I have a question about the Druid’s Shapeshifter move.

I have a question about the Druid’s Shapeshifter move.

I have a question about the Druid’s Shapeshifter move. What do the “animal moves” look like? I had a player insisting that since she already had all the animal’s innate abilities, the moves must be something special or supernatural (like magic) that wasn’t included as part of the basic animal.

The sidebar on p.107 suggests that these were intended to just be natural instinct moves. But why would these be necessary? If I can think up such moves on the fly, why do I need to define them? They are simply part of the fiction everyone understands about this animal. And if I fail to define a move, then you can’t do it? The example of “trample” is just a reskinned hack and slash. “Escape to the air” is simply using your ability to fly. Call the pack seems like a legitimate move that is different.

The player in question (last night) transformed into a giant wolf, and wanted to know what her special abilities were. I ruled it was a natural ability but couldn’t think of anything interesting. A wolf is pretty basic. I offered “go for the throat” and “hamstring,” which really are just hack n slash.  But she said those are already implied by innate abilities… it’s just being a wolf and already implied by the fiction. So she was unhappy and felt nerfed.

How do you interpret this? Any examples? I think a lot in terms of monsters, but not animals, and most animals are pretty tame and not very interesting compared to sorcery and unnatural monsters. So I’m wondering if maybe this should be a magical ability of some sort. Maybe you can transform into an ice wolf, or a shadow wolf, or such such.

29 thoughts on “I have a question about the Druid’s Shapeshifter move.”

  1. The way I saw it, the animal moves are the things the Druid could spend hold on to do without having to role. So in wolf form she could ‘go for the throat’ without having to roll hack n slash, just deal damage. Same with any other form, she gets two or three moves she can spend hold on to do without having to roll.

  2. Hell, I’d let them become an ice wolf.

    There are no fixed answers, no animal has “two right moves” and lots of “wrong moves”. It helps if we think of the moves in a different way. The moves are things that they can spend hold on instead of rolling.

    Any lion can roar to intimidate prey (or hunters) — maybe that’s a Roll CHA move. But when a Savannah Druid turns into a Lion and spends a point of hold to use “Intimidating Roar” it *is* intimidating. No roll. No saving throws. No “Yes, but….” 

  3. That’s the way I do it too, Charles PersallI rarely take the time to formalize the animal moves. The panther will pounce, dealing damage and pinning their adversary by spending hold. The parrot will escape without braving danger, etc.

  4. I think the player may have had false expectations of the druid class.

    Being a druid doesn’t mean you get to turn into a reskined version of another class at will. I would tend to remind them to think of what a wolf is good at.

    Tracking, flanking, running. I would let them track without a roll in most cases,

    I would let them be on any side of an enemy at will pretty much and I would let them run down an enemy trying to flee that you normally wouldn’t be able to catch but i wouldn’t want them to think that they are really going to be any more dangerous in another format.

    I see the druid as being mostly a support class that can eventually grow into a heavy damage dealer or a healer depending on how you advance them

  5. The difference between a move that you spend hold on and one that you roll for is the amount of certainty you get.

    A wolf doesn’t always “go for the throat” or “Take them to the floor” or “Shift unexpectedly”. A druid can try these things as many times as they like, but they only get auto success for their hold.

    Sometimes a wolf lunges for the throat and gets stabbed in the rib cage, bites at the feet and takes a mace to the skull, or tries to shift out of the way and gets trampled by a stampede.

    Also, while form moves look like re-skinned basic moves, don’t believe it! 

    The important thing about a wolf having someone by the neck is not that they get to auto roll damage (though that may happen to), the important thing is that they have their enemy by the neck! Could be leverage used for a parley (from one of the other characters of course), could be that the enemy drops their weapon and surrenders, could be that the mighty spear the enemy was using is now rendered useless.

    Fun to be had. Release the crunch, enjoy the fiction.

  6. Thanks Charles Persall and Doug Pirko that helped a lot. It did not occur to be that hold doesn’t require a roll. It seems completely reasonable to limit this hold to a few signature moves, without limiting other moves you could do normally.

    Reading the Shapeshifter move more carefully I realize it says any species, and is not limited to mundane animals. It just means she has to be familiar with it, and it must be something that exists and that she has encountered.

    I have no doubt the player loves her druid and animals, she was just thinking the move did something different. But I have enough here (and in #druidweek! woo!) to make it awesome.


  7. I dont have a list of animal moves the Druid can perform while shifted. (There’s no reason why you couldn’t make one, but I find players always do the unexpected.) Instead, I use this guideline:

    Is the Druid doing something they could do in their normal form, or is this something they could only do as this specific animal?

    If they could do their stated action as their “normal” self, then it doesn’t use up a point of hold. A Druid can move, attack, scout ahead for danger, follow tracks, etc. regardless of the form the are in.

    But can the Druid track prey only by smell? Probably not. They’d have to be a wolf to do that, and so it uses a point of hold. They probably couldn’t summon a pack of wolves unless they were in wolf form and able to howl. So again, that uses a point of hold. I doubt they could do full class damage with their teeth in their “normal” form. But as a wolf they could do a lot of damage and probably drag a foe to the ground by sinking their teeth into its throat.

    Some things the Druid does in animal form will trigger other moves (meaning the player has to roll for them), some things they do won’t (and so will be auto successes). But basically, if the Druid couldn’t do this action in their normal form, then it uses up a point of hold.

  8. Animal moves are just monster moves, ass appropriate or the animal (the Druid has example moves on her sheet, base your decisions off that). You spend hold to auto-succeed at what the move says, as long the Druid is fictionally set up to follow-through.

    So yes, the Wolf-Druid could get Hamstring and Go For The Throat. Hold can be spent to make those happen with no roll cause you’re awesome.

    I have a Cat-Druid “Disappear When Unobserved,” “Get Somewhere You Shouldn’t Be,” and “Be A Pest.” These are things cats do, obviously, but with Hold they become appropriately cool sure-things.

  9. In my games when a player transforms they can do anything the animal can do. They spend hold to use an ability the animal has. So if they turned into a Parana and wanted to use their teeth to shred something to bits, I would have them spend 1 hold and they accomplish their task. Spending hold equals an automatic success.

    If they want to be a bat they can fly around and do recon and eat bugs and stuff like that. But if they want to use sonar to map an underground cavern, they’ll need to spend a hold. I don’t see the point in defining moves. This feels limiting.

    Instead I have the spend hold when they would use something specific to their animal form to complete a task they normally couldn’t do, exceptions being things like jumping distances for cats or flying for winged animals.

  10. Eric Satan

     I do have to say that my method can lead to a little more … epic … actions.

    Marques Jordan’s answer right above is also perfectly on-point, just coming at it a different way.

    In the end, come up with something you’re comfortable with. The druid is still limited in damage (even with the advanced move) and the GM doesn’t have to allow the Player to turn into an Otter with the move  “Slay Everything In Sight Instantly”

  11. But if they shift into a Horrible Death Otter of Doom, the move “slay everything in sight instantly” might be appropriate, Doug Pirko.  😉

     Although the Druid is limited in damage, I’d say to remember to be a fan of the player characters. If they shift into a lethally venomous snake, they are going to want to use that poison. Let them.

  12. It’s interesting that the Druid only copies those moves an monster could do. They don’t necessarily gain the creature’s stats. Thus, -1 STR +2 WIS Druid who rolls a +10  on the Shapeshifter move might become a bear, but still rolls at -1 due to Hack And Slash. How do you deal with this without stepping on a more combat-oriented playbook’s toes? Just grant the bears a flat damage rate as a move grant debilities from it?  

    It strikes me that this class is more of a debuffer than anything.

  13. Doug Pirko’s approach seems like the next logical step for the way I’ve been handling things. I agree completely that when they spend hold to do an action, the action succeeds, period. However, I will exercise the “does it make sense?” style of ruling. None of that “I am a Lion and I roar so loud the Dragons head explodes!”. There is epic and then there is that =P. Thanks for the insight Doug ^_-

  14. Not to be “that guy”, but I think you’re thinking about things too mechanically, Dylan Hoover.  A -1 STR Druid who turns into a bear IS STILL A GOD DAMN FREAKING BEAR!

    If they then spend a hold to crush someone in a bear hug, then they do. If they spend a hold to send someone sprawling with a swipe of their massive paws, then they do. If they spend a hold and use their bulk to crash into a line of soldiers, then they do. If they spend a hold to ignore the effects of the cold thanks to their fur, then they do.

    Mechanics don’t really even come into it.

  15. I’m going to chirp in here, because there’s a point no one has made yet. I believe it was Sage LaTorra that described the hold from Shapeshifting as “saved up successes”. Hence, when you spend hold, you pay the cost of accomplishing a relevant action.

    But now to the point: You can only spend your hold in situations where the animal in question would be able to do it. A bear isn’t naturally very good at dodging spears, so you might have to defy danger to get into a situation where a bear would actually be able to chew someones arm off.

    Luckily, a bear is pretty tough and might as such be able to spend hold to shrug off an otherwise deadly blow.

    Normally though, I tend to look at Shapeshifting as a move that grant versatility, not rawr death-monster powers. Kind of an infinite Adventurer’s Gear.

  16. I like giving three moves for each successful shapeshift, which usually focus on something contested by opponents, something that would typically require a roll. Here’s some examples:

    Kingfisher lift something into the air, dive strike, dazzle with plumage

    Bat draw sustenance from the blood of others, find something in the dark, escape into darkness

    School of piranha strip flesh, disperse, leap above water 

  17. Oliver Granger legit lists, as you reminded me of another bit of classic advice that hasn’t been doled out yet…

    I believe Sage (or Adam?) suggested that, when giving out Shapeshifter moves, you should do three things. (Listed below, with me rambling on about them).

    1. Give the player what they want.

    You know why they’re rolling shapeshift, don’t be a jerk about it. They’re fighting megasharks and become a Squid? Give them Crush Life.

    2. Give the player what’s obvious.

    They turn into a squid, and they have a Crush Life move cause they’re fighting? Now give them the first thing that comes to mind when you think Squid… Ink? Okay ink it is.

    3. Give it a twist.

    Go for a surprise. You gave the player a cool thing, and you’ve respected the obvious, now be a little creative. Maybe its Collapse Your Girth Through The Eye of a Needle because you think its gross and cool that squids do that… Maybe its Communicate With Civilization because you know squids are scary smart and this is fantasy and the Druid always complains about not being able to talk to the party when they’re an animal.

  18. Yes, Marques Jordan, as always, support the fiction. Can a Lion or a Grizzly or whatever scare the green off of goblins? It sure can. Is a lion or grizzly’s roar going to intimidate a dragon with a torso the size of a house?

    Well, not unless it’s Thakkerogg the Cowardly Dragon! 🙂


  19. I admit freely to being a little too crunchy with the thought – I’ve played with too many crunchy-minded gamers who I’m desperately trying to train OUT of the tactical combat min-max mindset, but I find if I just leave it up to narrative, i can be pressured into being too laissez faire.

    I’m a newbie GM, and am afraid I’ll start forcing people to play “my way”. I want to avoid the Otter of Doom moves discussed above, but I’m not sure whether my willingness to shoot down a clever PC solution to an IC problem is me trying to make sure the plot threads I see forming in my head come to fruition, or whether I’m stopping legitimately game-breaking bullshit. Dammit, I’m trying to keep to the spirit of exploration and fun but I’m never sure if shit is getting too out-of-control!

  20. Ha, I read that like “I do say no 99% of the time.”

    I was about to say “I think you’re doing something wrong.” But then I re-read the post. Good times.

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