[RP guide] Shapeshifting

Druidic shapeshifting is one of the most misunderstood forms of magic in Warcraft. It's easy enough to imagine stepping through portals or summoning fire, but actually becoming a different creature is very difficult to comprehend.

Druids do more than just adopt the outward traits of animals. Yes, your hands may shrink, you may grow a tail, your nose may elongate. But with it, your entire perspective of the world changes. As a bear, your nose is constantly assaulted by scents. A cat? You must look at the world in black and white. A bird? Imagine the sensation of unsupported flight – mankind's dream since one proto-human smacked another with a club. Shapeshifting is like opening a passage to a whole new universe of sounds, scents and experiences. The world seems bigger and your mind sees everything differently. Roleplaying this experience takes a certain shift in sensibilities.

Imagine for a moment that you are a Druid, transforming for the first time into the shape of a cat. First, look at your hands. Imagine them shrinking, each finger losing distinction. It feels like your knuckles have swollen – they lost their flexibility and skill. Your palms grow thick, too thick to feel through easily. Then your back begins to hunch, curving as your hips tip strangely. When your legs point at a natural 90-degree angle you fall to your hands and knees, feeling your legs shrivel and your bones compact. At the same time, your arms grow out, away from your body. Your elbows twist end bend and your wrists lock. Your tail sprouts through your trousers, brushing against your legs as your clothing is absorbed into the cat's fur.
Feeling naked, you look at the chair you once sat in and it's oddly large – its seat is on the same level your head is. Your nose stretches forward, your skull curves and elongates and several new teeth grow in your jaw. Then, you recognise scent – scent a humanoid never knew. Imagine a blind man waking up to find he can see. How do you define the first sight of the colour green? This is how it feels like to feel your first trace-scent, to know exactly who has been here and how long ago.

Now that your transformation is complete, you must learn to walk like a cat. This isn't at all easy, coordinating every step with your arm movements. Leap forward, always landing on your hands and don't compensate for the length of your legs – they aren't long any more, remember? Learn to growl and purr, you've lost your capacity to speak. Don't pick things up – your hands don't work that way and besides, how would you carry it? Let others strap something to your back and you feel like your spine is breaking.

Machines seem magical and terrifying. It's your instincts that have begun to take over – without them, your mind wouldn't be able to process the strange smells and sounds you are experiencing or to balance the unfamiliar weight of your body. You have to relax and allow the instinct of your new form to guide you – but at the same time you have to prevent the cat from taking over. If that happens, your mind could be lost forever.

When the time comes to cast off your form you have to go through the process again. Your haunches stretch, throwing you terribly off-balance as your forelegs shrivel and shrink. Your paws lose their strength and your fingers become ribbons of bony flesh. They don't work together in harmony but instead flex separately, like strange claws. Your spine thickens and and you can hardly twist your body around. Something in your hips tilts and you fall to the ground, unable to support your heavy rear on your spindly forelegs. Your nose shrinks, your eyes lose focus and the world fades away. It's almost surreal how much information you lose and yet how vibrant the colours become. Sounds fade, smells are forgotten and you sense a great chill as your warm fur becomes loosely hanging shreds of fibers and hides.

All this, and more, is part of the magic of the Druid. Truly becoming another creature is one of the greatest joys – and dangers – of Druidism.
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The Feralkin

It is unsafe to remain in animal form for too long. When a Druid spends too long within, his own thoughts and memories fade and he starts to lose himself more and more to the animal. This process can take weeks, months even – but Druids learn to recognise the feeling and revert immediately, sometimes even swearing off shapeshifting for a few weeks to make sure their mind remembers their true form.

Symptoms include feral behaviour even when not in animal form, a reluctance to sleep or travel in any form other than an animal and long periods of silence and fugue. Normal animals avoid a Druid who has gone “feral” - they sense the strange sickness that has come over him and shy away as they would from a predator. Strange animals sometimes appear across Kalimdor, Druids with no memory of their previous lives and no desire – or knowledge how -to return to their former selves.

It is possible for those Feralkin to be returned to society, but only through the intervention of another Druid who must convince his feral colleague to relinquish his form. This can become quite a battle as the Feralkin fights to maintain his animal form, his mind refusing to accept his memories and intellect. In extreme cases it can result in death of one or both participants.

Stronger forms – those of the Moonkin and Treant – are said to be even more dangerous. The spirit is so strong that the change literally obliterates the soul within the body. A Night Elf legend say that some of the first Ancients were such Druids. Bound by magic and power they could not control, their souls shrivelled and died and their half-changed bodies gave birth to a new race.

This tale is a legend, nothing more, but the danger it illustrates is very real. Druids should keep it in mind when they travel in a body that is not truly their own.
Edited by Edanna on 23/12/2010 17:46 GMT
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87 Draenei Shaman
6845
Fantastic, shapeshifting is easily the most badly roleplayed ability and all druids should read this.
Just to ask how does the Shaman 'Ghost Wolf' work? I tend to avoid using it IC for the reason that I just don't understand it.
Edited by Yhtomitus on 24/12/2010 10:28 GMT
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There are two ideas you can use, one - which is employed by my friends on the Sha'tar - is that Ghost Wolf form is an actual wolf and she Shaman shapeshifts into it much like a Druid does.

An idea I prefer, however, is that of the spirit guide. A spirit guide, as the name implies, is a Shaman's guide and protector within the spirit world. Although an independent being, it is bonded with the Shaman and experiences the real world through him. How does Ghost Wolf form work with a spirit guide? Actually, it's not shapeshifting at all. The Shaman calls upon the bond he and his spirit guide share and merely switch places - the Shaman remaining in the spirit world for a while and the spirit guide travelling for him in the real world.

I thought of the Ghost Wolf as a spirit guide because of the lingering issue why the Shaman would transform into a transparent wolf and not a real one.
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85 Night Elf Druid
3925
Just an FYI, cats aren't actually colourblind. They can distinguish between blues and greens, but apparently lack the ability to distinguish between shades of red.

http://www.parade.com/images/10152006/catseyes.jpg
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85 Night Elf Druid
5290
This was a very interesting read, I liked your ideas. I just wonder if you are using any source for this, or are they your own thoughts?
I was also thinking on the moonkin and treant issue, and the soul obliteration. Would that be by simply shapeshifting, or turning into a moonkin/treant feralkin?
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85 Blood Elf Mage
3420
Although [from what I can see] this is only speculation, and I have my own interesting ways of shapeshifting during roleplay; I don't think you should class this as an actual guide. But kudos for the efforts.
Edited by Shysie on 24/12/2010 14:00 GMT
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90 Night Elf Druid
16220
We draw upon the animal spirit in order to transform.
http://www.wowhead.com/npc=11956 - comments.

It is also mostly sure that it is wise to consider how an animal feels the world when in a form. Such as not talking and generally being more of a wild animal, ordered by a druid.

I will however question the slow changing of forms, I have never heard anywhere that the body would slowly transform into that of an animal.

If I look on the vanilla intro cinematic, the girl changes instantly or very fast. Which can make sense when you consider that you take on the spirit of the animal.
Edited by Sveraes on 24/12/2010 19:25 GMT
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85 Night Elf Druid
5290
If you look at shapeshifting in Warcraft 3 though, it takes long time. I think that the mostly instant shapeshift of the girl in the trailer is for the cinematic and action-like feeling. In WC3, the druids of the claw shift in about 1-2 seconds. Sure, it's not as long as Edanna would make it sound, but I think that all those changes are there, only over a shorter period of time.
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So many comments, so little space!

I was also thinking on the moonkin and treant issue, and the soul obliteration. Would that be by simply shapeshifting, or turning into a moonkin/treant feralkin?

Not sure what you mean. But rest assured that Druids losing themselves to Moonkin and Treant forms instantly was not what I had in mind.

Sure, it's not as long as Edanna would make it sound, but I think that all those changes are there, only over a shorter period of time.

I should say this is a case-specific thing and that Druids can change faster with skill and practice. Please note that I've written "Imagine for a moment that you are a Druid, transforming for the first time into the shape of a cat". I simply think that a typical Druid apprentice would like to take his first few changes slowly.
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85 Night Elf Druid
5290
23/12/2010 12:26 PMPosted by Edanna

Stronger forms – those of the Moonkin and Treant – are said to be even more dangerous. The spirit is so strong that the change literally obliterates the soul within the body.


This is what I had in mind when asking about the more, well, "advanced" forms of shapeshifting. I understand your meaning though, but it is not optimaly worded.
'
On the second issue, the line about the first time escaped me. I agree on your point with practice makes perfect (and in this case, practice makes swift). I do not, though, think that the night elf druidess shapeshift in the WoW vanilla trailer is supposed how it is in lore, although it certainly matches the ingame shift. I think the ingame shapeshifting is a case of game mechanics over lore. It would, no matter how immersing, be very annoying to go through a lengthy change every time you switched.
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Same effect could be achieved by stunning the Druid for a few seconds upon transformation, representing the period of adjustment. However, it would cripple the class.
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85 Night Elf Druid
5290
24/12/2010 10:25 PMPosted by Edanna
Same effect could be achieved by stunning the Druid for a few seconds upon transformation, representing the period of adjustment. However, it would cripple the class.


This isn't really the forum for discussing druid mechanics, but it would be interesting if the druid forms were made specialized. Much more powerful forms, but a cooldown and longer shapeshift. It would be interesting, not necessarily fun and/or balanced, but interesting.
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85 Human Rogue
6970
Eh...it's a good guide. Except that you describe it like they change into small cuddly kittens you can have in your lap. Saying "cat" sends the wrong implications given what most people think of when they hear "cat". It's a cat animal, but more tiger like in size and looks (except that they're all pink and have collars in WoW). They aren't exactly small. A male tiger can be up to one meter tall, three meters long and weigh several hundred kilos. They don't transform into a cat. They transform into an animal of the cat family. Or, to be more precisely a saber cat, similar to the ones nelves use for mounts or to those who can be found in the wilderness around Ashenvale/Teldrassil. (which is based on the now extinct saber toothed tiger)

Also, I very much doubt that the druids gain a cats mind. They may look like an animal, but they retain their normal mind, thoughts and intelligence. A machine wouldn't suddenly become all scary just because they shape shifted. It's a druids brain, with all his normal instincs and thoughts, in an animals body. Shape shifting would be completely useless if they suddenly thought like a cat and shared their insticts.

They most likely do not have to learn how to walk etc. when they first shapeshift. It's a pretty good bet they already know that. It's magic after all.

Also, cats can see colors fine. They just see them in a more faded version than us. But then, just because something applies to a real world animal that doesn't mean it applies to the shape shifted druids.
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90 Night Elf Druid
10400
Now I understand those Grimtotem Naturalists, unfortunately they were reluctant to my help ;]

@Edanna - well written, thanks for this, found it very entertaining :)

@Antair - I tried to imagine how it would be to change into an animal and I doubt what you say, but of course your views can be "its just magic". Im more inclined to believe that to retain sane mind while being exposed to entirely different dimention and experience like you've never felt before - must be overwhelming at least at first time - and it can sometimes became addictive - therefore dangerous ;)

It can differ among indivudual views of how people like to Roleplay :)
Edited by Withfury on 24/12/2010 23:16 GMT
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85 Night Elf Druid
5290
Now, starting to throw around the phrase "It's magic", or "A wizard did it" is a far too easy way of explaining things. And despite your thought-through explanation of what a druid truly shifts into when he/she takes on the Cat Form, it is after all called the Cat Form, so I think it's nitpicking. The tauren take on the form of a lion (though a horned one, the little abominations of nature as they are), while the trolls take on the form of a tiger and the worgen take on... something catlike.

Now, I think that the druid retains his mind when taking on the form of an animal. I do not however think that he is instantly accustomed to the form, but it would be similar to a baby taking on the form of an adult. This would be both in mind and body, seeing as the baby doesn't know how to properly handle the extra bodymass, extended limbs etc, and not having gotten the experiences of an adult. Of course, there are many ways that this metaphor doesn't work, but let's focus on my point.

I also believe that a druid in animal form takes on the most, if not all of said animal's features. We can't know if a saber cat has the same kind of vision as a cat (or an animal of the feline family if we want to be precise) or not, but I tend to go with that creatures taken/inspired from real life creatures have the same or similar anatomy as their real life counterparts.

Edit: Just needed to add that I really like this thread. Good source of entertainment on a dull christmas eve. Or actually, it's 00:15 where I live now, so I guess it's christmas day!
Edited by Taerynon on 24/12/2010 23:15 GMT
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90 Worgen Druid
12165
23/12/2010 12:26 PMPosted by Edanna
Normal animals avoid a Druid who has gone “feral” - they sense the strange sickness that has come over him and shy away as they would from a predator.


Is this from one of the RPG books or some source like that? I'd be interested to know (am part of a Feralkin guild).


Understanding and 'feeling' the shapeshift, even if I don't RP it out every single time, is a big part of playing druid to me. I have a sense of vertigo even in games that I lose when I am in bird form, and I can easily 'feel' air pushing under wing feathers. Bounding on all fours, stalking from low to the ground. And interesting aspects like the idea of leaping arms first from one's horse and the shapeshift rippling along your body before your paws hit the ground.

Druid RP can be so beautifully involving that way.
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Why do trolls have boomkin? They should turn into a snake or something that is related to them
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25/12/2010 2:23 AMPosted by Ishikengo
Is this from one of the RPG books or some source like that? I'd be interested to know (am part of a Feralkin guild).

It's my own idea and the justification is pretty basic: a Druid in control is able to let his new-found animal instinct guide him without losing himself. Once the Druid slips, however, he's basically a predator who tries to think. Their mind is in imbalance and animals can feel it, instinctively knowing there goes a creature with the savage strength of a wild animal and a slowly dissolving mind that's capable of any depravity known to thinking beings.
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85 Night Elf Druid
3925
Is this from one of the RPG books or some source like that? I'd be interested to know (am part of a Feralkin guild).

It's my own idea and the justification is pretty basic: a Druid in control is able to let his new-found animal instinct guide him without losing himself. Once the Druid slips, however, he's basically a predator who tries to think. Their mind is in imbalance and animals can feel it, instinctively knowing there goes a creature with the savage strength of a wild animal and a slowly dissolving mind that's capable of any depravity known to thinking beings.
If so, it needs to be stated that this is your own idea. Such as, "I speculate that..."

Otherwise it seems as if you're saying that your view is lore (and Law). Also, I imagine that it's not so much animals being able to sense the mind, as much as... scent. I imagine that druids have their own unique scent (or hormone, to be scientific to some), lingering from their humanoid form. Perhaps as they lose their grip, their scent becomes... twisted, like their mind?
Edited by Nírra on 25/12/2010 16:37 GMT
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