 3.5 Eberron characters – seen on the covers of the ECS and Player’s Guide to Eberron – is the shifter wizard Baristi. To me, the question isn’t “Is it weird for a shifter to be a wizard”, it’s “Why did she become a wizard and how is she different from a human or elvish wizard?” She has feline characteristics, and if I were playing Baristi I’d highlight her boundless curiosity. She’s a brilliant wizard, but she’s always interested in learning something new or doing the thing she’s not supposed to do. Other fictional shifters include the inquisitve Zaehr and the fighter Geth. So again, I’ve never seen shifters as tied to any one path.

With that said, you could certainly play with shifter nature when developing a character and class. A shifter barbarian could reflavor their “rage” as being another form of shifting, assuming a more powerful form. A shifter druid could downplay any connection to a druidic order and play up her abilities as a form of shapeshifting mastery. A shifter monk could justify their improved speed, AC and unarmed damage as being tied to their shifting as opposed to martial arts; if you modified the monk path, this would be a reasonable way to create a weretouched master.

Looking to bard or warlock, I don’t see why either class has to be reflavored to connect it to a shifter. Bard is a logical path even for Eldeen shifters; add a lupine aspect and it’s about the drive to unite their pack. And a shifter is just as capable of following the warlock’s path as any other sentient being. Following the myth that the first shifters were blessed by Olarune, I could see a shifter fey pact warlock whose patron claims to be the Moon Queen or something similar.

CHANGELINGS

How malleable is age to a Changeling? Can a changeling kid pass as an adult (at least, until they start speaking)? Can an elder changeling pass as a nimble teenager and ignore the aging effects on his/her muscles?

By default, the effect of changeling shapeshifting is cosmetic. A changeling can make themselves appear more muscular, but this doesn’t change their Strength score. They can’t use their shapeshifting to heal a wound. So can a changeling appear to be older or younger? Absolutely. Does this actually remove the effects of aging? No. That elder changeling can appear to be young… but if they’ve lost Dexterity due to the effects of aging, they don’t get the Dexterity back.

Do you have any non-traditional ideas for Changeling classes? I feel like they’re typecast as Rogues, but lack good alternatives.

There’s two questions here: what’s optimal from a mechanical standpoint, and what’s got the best flavor. The mechanical question depends on what edition you’re using. In 3.5, changelings have no ability score modifiers and so they’re equally good at all things. I almost ran a campaign in which all the characters were going to be changelings, as a sort of fantasy Mission: Impossible where every session the party would be undercover in different roles. In 4E and with the current UA rules for Changelings, they have a bonus to Dexterity and Charisma.

So: in two of three editions, changelings have an edge with Charisma. Beyond that, as a changeling I prefer to wear light or no armor so that it’s easy for me to change my clothes; wearing plate armor significantly limits what I can do with my shapeshifting. Likewise, I like classes that don’t rely on large weapons. If I’m carrying a two-handed sword, it’s going to spoil things when I try to pose as a schoolteacher. What does this lead to?

Monk. This is an excellent choice both mechanically and practically. Dexterity is useful for a monk. They don’t need armor or weapons, making it easy to accommodate any disguise. From a flavor standpoint, you can present yourself as a martial artist… but you could just as easily say that you are a physical adept who has learned to weaponize your shapeshifting. Your unarmed defense could be based on actually toughening your skin and bones. Your unarmed damage can reflect hardening your fists. If I were doing a 5E Eberron book, I’d consider a subclass for monk that reflects combat shapeshifting… among other things, allowing you to choose whether your unarmed strike deals piercing, bludgeoning or slashing damage. This is definitely appropriate for the skindancers of Droaam or other changelings pursuing the idea of the doppelganger.

Bard. In my recent Dragonmark on Changelings I present the idea that tribal changelings have an oral storytelling tradition, along with the concept of personas as shared stories. Other articles have discussed the idea of Droaam’s skindancers, who work shapeshifting into artistic performance. So there’s two backstories for a changeling bard. On the other hand, in the recent CCD20 game I ran, I had a changeling bard where I reflavored Bardic Inspiration and magic as telepathic abilities, tied to telepathic “doppelganger” abilities. Story aside, Charisma and Dexterity are both good choices for bards, and a bard’s use of spells and light armor facilitates shapeshifting.

Druids and Barbarians. In another Eberron campaign I actually explored the idea that changelings were the original lycanthropes… combining shapeshifting with a connection to primal spirits. A changeling doesn’t have a bonus to Strength, but if you want to play an unarmored barbarian that works well… and you can present the “rage” as actually assuming a unique battle form. It’s a very different sort of flavor, but I think that exploring the primal aspect of shapeshifting can be interesting.

Warlocks and Sorcerers. Dexterity is always useful for lightly armored characters, and Charisma is key for both of these classes. Personally I prefer warlock to sorcerer. I’m used fey-pact changeling warlocks a number of times; it lets you really play up the idea of the changeling who lives between the two realms. I also did a changeling infernal warlock as a sort of pulp hero, a twist on The Shadow using eldritch blasts instead of handguns. No one knows that playboy Veldan ir’Tain is secretly THE SPECTRE!

I’m going to stop there, but really, almost any class can work. I had a player in one of my campaigns play a changeling cleric of the Silver Flame; it wasn’t an optimal use of the race, but he had fun with it.

How do you not make a Changeling villain not totally OP? In my current campaign I’m running, the PCs encountered a rival scholar who takes more of the “Belloq” attitude towards recovering ancient Xen’Drik artifacts. My fear now is that a Changeling is going to be a bit too difficult for them to catch because he can change into different forms.

Bear in mind that this issue isn’t unique to changelings; you have the same problem with anyone who owns a hat of disguise, or a 2nd level warlock with mask of many faces. And these two individuals are actually LESS limited than a changeling, as the changeling can’t shift their gear with them. The simplest way to limit this – if you’re trying to give your players a chance – is to have things that they can’t change. Do they have a distinctive magic item that they’d be loath to part with? Are they carrying the large, bulky gold idol? This allows Perception or Investigation to notice the piece of gear on top of the standard of Insight vs Deception to see through the disguise. With that said, do you NEED the players to catch this villain? Recurring villains are something we specifically advocate in Eberron. Is there any problem with HAVING the villain escape a time or two before they figure out that they can spot him because he’s always got that distinctive magic rod? If it is absolutely vital to the story for the villain to be caught, is there a reason they have to be a changeling instead of a human?

You’ve mentioned a few times about your changeling character Tel, and how her personas Max and Bronson and the others were shifted into depending on what the situation calls for. My question is how did you handle actually changing into them? If you were currently Max and suddenly a fight broke out, shifting into Bronson is gonna let the whole world know you’re a changeling. And while that might be okay with some road bandits, that’s not always something you can afford to let loose. Did you just try to find a way to make Max useful or something else?

This question refers to the idea of Personas, something I presented in this previous article about changelings. A persona serves two purposes. First, personas are well-established identities that have roots in different locations. The dwarf Bronson is an established figure in the underworld of Sharn, and has been so for longer than my changeling character has been alive; she inherited Bronson from another changeling, and benefits from his established reputation. Second, a persona is a mental focusing tool for the changeling using it – a way of thinking that helps in the pursuit of a particular action. Bronson is cruel and tough, and exceptionally skill with Intimidation. When Max wants to threaten someone, she wants to be Bronson.

With that said, there is a critical point here; Personas have no actual mechanical effect. The core character has the Intimidate skill, and COULD Initimidate in any form. It’s simply that it doesn’t come naturally to the generally good-hearted Max, who would rather employ Persuasion. But if it was absolutely necessary she COULD, and it’s not that it would destroy her perceived identity; she’d just handle that intimidation in a different way than Bronson would. Likewise, Bronson would rather intimidate than persuade, but he could persuade if he wanted, just like any mean dwarf could try to soften his tone; but he’d try and take this approach in a way that seems organic for the character.

This is equally true for combat. Bronson LIKES to fight. Max does not. But Max carries a rapier and knows how to use it. What my character sheet said was “She’s prepared to fight, but doesn’t enjoy it, especially if it comes to killing; she prefers to leave bloodletting to Bronson and Meriwether.” If Max knows there’s going to be a fight in advance – if we’re heading into a bar in Lower Dura and we expect it to get rough – she’ll switch into Bronson ahead of time. But if she goes as Max and a fight starts, she definitely wouldn’t switch into Bronson on the spot, ESPECIALLY in Sharn where Bronson is known best. The damage she’d do to the persona is far more serious than having to fight as Max.

With that said, if there’s an easy way TO change she might take it. She’s a rogue; if she went into hiding, she might switch and have Bronson appear, observing that he’s just shown up and nobody is gonna hurt his friends. Note that Max never hid the fact that she was a changeling from her allies; so THEY aren’t saying “Why does this Bronson guy keep showing up?” Note that Max had shiftweave with a different outfit for each persona.

Beyond this, Max was a persona without a strong established reputation, so it was OK for HER to be known as a changeling. So every now and then, SHE would do something like throw an enemy off balance by changing her face to something they cared about, or something like that. But she wouldn’t do that if she was Bronson or Merriwether. FINALLY: It’s important to note that not every face has to be a persona. A persona is a TOOL: Max could still become a random city guard if that was useful, and drop that identity the moment it’s convenient. Using a Persona is a responsibility because you have to preserve and protect the story of the persona. But you can also just make up a new face on the spot.

LYCANTHROPES

Prior to the Last War, the Lycanthropic Purge is one of the most significant military engagements in the history of Galifar. My old Dragonshard article on Lycanthropes and the Purge is a canon source of information about this event. Often people misinterpret the Lycanthropic Purge as being an unjust persecution… that the Church of the Silver Flame ruthlessly hunted down innocent lycanthropes that were minding their own business. This wasn’t the idea at all.

When we were first working on Eberron, D&D was using the third edition rules. Under third edition rules, lycanthropy works like this.

  • Lycanthropes can be afflicted (contracted the curse) or natural (born to lycanthrope parents). Under 3E rules, both afflicted and natural lycanthropes can pass the curse to others with their attacks.
  • When an afflicted lycanthrope is under the effect of the curse, their alignment changes… but more than that, they follow an extreme form of that alignment. Evil lycanthropes are specifically called out as being murderers who delight in preying on their family and friends. Even good lycanthropes will leave their friends behind to live solitary lives in the wild. Lycanthropy isn’t a power-up. It’s never something you WANT to happen to you. It is a curse. At best it will destroy your personality; at worst, it will turn you into a predator who will turn on the people you once loved. Behavior varies by lycanthropic type — wererats are more sly and communal than wild wereboars — but an evil lycanthrope is simply never someone you want to have around.
  • Setting all other factors aside, a lycanthrope possesses DR 10/silver. This makes them all but immune to the attacks of a typical first level commoner or warrior, which is the bulk of the population of Eberron. So even a first level commoner as a werewolf is a deadly foe for the typical village militia, unless they are equipped with silver weapons.

When I looked at that first point, I realized that lycanthropy has the potential for exponential expansion. One werewolf infects two people. If this process continues, within five cycles of infection we have 243 werewolves. Eberron is further complicated by the number of moons, meaning that a full moon is a very common event, ramping up the impact of the affliction and the time it takes for a victim to fall prey to its full effects. Curing lycanthropy can only be performed under certain circumstances, requires you to capture the lycanthrope you’re trying to cure; requires the victim to succeed at a DC 20 Will save (not trivial), and requires the spellpower of a 5th level cleric. That’s within the scope of Eberron’s “wide magic”, but we do specifically call out that most priests are not clerics; full clerics are rare and remarkable. So if you’ve got 243 angry werewolves on your hands, the idea that you’re going to be able to subdue them all and cure them is fairly unlikely.

So I look at this and saw the potential for a werewolf apocalypse, every bit as terrifying as 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead. The only thing holding this in check would be the idea that lycanthropes wouldn’t coordinate and would have a natural impulse to kill their victims in order to prevent spreading the affliction and drawing attention… that lycanthropes might themselves act to prevent an apocalypse. Nonetheless, it seemed logical that a civilized nation would seek to eliminate this deadly affliction. The idea of the Silver Flame eliminating lycanthropy wasn’t something we saw as the Salem Witch Trials; it was more akin to wiping out smallpox, if smallpox turned people into murderers.

But as we were writing, a magical thing occurred: D&D advanced to 3.5, and the rules had one detail that must have seemed trivial to a designer: afflicted lycanthropes couldn’t spread the affliction. It’s a smart decision that eliminates the threat of the werewolf apocalypse… but suddenly the Purge seemed unnecessary. So, we decided that history literally mirrored reality: The curse had changed. At the time of the Purge, it became more virulent. Some power was at work… a daelkyr? An Overlord? The Prophecy? Whatever it was, the Purge was precipitated by the threat of a werewolf apocalypse… and in the aftermath of the Purge, the power of the curse was weakened and afflicted victims could no longer spread the curse.

But, guess what? Fifth edition changed it back. Under 5E rules, any lycanthrope can spread the affliction. It maintains the idea that lycanthropy is a bad thing — that “most lycanthropes become evil, opportunistic creatures that prey on the weak.” So… what does that mean for us? For me, I will continue to have history mirror the changes in editions. In the time of the Purge, lycanthropy was virulent and could be easily spread. The Templars broke the power of the curse and for nearly two centuries it has been less of a threat. But now, the power is growing again. It’s just like aberrant dragonmarks: they’ve been in decline ever since the War of the Mark… but now there’s a new surge in Aberrant numbers and power. Why? That’s up to you. It could be the work of an Overlord that is once again breaking from its bonds. It could be based on the number of lycanthropes in the world. It could be a Daelkyr. Or any other idea that suits you. The funny thing is that I present this very idea in my novel The Queen of Stone, which is set in 999 YK… so apparently I can predict the future of D&D!

So here’s the quick overview of the Lycanthropic Purge.

  • Lycanthropes have been present throughout the history of Galifar. However, they rarely acted in any sort of coordinated fashion; afflicted lycanthropes couldn’t spread the curse; and natural lycanthropes would generally avoid spreading the curse. They were dangerous monsters and something that templars or paladins of Dol Arrah would deal with, but not perceived as any sort of massive threat… more of a bogeyman and reason to stay out of wild areas.
  • Around the Ninth Century, there was a shift in Lycanthropic behavior. Packs of werewolves began coordinating attacks. Eldeen wolves began raiding Aundair, and wererats established warrens beneath the cities of western Aundair. More victims were left alive and afflicted. While terror spread among the common folk of western Aundair, the nobles largely dismissed the claims.
  • Sages in the Church of the Silver Flame confirmed that afflicted lycanthropes could now spread the curse. They realized that the raids and urban actions might not be as random as they appeared – that this could be the groundwork and preparations for a serious large-scale assault. Combined with the risk of exponential expansion, this was a potential threat to human civilization.
  • Templars were dispatched to Aundair, and fears were confirmed; there were more lycanthropes than anyone guessed, and they were better organized than had been seen in the past. What followed was a brutal guerrilla war; the templars had numbers and discipline, but they were fighting unpredictable and extremely powerful foe that could hide in plain sight and turn an ally into an enemy with a single bite. Thousands of Aundairians and templars died in these struggles. Cunning lycanthropes intentionally sowed suspicions and fomented conflict between templars and shifters, resulting in thousands of additional innocent deaths.
  • The precise details of the war aren’t chronicled in canon and likely aren’t known to the general public. I expect it happened in waves, with periods where the templars thought the threat had finally been contained… only to have a new resurgence in a few years. Again, canon doesn’t state what drove the power of the lycanthropes. Whatever it was – demon, daelkyr, shaman – the templars finally broke it. Afflicted lycanthropes could no longer spread the curse, and all lycanthropes were freed from whatever overarching influence had been driving their aggression.
  • While the threat was largely neutralized at this point, people didn’t know that. There’d been ups and downs before. Beyond this, the Aundairian people had suffered through decades of terror and they wanted revenge. This is the point at which the Purge shifted from being a truly heroic struggle and became something more like a witch hunt, with mobs seeking to root out any possible lingering lycanthropes. Tensions with shifters continued to escalate as bloodthirsty mobs sought outlets for their fear and anger. A critical point here is that at this point, most of the aggressors were no longer Thrane templars. The primary instigators were Aundairians who had adopted the ways of the Silver Flame over the course of the Purge. For these new believers, the Silver Flame wasn’t just about defense; it was a weapon and a tool for revenge. This is the origin of the sect known as the Pure Flame, and its extremist ways can be seen in priests like Archbishop Dariznu of Thaliost, noted for burning enemies alive.

The take-away here is that the Purge began as a truly heroic struggle against a deadly foe, and the actions of the templars may have saved Galifar from collapsing into a feral savagery. But it ended in vicious persecution that left deep scars between the shifters, the church, and the people of Aundair. And now, it may be happening again.

I thought Eberron wasn’t limited by the usual alignment rules. So… are werewolves always evil? 

Eberron generally doesn’t restrict the alignment of intelligent creatures… unless that alignment is enforced by magic. Werewolves don’t choose to be evil; they are victims of a curse that transforms them into brutal killers. That’s the inherent idea of lycanthrope, and something we wanted to maintain. What we have suggested is that lycanthropic alignment is tied to strain, not animal form. That is to say: a werewolf COULD be good or evil… but when an evil werewolf bites someone they become an evil werewolf, while the good werewolf will create good werewolves.

With that said, the critical point here is to understand that Alignment means something very different for a lycanthrope than it does for a human. Lycanthropy is NOT in any way a natural affliction. Wolves are not murderous killers who prey on their friends. But evil werewolves are. The way I reconcile this is that lycanthropy is about how humans and demi-humans perceive the animal. An EVIL lycanthrope embodies our fears of the animal. The evil werewolf isn’t based on actual lupine behavior; it’s based on our FEARS of the predator lurking in the shadows, waiting to snatch anyone who strays from the pack or goes into the forest alone. A GOOD lycanthrope can embody more noble traits we associate with the animal – the pack loyalty of the wolf, for example. But again, either way the alignment is an extreme, unnatural compulsion. If you’re an evil person and you become an evil lycanthrope, your personality is still completely transformed. You are driven by primal and magical impulses and instincts. And again, if you’re a good lycanthrope you aren’t going to just continue with your normal life; you will feel the call to flee to the wilds, to throw off the trappings of civilization and hunt with your pack. Never forget: lycanthropy is a curse, not a blessing. Good lycanthropes could be valuable and loyal allies; but that doesn’t mean that you want your character to become one.

The side effect here is that there’s MORE evil lycanthropes than good lycanthropes, because evil lycanthropes engage in aggressive behavior likely to spread the curse. Good lycanthropes are likely to primarily be natural lycanthropes who avoid preying on innocents and spreading their affliction. Again, even “good” lycanthropy destroys the personality of the victim and turns them into something else; it’s not something you want to do to an innocent. So when most people think of lycanthropes, they’re thinking of the evil ones.

With all of this said: I do feel that these dramatic magical instincts are more limited in natural lycanthropes. An afflicted werewolf will be overwhelmed by the power of the curse. A natural werewolf is born with it and grows with it. An evil natural werewolf is still filled with cruel, predatory instincts and they cannot change that; they can’t become good, because they are still shaped by magical forces. But they can resist the urge to turn on allies and murder friends. You should never be fully comfortable around an evil lycanthrope, but naturals are safer than the afflicted.

You mentioned that due to late Silver flame persecution shifters would dislike Lycans as well. What would their mindset be on a Weretouched Master?

I don’t think shifters inherently dislike lycanthropes: I think they dislike evil lycanthropes, because anyone in their right mind is going to dislike them; why would you welcome a creature that takes pleasure in preying on even friends and family into your fold? Evil lycanthropes are monsters, magically driven to prey the innocent. But shifters would be more aware of the fact that there are good lycanthropes. And they’d also know that weretouched masters AREN’T touched by the curse.

A critical point here: we often say that shifters are “thin-blooded lycanthropes.” In my opinion, most shifters believe that the reverse is true. They believe that shifters predate lycanthropes  that the first lycanthropes were shifters blessed with greater powers, and that this gift was corrupted to become the curse as it exists today.

So shifters don’t hate the CONCEPT of lycanthropes or fear the weretouched master. But they have a clearer concept of the true nature of the curse, and the fact that an evil lycanthrope is — through no fault of their own — a monster. Again, the idea is that the tension between shifters and the church is a tragedy because they could have worked together… but hidden lycanthropes actively worked to foment conflict between them.

You mention the chance that a Daelkyr was involved with lycanthropy. Do you have any canon Daelkyr that you think is suitable for that role?

Personally, I’d use Dyrrn the Corruptor. A contagious magical curse that transforms good people into monsters based on other peoples’ fears is certainly Dyrrn’s style.

I don’t see much inherent difference between the shapeshifting of a natural lycanthrope, and the stony gaze of a medusa or the cry of a harpy. All of these are inborn magical powers that COULD be used for evil, but what’s the creative decision behind making one of these an uncontrollable curse, and the other a gift?

Now, everything in Eberron is a choice. It’s perfectly fine to handle things in a different way than I do. But addressing the question of why I handle it the way I do, it’s because I find it makes it a more compelling story. D&D has a host of natural shapeshifters and half-human hybrids. I enjoy monsters that aren’t simply furry humans – that are truly alien in their outset. In looking at lycanthropes, I enjoy the following things…

  • No matter how human they look, they are fundamentally inhuman, shaped by forces beyond their control. An evil lycanthrope is supernaturally shaped to be a ruthless predator. An afflicted lycanthrope cannot resist these impulses; they are so powerful that even the most noble person can be transformed into a vicious killer. A natural lycanthrope can resist those raw urges, but they are still there. They are always a part of them; the evil lycanthrope is always a predator, and everything around it is prey. Look to Zaeurl in The Queen of Stone. She’s not savage; she’s a brilliant tactician who’s serving the Daughters to advance the interests of her pack. But she’s also not human. She is a ruthless killer, the embodiment of our fears of what lurks in the forest. She can understand the concept of mercy, but she cannot feel it.
  • By contrast, the medusa is a natural creature. It possesses a magical gift… but that gift doesn’t change the way it thinks in a way it can’t control. And the medusa also can’t bite you and turn you into a medusa. Which ties to the idea that the werewolf’s powers aren’t natural. The werewolf is a vessel for a power it can never fully control… and if it bites you, that power will change you. A werewolf is tied to something bigger that we don’t understand; a harpy or a medusa has no such ties to a corrupting magical force.
  • Tied to this: I like that Eberron is unpredictable. And even here, we say that you can have a good werewolf. But again, that werewolf is compelled to be good. Because there are times when I LIKE that pure, inhuman alignment-shifting force. There’s times when I want the demon, or the idea again that even the most noble person can be stripped of their humanity by the curse and turned into a monster. The fact that the lycanthrope can hide among use is what makes that even more terrifying; it looks like us, but it’s an alien, terrifying predator.

With all that said, I like the idea that lycanthropy has been corrupted – that it was originally a pure primal gift that – whether by an Overlord or Daelkyr – has been transformed into something that turns innocents into weapons. I like the idea that even the good lycanthrope is shaped by a force they can’t control and has to be careful lest they infect others. And I like the idea that a weretouched master PC, or a druid PC, could try to uncover the root of that corruption and find the way to end the curse.

But back to the main question, I make the werewolf different from the harpy or the medusa because I WANT it to be different from the harpy or the medusa. If a want a bestial humanoid that blends human intellect and animal instincts with no bias to good or evil, I’ll use a gnoll. When I use a lycanthrope I want that idea of something shaped by an unnatural force – a monster that can appear as human or animal, but isn’t truly either of those.  I want the shifter to feel pity for the evil werewolf, not kinship.

However, I just don’t feel like even the “natural” form of it should always be portrayed as a curse. Affliction is a horrific experience, and every system emphasizes that. The afflicted with no recourse for help is a pitiable (and scary) creature indeed. But I also like the idea of a community of good (or neutral) lycanthropes seeking out their afflicted brethren with the aim of helping them adapt to their new form rather than seeking a cure.

Well, first off I’ve been emphasizing evil lycanthropes because they are the scary ones. But as I’ve said, you can have good (or neutral) strains of lycanthropes — and in Eberron, these can be any time of lycanthrope. You could have a warren of good-aligned wererats, or a pack of good-aligned werewolves. The critical point is that even good-aligned werewolves are still afflicted with a curse. Their behavior is still dictated by powerful urges and instincts related to their animal forms. Just as the “evil” of a lycanthrope means something narrow and extreme, “good” doesn’t just mean that the lycanthrope becomes a nicer person. A good lycanthrope is compelled to take to the wilds, and will have a very difficult and uncomfortable time living in a city. They will feel a bond to their pack and to protect their lands… yes, they will protect innocents in that place, but they are still driven to protect that place. When the full moon comes and the curse takes over, you WILL lose control; you won’t murder, but you’ll flee to the woods to run with your pack. It may not make you a monster, but it will still override and ultimately destroy the person you were before. That’s why I still call it a curse. It won’t kill you and it won’t make you a killer. But it will change you in ways you cannot control… and it will make you a carrier whose bite can change others.

So you can definitely have a pack of good lycanthropes who seek both to avoid afflicting others and who help those who become afflicted. Shifters would likely welcome such lycanthropes, though the wolves would rather run with their pack that dwell with shifters. But that doesn’t change the basic nature of the affliction or mean that you should welcome the opportunity to become a good lycanthrope.

Would it be reasonable to have a few clans of them on Lammania, either because they fled to the plane of unbridled nature before the corruption happened, or because the corruption was cleansed from them living there for many generations?

Sure, I’d definitely support either of those ideas. If I was making a “pure” lycanthrope I’d start by saying that they don’t afflict at all; they are only natural. Their condition isn’t a weapon that destroys the victim’s personality; it’s their natural state.  At the same time, I’ve personally included clans of EVIL lycanthropes in Lamannia as well. And again, these are natural lycanthropes who are very comfortable with their nature and aren’t slaves to it… but they are still ruthless predators embodying our fears.

Lycanthropes as described here seem to be very primal in nature, almost wild in transformation whether in evil or good forms. How might the curse’s psychological effect work with a group like Stormreach’s Bilge Rats and the Circle of Plague with their organized structure and more human goals of controlling crime in a city.

For me, the answer is simple: Wererats. As I suggested above, my thought is that the curse changes you to reflect how people feel about the animal – embodying their fears if it’s an evil strain, or the perceived nobler qualities if it’s good. For most lycanthropes, this is going to involve a drive to be in the wild. Wererats are the exception. We don’t think about rats living in the forest; we think of them lurking in the shadows of the city, seizing opportunities. We don’t think of the rat as a vicious predator; we think of it as a sneak and a schemer, sowing disease and stealing things left unguarded. In my opinion the wererat is driven to cities, and supernaturally driven to find a warren and a band of rats to work with. That drive to control crime in Stormreach isn’t a “human goal”; the impulses enforced by the curse are to undermine and prey upon the people of the city. An evil wererat is just as much a ruthless killer as an evil werewolf, but they are about calculated murder and mayhem. In the past they are presented as lawful evil, and that speaks to the urge to work with a warren and to undermine in a systematic way. But again, the noble paladin who’s afflicted with the wererat curse will become a ruthless schemer prepared to murder any time it suits their goals. It’s not natural or human; they are driven to scheme in the shadows. With that in mind, wererats are definitely creatures I can see engaging in systematic infection, capturing useful people and afflicting them to bring them into the warren. During the Purge I call out the idea that while werewolves were raiding in the wilds, wererats were infiltrating cities and towns. And in my mind it’s the wererats who worked to sow violence between shifters and templars, because that sort of sneaky turn-my-enemies-against-each-other is exactly what I expect from cunning wererats. They don’t care that this will result in hundreds of innocent deaths; it’s an expedient way to weaken two enemies.

Random point: I wrote a sourcebook on wererats a little before Eberron happened (so this isn’t written for Eberron).

With that said, in Eberron you could have a warren of good-aligned wererats. I’d still have them drawn to cities and to work together in a warren, and inclined towards subterfuge rather than direct action; but they could serve as protectors of the city, the same way that a werebear is traditionally a protector of the wilds.

One thought I tend to like concerning the Purge is that while on one hand, taking direct and strong action was necessary at the time… on the other, having that action be completely violent without a serious effort to seek a cure, or spare and contain any lycanthropes (good-aligned ones, perhaps) for such a purpose, was an extreme urged by the Shadow in the Flame.

Absolutely. First off, that’s absolutely the idea of the Shadow in the Flame — urging good people to do bad things and drawing out their worst impulses. With that said, in my mind there were certainly people during the Purge who were TRYING to find a cure and to prevent unnecessary casualties. The point for me is that it was a brutal conflict filled with fear and paranoia… that people were legitimately terrified of the ‘thrope threat. So if you have the child who’s been afflicted, SOMEONE would be shouting that you can’t possibly kill this innocent, that there has to be a better way – and someone else shouting that there’s no time, that if she turns she could kill us all, that it’s got to be done. This is exactly the sort of thing I see during the Purge: not simple, not controlled, but a time where people are terrified and afraid that their neighbors could be wererats and wolves could burst from the woods at any moment. I do think it’s important to differentiate between the typical PC interaction with lycanthropes and the experience of the Aundairian peasant. PCs are powerful individuals and if you’ve got a cleric in the party they can probably cure the werewolf themselves. If I’m the Aundiarian peasant, then that child COULD easily kill me if she turns, and I may have never even met a cleric capable of performing a cure. So I see the pleading parents begging with the mob to help their child, and I see the terrified mob unwilling to take the chance. It’s NOT the right thing. It’s not fair or just. But it’s the kind of tragedy that can happen in those times – and the environment in which the Shadow in the Flame thrives.

Would an evil person bitten by a good-aligned werewolf suddenly acquire the need to live up to positive elements associated with wolves (loyalty, camaraderie, honour, courage, protection)?

The principle is correct: an evil person afflicted by a good lycanthrope becomes good. They’ll have a supernatural compulsion to protect the other members of their pack and to fight dark things that threaten their territory. But this isn’t a mild, subtle change to their personality. It is a dramatic shift. They don’t just become nicer; they are compelled to abandon their past life and to go to the wilds, to leave old acquaintances behind and run with a wolf pack. This is why I call it a curse even when it makes someone good: because it destroys the person they once were. If you’re bitten by an evil wererat, you don’t simply become evil; you are compelled to join the warren, and that new loyalty overrides your previous life. My point is that yes: good lycanthropy will turn an evil person into a good one. But this isn’t a glorious cure for evil that we should be actively trying to spread, because it turns you into a good werewolf; you will still be shaped by primal impulses and instincts. If everyone in Aundair became good werewolves, civilization as we know it would collapse.

As I understand it, a natural lycanthrope born to a neutral-good strain would be unable to become evil under normal circumstances Is that correct?

Correct. Their alignment is unnaturally enforced. As a natural lycanthrope they could moderate those impulses and be less driven to extremes than an afflicted lycanthrope, but the impulses are still there.

If werewolves are associated more with the wolves of stories than with the actual animals, do they belong more to Thelanis (the realm of stories) than to Lamannia, where many of them fled after the Purge?

There is no canon origin for lycanthropy. In this Dragonshard I describe a shifter legend…

The moon Olarune sought to create guardians who could protect the world of nature; reaching down from the sky, she touched a handful of chosen shifters, granting them the power to fully assume animal form. But the moonspeakers say that a thirteenth spirit is in the sky — a dark moon that hides its face from the world. This darkness corrupted Olarune’s gift, infecting many of her chosen with madness and evil.

Is this legend based on reality? If so, who is “Olarune” and what is “the Darkness”? It could be that both Olarune and the Darkness are archfey and that the origins of lycanthropes are tied to Thelanis. Or it could be that Olarune was an aspect of Eberron and that the darkness was an Overlord. It could be that “Olarune” was simply a source of primal magic within Eberron tapped by shifter druids… and Dyrrn the Corruptor warped it. So the lycanthropes fled to Lamannia because there was a passage, and because they found an environment that could support them. But that doesn’t mean they are innately tied to it.

Is it conceivable that an established werewolf family (such as my branch of Vadalis) would be good, but infect people introduced to the clan (for mariage, for instance), so long as those people are willing and receive support and training?

Sure! With that said, in MY Eberron it would be unusual for a family of werewolves to be able to do something like run a business, because their primal instincts would always be pushing them to run to the wilds. However, if any house could pull this off it would be Vadalis. I could even see a case being made that their Mark of Making allows them to “control the beast within” – mitigating those primal impulses. But I do think it would be a hard transition for people introduced to the clan.

Are lycanthropes exclusive to the Eldeen, or just more concentrated there? Karrnath also gives of a vibe that would suit lycanthropes, but there is no mention of the crusade ever going there. What about the Tashana Tundra, the homeland of the shifters?

Lycanthropes aren’t exclusive to the Eldeen. But dangerous lycanthropes have ALWAYS been hunted by the Silver Flame and paladins of Dol Arrah. And wererats aside, most lycanthropes are uncomfortable in urban environments. So sure, there may have been werewolves in Thrane, but if they killed someone, the church would deal with them. The Eldeen is a place that appealed to the wild instincts of lycanthropes and that could support large numbers of them… and where those numbers could grow without being noticed by the outside world. So sure, you could have werewolves in the wilds of Karrnath, if you’re looking for a Ravenloft vibe; the fact that the Silver Flame is weak there would help explain why they haven’t been hunted down.

As for the Tashana Tundra, to me that’s going to be tied to your explanation for lycanthropy. I personally say that it started on Khorvaire. It’s spread of Stormreach, at least – but I haven’t put it in Sarlona.

Would you give lycanthropes access to shifter feats and classes (such as the moonspeaker)?

Shifter feats seems reasonable. As for the Moonspeaker, that depends. For a good lycanthrope. probably. For an evil lycanthrope I’d be inclined to say that whatever bond they might have had to such a natural force has been corrupted and that they shouldn’t be access that power; I might create a different druidic path specifically for evil lycanthropes.

Do the lycanthropes who fled to Lammania still carry the virulent curse? Their descendants or original hosts in the case of longer lived like dwarves and elves?

There’s no canon answer to this, because there’s no canon explanation for why the curse became virulent and why it weakened. In The Queen of Stone I present the idea that it’s based on the NUMBER of lycanthropes, and that once that number dropped below a certain level it weakened the influence of the Overlord. Using that explanation there’s no difference between those in Lamannia and those in Eberron; the curse is exactly the same, and it’s just that the worst parts of it don’t trigger until the population reaches a threshold.

How old is the curse of lycanthropy in Eberron? Did giants suffer from its affliction? 

There’s no canon answer to this, and it depends on the story you want to tell. If an Overlord is responsible, then I would expect the curse to have been around since the Age of Demons and for there to have been afflicted giants. On the other hand, if it’s the work of Dyrrn the Corruptor, it’s only been around for eight thousand years and has nothing to do with the giants. So it’s a question of what story you want to tell in your campaign, and the logical consequences of that decision.

WHY NOT BECOME A LYCANTHROPE?

In conclusion, I want to touch on a critical point – why I keep harping on the fact that lycanthropy is a curse. Set all flavor aside and mechanically, being a lycanthrope is awesome. You get damage resistance, improved abilities and senses, the power to assume an animal form. It’s easy to pass on to others. Which means that if there was no downside we should all be doing it. If you could be a werewolf and still continue your normal life… why WOULDN’T you become a werewolf?

This is why Eberron – and third edition D&D, back in the day – emphasizes the extreme downside of being a lycanthrope: the idea that it utterly destroys the person you once were, and forces you on a path of extreme behavior. Third edition rules emphasized that even good lycanthropes would abandon their friends and civilization. When you become a good-aligned werebear, you may look like the person you once were, but mentally you aren’t. If the people of Aundair all became good werebears, civilization as we know it would collapse as they all abandoned cities for the wilds. Consider that most editions of D&D – including 5E – emphasize that when the character is fully under the influence of the curse they should be played as an NPC… because they aren’t the person they were before the curse.

So: I relentlessly beat the drum of how terrible the curse is because Eberron is a place where we embrace magic in a logical manner… and if lycanthropy DIDN’T have massive drawbacks, logically it is a thing that everyone should embrace. So there HAS to be a downside to even good-aligned lycanthropy that justifies people rejecting it and treating it as a curse instead of a blessing. In my case, I emphasize that it’s that mental transformation… that once your friend becomes a werewolf, regardless of whether he’s good or evil, he’s not your friend anymore; he’s an alien being in your friend’s body. You don’t want to become a lycanthrope because when you finally succumb, it will destroy the person you were. But that’s me. And even in my Eberron I can see druids seeking to cure the corruption that makes it a curse, or even House Vadalis seeking to mimic the effects without the downsides.

In Queen of Stone, you refer to a rakshasa Overlord known by its epithet “The Wild Heart”, and its speaker, Drulkalatar Atesh, the Feral Hand. I was wondering whether you have anything more you can share about this pair.

Novels aren’t canon, of course. But it is canon that SOMETHING caused the surge in the virulence of lycanthropy that triggered the Purge, and that SOMETHING dramatically changed as a result of the Purge and broke the power of the curse. The Queen of Stone proposes that all of these can be tied to the Overlord known as the Wild Heart – that it touched the world through lycanthropes, that the more of them there were, the more its power and influence grew, until it fully controlled them and could turn them all to evil. The defeat of the Wild Heart broke the power of the curse for a time – but that required a dramatic reduction in the number of lycanthropes. So again, the farther the curse spreads, the stronger the Wild Heart becomes.

No other details have ever been provided about the Wild Heart, and its name is not known. The point to me is that like lycanthropes, there’s nothing natural about the Wild Heart. What it embodies is mortal FEARS of the natural world. Again, it doesn’t reflect the actual, natural behavior of the wolf; it reflects the fears of the humans huddling around the fire, imagining the bloodthirsty beasts lurking in the shadows around them. And it then turns natural creatures into these monsters. So rather than being revered by druids, I’d see it as being despised by druids as a force that corrupts the natural order… though with that said, a group of mad druids who embraced the Wild Heart would be a sound Cult of the Dragon Below.

As for its connections to Dral Khatuur… she’s called out as having little to do with the others. Both reflect negative versions of nature, but I see the Wild Heart as being more focused on beasts than on weather; Dral Khatuur is the Killing Cold, and she will kill the minions of the Wild Heart just as happily as she will humans. There are also other Overlords that have some overlap in their spheres; it’s not quite as clean as a divine pantheon where a deity has absolute authority over a domain.

Beyond that, I have NOT established all the concrete details. Did the Templars learn of the Wild Heart? Was it the minions of the Silver Flame who defeated the Feral Hand in the past and broke the power of the curse? Or might it have been shifters, druids or a band of heroes, who won the most crucial victory without the Templars ever even knowing it happened?

Well, I just spent way more time on lycanthropes than I expected to – but I’m happy to answer questions about Shifters and Changelings! Post your questions below!

Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters, who make this blog possible. I’ve got articles about classes, my current 5E Eberron campaign, and Phoenix Dawn Command in the works!

Dragonmarks: Changelings

Long ago there was a woman named Jes, and she had a hundred children. Her rivals conspired against her, and swore to kill her hundred children. These enemies numbered in the thousands and wielded dark magic, and the Children would never prevail against them. Jes begged the Sovereigns for help, but their only answer was the wind and rain. She sought the aid of the Silver Flame, but its keepers would not hear her. In the depths of her despair, a lonely traveler took her hand. ‘I will protect your children if they follow my path. Let them wander the world. None will know them. They will have no kingdom but the road, and no enemy will find them. They may be shunned by all the world, but they will never be destroyed.’ Jes agreed, and the traveler gave her his cloak. When she draped it over her children, their old faces melted away, and they could be whoever they wanted to be. And so it is until this day. Though the Children are shunned by all, the gift of the traveler protects them still, so long as they follow his path.

The changeling tribes refuse to let their stories be bound by the written word. The Taleshapers maintain that writing down a story traps it in a single shape; like a changeling, a story should be free to choose the face that suits the moment and the audience. This makes it difficult to pin down changeling history. Morgrave’s Handon Dal believes that this apocryphal tale suggests that the changelings were born in the Sarlonan nation of Ohr Kaluun, a realm known for its bitter feuds and mystical eugenics; skulks and tieflings are also believed to have emerged from Kaluunan rituals. Dal asserts that “Jes” was likely a clan matriarch in Ohr Kaluun, who sought aid from Pyrine and Khalesh, whose religions form the foundations of the modern Sovereign Host and Silver Flame, before resorting to changeling transformation as a way for her clan to survive a forced exodus.

Whatever the truth of this tale, it is the foundation for the tribal traditions. Each of the tribes traces its roots back to a group of the Hundred, and ‘The Children’ remains a common term for the changelings as a whole. The Taleshapers say that the Children scattered so that they couldn’t be caught in one place and destroyed. Following the precepts of the tale, they say that they will never raise a kingdom, but that it is their place to be forever unknown, to survive in the face of fear and scorn. Their shapeshifting is a divine gift given to them to preserve them against their enemies, and they are entirely justified in using it to fool the single-skins and take what they need to survive.

I didn’t write the changeling chapter of Races of Eberron. I don’t object to the ideas presented in it, but I’ve always had other thoughts. Eberron content is still restricted and I can’t present a version of changelings for 5E or a truly in-depth racial guide. But I wanted to share a few thoughts about how I use changelings at my table.

In my Eberron, there are three primary changeling cultures in Khorvaire.

  • Foundlings are changelings raised by other species. This could be due to interspecies romance, or the child could be orphaned or descended from an outcast… or part of a family of foundlings. Foundlings have no knowledge of changeling cultural traditions, and rarely have contact with changelings outside their own families. Foundlings develop a wide variety of philosophies, including those described in Races of Eberron. Some foundlings hide from their true nature, adopting a single face and never changing. Some are sociopaths who prey on those around them, stealing the faces of those they kill. There’s no predicting the beliefs of a foundling, and they can be found anywhere.  
  • Stable changelings live in changeling communities that are recognized and known to the people around them. They are often comfortable wearing the skins they were born in, feeling no need to hide their changeling nature. In the Five Nations, Breland is the only nation with stable changeling communities (notable Dragoneyes in Sharn); other stable communities include Lost in Droaam (from Dungeon #193) and the Gray Tide principality in Lhazaar. Stable communities were founded by tribal changelings, so some traditions overlap; however, many have been abandoned as the members of the community don’t feel threatened.
  • Tribal changelings cling to traditions stretching back to their origins in Sarlona; they refer to themselves as ‘The Children’. Their culture is defined by the hostility and distrust of outsiders; they hide their communities and their true identities from others, revealing just enough to keep strangers from seeking more. They live in the shadows of the other races, using their wits and their gifts to survive. Most tribal changelings spend their lives in motion, traveling from place to place and never staying long enough to draw unwanted attention. They are seen as tricksters and tinkers, and this reputation is often deserved; tribal changelings don’t consider it a crime to deceive single-skins. The tribes are based in Thrane, Aundair, and Karrnath, but wandering tribals can be found across Khorvaire.

The relationship between changelings and doppelgangers is in the hands of the gamemaster. “Doppelganger” could simply be a term used to describe a changeling sociopath who uses their powers in a predatory fashion. Alternately, doppelgangers could be a parallel species possessing greater telepathic and shapeshifting abilities; they may consider themselves the true heirs of Ohr Kaluun, asserting that changeling bloodlines are the result of interbreeding with other species. Meanwhile, tribal changelings assert the opposite; doppelgangers aren’t the predecessors of the changeling race, rather they are a cursed offshoot of it.  

In the past I never had an opportunity or reason to develop changelings further. Races of Eberron is the canon resource on changelings and it didn’t come up in other projects, until I wrote the article on Lost for Dungeon. However, when 5E started up a friend of mine launched an Eberron campaign and I decided to play a changeling rogue I called Tel, though the name the party knew her by was Max. I decided that Max was a tribal changeling, and so I worked a little more on their culture.

For me, one of the pillars of tribal culture is the idea of Personas: distinct identities that serve a personal and cultural role. I wrote the following as part of my character write-up for Max.

While Max can wear any face that she wants, such a disguise has no depth. A disguise she makes up for a task is a newborn, with no voice or history of its own. These personas have their own history and personality. Each one is a real person, with friends, enemies, and goals of their own. One way to think about it is that each persona is a story … and that while Max is wearing the persona, it’s her duty to further that story. Tel is true neutral. Max is neutral good; it’s important to her to help people, and she wants to make the world a better place. Bronson is a criminal who has survived a hundred streetfights and has a reputation as a ruthless torturer. He’s going to want to see profit in a venture, and won’t hesitate to kill or cause pain. Bronson also doesn’t speak Elvish, even though Tel does; she’d have to shift to another persona to do that.

Personas are tools. They have established identities that can be useful to the changelings who use them; in this example, Bronson has connections in the Boromar Clan established before my character was born, and the persona provides Max with access to those contacts. But it’s also a way for the changeling to focus their thoughts and talents. Personas are more than just faces. Mastering a persona is like learning to think in another language. It’s about being that person. Max is soft hearted and dislikes violence; Bronson is a ruthless killer. So when she knows violence is around the corner, Max will give way to Bronson and let him handle the fight. Likewise, Max knows people and is good at friendly manipulation; she’s the persona Tel uses when she plans to rely on Deception and Insight. While Bronson specializes in Intimidation. From a mechanical perspective, Max the rogue has the rogue’s specialization in different skills. From a story perspective, that specialization reflects her personas. So the raw character has specialties in Intimidation and Insight; but if I’m going to use Intimidation, I’ll switch to Bronson, because that’s his specialty. 

Every changeling can assume any number of faces. As noted above, these are newborns with no history, no fixed behavior; you might use them once and forget about them. Each changeling creates their own personas, creating one or more people they want to be. But they can also inherit personas from other members of their tribe. This involves training, with a living master of the persona teaching the youth how to be that persona. Many personas are unique, with only one member of the tribe being allowed to use the persona at any time; this prevents someone from doing something with the persona that could spoil it for others. However, there are also personas shared by the tribe. These are generally travelers – merchants, bards, tinkers, mercenaries – people no one knows exceptionally well, so it’s easy for different changelings to play the part without getting tripped up by recent events.

Again, to be clear: Not every face a changeling assumes is a persona. A tribal changeling can impersonate a guard for a momentary advantage and then throw the face away, or wear a particular guise for a party. Personas are a deeper part of the culture.

A second concept for tribal changelings is the ideas of skin cant. This is the concept that tribes employ cosmetic details – tattoos, birthmarks, scars, patterns of freckles – that have specific meaning to other members of their tribe. A particular facial scar (which could be added to any guise) might tell other members of the tribe I need help or everything I’m saying is a lie. It’s a simple way for a changeling to share information that also allows members of a tribe of identify one another even if they are wearing unknown faces.

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY CHARACTER: TEL & MAX

So, now you’ve seen my ideas for tribal changelings… here’s an example of how I put these into action. At the start of the campaign, I developed four distinct personas for Tel. Here’s my notes on each one.

  • Max (female Karrnathi human) is Tel’s first face, the first persona she created on her own. She’s a freelance inquisitive (licensed by Tharashk). This fits, as she is extremely inquisitive by nature. If she sees someone in distress, she’ll ask what’s wrong… and if she can easily help, she will. She likes to make friends and help people when she can do it without personal cost. As a result of this, she has a lot of friends in a lot of places both people she’s done favors for, and people who she owes favors to. While she is an inquisitive, Max’s specialty is people. She’s as much a con artist as she is a detective, though she tries to use these talents to help rather than hurt. She has the changeling knack for seeing beyond the surface and an exceptional talent for sincerity and disguise. Max generally refers to herself as “Max” even when she’s using temporary faces simply because the things she’s doing are Max things; Tel is about helping the tribe, and if she’s just helping her friends, it’s Max doing it. As a Karrn who grew up near the Ironroots, she speaks (and curses in) fluent Dwarvish; she understands Elvish and Goblin but doesn’t speak either well. She’s prepared to fight, but doesn’t enjoy it, especially if it comes to killing; she prefers to leave bloodletting to Bronson and Meriwether.

 

  • Bronson Droranath (male Brelish dwarf) is a freelancer with the Boromar Clan… sometimes a fixer, sometimes a legbreaker, but he’s best known as an interrogater. He has a reputation in the Clan as someone who specializes in causing pain – not the deadliest dwarf in Dura, but if you get into a fight with him, he’ll leave a scar. Bronson has endured a great deal of pain, both physical and emotional, and he enjoys sharing it with others. He believes that the world is a cesspool and feels no remorse for his actions. Technically, he believes in the Sovereigns, but he also believes that they are cruel bastards. He despises Dassk and has a few enemies among the monsters. Tel inherited Bronson from her mother, Galiandrya. He’s been active in Sharn for seventy years, with long leaves of absence; once Garrow rose to power, Gal didn’t use him often. Bronson was the primary tool Gal used to teach Tel the intricacies of shapechanging. While he’s very familiar to her, Tel doesn’t like Bronson much, and she’s actually a little afraid of him… but there are certain jobs he’s good at and many of her useful Sharn contacts will only deal with him. He speaks Common and Dwarvish.

 

  • Rael Hess D’Medani (male Brelish Khoravar) is a foundling, a dragonmarked heir who had to earn his way back into his house after his grandparents were excoriated. He was taken in by the Hesses, who have always been noted for eccentricity; Rael lives up to that reputation. He’s a brilliant inquisitive, but has little patience for working within house protocols, and he’s never bound himself to the Guild. He shows up when he wants and disappears just as quickly. He’s helped the Sharn Watch, and worked with the King’s Guard during the war; as he had a distant connection with his house, he could provide direct assistance without the house taking sides. As such, he has a few distant acquaintances in the Guard and Watch who might call on his talents. Rael knows many trivial details, and can pontificate for hours on how a particular clue relates to a story. With that said, he’s astonishingly perceptive and intuitive. Rael is an heirloom persona created by Tel’s uncle Hol, who was a brilliant inquisitive in his own right. Hol groomed Tel to assume Rael, and this is the source of her inquisitive talents; Max still sees Rael as a wise mentor. Hol was eventually murdered; Rael still hopes to solve that case. Rael was sponsored by Uther Hess d’Medani, who knows his true nature but considers Rael a friend; Uther has also been a good friend to Max. While Rael doesn’t actually have a dragonmark, he often uses his mark as a form of meditation. He speaks all the languages Tel knows.

 

  • Meriwether (female Lhazaar elf) is a Phiarlan excoriate; technically she was Thuranni, but she left the house before the Shadow Schism. Before she was cut off from the house, she was a member of the Serpentine Table and a professional killer. Max saved Meriwether when the assassin was on the run, shortly after Max had begun wandering the world. Meriwether took in the changeling girl and taught her many things, honing her natural instincts for stealth, teaching her to spot a threat, and showing her how to use a rapier and blow and the trick to striking a lethal blow. Eventually, Meriwether died (a story that will need to be told at some point), and Max chose to continue her memory. Max knows a great deal about Meriwether and can get by fairly well even when dealing with her acquaintances (and she had very few friends). However, she certainly doesn’t know EVERYTHING about Meriwether. There also exists the possibility that Meriwether herself planned for Max to carry on in her name… that there’s some long game at work, and that Max could have suppressed memories or magic tattoos that won’t reveal themselves until the time is right. In connection with this: Meriwether was a storyteller as well as an assassin. She often told Max stories of the Valeus Tairn, who preserve the spirits of their ancestors by emulating their deeds. Following Tairnadal tradition, Max has kept a silk scarf of Meriwether’s and pulls it up to cover her lower face when she’s on a “Meri mission.” Is she actually preserving Meri’s spirit? Who knows. Meri wants her to become an assassin; Rael wants her to be an inquisitive.

So Max is entirely Tel’s creation. Bronson and Rael are inherited personas. And Meriwether is a real person who played an influential role in Tel’s life, who she adopted as a persona after the real Meriwether died. At the table, I’d switch between personas as best suited the current scenario. In addition to that, each persona provided different hooks the GM could play with. Did Meriwether have plans for Tel/Max? Could an old rival of Bronson’s show up with a grudge?

In addition to all this, there was one more twist. This campaign was a follow-up to a previous Eberron campaign that had lasted for years. In that campaign, the changeling Garrow – introduced in Shadows of the Last War as an agent of the Emerald Claw – ended up overthrowing Kaius and ruling Karrnath on behalf of Erandis Vol, until finally being brought down by the player characters. This new campaign was set a decade after the original, and I wrote up the following as part of Max’s background.

Max’s true name is Teliandyri, painted in blue and gold. She is a changeling of the true lineage of the Dawn Wanderers, a tribe of the Children based in Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities. Long ago, the Dawn Wanderers integrated the faith of the Blood of Vol into their beliefs, maintaining that the lesson of the Traveler is that every changeling has the potential to become the Traveler. The first Wanderer to present this faith spoke with the voice of Garrow, and Garrow has remained in her line as a champion of both Blood and Children. This proud tradition came to an end when Max’s mother Galiandyra (Gal) assumed the role of Garrow. GarrowGal betrayed her people and her faith for the promise of power, joining Erandis Vol’s corrupt Order of the Emerald Claw and ultimately seizing power in Karrnath. GarrowGal was defeated by Queen Bellandra ir’Wynarn, and her death sparked a backlash against both Children and Seekers.

Max comes from a proud line. Her ancestors created heroes, stories, and priests. Her people have always provided leadership and inspiration for the Dawn Wanderers, and the same things are expected of her. Garrow is hers by right of blood. But Galiandyra’s actions have cast a shadow on her blood, both in the eyes of the tribe and Tel herself. She has vowed to wander until she finds a way to redeem Garrow and undo the harm her mother has done to both Seekers and Children.

She left Karrnath when she was twelve — young for a wanderer, but changelings mature more quickly than humans. She has spent the last eight years roaming the Five Nations, drawing on the faces she has inherited and making names of her own. Max is her favorite face; she’s curious and always searching for mysteries. She has friends, enemies, and contacts in many places, and has many safe havens… but nothing she’d call a home. There is always a place for her among the Dawn Wanderers, but neither she nor they will rest until she has resolved her vow.

So Max also had a fifth Persona: Garrow. But the idea was that she’d never use Garrow until she had an opportunity to redeem him. And, of course, while they were playing different characters, all the other players in the group had been in that game where Garrow was a recurring villain… and I was looking forward to bringing him back and playing out that story.

As it turned out, the campaign didn’t last as long as the one before; people moved and life interfered. But I’ve always liked Max’s story.

Let me know what you’ve done with changelings in your campaign! Meanwhile, here’s a few questions that have come up.

A rogue has a wide variety of skills that can easily be adapted to several personas, what about ideas for some of the other classes?

Personas can be tied to skills – as the example of Max, where Bronson was used for Intimidation and Rael was the expert in Perception. But personas can also be about different approaches to the same thing. A changeling fighter could have a one persona for each of the three faces of war – a monster-hunting champion sworn to spread the light of Dol Arrah, a stoic soldier who fought for Breland during the Last War, and a ruthless mercenary who will use any dirty trick to achieve victory (and who has ties to House Deneith). As a player, it’s the question of whether this situation calls for a hero, a stoic, or a pragmatist – and each of these personas further has different connections in the world that could play a role in an adventure.

Beyond this, personas can have roles within the tribe or community that go beyond skills. The same changeling fighter could have a persona that’s a martial champion of the tribe, a hero who defends them from their enemies. Like Max and Garrow, it’s not a question of when it’s useful for the PC to assume this role; it’s a question of when they are prepared to live up to it and have the skills necessary to take on that mantle. For Max, becoming Garrow was a long term goal.

The same principle could apply to any class. A changeling wizard could have different personas for different schools of magic; if he primarily memorizes illusion spells, he’ll use his sly illusionist persona, while he uses a fiery dwarf when focusing on evocation. Or he might have an elderly sage for scholarly work and lore, along with a young battle mage persona who handles combat.

Like the Valeus Tairn, do you think changelings have a certain standard of reputation a persona needs to gain before they’d pass it on or is it more abstract along the lines of this persona still has a story to tell?

There’s a few issues to consider…

  • Does this persona have a strong enough identity that it can be passed on? Can you teach someone else to be this person?
  • Does this persona have any value to the tribe? Is there a REASON to keep this persona alive? Bronson provides valuable underworld connections in Sharn and as a dwarf, we could keep him going for another century.
  • In some cases a persona is essentially an office. Garrow is a spiritual leader within the Dawn Wanderers, and for Tel to assume the role is like becoming the Dalai Lama; she wouldn’t become Garrow until she can both redeem the identity and until she believes she can live up to the duties of being Garrow.

Looking to Garrow specifically, with the Tairnadal they keep the spirit of their heroes alive; here the point is that the changeling who takes on the persona of a hero has to be prepared to actually be that hero.

Would it be safe to say that most major “political” roles in a stable settlement may have personas attached? For example, you don’t go to Grey Tide healer, you go to Vim. There might be two or three changelings who could be Vim at any given time, but the healer is Vim. 

It would vary from community to community. And unlike Tairnadal, inherited personas don’t have to be legendary figures. In one village, the healer develops a persona for his healing work – Vim, a kindly, knowledgable man who puts patients at ease. As this is a persona, he can set it aside when he goes home to his family; Vim is the healer. People react well to Vim, and his apprentices learn the persona, so that way everyone who deals with “Vim” has that same sense of confidence and comfort (even though they know they may not be dealing with the original Vim). Over time Vim becomes the job, outliving the originator.

If there’s a major plague or something, would it be odd to see all three of these in the Vim persona at the same time?

Well, the apprentices have the skills whether they’re Vim or not, so they could heal without being Vim. On the other hand, they’ll be at their best when they’re Vim, because that persona is entirely focused on being the best healer. In a stable community, I think you could see this – three Vims at once – because the persona isn’t a deception; again, it’s basically an office and a focusing tool. It would certainly be rare among tribal changelings, where it’s generally important to maintain the illusion that the personas are real people.

So when they need leadership, they find Prince Kel, when they need healing, they find Vim, though these both may be assumed by a changeling named Rhett who makes his living as a farmer. More or less correct?

Close. Rhett may have been a farmer as a child. But being Vim requires significant training, and having mastered the form it’s unlikely those skills would be wasted on farming; if Rhett doesn’t serve as Vim full time, he’s probably apprentice to the primary Vim. Skill doesn’t come with the shape; rather, the shape serves both as a mnemonic focus for the changeling and as an identifying factor to those coming for service. Max’s mother taught her to be Bronson, and that work included learning to fight and to intimidate. Hol taught her the art of detection, and Rael was the focus for those skills. Rhett would be taught to be Vim, learning the art of medicine at the same time that he learns the mannerisms and features of the old healer.

And looking again to Max, she possesses all her skills in all her forms. The idea is simply that she is most comfortable using the skills in the persona associated with them. When she’s Bronson, she thinks like Bronson, ruthless and cruel; this is the best match for close combat. But she can still use a rapier as Rael without mechanical penalty. So going back to Rhett, assuming Vim’s form doesn’t make him a healer; training makes him a healer. It’s just that his training in medicine went hand in hand with being Vim, and people know to look for Vim when they need healing – trusting that someone who’s learned to mimic his form has also learned his skills.

How do you deal with Changling characters who have met and spent time with humanoids with wings, or who can breath underwater, like Aarikocra or Tritons?

Per the Eberron Campaign Setting book, the Changeling ability mimics Disguise Self, which specifically DOES NOT provide the abilities of the assumed form; this is in contrast to Alter Self, which does allow the user to create functional wings. Per the ECS, a changeling can LOOK like a Triton or an Aarikocra, but they can’t breathe water or fly.

How do the wandering tribals wander? Do they do so as individuals or as communities? If as communities, how do they travel without being immediately spotted?

Generally, individually or in small groups. A small group would have a nondescript wagon designed so it can easily be converted to appear to fill a number of different roles; it could be a merchant wagon, a coach of tourists, an entertainer and their entourage, and so on. this would be customized based on the region, the relevant personas they have with ties to the area, and what they plan to do in the area. If they have something to sell, they’re merchants. If they’re flush with cash, they’re tourists. If they’ve got a bard, they’re entertainers. And bear in mind, the changeling entertainer could have a legitimate Phiarlan license and be ready to put on a show. Beyond this, they are generally traveling through regions they know. So they know village X is strongly religious but has no priest and always responds well to a traveling preacher, while town Y has a soft spot for soldiers.

Beyond this, you also have individual tribals who remain stationary for periods in larger communities. They serve as anchors, passing messages between groups of wanderers, helping to gather resources, and filling wanderers in on local news or important changes in the community (along with things like “Jal was publicly killed while using his Old Barmy identity, so Barmy is dead in this region.”). When the anchor gets tired of the post, they can trade places with a wanderer familiar with the anchor persona. Typically, an anchor is someone who sees a fair amount without drawing a lot of attention or having too much responsibility – beggars, barmaids, etc – but some anchors hold more significant positions. For example, a changeling with healing skills may serve as a healer in a small village. That village is a central hub for the migration patterns of wanderers of that tribe, and they all know that the village is a safe place for an injured member of the tribe to go for healing and recovery without having to worry about being exposed and drawing hostility.

However, with personae which are deliberately passed from one changeling to another (at last the question!), are magical or psionic means ever used to transfer actual memories from one to the next?

It’s possible. Part of this depends on your view of the relationship between changelings and doppelgangers. Traditional doppegangers are fully telepathic and can detect thoughts at will. You could assert that changelings and doppelgangers are different species, or you could say that they are the same species; that the telepathic talent is something that exists in the race but must be honed; and thus, that doppelgangers have mastered this particular gift but that all changelings possess it on some level. When I first created the setting, my idea was that they WERE the same species and that there would be a “monster class” (this was just after Savage Species had been released) allowing a PC changeling to hone those doppelganger abilities. The racial skill bonuses of a changeling – Insight, Intimidation, and Bluff – are based on the idea that all changelings have some innate, instinctive telepathy, even if it’s not consciously controlled. One of the things I always liked about this is the idea that changelings essentially judge people by their thoughts/body language more than by their appearance.

If you embrace this idea, you can say that there are some tribes that have harnessed this ability and use telepathy in this manner. However, even if you don’t go this far, you could also say that a changeling persona teacher does develop a strong psychic bond with their student – that while this isn’t mechanically represented by a general telepathic ability, for story purposes it is possible for them to telepathically share memories through a process of meditation (a sort of mind meld).

As a side note, back in 3E I wrote the setting-neutral Complete Guide To Doppelgangers for Goodman Games. In that, doppelganger communites do have living “memory wells” where they can essentially download memories so that other doppelgangers in their community can catch up on the latest memories for a particular persona.

When a changeling has multiple strong personae, is the root identity always in total control? Do personae ever “fight” for dominance? Or slip out suddenly? Say Max is performing normal duties, when she spots one of Bronson’s arch-enemies. Could Bronson suddenly take over? Or would that only happen in a changeling who is somehow mentally damaged?

There’s some fine lines to define here. First of all, as *I* run them, the core personality is always in control of which personas are assumed. When Tel is being Max, the only personas involved are Tel and Max, and Bronson can’t suddenly jump in and take over. If a fight breaks out, it’s a question as to whether Tel WANTS to shift to Bronson.

Now, when Tel is Bronson, she is entirely in control in the sense that Tel’s desires and long-term goals drive Bronson’s actions. He’s not going to suddenly murder her friends. But she is embracing Bronson’s feelings and instincts, and letting those guide her response to a situation. So I describe Tel as being “afraid of Bronson” because she’s more likely to be ruthless or cruel when she’s Bronson. But she’s never ENTIRELY out of control, and she can always switch out of Bronson. Part of this means that if you have three changelings who have the Vim persona, they are still shaped by their own unique motives – they aren’t the EXACT SAME PERSON when they are Vim. But Vim will be a lens that filters that core personality.

Now, you could certainly present a mentally unstable changeling whose personas have fully taken on their own lives, but that’s not the standard.