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I'm struggling to understand the rules for shapeshifting as presented in Werewolf: The Forsaken 2nd edition on page 96. One of the things that get me confused is the distinction between what rules applies "When the character is stressed — during combat, a chase, or when she feels threatened" and what rules applies when the character is in non of the above situations.

The ideal answer is split in two parts. What happens when stressed and what happens when relaxed. It should cover the following points:

An Uratha with high Harmony struggles with the change. To say it’s painful is an understatement on the level of saying that the universe is large.

Is this in any way reflected in the system, or is it just flavor text? Is there any roll or mechanism for changing shape or does it just happen as you want when relaxed?

When the character is stressed — during combat, a chase, or when she feels threatened — she shifts one form towards an appropriate form each turn. The stress means she cannot resist

Should this be interpreted as there is absolutely nothing the player can do to prevent the shift, or is this affected by the bullet points further down in the chapter? Does this mean that if your in human form and gets threatened, and if you decide the best course of action is to run away then you are forced through dalu-> garu with death rage roll -> urshul -> urhan over 4 rounds?

Clarification of the bullet points at the end of the shapeshifting section. Some of them make sense to interpret as valid when relaxed while other seems more reasonable to interpret as only valid during stressed situations.

At Harmony 9-10, spend 1 Essence as an instant action to change form.

This makes sense to interpret as a relaxed Uratha has to pay 1 essence and spend a round to change form. But it leaves me wondering what happens in a stressed situation.

At Harmony 0-1, spend 1 Essence as an instant action to avoid changing form.

This, to me, only make sense in a stressed situation. You need to both spend essence and your action to avoid changing form. In relaxed situation this does not make sense

Summary: What I'm asking about is a clarification of the rules for shapeshifting divided into how does it work when relaxed and how does it work when stressed.

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A summary of shapeshifting.

  1. An Uratha is a natural shapeshifter, with the power to shift from form to form to handle different circumstances. Urshul, the "wolf form," is best for distance running and escape. Gauru, the war form, is designed for battle. Hishu, the form we best associate with "human," is good for communication, research, and working with people. No roll is required to change forms.

  2. An Uratha's Harmony rating determines his or her relationship with the act of changing shape. A Harmony rating of 5, at the center, indicates a werewolf in balance with shapeshifting. Higher than that, and the werewolf is more "inflexible" and prone to stay in one shape; changing form for those werewolves takes longer and is more costly. As Harmony drops below 5, the Uratha is more protean and less fixed in shape. For them, changing is easy; they find it hard not to change. Those with the lowest Harmony will change from scene to scene unless they take effort to stop themselves.

    • At Very High Harmony, changing from one form to another costs 1 essence and takes an instant action.
    • At High Harmony, changing your form costs nothing, and takes an instant action. If you want to change reflexively, that adds a cost of 1 essence.
    • At Balanced Harmony, changing shape is done reflexively and costs nothing.
    • At Low Harmony, you change your form at least once in every scene unless you take an instant action to settle yourself. If you spend 1 essence, you can preempt the shape change entirely as a reflexive action — you don't even start to change.
    • At Very Low Harmony, you change shape every scene unless you take an instant action and spend an essence to prevent it.
  3. In most circumstances, you can change or not change as your character's nature and personality dictates. (Note that a character's Harmony will inform their nature and personality.) In situations of great stress — combat or other action, as examples — your character's change is not under their control, or yours. The Uratha's form begins to shift, becoming something more appropriate for the situation. This unnatural transformation is intentionally disturbing, and promotes the horror of the setting. If you don't wish to engage with this aspect, it's best to keep your Harmony in the middle, so you can change back as you want.


Most of what you're seeing is the interaction of two things.

  1. Uratha with high Harmony find it most comfortable to stay in one form. They like it, and find shapeshifting hard, painful, or challenging. Uratha with low Harmony like to change shape a lot, and find it uncomfortable, hard or challenging to stay in one form for too long. Uratha with Harmony in the middle are okay with either.
  2. When you are calm or relaxed, you can do what you like to do. When you are stressed, you are forced into the form that's best suited to deal with that stress, and must pay the appropriate costs to get there.

Now, let's address your questions:

An Uratha with high Harmony struggles with the change. To say it’s painful is an understatement on the level of saying that the universe is large.

Is this in any way reflected in the system, or is it just flavor text? Is there any roll or mechanism for changing shape or does it just happen as you want when relaxed?

The difficulty high Harmony Uratha face in shapeshifting is reflected in the costs they pay to change shape, in either Essence or time. It also emphasizes that a High Harmony Uratha doesn't want to change shape — it's not pleasant for them — so they'll basically only do so when stressed. (Kind of a white room problem.)

When the character is stressed — during combat, a chase, or when she feels threatened — she shifts one form towards an appropriate form each turn. The stress means she cannot resist.

Should this be interpreted as there is absolutely nothing the player can do to prevent the shift?

Yes, that's what it means. Under stress, a Uratha changes shape to best suit the problem at hand.

Does this mean that if you're in human form…

Hishu. You don't have a human form, because you're not a human. You're a thing that can take on a human shape.

…and get threatened, and if you decide the best course of action is to run away then you are forced through dalu-> gauru with death rage roll -> urshul -> urhan over 4 rounds?

I'd say you have to be credibly threatened, but yes. (Although you don't do the death rage roll just for passing through Gauru on your way to something else. That's only if you want to stay there for longer than a few turns. [p97])

At Harmony 9-10, spend 1 Essence as an instant action to change form.

This makes sense to interpret as a relaxed Uratha has to pay 1 essence and spend a round to change form. But it leaves me wondering what happens in a stressed situation.

A Very-High-Harmony Uratha spends an instant action and an Essence to change to another form under stress. A Very-High-Harmony Uratha doesn't change forms when relaxed — they hate to do it.

At Harmony 0-1, spend 1 Essence as an instant action to avoid changing form. This, to me, only make sense in a stressed situation. You need to both spend essence and your action to avoid changing form. In relaxed situation this does not make sense

From page 96:

The spirit-attuned Uratha feels discomfort any time she spends more than a few hours in one form, and every chance she has to shed a long-held form is like a foot rub after a marathon, or a hot bath after a prize fight. She must change shape at least once every scene. She can spend Essence to avoid this shift, as long as she isn’t stressed.

So, a Very-Low-Harmony Uratha must spend Essence to not shift forms. Staying in one form is uncomfortable, and they don't want to do it. However, in a situation where you need to stay in one form — say, being arrested by the cops or undergoing a job interview, where being in something other than Hishu is unthinkable, they can spend Essence to maintain shape.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm struggling a bit with the answer. Would you be willing to change it so that instead of addressing the point point by point you instead tried to explain the entire set of shapeshifting rules in your own words? \$\endgroup\$ – Marius Sep 27 '18 at 17:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Marius I'm open to that, but can you tell me where the areas are that you're struggling? \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Sep 27 '18 at 17:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ The confusion for me comes from the rules covering harmony levels jumbled up with stressed / unstressed scenes. Almost like 5 sections, one for each harmony group would be the best, if each of them covered. What happens and what your options are for each of the group. I'll try an example that might not rulewise be right: Harmony 0-1: When unstressed you MUST change at least once every scene. You can avoid this by spending one action and paying one essence. This can be done at any time during the scene. When stressed you change one level towards ideal form, you can not stop it \$\endgroup\$ – Marius Sep 27 '18 at 17:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Marius Okay. I'll work on it. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Sep 27 '18 at 17:55
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First of: This part in the book is not very well written and flush with potential for misunderstandings, so I understand and relate with the question giver.

As I understand low harmony:

No stress situations:

You have to spend essence each scene to avoid shifting.

This makes it very hard for a low harmony Uratha to function in normal human society over a long period like haveing a normal job. Imagine haveing several scenes at work when you have to spend essence each time to avoid causeing lunacy. (Boss comes over to give you a new assignment, lunch with co-workers + more)

"She must change shape at least once every scene. She can spend Essence to avoid this shift, as long as she isn’t stressed."

Stress situations:

First of you have to define stress: The books gives three examples: "during combat, a chase, or when she feels threatened" There are however so many other places you might also feel stressed. Being pulled over by a cop when you have a dead claimed corpse in your trunk would probably be stressfull too. Maybe even just meeting your ex boy-/girlfriend that dumped your horribly a few months ago...

My opinion: Being arrested by the cops or undergoing a job interview could constitute being stressed and would then force you to change shape.

Basically: Playing an Uratha with Low Harmony without causing lunacy to those around you is very difficult if you interact regularly with normal human society. Either you will run out of essence and change after enough mundane scenes, or you shift form when you feel stressed for a myriad of different reasons.

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