May 11, 2016

Shapeshifting in Sword and Sorcery Games

It's been a long time since I posted here, lot of changes going on. I'm alive, though, and still interested in gaming.

I just wanted to share a random thought that struck me out of the blue. Shapechanging magic, and the way it should work in a sword and sorcery milieu. One of the core elements of sword and sorcery is the tinge of horror that should surround magic, so a high-fantasy, or worse, a pseudo-scientific approach to shapeshifting magic puts my immersion in the genre off. But what if we posited a more shamanistic way of thinking about shapeshifting and gave it a bit of metaphysical horror?

The basis of shapeshifting magic in my scheme is that you 'borrow' a form from a spirit; want to assume wolf form, you need to deal with a wolf spirit, a mouse form requires a mouse spirit, and so on.

There's an innate danger to shapeshifting, though, that works like an addiction. I call it the 'seduction of the wild.' Turning into a flying form seduces you with the freedom and power of flight. Turning into a tiny, easily hidden form seduces you with freedom and secrecy. And most of all, turning into a big, powerful form like a wolf or bear or even worse, something as badass as a dragon, simply intoxicates the soul with sheer power. The effect of this intoxication, if uncontrolled, is that you forget your humanity.

Should this happen, you can no longer return to your original form unless reminded of your humanity somehow. Moreover your shapeshifted character gradually becomes incapable of human thinking, until recovery, or even the desire for recovery, is impossible. This makes beast magic very dangerous to the caster, as it should be.


  1. The only issue I see with this is generally how little time you need to be a rampaging bear or soaring eagle. Maybe an hour to fight or fly away? How about the caster needing to adopt animal behavior, so when he transforms the change is effective? For example, needing to eat bloody meat so his bear form is strong and not just "himself" in a fur suit. Or if he wants to be a mouse, he can't spend time in crowded open areas, settings that would make the mouse spirit fearful.

  2. I like to treat shapeshifting as a kind of spirit possession. By gaining the spirit of a beast you also get its form, but now there's two spirits sharing a body and mind. Which might not go over that well.

    It's been on the Evil Overlord List for years: "I will not turn into a giant snake. It never works."

  3. Nice to see you are back. This post of yours is a nice follow up to some thoughts I posted on lycanthropy for my Honor+Intrigue campaign.

  4. Glad to see you are posting again. I liked this post. The shamanistic view of shape shifting is interesting. I linked to your post as a follow up to a series I did on lycanthropy for my Honor+Intrigue campaign.


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