A few days ago, Michael Moceri posted a question over on the Fate Core G+ Group about shapeshifting in Fate. I wanted to respond to him, but I knew it would be a long response, so I’m putting it here, instead.
What is Shapeshifting?
Shapeshifting is changing your shape to that of something else, usually an animal. Once shifted, they take on, well, aspects of the new shape. For example, werewolves commonly can run fast, has good sense of smell, and have nasty claws.
What Are Shapeshifters?
Well, shapeshifters come in a variety of forms. Some are were-creatures that can change from human to animal. Some are like Mystique, they can change the way they look, but it’s just superficial. While yet still others can change their shape to anything, also gaining the physical characteristics.
For the sake of this post, I’m going to be talking about were-creatures. When I say, “were-creature” I mean, “anyone who can change their shape to that of an animal and gain some facets of the animal.” So it could be an actual were, or it could be someone who has a magical item that lets them change, or it’s a family curse. All are considered weres for today.
Per the Golden Rule of Fate (FC185):
“Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you.”
So what does shapeshifting do in fiction? It changes your body to that of an animal, and gives you certain traits of said animal.
For this exercise, I’m going to be using the all too familiar werewolf. We can all related to them, and are a staple of most shifter stories. So, what does a werewolf do in fiction? They can run really fast—thanks to being quadrupedal—has enhanced sense of smell, and usually is depicted with gnarly claws. Also, many stories give werewolves regenerative capabilities.
Now that we know what we want to do in fiction, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty! Let’s use some mechanics! We’re going to be creating a suite of Extras, per Chapter 11, to cover shifting, so that’s where we’re going to start.
Changing into an animal definitely sound like it impacts the story, so that’s an aspect (first bullet point, FC273). However, I’m going to assume that’s already covered by a character aspect. If you’re a shifter, you’re going to want an aspect to cover all the corner cases of shifting, right?
Next, let’s look at all the other things that shifted weres get. Continuing with the werewolf example, running fast, the better sense of smell, and the claws all fall under “making skills more awesome.” Running is just an overcome action using Athletics right? Good sense of smell is either a bonus to notice or investigate when sniffing. Claws just make your melee attacks nastier.
Regeneration doesn’t make any skill more badass in the traditional sense, but can be, if you consider it makes Physique more awesome. Physique is what determines your physical stress track length, as well as if you get an additional mild physical consequence. In that regard, physique is the skill that deals with physical toughness, and regeneration is toughness, too.
Extras that make skills more awesome are stunts (FC273), so that’s where I believe they belong.
Yes, really. You can take as many or as few as you like, to represent your capabilities with your new form. Running fast is as easy as a +2 to overcome rolls using Athletics to move, and a good nose could be a +2 to Notice and Investigate defend rolls when smelling is a primary factor, etc.
Also, being that I really like the idea of stunt families (FC94), you could conceive of an entire family of stunts for were-creatures, so multiple characters can still be a “werewolf” but be different from each other.
But a Werewolf Should Always Have a Good Nose!
I can hear some of you saying that somethings should be a “given” when shifting, and shouldn’t cost character resources. For example, werewolves noses are a lot more sensitive than a human nose, so they should get a bonus to sniffing things out, period.
Well, no. Sure, your nose is more sensitive…but without spending time honing that sense (IE, taking a stunt), you’re just going to be overwhelmed. How can you sniff out that one person you’re tracking down when your nose is being overwhelmed by the smell of the flowers blooming across the street? Or the stench coming out of that sewer grate?
Yes, you can smell better now, but you need to learn to control that sense, or it’s useless to you.