5E House Rules: Converting the Shifter prestige class

One of the most-loved features of 3rd edition D&D was its introduction of Prestige Classes. The concept has been toyed with back in the very early days of original D&D: having a class that could be entered only by fulfilling prerequisites in other classes first; the original Bard worked like that and, later, the Thief-Acrobat. In 2E, the major new mechanic for customising classes was the Kit, which gave you a background and some special abilities balanced by disadvantages. However, the Kit had a couple of problems, the most significant of which was that it didn’t scale very well: it was mostly independent of your level. (The Kit is the main precursor to the Background of the current edition, although most of the mechanical benefits have been subsumed into the Feat system).

Recently I was asked on the D&D Facebook page about what steps needed to be done to convert a 3E prestige class, in this case, the Shifter, to 5E usage. It was an excellent question. 5E and 3E have very different philosophies underpinning them, so you can’t do a 1:1 conversion.

So, what did the Shifter class give you?

  • Medium Base Attack progression – meaningless in 5E, so we can ignore it.
  • Good Fortitude and Reflex saves – again, multiclassing doesn’t work that way in 5E, so it’s not of much consequence
  • Medium skill progression (4 Skill Points) and access to druid-y skills
  • No new armour and weapon proficiencies
  • No spell progression
  • Access to more forms when wild-shaping (humanoid at 1st, monstrous humanoid at 2nd, plants at 3rd, giant and vermin at 4th, magical beast at 5th plus tiny, aberration and ooze at 6th, dragon at 7th and huge, undead and construct at 8th, elemental and outsider at 9th and fine, and 10th gave Gargantuan and unlimited shapechanging at 10th.

Basically, you have a class that allows you to (eventually) turn into basically anything, but in exchange you have to give up your spell-casting ability (most Shifters would be druids, so this is a significant penalty). The Wild Shape ability of the time was a bit confusing: the Masters of the Wild rules update allowed them to gain the physical ability scores of the new shape (Str, Dex, Con), and gain its natural abilities (natural weapons, sensory abilities, and similar physical qualities), but not supernatural abilities or spell-like abilities, but they would gain extraordinary (non-magical) abilities.

Confused yet? Yes, the 5E way of shapeshifting is a lot simpler!

The most obvious point here is that the 3E class is more constrained than it at first might appear. Thus, the conversion to 5E would require more attention to the balance issues. I’m not willing – at this point – to make the Shifter abilities available to anyone in 5E. So, let’s build the Shifter as an advanced path for Druids to follow.

It should be said that a lot of the abilities of the Shifter can be gain just by taking the Circle of the Moon and taking the Shapechange spell at 17th level, but for a more gradual build-up of abilities, try these modifications…

Path of the Shifter

Take the Circle of the Moon choice. This gives access to the greater beast form abilities and (at 10th level) Elemental Wild shape.

You cannot prepare Druid spells of 4th level or higher; you can prepare a maximum of 6 + your Wisdom modifier druidic spells each day. (This modification trades out the more powerful spells for the shapeshifting powers below).

When you use your wildshape ability, you can spend a spell slot to assume other forms than those available through wild shape. When in those forms, use the rules governing True Polymorph, except you do not gain any spellcasting or innate spellcasting power of the new form, nor may you use legendary or lair actions. You are limited to turning into creatures with a CR of equal or less than your character level.

4th-level slot: You can transform into humanoids and plants.

5th-level slot: You can transform into giants and fey.

6th-level slot: You can transform into monstrosities and oozes.

7th-level slot: You can transform into constructs, dragons or undead.

8th-level slot: You can transform into celestials and fiends.

9th-level slot: By spending a 9th-level slot with the wild shape ability, you may treat it as casting the Shapechange spell without needing a material component.

Well, that’s a very rough-and-ready conversion of the shifter. As you can see, you gain the ability to transform into a greater range of creatures (I’m not going to specify a size limit, although you might find such helpful), but at the cost of your higher-level druidic spells. Note that the slots are still available, so you could cast a 7th-level cure wounds spell, but you wouldn’t have access to the heal spell.

I’d be very wary of seeing this class in play; giving access to powers from various creatures is terrifyingly good. This is a first draft of the variant, dreamt out in about an hour’s work, and to do a proper job on it I’d want to compare the powers of various creatures and set a more realistic level. Should the CR limit be two less than the PC’s level? Should the transformation use more spell slots? These are the sort of things I’d look at when playtesting. Anyway, this is a starting point for those interested in playing a class with more options for shifting…

One comment

  1. trystero11

    I think your first sentence may have meant to say, “One of the worst-implemented good ideas of 3rd edition D&D…” 🙂

    I loved the idea of Prestige Classes (Knights of Solamnia! Wizards of High Sorcery!), but they rapidly became the thing I disliked most about the game: I threw them out very quickly and stayed with that ruling for my entire 3.0/v.3.5 run. Too many; too specialized; too unbalanced; and generally too flavourless because they weren’t written for specific worlds or backgrounds.

    Like

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