Most editions of Dungeons & Dragons have some kind of shapeshifter, and D&D 5E is no different. The Shifters are a race of people from Eberron: Rising from the Last War who transform from humanoid forms. They become partially animalistic, though for a short time, and are extremely embracing of nature. However, their bestial form and their generally wild look cause many to look upon them as strange and animalistic. How true is that fact? Our Shifter 5E race guide will tackle this often trodden-upon people.
Shifter 5E Lore
None quite know the origins of the Shifters. Many simply say they are the descendants of humans infected with lycanthropy. Others say they are fey beings, lanced with magic to ensure their reliance on nature and natural things. Whatever the cause, they are human-like creatures able to transform partially into a bestial form. Their minds may be as sane as any human’s, but their primal form lurks beneath the surface, threatening to break them from civilized society in an instant.
In reality, the Shifter are beings with bonds to a beast within, a totemic force that links them to the spirits. Whether these beasts are independent of themselves or simply a bond with nature that none else have is not for the Shifter to decide. The beast has a pool of powerful instincts, which is revealed and shaped by the Shifter’s personality. When fully embracing this pool of instincts, the Shifter becomes animalistic for a time. This animal is often based on their Subrace; Bear or Boar for Beasthide, Lupine for Longtooth, feline or rat for Swiftstride, hunting animals (like owls or bloodhounds) for Wildhunt. The beast within does change their personality quite a bit.
The Shifter’s body does shift a lot based on your inner beast. A Bear might cause a hairier, massive Shifter, while one with a lioness’s spirit might be sleek and thin. They are clearly humanoid and human-like even when they are transformed or at their most feral.
In Eberron, Shifters are somewhat isolated from societies, chilling in rural areas or Eldeen Reaches. Shifters love family, but they also value independence and self-reliance. Shifters must always be prepared for anything (especially Wildhunt), and thus a lot of their class identity comes from preparation and natural growth.
Shifter’s names don’t come from any language, since they live in blended communities. They tend to have a name with friends and a “wandering name” which changes based on their community. Standard names include animals, like Badger or Wolf, or natural elements, like Moon or Scar.
All shifters come with the following attributes, so we will discuss how good they are in general here. In each subsection, we’ll discuss the changes in power dynamic that Shifting gets, and if it better fits the role of the Subrace.
- Medium Size, 30 ft Speed. All shifters are medium with standard speed. Good for getting around the battlefield and hiding behind normal-sized cover. No real advantage compared to most races; 6 squares of movement is great.
- Darkvision. Seeing in the dark is always grand. You can ignore torches, find hidden secrets, locate threats, and ambush people much easier. For most Shifters, this is a quite obvious blessing that should not be taken lightly! Make sure you remember you have this whenever the DM does a Light check.
- Shifting. This is a pretty substantial benefit. It’s like a miniature Rage! The temporary hit points are more substantial than they may appear; with as low as +2 Constitution, that’s a +2 Health bonus at level 1. That’s far from nothing! And it scales extremely well with level… Though admittedly, enemy damage roles might scale a bit harder. Still, very good baseline Shifting ability for all Shifters to have.
- Languages. Well, Language. Common will be more than able to carry you through most conversations, but not getting Sylvan or a Shifter-only language hurts just a bit.
The tanks of the Shifters, the Beasthide will be your choice for a frontline bruiser.
- +2 Constitution, +1 Strength. Perfect combo. Constitution will keep you alive for a lot longer, and resist death effects or stuns. Strength will allow you to be a beast (ha, ha) as a Frontline role, dealing maximum melee damage with a single weapon. Admittedly, other than the use of big weapons, Strength is a little bit lacking in the utility department (though Athletics is grand!).
- Natural Athlete. Speaking of athletics, you get it for free! This’ll be great, since your Strength will probably be fairly high. You’ll want this anyway, so it’s basically a free proficiency. And Athletics is one of the more useful skills to have in your pocket anyways!
- Shifting Feature. You’re really tanky! That’s a ton of bonus hit points and 5% chance to dodge hits. That’s not nothing! You’ll be able to avoid a ton of hits, just by spending a bonus action early on. Super great for tanks.
Fills a similar role to Beasthide, but focuses more on damage.
- +2 Strength, +1 Dexterity. Strength is a hardcore melee damage stat, boosting your damage on the frontlines. It also lets you carry stuff, and Strength saves will keep you from being thrown around. Dexterity is a god-stat, influencing attack roles, AC, skill checks, and a popular saving throw. Great to have, but these two stats fight each other a ton.
- Fierce. Intimidation is a great skill, and specific characters will use this a lot to get their way. However, you don’t gain any Charisma bonuses, and your class skills build you towards frontliners that don’t have many skills… Might be hard to make this work a lot of the time. Still, good pocket skill.
- Shifting Feature. You gain a solid bonus action, reducing your need to Two-Weapon Fight. 1d6 + Strength will tend to be good, and this asks your character to be a melee character of some kind. This means that Longtooth and Beasthide will battle for supremacy, with Beasthide being tanky and Longtooth dealing more damage. That shifts power towards Longtooth, but Beasthide will be better if you need the Bonus action for more than an unarmed attack.
Swiftstrides are your Dexterity Shifters. Well, your Dexterity-focused shifter.
- +2 Dexterity, +1 Charisma. Dexterity is fantastic, boosting a ton of your statblock by itself. It’s great to build for, and consistently fantastic to rely on. Charisma is less important; Charisma saves are rare but important, and Charisma does influence some good skill checks, but arguably less important than Acrobatics. Great stat combo, though!
- Graceful. Cool. Your Dexterity is already going to be very high, so this will be handy. Acrobatics is useful in general, allowing you to perform many acts of mobility.
- Shifting Feature. This is an incredible reaction for an archer or Charisma caster. Just being able to bail out of a melee fight is shockingly useful, and really annoying for a DM to handle. You can just get out of range of Legendary actions or Opportunity attacks from anti-mages. This is a stellar Shifting feature for a ranged character… Or even some melee options!
The Wildhunt is probably the least powerful Shifter, but the best for the Cleric or Druid role.
- +2 Wisdom, +1 Dexterity. Wisdom is the strongest mental stat. This is the most common saving throw of the mental stats, and the most common skill check in most Dungeon-crawl campaigns. Dexterity, as mentioned before, is the stat that affects the most things on your character sheet. Very strong combination.
- Natural Tracker. With your high Wisdom, your Survival is going to be insane. However, Survival is arguably just not very useful. Depending on your campaign, you might never need to look at Survival, let alone roll it consistently high. Still, not bad to have a Wisdom skill ready to go.
- Shifting Feature. Not… stellar. Advantage on Wisdom checks is great for searching for things or even some Insight checks, so out-of-combat utility on a Shifting ability. That’s rare and super cool! However, it also prevents advantage on attacks… So, in combat utility. Maybe pop this against rogues or against really sneaky doors? It’s hard to say when this is most useful.
Because there are so many goddamn shifter subraces, most classes are pretty great for you! There are still a select few classes that the Shifter doesn’t do well, but… Shifters can do most classes quite successfully.
Good Classes for Shifters
- Barbarian. Beasthide and Longtooth Shifters alike can be absolutely ridiculous Barbarians. Beasthide will make you tanky as all hell, and Longtooth will let you deal massive amounts of damage and give you a bonus action Strength-damage swing. Both of these options are great! Just… remember you have a limited number of bonus actions.
- Bard. Werewolf bards… Huh. Well, you do have Swiftstrides to work with, and that means you’re a fairly tanky bard that can bail out of bad situations as a reaction. That’s a legitimately great idea for a healer.
- Cleric. Wildhunt Clerics are great. Tanky, great at anti-rogue, and with okay Dexterity, you’ll be a great utility option. Good sources of advantage for things like Perception and Survival is a bit hard to come by. This is a rare Cleric that’s good for out-of-combat without using spells! Alternatively, the Beasthide can make an absolute beast of a Cleric, or Longtooth can be good for hardcore aggro.
- Druid. Wildhunt comes again, with quite a bit of Wisdom! Druids are harder to build without Wisdom, but Wildhunt is more than capable of providing all of your utility and even fine defense.
- Fighter. Great! Beasthide, Longtooth, and Swiftstride can all make for fantastic fighters that handle different roles quite well. Either become an animal in the frontlines or strike from afar.
- Monk. Surprise, surprise, here comes Wildhunt again! High wisdom is great, and while your Dexterity doesn’t quite keep up (unless you go Swiftstride), you’ll be in a great place for Ki powers and AC. Add onto that great durability and good utility with Shifting and you’re gonna be well set for the midgame!
- Paladin. Beasthide and Swiftstride can both be great Paladins, depending on what you’re looking for. Beasthide doesn’t get Charisma, but does get really insane durability. Swiftstride is a good Dexterity build, and has the Charisma to make up for their slight waste of Heavy Armor. Either path you take, your Paladin will be crazy.
- Ranger. Cool beans! Wildhunt is fine, so is Swiftstride. Rangers do tend to like their Bonus Action for melee builds, so you’ll likely want to be a ranged character. That’s great for Swiftstride’s Shifting feature, although Wildhunt’s is a bit less important. Either path you take is really, really good for Ranger.
- Rogue. Swiftstride is coming in hot! Shifting works well for you, boosting your tankiness and your ability to evade dangerous situations. Admittedly, Rogues have some great reactions, and might like to use their bonus action for another chance to get Sneak attack. But, you really can’t go wrong with a Swiftstride Rogue.
- Sorcerer. Weird how many classes like Charisma, hmm? Swiftstride is great again. You get the Dexterity for AC, Charisma for casting, reaction to shift out of dangerous situations… It’s a great formula for a fantastic build for a ranged blaster or support character.
- Warlock. Swiftstride is, strangely enough, also amazing for Warlock! For basically all the same reasons for your Sorcerer; great defense, flawless statistics. You will be very well-made with this.
Bad Classes for Shifters
- Artificer. Artificers are too reliant on Intelligence for the versatility of any Shifter subrace to be useful. Without a Shifter with Dexterity and Constitution, there’s just nothing here for any Artificer. Your low intelligence vastly outweighs your Shifting ability, and Artificers actually like their bonus actions quite a bit. It’d be a hard sell. Try Bard or Cleric instead, and you’ll see much more success.
- Wizard. Like the Artificer, a lack of Intelligence makes Wizard not that good of an option. You’re not going to be too good at spellcasting, and your resources are mostly based on Intelligence… You just won’t be successful at the tasks that you need to get done. Sorcerer can be better at the role that the Wizard plays best, or you can play a myriad of other casters that’ll get the job done well.
No matter what Shifter you choose, you’re going to be well-supported with classes and great lore. You have a ton of different options, and all of them are very powerful. Rather apt, for such a well-prepared race. Try them out the next time you’re feeling like embracing your wild side.