Shifter Guide 5e

Published on July 19, 2021, Last modified on May 5th, 2022

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What is this guide?

This guide is meant to give you an idea of whether or not the shifter will be right for your 5e character build.

The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good that option will be for your shifter. This color coding isn’t a hard and fast rule; there are plenty of sub-optimized options out there that will be viable to your party and will be fun to play.

  • Black is a trait shared by many races and or will not impact the effectiveness of your character build
  • Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
  • Orange Situationally good, but a below-average option otherwise
  • Green is a good option
  • Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
  • Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything Update

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything has added the "Customizing Your Origin" option that may affect the ability score increases, languages, and proficiencies in this guide. To read more about this, visit our D&D Race Guide.

What are Shifters in 5e?

Source: Eberron: Rising from the Last War

Shifters, native to Eberron, are neither humans nor lycanthropes. Rather, they are something in between.

When they are young, a shifter’s inner nature causes them to form a bond with a beast, revealing their true self as they mature by taking on the beast’s characteristics and traits. At first a shifter may appear human, but closer inspection reveals pointed ears, flat noses, and canine teeth. Shifters are also able to embrace their inner nature and temporarily assume a more bestial appearance, becoming more feral in the process.

It is natural for a shifter to be drawn to the more primal classes, like barbarians and rangers, but they are present in all walks of life and institutions.

Shifters are a playable character race found in Eberron: Rising from the Last War.

Shifter 5e Traits

Ability Score Increase: The base shifter class only gets +1 DEX, the rest of which is filled in by your choice of subrace. DEX is a common ASI but is useful to most classes, if only for the boost to AC.

Size: Medium is the typical size of most races, and is neither good nor bad.

Speed: Shifters have a standard walking speed of 30 feet.

Darkvision: Darkvision is always great, but its advantage can be ruined if your party members do not also have it.

Keen Senses: Free Perception proficiency is a simple and amazing racial trait. Perception is a skill that every character build wants, so you won’t need to worry about getting it somewhere else.

Shifting: As the name implies, shifting allows you to change your appearance as a bonus action, gaining temporary hit points and special benefits which vary by the subraces described below. You can’t however use this ability for every encounter as it can only be activated once per short rest. This trait is the reason to play as a shifter and allows for some fun customisation within the race.

Shifter 5e Subraces

Beasthide Shifter

Beasthide shifters are perfect for tanky, frontline character builds, especially those that can make use of the Shifter’s inherent +1 DEX.

Ability Score Increase: Every class likes to have CON, but casters will be left without ability score increases for their spellcasting.

Tough: Athletics is a decent skill proficiency for the type of character that would be interested in a beasthide shifter. The problem here is that you may not be able to make the best use of the skill as this version of the shifter doesn’t come with a STR bonus.

Shifting Feature: Even more temporary hit points and a +1 boost to AC ensures that the beasthide shifter is an absolute tank when transformed. 

Longtooth Shifter

Also intended for frontline characters, the longtooth shifter is more about damage than tanking. STR and DEX is a bit of an odd combination, as martial characters only focus on one, but STR-based characters can use the DEX to contribute to their AC and Initiative. 

Ability Score Increase: For characters like barbarians, +2 STR is the only stat they really need. Casters look elsewhere.

Fierce: Since this subrace is strong, it makes sense that they also gain proficiency in Intimidation. Unfortunately you won’t be that great at it unless you have some leftover points for CHA (or your kind DM lets you roll Intimidation checks with STR).

Shifting Feature: Improved unarmed strikes normally aren’t very exciting, but this one can be used as a bonus action. This feature uses your fangs rather than a free hand, so you would be able to carry a shield and still carry out the attack. Also of note is that the fangs allow you to add your STR modifier to the attack, while regular offhand attacks (without the Two-Weapon Fighting Fighting Style) only use the weapon’s listed damage.

Swiftstride Shifter

Swiftstride shifters put their focus on mobility, and are therefore the best option for builds that want to hurtle around the battlefield.

Ability Score Increase: The swiftstride shifter rounds out the DEX of the base shifter and adds +1 CHA to spice things up. This makes them the perfect candidate for rogues and useable some CHA-based spellcasters.

Graceful: It is hard to say how useful Acrobatics proficiency is, as some DMs default most things to Athletics instead. Still, with the right DM this a useful trait as the swiftstride shifter has enough DEX for it to shine.

Swift Stride: 5 feet of extra movement is trivial most of the time, especially if you are playing without battle maps. 

Shifting Feature: The bonus movement increases another 5 feet, to a total of 10, making the increase actually noticeable and useful. More importantly, this feature gives the race a great use of their reaction. Being able to move away from dangerous enemies is incredibly useful as a reaction, and is mechanically pretty cool since you can do it during someone else’s turn.

Wildhunt Shifter

Wildhunt shifters are intended to give your character a bit of a ranger feel. The WIS bonus and lack of a combat oriented Shifting Feature make this subrace more niche than the others.

Ability Score Increase: The wildhunt shifter opens up an option for those classes that rely on WIS for their spellcasting, with +2 WIS going a long way to fulfil that goal.

Natural Tracker: Survival proficiency is a great pickup since the wildhunt shifter comes with +2 WIS.

Mark the Scent: This trait feels like it belongs to a ranger subclass. It is rather situational, but can be useful nonetheless. If somebody you are tracking manages to slip away, or if the person you are escorting is kidnapped, finding them will be much less of a pain.

Shifting Feature: Potentially the least exciting Shifting Feature, it can still be helpful. Advantage on WIS checks means that the most useful skill in the game, Perception, will be even more reliable. Unlike the other Shifting Features, this one won’t help you in combat at all. 

Which 5e Classes Work With Shifters?

The shifter subraces offer varying ASIs, meaning that most classes will find something of worth. The only exception is pure INT-based casters, for whom there is no INT ability score increase present among the subraces.

Artificer: Artificers need INT to be effective.

Barbarian:

  • Beasthide Shifter: Will make a near unkillable monster of a character. The main downside to this combination is that both the barbarian’s Rage and Shifting use your bonus action, meaning that you won’t be fully buffed up until the third round of combat at the earliest.
  • Longtooth Shifter: Great offensive option for all-out attacking barbarians. The main downside to this combination is that both the barbarian’s Rage and Shifting use your bonus action, meaning that you won’t be fully buffed up until the third round of combat at the earliest.

Bard:

  • Swiftstride Shifter: A swiftstride shifter can make a good melee-focused College of Swords bard. The College of Swords gives even more mobility on top of the swiftstride shifter’s traits, and access to the Dueling Fighting Style will bring up damage output closer to the martial classes.

Cleric:

  • Beasthide Shifter: No WIS, but DEX and CON can work for a melee-oriented cleric that tanks for the party.
  • Longtooth Shifter: No WIS, but STR and CON are great for clerics that want to do a lot of close-up fighting.
  • Wildhunt Shifter: Clerics focused on casting can choose the wildhunt shifter for the WIS boost and some nice ranger-like abilities.

Druid:

  • Wildhunt Shifter: Wildhunt is worth considering, both thematically and mechanically. The DEX and Shifting help with survivability. As far as the interaction between Wild Shape and Shifting, it is unclear whether they can be used together. Wild Shape does state that you retain benefits of your race if your new form is physically capable of doing so, so it is likely that you will need to Wild Shape before Shifting, and even then its up to your DM’s interpretation.

Fighter:

  • Beasthide Shifter: Excellent choice for a tanky frontline fighter.
  • Longtooth Shifter: Excellent choice for a damage dealing STR fighter.
  • Swiftstride Shifter: Works for a mobile, DEX-based fighter, though the CHA isn't very useful.

Monk:

  • Wildhunt Shifter: Perfect ASI spread for monks, though nothing offered by the wildhunt shifter in terms of subrace features is of much interest.

Paladin:

  • Beasthide Shifter: Excellent choice for a tanky frontline paladin.
  • Longtooth Shifter: Excellent choice for a damage dealing STR paladin.
  • Swiftstride Shifter: DEX-based paladins can choose the swiftstride shifter for the DEX boost as well as CHA for their spellcasting.

Ranger:

  • Wildhunt Shifter: The wildhunt shifter offers great ASI and synergistic features that complement a ranger. Unfortunately the wildhunt shifter is just not that interesting or powerful of an option compared to the other subraces.

Rogue:

  • Swiftstride Shifter: The swiftstride shifter comes with ideal an ASI spread for a rogue, and the subrace features will make for a highly mobile build on the battlefield.

Sorcerer:

  • Swiftstride Shifter: The only subrace that hosts a CHA increase is the swiftstride shifter, although it is only +1.

Warlock:

  • Swiftstride Shifter: The only subrace that hosts a CHA increase is the swiftstride shifter, although it is only +1. A melee Hexblade warlock could be an interesting build here as the swiftstride has a way of avoiding opportunity attacks and grants a DEX boost.

Wizard: Wizards need INT to be effective.

Sources Used in This Guide

Roland Drews

Roland Drews is a content creator and editor at Arcane Eye. When he isn't watching basketball or noodling on his guitar, you can find Roland reading, writing, or playing D&D. He currently lives in Bonn, Germany with his girlfriend Jess.

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