I first heard the word changeling in 2002, watching Attack of the Clones in theaters.
Anakin and Obi-Wan hunt down an assassin only to see them gunned down by Jango Fett. Then we get the big reveal, they were a changeling, someone who could change their form to look like anyone they wanted to. Lot of good it did for Zam Wessell.
I digress, you’re not here to learn about the assassination attempt on Padme Amidala, you’re here because the chameleon nature of a changeling race is interesting to you.
And it should be, this race possesses one of the most useful abilities in all of Dungeons & Dragons.
Much like the monstrous doppelgangers, changelings can shift their appearance to look like just about any creature they’ve seen. Being able to cast some spells or swing an axe really well are cool abilities, but nothing compares to assuming someone else’s identity.
As shapeshifters, changelings have an interesting place in the world. In a very real sense, changelings can be found everywhere, although they might not actually be seen. Essentially, there are three main cultures, or social behaviors, which changelings adhere to.
The first are passers, those who wish to blend in with normal society. These changelings will often craft an appearance and an identity, suppressing their shapeshifter abilities in an attempt to fit in.
The second group, becomers, have a deep fondness of their ability to assume different identities. These people will often have many different identities, even going as far as to live multiple different lives. They believe their nature should be embraced to the fullest.
The third group is referred to as seekers. The seekers, otherwise known as reality seekers, or perfecters, find truth to be the chief ideal. They do not believe in using their abilities to deceive others, although the definition of “others” depends on the individual.
One group of seekers may believe that only changelings should receive complete honesty, others may believe that absolute truth is due to all beings.
No matter how a changeling chooses to live their life, they are bound to face some sort of mistrust in society. Many changelings choose to build their own communities because of this.
Of course, some changelings don’t get this opportunity. Orphaned changelings may go their whole lives desperately trying to fit in, never knowing another person like themselves.
A changeling character is an exciting opportunity to explore your adventurer’s relationship to the world around them.
Changeling Abilities and Traits: What Characterizes the Changeling Race
- Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2. In addition, one other ability score of your choice increases by 1.
- Age. Changelings mature slightly faster than humans but share a similar lifespan — typically a century or less. While a changeling can transform to conceal their age, the effects of aging affect them similarly to humans.
- Alignment. Changelings tend toward pragmatic neutrality, and few changelings embrace evil.
- Size. In their natural forms, changelings average between 5 to 6 feet in height, with a slender build. Your size is Medium.
- Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
- Shapechanger. As an action, you can change your appearance and your voice. You determine the specifics of the changes, including your coloration, hair length, and sex. You can also adjust your height and weight, but not so much that your size changes. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change. You can’t duplicate the appearance of a creature you’ve never seen, and you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs that you have. Your clothing and equipment aren’t changed by this trait.
- You stay in the new form until you use an action to revert to your true form or until you die.
- Changeling Instincts. You gain proficiency with two of the following skills of your choice: Deception, Insight, Intimidation, and Persuasion.
- Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and two other languages of your choice.
The shapechanger ability is the main focus of changelings, without it they’re just another humanoid race. So I’ll save that for later. First, let’s talk about the other great things this race has going on, and what kind of character their abilities set up.
Charisma bonuses are pretty common, but seeing a +2 should always make us excited. What’s interesting is that the second ability score increase is a +1 in an ability of our choice. This keeps us from being pigeonholed and opens us up to ANY build that focuses on charisma.
It also shows us the flexibility of this race. Apart from being clearly charismatic, they are what you make them. Much like humans or half-elfs, their place in the world does not have to be defined by stereotypes.
Reinforcing the versatility is the proficiencies we pick up. Three languages including common means that we can speak just about anything we want. People often overlook languages, but when you have the ability to just casually pick up Sylvan or Draconic, you take it.
Changelings’ strange relationship with a culture of their own gives us an opportunity to make very worldly characters, who can communicate with an interesting assortment of beings.
The skill proficiencies we gain are less versatile, but still give us options. Three of the four skill proficiencies are charisma-based, and then there’s insight, based in wisdom. We may not get the most options, but given the stats and the background of this race, it fits perfectly that we would get some social interaction skills.
That brings us to the main event, shapechanger. This ability has a lot going on, so go read it again to keep us on the same page. As you can see, this ability is nothing short of amazing. There are only a few restrictions. We can’t change our size, our limbs or our clothes, nor can we duplicate any creature we haven’t seen.
Those restrictions are very small, but they make the game playable. Since our size is medium, we can assume the appearance of almost any medium creature. Need to break into an orc compound, break out the tusks. Need to infiltrate an elvish high council, practice your sylvan and make those ears longer.
Medium creatures are between 4 and 8 feet tall and weigh between 60 and 500 lbs.
One of the most common questions pertains to the “same basic arrangement of limbs.” So to start, changelings have four limbs. Limbs are defined as an arm or leg of a person or a four-legged animal, or a bird’s wing. “Basic arrangement” is a much harder concept to define, and the Sage Advice Compendium has nothing on it at the moment.
We can start by defining it as the same number, since adding limbs definitely changes the arrangement. That alone is probably the most lenient interpretation.
Going further though, arrangement implies a specific placement or typing of limbs. That would imply two arms and two legs, in about the same place. This interpretation gets rid of the ability to turn into a tiger or a mastiff, since these creatures have four limbs, but they’re all legs.
While the specifics are open to interpretation and DM ruling, it’s fairly clear that we can’t sprout wings, or grow extra arms; so Aarakocra impersonations are off the table.
However, there are plenty of things that aren’t limbs, which we can add or remove to change our appearance. Tails, horns, teeth, claws; all of these and more are parts of the body that are completely within the changeling’s ability to manipulate, opening up worlds of possibilities.
What Classes Are Well Suited to Changelings
Changelings have a lot of versatility and could make a charismatic option for any class. That +2 in charisma does make us want to lean towards a class that focuses on the ability, such as bard, paladin, sorcerer, or warlock.
The disguise aspect of changelings also makes them a great option for rogues who’s secondary ability is charisma rather than intelligence.
Bard – Bards are the most social class, focusing on an ability to inspire those around them through artistry and more. Changelings are typically very deceptive, and those who embrace their identity, or their assumed identities, may be very practiced in wielding their words as tools of manipulation. Whether that manipulation is good or evil is up to you.
Warlock – Warlocks are seekers of knowledge and truth. A changeling who either knows very little of their nature or is part of the seekers culture, would fit perfectly into the role of a magical pact. The ability to disguise themselves isn’t inherently beneficial, but it can be an exciting addition.
Paladin – The +1 to an ability score of our choice works well with a paladin build, since that ability might not be the same for each subclass. Of course, nine times out of ten we’re going to put it into strength.
Rogue – While charisma is only a secondary ability for rogues, it’s a very important one. You’ll want to use your +1 in dexterity, and then get a disguise kit to add on top of your shapefiter abilities, allowing you to perfectly impersonate any target. Spies, assassins, masterminds, and swashbucklers would all be amazing fits for a character who can change their appearance at will.
Sorcerer – There’s not much in the roleplaying or mechanic area that screams perfect synergy other than the +2 in charisma.
Changeling Appearance: Underneath the Masks
I think I’ve mentioned this already, but changelings can change their appearance. The question that we haven’t covered yet is: what if they don’t? Changelings do have a natural state before they use their shapechanging ability.
Changelings in their natural form are extremely pale humanoids. While they have all the same body parts as a regular human, there tend to be a few notable differences. For starters, their arms tend to be just a bit longer in proportion to their body than most humanoids.
They also lack many features, in a way that sets them right in the uncanny valley. While they do have hair, which also tends to be very pale if not white, they have no facial or body hair.
They also lack any defining characteristics like high cheekbones, a strong jawline, or noticeable ears. Instead, they are almost eerily nondescript.
Perhaps the only noticeable feature are the dark rings around their eyes that stand in such extreme contrast to the rest of their person.
Since changelings can alter their appearance at will, they tend to have no concept of gender norms. Their naming traditions consist of monosyllabic names such as:
Aunn, Bin, Cor, Fir, Kraan, Nix, Iire, Laats, Jin
While their names are very simple and easily understood, there is often another component that other humanoids won’t notice. Changelings distinguish their names with a specific shifting of some sort of trait. This sort of naming is too subtle to be picked up by others, but immediately recognizable by a changeling.
For example, there might be two changelings named Rai, but one may tint their eyes blue and the other may elongate their ears as a punctuation to their name. Their names to other changelings would be Rai with-blue-tinted-eyes or Rai with-long-ears, even if an onlooker would only hear “Rai” both times.
A Note on Doppelgangers
An important distinction to be made is that in fifth edition D&D, changelings are distinct from dopplegangers. While both have the ability to change their appearances and impersonate others, doppelgangers are the naturally more aggressive species.
Doppelgangers possess an additional psychic ability, which they use to learn as much as they can about a target before killing them and assuming their identity. Doppelgangers tend to be spies and assassins, almost as a birthright, while changelings are more free to choose their own path.
The relationship between the two races is a muddied one. Various editions of D&D have combined and separated the two, with each having an impact on the other. Some characters who were previously thought to be shapeshifters are now doppelgangers and vice versa.
It is important to be aware of the difference, so you don’t go walking up to a group of doppelgangers looking to be buddy-buddy. The two species would be able to tell each other apart.
If you’re looking for a monstrous shapeshifter, try bringing doppelgangers into your game instead of shapeshifters. They pack far more excitement and intrigue, maintaining the ability to fully assume the identity of someone else.