5e Shifter Rules / or: Chains & Changelings

I’ve been thinking of new ways to play 5e(or pretty much any game with a handful of bestiaries like Pathfinder) and I would like to propose a new set of rules for your scrutiny!

Here’s the basic idea: you don’t play classes or anything like that. Instead, you play exclusively as the creatures you find in the Monster Manual / Tome of Foes / Guide to Monsters / anywhere else you can find a creature. How it works is that you play as ‘Shifters’ or ‘Changelings’ or literally any being you think of that can completely change its form.

You start off with a limited number of forms but eventually grow into someone capable of changing into more forms than a druid can ever imagine. For the purposes of this write up I’ll be using the term ‘shifters.’

There are two ways to play this:

Method 1. Shifter Levels

So you start at say, SL 1, with a maximum number forms, such as 4 or 6. Shifter Level = total CR of all your shifter forms. Meaning you could have 1 form be a CR 1 creature, or have 2 CR 1/2, or 4 CR 1/4. Etc and etc. This would follow a more ‘Milestone’ like exp curve, so you mostly just level up when the story or GM calls for it.

Method 2. XP Buy

With XP buy, you use your experience to ‘buy’ new Forms. Meaning if you wanted to transform into a Death Dog (CR 1), you’ll notice that its entry says 200 XP. Simply spend from your pool and you get the new Forms! This should still be limited to a maximum number of forms, such as 4 or 6.

Personally I’m a big fan of Method 2, but I can understand if people don’t want to spend the time tracking XP.

All shifters have a handful of actions available to them:

Bonus Actions

Skill Shift: You can use the skills of a Form you are not currently using until the end of your turn.

Spell Shift: You can use a spell of a Form you are not currently using until the end of your turn.


Half-Shift: You take on the qualities of a Full Shift(such as the Skills, HP, and Saves), but still retain a humanoid form. You cannot use abilities or actions requiring body parts such as pseudopods or wings while in this form.

Full Shift: You fully change into one of your Forms, giving you access to their abilities and actions.

Now you’ll note that this style of game has a lot of holes concerning play, and I’d like to address as much as I can. This section will be updated as more questions are asked and I find the answers to em.


When it comes to health, you simply have the max HP of the highest Form you own. All the other Forms, however, have ‘HP limits’: if you take more damage in that Form than that Form has HP, that Form is ‘broken’ and you can no longer use it until a full rest.

Skills & Saves

You use the skills and saves of your current Form. When it comes to saves when you are not currently in a Form, roll a flat d20.

Max Number of Forms

Why bother with a limit on Forms? Isn’t the point of this to just have fun when it comes to play creatures? Honestly I believe having a max number of forms leads to meaningful decision making. Choosing what skills or abilities you’re willing to drop to pick up a new form is interesting. That said, there’s really no standard as for how many Forms you can have. Perhaps that could be a choice everyone makes when you decide to play?

“Is this a 4-Shift, 5-Shift, or 6-Shift game?”

Spells & Limited Uses

Similar to being a caster or any other class with a limit on class features, using abilities is based around what I would call a ‘global cooldown.’ That means that if your Dryad form can use Barkskin 1/day, it means that even if you shift out of the form then shift back into it, it still counts and you can’t use it at all.

Well that’s all I got for now!

Have fun with this.


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