Polydismorphia; The Shapeshifting Sickness Of The Elves

The transmutation of living beings is one of the great benchmarks of magical progress. Academic arcanists have long attempted to imitate what elves and druids arrive at so easily: the power and freedom of polymorphia, the ability to change your form as one changes clothes. Yet, like all magic power, it comes at a cost. Forcing the mind and soul through multiple bodies can leave lingering marks on the ego, like a palimpsest self. We call this malady Polydismorphia and it can affect anyone who undergoes a transformation into a bestial form.

Lady Henneton is spending time with her chicken family

Druids, doppelgangers, lycanthropes: to those in touch with the formless chaos of nature, polymorphism holds little danger. Yet, radically altering one’s identity across species lines can be mentally taxing for those inculcated in social ideas of identity.

Some suffer under the strain.

Among humanity’s wizards, the resulting malady is called polydismorphia. Among the elves, it is known as Gwylltryntyr (translated as the Green Revelation) and is considered a natural step towards religious knowledge. The dwarves, less charitably, call it being ‘Elfsick’.

Regardless of the name (or accompanying cultural baggage), frequent Polymorphers risk shifting not only their physical body but also their conception of self.

Polymorph Effect Mechanics

Use the following rules if you are looking for magic (specifically shapeshifting) to have a higher cost in your game. In general, these rules are better suited to horror or low-magic games than high-fantasy high-magic games. Make sure to check with everyone at the table before instituting these rules.

Each time a character changes shape, they must make a Wisdom saving throw equal to 5 x the number of times they have been polymorphed since their last long rest. On a failure, roll on the following chart for a consequence.

  1. Second Skin – You cannot help but feel discomfort in your humanoid skin, as though you were wearing a costume. Take disadvantage on Charisma checks, unless you can compensate by wearing furs, scales, or feathers overtop to match your preferred animal form.
  2. Elephant Talk – Humanoid language seems increasingly tricky to you. Whenever you roll a natural one on a social check, you lose proficiency in the languages you speak and gain Speak with Animals for one hour.
  3. Social Trappings – You increasingly feel endangered in civilized settings. You may no longer receive the benefits of a long rest while indoors.
  4. All Dogs Go To Heaven – The shape of your soul has remained in its animal form. This change affects your astral and etheric bodies. Depending on your diety, it may become difficult to access your preferred afterlife.
  5. Cat Eyes – Your eyes have not reverted. You lose all darkvision and vision-related abilities/disadvantages and gain those of your animal form. Remember, if it is a mammal, this probably includes color blindness.
  6. One Of Us – You have advantage on Animal Handling checks with animals who share your new form.
  7. Evangelism – You have seen a better way of life, closer to the earth! Add an Ideal to your character sheet: “I want to share the gospel of life as a (insert your animal form here) with everyone!”
  8. Picky Eater – You can no longer stomach humanoid food, instead only taking substance from foods your animal form would eat.

Treatments for Polydismorphia

Treatment is rare among those societies which stigmatize Polydismorphia. Among the Elves, the traditional solution is to live a year and a day in your animal form, after which you must choose to return to bipedal society or forever doff your sentience and live like an animal in perpetuity.

Humans, hobbits, and dwarves object that those they send for healing rarely return in their humanoid forms. The elves merely shrug. The patient is again monomorphic and suffers no identity confusion. Who’d want to be anything other than an elf or animal anyway?

Liked it? Take a second to support holm.austin on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.