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What would the side effects of being a shapeshifter be?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Jdailey1991, Aug 11, 2021.

  1. Jdailey1991

    Jdailey1991 Sage

    Suppose that you've been given the ability to transform into every animal species that Earth has and had offered, alive and extinct. You can only transform into you and you as the other species, so spying around disguised as someone else is impossible.

    What other side effects would this ability put on you?
  2. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    With my shifters, they have the problem that they think like the animal they become instead of a human (or, in their case, a god) so they are not exactly rational nor do they necessarily remember things they might have seen and not understood. Moreover, they may feel no need to shift back (so I decided to have them change back spontaneously, eventually—though it might be years or more).
    ButlerianHeretic likes this.
  3. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    It really depends on the person/character. If said person was a therian, then it would be pretty rad, and they would probably spend a lot of time as [critter], to the detriment of the things they have to do in the human world. Like I could be a bird all day and be very happy, but my landlord wouldn't be if I stopped paying rent. Birds don't have to pay taxes, but they also don't get to play video games or use the Internet, and those are things you need money to do, which I would need to do as a human. So a character that "escapes" reality by shifting is going to run into issues at some point, which can lead to a very interesting story about coping techniques.

    You can also use your powers to do Crimes. Look up the episode of Hannibal with the guy who has species dysphoria* and makes himself a cave bear power suit to do murder. You can still totally spy on others, you'd just have to be a pigeon or a flea or something. You can also do pranks, pretending to be an ivory-billed woodpecker to make people flip out, for example. Pretend to be someone else's cat or dog and make them think their pet hates them sometimes. Animals don't have cultural taboos like we do, so if you spend enough time as an animal, you're going to forget you can't do those things around other people. They also navigate spaces differently and see/hear/smell things differently than we do, and expecting a sensation that doesn't happen can also screw with your head.

    *I've seen people criticize this episode, saying that it's trivializing trans people/gender dysphoria, but as a trans person, it doesn't read to me like that. Species dysphoria IS a thing, after all, and has been for a very long time. Telling a trans person to transition their gender doesn't hurt anyone. Telling a person to make a cave bear power suit and do murder, uh, does. Hannibal Lecter is not a good therapist and we shouldn't use his treatments as guides as what to do with real people
  4. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

    Spying is indeed still fairly easy. Just become a bird or a mouse or a flee and follow whoever you're spying on. It might even be an interesting way to kill people: become a bug, fly into someone's mouth, transform back into a larger animal (human would work, but so would elephant). Very very hard to protect against.

    But to take it in a less creepy direction, I would think you would be a biologists or paleontologists wet dream. Ever wanted to know what a tyranosaur really looked like and walked like? Well, now you can see it with your own eyes.

    If you're the only one, then you can also become either a study object (people trying to figure out how and why it works) and / or a movie or tv celebrity. Loads of ways to make money from transforming into other creatures. Or if they need a horse in a movie who behaves as a scriptwriter wants. No more trying to train some pesky animal only to have it pee all over your set or star.

    Of course, clothing is always an interesting point when transforming. If they transform with you then it's fine. But if they don't then you'll need loads of spare clothes all over the place. Or if it's a whole society, then they might get different ideas about clothing alltogether.
  5. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

    Does it take extra energy to shapeshift?

    Not every shapeshifting story says it does, but my thought is it would burn a helluva lot of calories. Shapeshifters might need to eat a whole lot extra. This could really get out of hand if they're shapeshifting into a creature already known for its ravenous appetite, like a bear (or, well, a raven).

    Another problem that could lead to is a need for food without an available food source. Some animals have gone extinct because they could only eat a very limited range of plants/animals, and the ones they fed on went extinct. Like what would happen to giant pandas if bamboo disappeared, or koalas if gum eucalyptus went the way of the dinosaurs. Become a Pleistocene era creature that has to eat a specific plant not found in this era, and what do you eat?
  6. Qvadrater

    Qvadrater Acolyte

    The side effects would largely depend on exactly how the shapeshifting worked; here are a few interesting questions to ponder (sorry about the mess):

    I think experience would be a major concern: you may have turned into a bird, but you have never flown with your own wings before and have no idea how to do it. This goes for anything animals would do differently from humans: move with any other quantity/design of legs/wings/whatever, processing sensory input, propreoperception, and maybe semi-conscious processes, like breathing, which may work differently if you're a fish or something.

    Experience also plays into what Prince of Spires said: if being a shapeshifter makes you a person of interest to people who wants to use you for their own gain, whether you want to or not, and you have no experience acting like a certain animal it might be easy to discern that you're not a "native" of that species. Likewise, if you change between a lot of different animals, you might accidentally mix up their behaviour, or engage in animal behaviour whilst in human form.

    Another concern is what happens to the form(s) the shapeshifter isn't currently in, and what state the animal the shapeshifter shifts into is like.
    You said a shapeshifter can only shift into one individual per species, but what's the continuity like for each form? Is every form essentially in stasis whilst another form is taken? Or does time still pass for that form? Or maybe there's no continuity for each form, and a "base" version of a form is used each time?
    One reason this is of particular interest is that assuming the same base form each time you transform into an animal would be kind of broken resource-wise: you could transform into a sheep and have someone shear all the wool off, transfrom into something else, and then transform into a sheep with a full coat of wool again, and keep this going for infinite wool or any other non-lethal animal resource. Or maybe changes to one form affects all others, and having the wool shaven of would result in any other animals transformed into also having shorter-than-usual hair/fur?

    Do wounds or other diseases/changes to one form transfer to other forms? If they don't, do the wounds on the wounded form heal whilst the shifter is in another form? Or do they not, and the wounds return when the wounded form is resumed?

    How does age factor into shapeshifting? If a 50 year old shapeshifter turned into a dog, would they instantly die because dogs don't live that long? Or would they, at ~5/8ths of their human lifespan, turn into a dog who's ~5/8ths through a dog's lifespan? Would they keep aging at human speed even in other forms or do they age at the speed of whatever form they use? This could have massive implications for which forms to use and when to use them to optimize your lifespan by doing things like sleeping in the form of a very long-lived animal, and never using the forms of short-lived animals.
    ShadeZ likes this.
  7. Azaraiha

    Azaraiha Scribe

    Perhaps one of the risks of transforming is that the longer one stays in that form, the more they begin to mentally resemble the creature and if they stay in the form for too long, they are stuck in that creatures body for the rest of their life. Another could be that each transformation shortens their life, and if done too often could kill them.
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

    Fleas and various mites, perhaps fungus and parasites.
    LAG likes this.
  9. ButlerianHeretic

    ButlerianHeretic Minstrel

    I'm sure there is plenty of stuff that would come perfectly naturally to an animal that if the human remembers it afterward they might not be too thrilled about it. Maybe they decide to spy on someone as a literal fly on the wall, but then they smell some dog poop outside and just can't help themselves.
  10. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

    Well mine can mimic human appearances change hair hue, eye color, facial structure etc. The best ones 'glitch' when they sneeze or get surprised. That said, the best shifter is an assassin and polymorphs his ears to be elven so his hearing is amazing so the last part is less likely. At one point he sneezes and forgets to maintain his form as a result he flips through dozens of faces, hair color etc in the blink of an eye. This individual also develops various personas for the different faces. One of the faces is a fairly innocent nobleman. One is an assassin. One is a prince. The true question is where one persona ends and the other begins. The shifter mentions he is all his persona's the trick is limiting his behavior to that life and not the others. He gets caught by a shifter hunter because his idiosyncrasies are the same across his personas, he always chews random things and paces when anxious and only shows sympathy toward those he respects.
  11. I have one shifter in my recent books- but they can become other people- easier than becoming an animal. so a different take. But the most difficult issue they face is more social: Who are they really? Are they as they were born, or does that even matter anymore? race, age, gender, etc etc.. are all fluid at a whim. do those who love them even know them? do they even know themselves? how do you define yourselves when all things physical can change? and with that- does not the mental and perhaps soul also change?

    what is your identity when you can be anyone?
  12. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

    whatever you default to?
  13. Too easy. if you could be anyone would you really be yourself? ;)
  14. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

    Yes and no, I would be whatever skin was comfortable me the most I suppose? But, I can also see where some people would change personal appearances like we change clothing? Maybe it depends on how comfortable the individual is with the same thing vs different things? Also if they are mortals or immortal that affects it differently as their "natural form" would change as they matured probably.
  15. Qvadrater

    Qvadrater Acolyte

    This isn't quite an answer to your questions, but an interesting perspective I've seen in a story is that the physical appearance can be a bit like a name: while you can change your legal name, most will keep their given name rather than change it to some other name they're particularly fond of. There's more to it, since changing your appearance also has more functional implications, but I think it really gave good idea of what it could be like.
  16. MJ The Werewolf

    MJ The Werewolf Acolyte

    You could get stuck as a lion, wolf, giraffe, etc. if the ability somehow disappears or wears off.
  17. Maunus

    Maunus Dreamer

    I have shapeshifters in my story. What I find problematic about how shapeshifters are usually portrayed is that it is always assumed that their default form is humanoid - and indeed that they have a default form. This seems necessary to solve the problem of identity in stories - you have to know who someone really is. My shapeshifters don't have a default form, and consequently their identity is not located in their body (yes, but only in form of a individual tattooed that they have in any form they take). They do not see themselves as human, they only take on a human form to fit in among humans. This also means that they don't have fixed gender identity - they may as well be male as female, depending on what suits them at a given time. This leaves me to explore questions of identity and personality, and how they are related to the physical body or not. But I think this decentering of identity from the body would have to be the most common and important effect of being a shapeshifter. Also my shapeshifters cannot change size - regardless of what they transform into, they will have about the same physical size.

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