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I have a changeling character with the Racial Emulation (Races of Eberron 110) feat, whose benefit says:

When you use your minor change shape ability to assume the form of a humanoid creature, you can also emulate any of that humanoid’s subtypes. Though you do not gain any of the humanoid’s traits, you are considered to be a member of that race for all other purposes (allowing you to use magic items or spells keyed to race, for example). You can also ignore the normal penalty on Disguise checks when disguising yourself as a different race…. You can only emulate one race at a time, and you always retain the shapechanger subtype.

What effect does "emulating" a humanoid's subtypes give? The feat says you don't get "the humanoid's traits," but do you get the subtype's abilities? Are those "traits," and if so, are they "the humanoid's traits"? A few subtypes use the word "traits," but many don't: does that matter?

For example, would using minor change shape to take the form of a locathah and emulating the acquatic subtype have my character breathing water instead of air until he stopped emulating the subtype?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Well... that puts it in a different light. Most subtype descriptions don't name the listed rules 'Traits' (like aquatic), so are they traits? I know that dndsrd.net/monsterTypes.html#archon Archons and Angels have Trait listings, but most don't... \$\endgroup\$
    – Chemus
    Dec 3 '21 at 7:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, good point; for some reason I thought they did. I’ll fix my edit. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 3 '21 at 13:56
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No, I don’t think you do.

Nothing in the feat says that you get the subtype, just that you “emulate” it. What does that mean? That is not a general game term here, so Racial Emulation defines it for you—and says only that you count as that race for stuff like spells and magic items, and you don’t take Disguise penalties. That’s it. Use Magic Device uses similar language, including “emulate,” and no one is expecting UMD to allow you to do anything but use magic devices.

So whether the rules for subtypes are “traits,” or “the humanoid’s traits,” or whatever else, doesn’t matter (which is good because there is no answer to that). That line is, effectively, a red herring: it only states what the feat does not do, and implies nothing about what it does do. The only things it does are those listed explicitly in the feat.

Ultimately, Racial Emulation is best used for accessing racial feats and prestige classes. Note that feats won’t work unless you’re emulating that race at the time you want to use it, but at least RAW, prestige classes only require you to qualify in order to take your 1st level, so you can easily combine those of different races that way (check with your DM first, though, many don’t like that rule, though this seems to me a fairly non-abusive use of it).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What is implication of the 'and you always retain the shapechanger subtype' clause, if any? \$\endgroup\$
    – Chemus
    Dec 4 '21 at 17:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chemus Honestly, none: you don’t lose any subtypes, or anything else, using this feat, so it’s not clear why they felt the need to call that one out. It doesn’t hurt anything and maybe they were afraid someone would misunderstand, and they name shapechanger because it’s the one subtype all changelings have? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 4 '21 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Use Magic Device is the most prominent use of the word "emulate," including "Emulate a race." Racial Emulation just lets you meet requirements, the same way UMD does. It's basically just for qualifying for prestige classes, as far as I can tell—which might even be worth it, depending whether you're picking up, say, Dwarven Defender or Bladesinger, or if you're entering Shadowcraft Mage or Skypledged. Racial Emulation at least has a clear use case, unlike many feats. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 5 '21 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Prevarications Good point! For some reason I forgot the precise wording by the time I was writing my last paragraph, and thought it was unclear if such a usage would be allowed. But it pretty clearly falls within “all other purposes,” so I’ll amend. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 5 '21 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Prevarications reference to Use Magic Device would make a great addition to this answer, since UMD is quite close in both effect and apparent intent, and especially uses similar language, especially the emulation wording. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chemus
    Dec 6 '21 at 14:34

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