As a Dungeon Master, players PC’ing as monsters can be a logistical nightmare, but Dungeons & Dragons has plenty of options for taking on monstrous qualities while still using a playable D&D race. For players hankering to play a werewolf in their next D&D campaign, you can strike the right balance and play a Shifter, also known as the Weretouched.
These part-human, part-animal shapeshifters have a bunch of customizable features and powers, making them a great race to play as, even for DnD newbies. Whether you’re a player or a DM, this Shifter 5e Guide has everything you need to know.
So you know exactly what to expect and where to find it in this guide, here’s an overview of the contents:
- What is a Shifter in DnD 5e?
- Shifter culture
- What Abilities and Features do Shifters Have?
- Shifter subraces: the Beast Within
- Shifter Character Build and Backstory Ideas
- Frequently Asked Questions
Bottom Line: What is a Shifter in DnD 5e?
Shifters are a humanoid race that has animal-like features and abilities. They aren’t human, nor are they full-blown lycanthropes, and they can control when they ‘shift,’ hence why they’re known as the ‘Weretouched’ rather than all-out werewolves.
Shifters are of similar shape and size to humans, but they have animal-like features, matching their subrace or ‘Beast Within.’ As a Shifter, your eyes, teeth, facial features, and the hair all over your body will have the qualities of your beast within, be it a tiger with piercing yellow eyes and striped fur or a boar with leathery skin and tusk-like teeth.
Your ‘Beast Within’ determines your subrace and the additional skills and features of your character. Most importantly, your beast within will give you a specific shifting feature, which I explain in more detail in the below section on abilities and features.
Shifters have a long history in the official Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. Shifters are traditionally from Eberron, first appearing in the 3.5 edition of the Eberron Campaign Setting, way back in 2004, along with other new classes: Changelings, Warforged, and the Kalashtar.
While Eberron has plenty of environments that Shifters could be from, from lush jungles to glacial islands, in DnD lore, the Shifters were pushed into hiding in the Eldeen Reaches, a land filled with mountains and forests.
In this guide, you’ll get the most up-to-date information and advice on Shifters. The most recent 5e iterations of the Shifter race are found in The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron (2018), Eberron Rising from the Last War (2019), and Morgrave’s Miscellany (2019).
Shifters are diverse, with no two being completely alike, so you have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to developing a backstory and culture for your Shifter.
Whatever animal you choose as your Beast Within should help guide your people’s culture. For example, Shifters connected to pack animals like wolves might live in tribes and worship lunar gods, whereas Shifters tied to lone hunters like tigers or eagles might be more reclusive.
Tribal communities are especially common for Shifters, so have a think about the customs and ideals you may have taken from them. Perhaps you wear specific jewelry, like animal bones or feathers, or you have tattoos and piercings linked to your deity.
Your tribe may have sung battle songs or lullabies or may have a code of conduct related to hunting and animal care.
Given your close alignment to your Beast Within, think about what animal behaviors you might take on. Maybe you clean yourself with your tongue, sniff everyone you meet before deciding if you like them, or try to climb up every wall or jump into every body of water you see.
You have lots of opportunities to embrace your animalistic side – but remember, you are still partly human!
As for names, many Shifters have two names: their ‘wandering’ name and their ‘true’ name. Typical wandering Shifter names might be related to their Beast Within (Wolf, Bear, Tiger), their appearance (Fangs, Feathers, Tusk), or their qualities (Swift, Grace, Brute). As for your Shifter’s ‘true’ name, that’s something they will only share with close friends.
What Abilities and Features do Shifters Have?
Here are the essential Shifter traits as they’re given in The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron:
- Ability score increase: Shifters get +1 to their Dexterity.
- What proficiencies do Shifters have?: All Shifters have proficiency in Perception, thanks to their keen senses. Their subrace (or Beast Within) grants them additional proficiencies.
- How fast are shifters?: Shifters have a 30ft base walking speed.
- How long do Shifters live?: Shifters mature quickly, hitting adulthood at just 10 years old. Shifters usually live up to 70 years.
- What alignment are Shifters?: A typical Shifter alignment might be Chaotic Neutral. Chaotic because Shifters value their freedom and Neutral because survival often trumps the ethics of Good and Evil for Shifters.
- How big are Shifters?: Shifters are Medium creatures and can range from 5ft to 7ft tall. Their height is partly dependent on their subrace — the Beast Within (more on that below).
- What languages do Shifters speak?: Shifters can only speak, read, and write Common.
- Other skills:
- Darkvision: Shifters can see in dim light up to 60ft away as if in bright light and in darkness as if in dim light. When in darkness, shifters can only see in monochrome.
- Shifting: Here’s the important one. Shifters can use a bonus action to ‘shift,’ making their appearance more like their Beast Within. This lasts for one minute until you shift back as a bonus action or until you die. You can shift once in between short rests. Upon shifting, you gain temporary hit points equal to your level plus Constitution modifier, plus additional bonuses as per your subrace.
Shifter Subraces: The Beast Within
Each subrace will have some suggestions for the animal that might be your Beast Within, along with the three key benefits of each subrace: ability score increase, proficiency, and shifting feature, plus any additional abilities granted.
And, because this guide is to help you build the best, coolest Shifter, I’ll give some personal recommendations for the best classes for each Shifter subrace.
If you’re a tough guy or gal known for your thick skin and stubborn endurance, the Beasthide could be the perfect subrace for your Shifter.
Typical animals for your Beast Within might be a boar or a bear, or you can be more unusual and opt for a polar bear, a rhino, or a bison or buffalo. As for personality, a Beasthide Shifter could range from a hot-headed, stubborn beefcake to a stoic, serene, gentle giant.
Here are the Beasthide traits provided in Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron and my class recommendations:
- Ability score increase: Beasthide Shifters increase their Constitution by 2.
- Proficiencies: Your Beasthide toughness grants you proficiency in Athletics.
- Shifting feature: Beasthide Shifters get an additional 1d6 of temporary hit points and a +1 to their AC while shifted — there’s a reason this is the beefiest Shifter subrace!
- Best classes: Barbarian (best), Fighter, or Paladin. A Sorcerer could work if you have a high Charisma, but not the most on-theme class.
The Cliffwalk Shifter is one of the subraces offered in Morgrave’s Miscellany. Admittedly, when I think of the Cliffwalk Shifter, I think of that Tumblr meme with the cliff-climbing goat — “I Crave That Mineral” — remember?
Well, Cliffwalk Shifters are essentially mountain goats, with a cold and even proud demeanor that covers the fact they’re actually just shy. These climbing Shifters are at home on a rocky crag or traversing the mountains.
Here’s what you need to know about Cliffwalk Shifters:
- Ability score increase: The Cliffwalk subrace grants a +1 to Dexterity and a +1 to Intelligence.
- Proficiencies: Rather than gaining a proficiency, the Cliffwalk Shifter gets better at, you guessed it, climbing, with a climbing speed of 30ft.
- Shifting feature: When you shift, you can move through difficult terrain as if it’s normal terrain.
- Best classes: Ranger (best), Monk, Rogue, Artificer, or Wizard.
If you or one of your players essentially wants to be a werewolf, then Longtooth is the subrace for you. These lupine Shifters appear in Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron and are known for sticking with their pack, whether that’s their own family or their newfound pack, your fellow adventurers.
Wolf is a pretty standard Beast Within for this subrace, but other pack animals like hyenas, lions, or even something more unusual like a rat, a chimp, or a tiger.
- Ability score increase: As a Longtooth, your Strength increases by 2.
- Proficiencies: Longtooth Shifters are easily the scariest, so they get some fearsome proficiency in Intimidation.
- Shifting feature: Longtooth, as the name suggests, gives you some great fangs. These appear when you shift, and you can make an unarmed attack as a bonus action with them. They deal 1d6 plus your Strength modifier of piercing damage.
- Best classes: Fighter (best), Paladin, Barbarian, or Artificer.
I mentioned lions and tigers as possible Beasts Within for the Longtooth, but if you’re more of a cat person, Swiftstride is the subrace for your Shifter.
And you know how cats are super weird, not always that nice yet weirdly charismatic, and also impossible to catch when you need to take them to the vet? Well, that’s pretty much Swiftstrides too. Socially awkward yet charming and light on their feet, Swiftstride Shifters are the cats of DnD.
Swiftstride Shifters appear in Wayfinders Guide to Eberron; here’s the lowdown on their extra abilities and my class tips:
- Ability score increase: These cunning Shifters increase their Dexterity and Charisma by 1.
- Proficiencies: You’ll get proficiency in Acrobatics as a Swiftstrider and some extra speed — an increase of 5ft to your walking speed.
- Shifting feature: When shifted, Swiftstrides get even faster, receiving an extra 5ft to their walking speed. On top of this, you can use a reaction to move up to 10ft if an enemy ends their turn up to 5ft away from you, and you’re so quick that the movement won’t allow for opportunity attacks.
- Best classes: Rogue (best), Bard, Ranger, Monk, Artificer, Paladin, Sorcerer, or Warlock — these cats are pretty flexible!
Another addition from Morgrave’s Miscellany, the Swiftwing, is probably my favorite subrace for Shifters. These charming songbirds are the graceful performers and agile movers who can quite literally take to the skies. Known for their loyalty, beauty, and being the ultimate morning people, you can be any bird you like as a Swiftwing Shifter.
Here are the benefits of being a Swiftwing and some classes to consider:
- Ability score increase: Like Swiftstrides, Swiftwings get to increase their Charisma and Dexterity by 1.
- Proficiencies: Rather than gaining any proficiencies, a Swiftwing’s jump distance is doubled.
- Shifting feature: To the skies! When you shift, you can use a bonus action to gain a flying speed of 30ft. But it’s not as simple as a Fly spell; you need to use your leathery wings to keep yourself propelled in the air. Every turn, your altitude is reduced by 5ft. In addition to this, if you don’t fly at least 30ft in any direction during your turn, you’ll immediately drop to 0ft and need to use another bonus action to get flying again.
- Best classes: Bard (best), Rogue, Monk, Sorcerer, or Ranger.
While not every campaign will suit the skills of a Truedive Shifter, any setting or module with plenty of water, especially modules like Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Tomb of Annihilation, or even Rime of the Frostmaiden, and anything on the Sword Coast.
Truedives, as they appear in the Morgrave Miscellany, are known to be “curious, intelligent, and expressive” and are even regarded as somewhat impulsive and reckless by others, but that’s just because they’re so willing to dive head first into any body of water.
Any aquatic or amphibious animal would suit a Truedive Shifter, so try to match it your setting and class.
The Morgrave Miscellany offers the following traits for Truedives, and here are my class recommendations too:
- Ability score increase: Truedives get an increase of 1 to their Constitution and Intelligence scores.
- Proficiencies: No proficiencies specifically for Truedive Shifters, but they do have a swimming speed of 30ft.
- Shifting feature: Once you’ve shifted, you get a bunch of benefits: you can breathe underwater, you’re resistant to cold damage, and you are immune to any negative conditions in underwater environments.
- Best classes: Artificer (best), Wizard, Rogue, or Druid.
In terms of the Beast Within, you choose for a Wildhunt Shifter, you have a lot of free range, so long as your chosen beast is a keen hunter. Wildhunt Shifters have keen senses, excellent intuition, and, as Wayfinder’s Guide to Ebberon suggests, are often “spiritual leaders” in their communities.
Essentially, do you want to be a wise Shifter with an innate connection to the wilderness? Wildhunt is for you. Here are the benefits plus my class tips:
- Ability score increase: I told you they’re wise! Wildhunt Shifters get to increase their Wisdom score by 2.
- Proficiencies: You’ll never be lost or hungry in the woods again; as Wildhunt, you get proficiency in Survival. In addition to this, once in between short or long rests, you can take a bonus action to ‘mark’ a creature you can see up to 10ft away. Until you take a long rest, any time you use an ability check to find this marked creature, your proficiency bonus is doubled, and you always know exactly where that creature is so long as it is within 60ft.
- Shifting feature: Wildhunt shifting is simple. When you shift, you gain advantage on Wisdom checks.
- Best classes: Druid and Ranger tie for the best class; it really depends on how you want to characterize your Shifter. Clerics also work well.
Shifter Character Build and Backstory Ideas
Bearclaw: Barbarian Beasthide Shifter
Bearclaw isn’t a ‘people person.’ It’s not entirely his fault. Standing at well over 6ft, half-covered in stiff brown fur, and always smelling of leather and dung, he’s not exactly approachable. And when you do approach him, don’t expect a warm welcome.
Anyone who might call themselves a friend of Bearclaw would be surprised if he uttered more than a few words an hour. Stoic is one word for it. Grumpy is another. Bearclaw hasn’t had much experience of people either.
He spent most of his life in the wilderness, surviving off the land, with only animals as companions. But a closer look shows half his fur burnt off, leaving maimed skin behind. The woodlands are burning, his home is gone, and Bearclaw wants to find whoever is responsible.
- Race: Shifter
- Subrace: Beasthide (Bear)
- Class: Barbarian
- Subclass: Path of the Totem Warrior (Bear)
- Top ability scores: Strength and Constitution
- Proficiencies: Light armor, medium armor, shields, simple weapons, martial weapons
- Skills: Athletics (from Beasthide), Intimidation, and Nature
- Background: Outlander
- Starting equipment: A greataxe, two handaxes, an explorer’s pack, four javelins.
Dawnstar: Bard Swiftwing Shifter
Another village, another crowd, another chance to earn some gold. The life of a traveling bard isn’t easy, but Dawnstar always thought sleep was overrated anyway.
After all, with each new village comes new stories, new taverns, and new romantic prospects. Ever the hedonist, Dawnstar reveled in the chance to win over the ears and hearts of a new place before drinking their taverns dry in the evening.
Right now, however, he’s keeping off the roads. Why? Let’s just say, ahem, ‘romancing’ an important chieftain’s betrothed daughter…and her betrothed…means half the region is after him, and with blue and green feathers sprouting all over his body, Dawnstar isn’t easy to miss.
- Race: Shifter
- Subrace: Swiftwing (Warbler)
- Class: Bard
- Subclass: College of Eloquence
- Top ability scores: Charisma and Dexterity
- Proficiencies: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords
- Skills: Performance, Persuasion, Acrobatics
- Starting magic
- Spells: Charm person, animal friendship, feather fall, and healing word.
- Cantrips: True strike and Viscious mockery
- Background: Entertainer
- Starting equipment: A rapier, an entertainer’s pack, a flute, leather armor, and a dagger.
Shadow: Rogue Swiftstride Shifter
Shadow knew life was easier alone. She left her family at a young age, preferring the dark corners of city alleyways to the jungles her tribe called home. She was taught there’s strength in family, but Shadow had found new ways to survive.
It started with pickpocketing, occasionally using her charms to trick unsuspecting humans out of their gold, but then the Fangtongues, a criminal gang, started to take notice. Unable to remain in isolation, Shadow joined their gang, assisting with robberies and intimidating local merchants.
But lately, the Fangtongues have made larger demands — demands that leave blood on Shadow’s hands. Will she remain in the gang and in the city or attempt to escape their clutches?
- Race: Shifter
- Subrace: Swiftstride (Panther)
- Class: Rogue
- Subclass: Thief
- Top ability scores: Dexterity and Charisma
- Proficiencies: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords, and thieves’ tools
- Skills: Acrobatics (from Swiftstride), Deception, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth
- Background: Criminal
- Starting equipment: A shortsword, a shortbow, and 20 arrows, a burglar’s pack, leather armor, two daggers, and thieves’ tools.
Moontouch: Druid Wildhunt Shifter
Moontouch’s people are great Rangers, able to travel the lands to hunt, survive, and thrive. Their hunting skills are innate to her, but from a young age, Moontouch veered towards a different path. As her siblings tracked and captured prey, she would be found gathering herbs to heal the wounded creatures of her home forest.
As she grew, so did her healing and spiritual powers. It was not long before she was revered by both her tribe and those who crossed her path. Villages on the outskirts of the forest would call her for aid, and all in the region knew of Moontouch’s wisdom and skill.
But, ever hungry for knowledge, Moontouch knew there was a wider world out there beyond the isolated forest region she called home. She left her home behind in search of adventure and a true calling.
- Race: Shifter
- Subrace: Wildhunt (Wolf)
- Class: Druid
- Subclass: Circle of the Moon
- Top ability scores: Wisdom and Constitution
- Proficiencies: Light armor, medium armor, shields, clubs, daggers, darts, javelins, maces, quarterstaffs, scimitars, sickles, slings, spears, and herbalism kit
- Skills: Survival (from Wildhunt), Medicine, Religion
- Background: Folk Hero
- Starting equipment: A quarterstaff, a dagger, leather armor, an explorer’s pack, and a druidic focus.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What Class is Best for Shifters in 5e?
Answer: The best class for Shifters depends on your subrace or ‘Beast Within.’ Overall, Barbarians, Rangers, and Druids are often well-suited to Shifters, and they make the most thematic sense. That said, you can use my recommendations above for the best class for each Shifter subrace.
Question: What do Shifters Look Like in 5e?
Answer: Shifters look similar to humans but have some animal-like features depending on their subrace. Shifters often have animal-like teeth, such as fangs or canine teeth, animal eyes, and fur, feathers, or scales on their bodies.
The specific appearance depends on their ‘Beast Within.’ The build of a Shifter might also depend on their subrace. Shifters connected to felines might be slender and agile, while Shifters tied to boars or bears might be large, bulky, and slow.
Question: What Languages can Shifters Speak?
Answer: Shifters can speak, read, and write in Common. They have no specific language of their own.
Question: In which Campaign Settings and Modules can I Play as a Shifter?
Answer: Shifters traditionally fit into the Eberron campaign setting, with Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron being useful sourcebooks for this setting.
There are no specific modules set in Eberron, but a DM may choose to shift a module there. If your DM is running a specific module, chat with them first to see if a Shifter will work in their setting.
There’s no reason to exclude Shifters from any campaign setting, although some modules, such as Curse of Strahd, which are human-heavy, may not be as compatible.