Wildshape

Now, I had originally intended to include my revised rules for Wildshape in the pending document on Magic. All of the magic-using classes are getting some small revision, and I certainly have something to say about the druid in that document. However, this is such a complex and potentially contentious issue that I thought it would be lost in a wider discussion of the magic system. So here it is:

Wildshape 101

On Iourn, the druid’s Wildshape ability has never followed the rules laid down in the third edition rulebooks. I’ve largely allowed druids to transform as often as they want and for long as they want. By-and-large I don’t think that this has caused too many problems. Certainly our local druid (Arvan) has taken to wandering around the wilderness as a club-wielding dire ape in case he gets mugged, but that’s not the form he decides to take while visiting dignitaries or having half a shandy at the local inn.

In our current house rules, the number of times per day that the druid can Wildshape is actually the number of times per day that the druid can safely wildshape. They can change form as often as they like, but once they change more in each day than their level normally allows they have to make a Will saving throw. Failure means they are stuck in that form for the following morning. If they succeed then they are fine… until they Wildshape again. That prompts another Will save (this one slightly more difficult) and so on.

The full rules are over at the old Iourn site. Please go over and take a look.

What I like about these rules is that they fit in well with my understanding of druids. Wildshaping is like a drug to a druid. Their senses are completely overwhelmed by the experience. Once they’ve wildshaped, they want to do it again, and again and again. There are stories of druids who turn into an animal and never come back.

I also find the restriction of wildshaping ‘x’ number of times per day drains a little of the flavour of the druid. I want the PCs to arrive at an isolated inn after miles of trudging through boggy, rain-soaked moorland and the druid character to be able to turn into a cat and settle down in front of the fire for a nap. And I want the player to have the freedom to do that without thinking he’s ‘wasted’ one use of his wildshapes for the day.

Ironically, fourth edition captures the flavour of the ability far better than third. Wildshape is an at-will power for a fourth edition druid. However, in fourth edition the ability of a druid to take on the other qualities of the creatures he becomes is described only in the abstract. The third edition rules are much stronger in that regard. If the druid turns into a rat then I want him to at least have the powers of a normal rat, not simply a druid in rat-form who can do something vaguely rat-like once per encounter. I want druids to become the animal, not just look like the animal.

Of course, the third edition rules have had some major problems with Wildhape over the years. Originally the power was based on the Polymorph Self spell, which was apparently too powerful. The official errata changed things so that the power now follows the rules laid down by Alternate Form (the distinction is subtle, to say the least). Then in Player’s Handbook II (the third edition one) they offered the Shapeshift class ability instead of Wildshape. This was an abbreviated ruleset that was designed to play more quickly at the table. In hindsight, these were the fourth edition rules in proto-form. If you have Player’s Handbook II to hand turn to p39 and have a read – it’s interesting stuff.

All these changes have been designed to speed up play. It’s the same arguments that have been used to attack Polymorphing and Shapechanging in general. It takes too long for a player to work out his stats mid-combat when he changes form. I think there is some truth in this. If a druid declares that he is turning into a giant squid, and he has never turned into one before…. well, there’s more than a little maths involved.

However, the answer to this is not to castrate Wildshape, but compel players to be more prepared. If you want to play a druid, and you have the Wildshape power then make sure you have the stats for all the creatures you want to turn into. It doesn’t have to be every creature in every Monster Manual…. just the ones your druid is comfortable and familair with. And if you have that information ready at the table, then Wildshape’s a doddle. It’s no more complex that swapping to a different character sheet.

Wildshape is Polymorph (with bells on)

In Pathfinder Wildshape is based on a series of new spells that purport to make the adjudication of the ability simpler: the spells Beast Shape, Plant Shape and Elemental Body (the links take you to the Pathfinder PRD). I’m not following those rules. As far as I’m concerned, Wildshape is based on the Polymorph spell. Not the published version of the Polymorph spell, but my version. It’s appeared on the blog before, but (in true Paladium style) I’ll reprint here for your conveniece:

Polymorph

Transmutation (Polymorph)
Level: Arcane 4, Divine (Change) 4
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Personal
Target: You
Duration: 1 minute/level
Saving Throw: None

This powerful spell allows the subject to take on the form of another creature. When a spellcaster gains or develops this spell then he must choose one specific kind of creature that he can transform into. Every time he casts the spell, that is the creature he becomes.

At any point after gaining this spell, the caster may attempt to add additional creatures to his polymorph repetoire. Simply seeing new creatures or knowing of their existence is not enough; the caster must research each additional creature using the same rules as an acquired spellcaster researching new spells. Once a creature has been researched it is added to the list of potential creatures that can be assumed. There is no limit to the number of different creatures that can be available through the Polymorph spell, as long as each creature follows the guidelines laid down below:

The new form may be the same type as the subject of the spell, or any of the following types: aberration, animal, dragon, fey, giant, humanoid, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, ooze, plant or vermin. The assumed form cannot have more hit dice than your hit dice or caster level (whichever is lower), to a maximum of 15 HD at fifteenth level. You cannot assume a form that is Miniscule or Colossal with the Polymorph spell, neither can you assume an incorporeal or gaseous form. You may not take the form of any creature with extra racial hit dice, class levels or with a Template.

When assuming a new form you gain some, but not all of the new form’s abilities. Equally, you lose some (but not all) of your own abilities. This addition and subtraction of your character’s abilites and statistics can be complex, and it is strongly suggested that players whose characters can cast this spell create full statistics for their characters in each of their available forms. If the player does not have such statistics immediately to hand, then the GM may rule that the spell cannot be cast at this time.

All characters have certain abilities derrived from their race, and certain abilities derrived from their class. Polymorph does not alter the abilities gained from the subject’s character class: therefore all your class abilities are available in your new form. The only exception to this rule is if your new form simply isn’t capable of performing the class ability. For example, if the assumed form cannot talk or hold a focus then it cannot cast spells. If the assumed form has no legs then the flying kick feat is useless. If the assumed form cannot wield a sword then it cannot make use of the suite of combat feats that depend upon using a sword. On the whole, these restrictions should be obvious. The GM and the player should discuss what they are each time a new form is added to the character’s polymorph repetoire.

The character’s racial abilities are significantly altered. However, Polymorph only affects a physical change to the character: it does not allow access to any of the magical or supernatural abilities associated with the new form. Neither does it affect your character’s mind or mental acuity. A summary of the changes wrought by the Polymorph spell are as follows:

Racial Features Gained:

  • Gain the new form’s Type and Subtype (if any).
  • Gain the new form’s Strength, Dexterity and Constitution scores. These changes modify your skills, attack rolls, saving throws, CMB and CMD, but not your hit points.
  • Gain the gross physical qualities of the new form: this includes the creature’s appearance, colour, number of limbs, wings and so forth. Characters can decide the form’s more specific qualities such as height, gender and hair colour as long as it is within the norm for the race.
  • Gain the mundane movement capabilities of the new form: including burrowing, climbing, walking, swimming, flying with wings. Your speed can never be more than 30 ft. (swimming or burrowing), 60 ft. (on land) or 120 ft. (flying) regardless of what is normal for a creature of this race.
  • Gain the natural weapons of the new form, and proficiency in them. However changing form doesn’t give you any extra attacks. If you assume the form of a bear you don’t automatically gain its claw/claw/bite attack routine. If you only have one attack per round, then you still only have one attack per round in the new form, but you can choose which natural weapon to attack with.
  • Gain any racial bonuses to skills.
  • Gain the Natural Armour Bonus to armour class of the new form.
  • Gain the Size of the new form. This may mean applying a size modifier to your Armour Class and attack rolls (but not to your ability scores).
  • Gain the new form’s Exceptional racial abilities.
  • Gain any bonus racial feats of the new form as long as those feats provide Exceptional advantages. Bonus feats that provide Magical (Spell-like) or Supernatural advantages at not gained.

Racial Features Retained:

  • Retain your Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma scores.
  • Retain your own hit point total (do not modify your hit points even if your Constitution score changes as a result of the Polymorph).
  • Retain your own Magical (Spell-like) and Supernatural racial abilities.
  • Retain your own base saving throws.
  • Retain your own base attack bonus.
  • Retain the ability ability to speak, as long as the new form is able to speak intelligbly – i.e. it has a decernible language, not just the ability to make sounds.

Racial Features Lost:

  • Lose your Type and subtype (if any).
  • Lose your Strength, Dexterity and Consitution scores.
  • Lose your gross physical qualities – i.e. appearance and form.
  • Lose your mundane movement capabilities (these are replaced by the new form)
  • Lose your natural attacks (if any).
  • Lose any Exceptional racial abilities that you possess.
  • Lose any racial bonuses to skills (but don’t lose any extra skill points conferred because of your race – such as the bonus points granted to a human).
  • Lose your Natural Armour Bonus to armour class (if any)
  • Lose your Size (and any size modifiers to armour class and attacks).
  • Lose any bonus racial feats you have (human bonus feats are excluded from this proviso and not lost: it would be too complicated if they were). If the lost feat is a prerequisite for any other feats, then also lose access to those feats for the duration of the spell.

Upon casting this spell, you are effectively disguised as a member of the assumed race. If you want to disguise yourself as a specific individual, then the Polymorph spell grants a +10 bonus to the disguise check.

When the change occurs your equipment, if any, either remains worn or held by the new form (if it is capable of wearing or holding the item), or melds into the new form. Items that provide constant bonuses and do not need to be activated continue to function while melded in this way (with the excpetion of armour and shield bonuses, which cease to function). Items that require activation cannot be used while you maintain that form.

When you revert to your true form, any objects previously melded into the new form reappear in the same location on your body they previously occupied and are once again functional. Any new items you wore in the assumed form and can’t wear in your normal form fall off and land at your feet; any item that you could wear in either form or carry in a body part common to both forms at the time of reversion are still held in the same way.

Any part of the body, or piece of equipment, that is separated from the whole reverts to its true form. Should the subject die when in the assumed form, then he immediately reverts back to his true form upon death.

As I said before: the description is long but I think that it needs to be. At least all the relevent rules are together in the same place for the first time in third edition. However, although Wildshape is based on the Polymorph spell, it isn’t exactly the same as the Polymorph spell. The differences make druids better than a wizard with a polymorph spell when it comes to turning into animals. However, the wizard has the freedom to transform himself into many different weird and wonderful (and magical) creatures.

So without further ado, let’s look at the shiny new description of the druid’s Wildshape power:

Wild Shape

At fifth level, a druid gains the ability to turn herself into a Small or Medium Animal and back again. The druid can only take the form of a creature he is familiar with. For example, a druid who has never been outside a temperate forest could not become a polar bear. Wildshaping is a standard action that does not provoke an attack of opportunity. There is no limit to the amount of time a druid can remain in his animal form. Returning to his original form is also a standard action.

The size and diversity of the creature the druid can become increases as the druid gains levels. He can become Large creatures at level seven, Tiny creatures at level nine, Huge creatures at level eleven, and Diminutive creatures at level thirteen. The druid expands his repetoire to include creatures of the Vermin type at level eight, the Plant type at level eleven, and the Elemental type at level fourteen.

Although the druid can Wildshape at-will, his level governs the number of times he can safely attempt the change. The druid may wildshape safely 1/day at level five, 2/day at level six and gains one more safe use of wildshape at each even-numbered level to a maximum of eight safe uses at level eighteen. If the druid wildshapes beyond these safe limits then the following rules apply:

The first wildshape each day beyond the safe limit imposed by the druid’s level functions normally. However, the druid must make a special level check to revert to his original form. The check is 1d20 + the druid’s level + the druid’s Wisdom modifier. The DC of this check is 21. If the check succeeds then the druid reverts to his original form normally. He may then (if he chooses) attempt to Wildshape again. However, each additional Wildshape attempt adds a cumulative +2 to the DC of the level check to revert to his own form.

If the level check fails then druid is stuck in his creature form until dawn the following day. At this point he can make another level check (at +2 to the DC of the previous check) to revert to his original form. If he fails again then he remains stuck for another day, before he can try the check again (at an additional +2 to the DC). He continues making checks at an increasing DC each dawn until he either succeeds or fails four successive checks. If four checks are failed then the druid remains in his creature form forever and may take on the mentality and nature of the creature.

At twentieth level, the druid does not need to worry about  these checks, as he is able to Wildshape safely at-will with no penalty.

Wildshape otherwise functions as the Polymorph spell.

The description here is a melange of my old house rules, the Pathfinder and third edition versions of Wild Shape. The house rules are slightly different in that I have opted to introduce a level check as opposed to a saving throw for the druid to regain his original form. I have done this for the same reason a level check governs a sorcerer’s spellcasting: it limits multiclassers taking advantage of the rules. Otherwise any character could take five levels in druids and then rely on a high Will save to Wildshape a number of times per day. I didn’t want that.

You will also notice that Wildshape doesn’t follow the restruction placed on Polymorph of there being a finite number of creatures available to the shapechanger. Druids don’t have a list of some animals they can change into, and some that they can’t. While I think this restriction works well for wizards and the magical shapechangers, I don’t think it really fits with the druid. I want them to have access to as broad an array of creatures as possible.

Which is why I have added Vermin into the types of creatures that druids can assume. It always seemed odd to me that druids could turn into animals, birds and fish but not insects. The restriction is entirely arbitrary and ripe for removal.

The changes to the druid progression in the Pathfinder rules is also marked. Druids gain Wildshape one level later (just as they did in third edition), but the progression of safe number of wildshapes per day remain the same. I have altered the progression of when druids gain access to different creature types, and when different sizes of creatures become available.

Pathfinder pushed forward acquisition of new sizes and forms the druid progression. For example: under Pathfinder, druids could turn into Huge elementals at level twelve, where they would have to have waited until level twenty in third edition. The House Rules take the middle road. Acquisition is later than in the standard Pathfinder rules, but nowhere near as slow as third edition.

Problems with the Druid Progression

The fact is that under the house rules, a druid gaining the ability to Wildshape at-will is not the incredible advantage as it is in Pathfinder. By 20th level most druids haven’t felt much of a limit on their wildshapes for some time. I therefore felt that there was some danger of level 12 being an obvious jumping-off point from the druid. Once they can turn into elementals, the time is ripe for players bid farewell to the druid class and multiclass into something else.

I have addressed that in several ways. Firstly, is the level-check mechanic for continuing to wildshape. Without levels in druid, that feature becomes less useful. Secondly, I have slowed down the acquisition of abilities so that the jumping off point is at least delayed to level 14. Thirdly, I have made sure that the druid gets interesting abilities in addition to Wildshape at levels 15, 17  and 19. That means introducing brand new abilities for the druid. You can see what they are in the forthcoming magic document.

The Warshaper

One last thing to addresss, and that is the Warshaper Class from Complete Warrior. Arvan has levels in the Warshaper, and I wanted to make a few things clear. The class is largely unchanged except for two points. Firstly, levels of Warshaper stack with levels of Druid when it comes to making your caster level check to regain your original form. A Warshaper is the consumate shapechanger, and it seems appropriate to make that change.

Second, is the description of the fifth level ability of the Warshaper (Flashmorph/Multimorph). In light of the new rules for Wildshape, changes need to be made to this ability. The new text is as follows:

Flashmorph (Su): At fifth level, a warshaper who changes shape as a supernatural ability can do so as a move action instead of a standard action. Additionally: Warshapers who transform a limited number of times per day (such as a druid) gain two additional uses of their shapechanging power. Acquired casters treat all spells of the Polymorph subschool as if they were favoured spells (q.v.). Instinctive casters gain a +5 bonus to languor checks against spells of the Polymorph subschool.

And there we have it. The new Wildshape rules for Iourn. Tell me what you think.

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3 thoughts on “Wildshape

  1. The reason Wild Shape keeps catching so much flak is twofold: The complexity is only one reason, the other is that it’s just flat out overpowered. This of course leads back to the whole ‘Monsters get better stuff than players’ problem with Polymorph spells as a whole in 3.5, but that in itself wouldn’t be too bad if not for Natural Spell.

    As the CharOp boards are fond of saying; Natural Spell is probably the single most overpowered feat in the entire game that is not outright broken.

    Ironically, if you kill the Natural Spell feat, it single-handedly eliminates Wild Shape being overpowered (compared to the abilities of other primary casters, it still beats the pants off non-magic classes). It’s the ability of a Druid to have the physical stats and abilities of a Dire Bear, a second -actual- Dire Bear and the casting of a Wizard that makes the class overpowered.

  2. Well, I really can’t disagree with you. The druid is certainly the most powerful of the base-eleven classes from third edition. But it’s also an extremely flavourful class; and that flavour is bundled up in its spellcasting, summoning and wildshaping abilities. I’m not sure you can excise any of that without losing the essence of the D&D druid.

    And I do like druids. Even as a GM, I haven’t felt that the druid has overwhelmed the party. Maybe it’s to with the players, or the adventures… I can certainly see how the druid could be problematic.

    As for Natural Spell. Yeah. Take the only meaningful restriction on the powers of a druid and remove it. There’s not a druid anywhere who doesn’t have that feat!

  3. Natural Spell is one of those ‘Dumb’ feats in that there is basically never any reason to -not- take it. The question isn’t whether you take it or not, but whether you take it at level 3, level 6 or level 9.

    Based on what i’ve read on this blog, you seem to have pretty mature and un-power gamey players, you’re also already dealing with a fairly massive difference in power levels from PC to PC and i get the impression that the campaign you run has a fairly large chunk of noncombat challenges, so i’d be surprised if you’d seen serious balance issues from any class.

    From a balance standpoint, the Shapeshift druid from the PHBII manages to bring the class in line with other primary casters and retain the Druid’s flavour without hitting it too badly. It’s also -extremely- easy to ‘tweak’ a little bit into a slightly less generic form by playing with the bonuses and penalties.

    Personally i think 4e went a little too far, but 4e is designed -extremely- tight from a balance perspective, and the concept of the Druid class is never going to work properly inside that framework.

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