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If a changeling in D&D 5e shapechanges into a merfolk, would it get the abilities of the race, for example, the ability to breathe underwater? I have been wondering about this for ages, and haven't gotten a straight answer, because the race profile for the changeling doesn't talk about this sort of thing.

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None of your game statistics change.

The changelings Shapechanger feature says:

You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your game statistics change.

This means if you can’t breathe underwater, you can’t breathe underwater when you use Shapechanger.

Game statistics here refers to everything mechanical about your character. That is, all of your racial traits, class features, ability scores, everything. We see this explained for NPCs in the Monster Manual:

A monster’s statistics, sometimes referred to as its stat block, provide the essential information that you need to run the monster.

But this applies to PCs as well - your statistics are everything that make you, well, you, within the calculus of the game rules. In the Player’s Handbook, we have reference to game statistics in the step by step character creation section:

Your character is a combination of game statistics, roleplaying hooks, and your imagination.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenScott It may be worth noting that changelings have never gotten abilities from their innate shapechanger ability. The original write-up (for the “v.3.5 revised edition,” i.e. incompatible with modern rules) based the ability on disguise self, a 1st-level illusion spell, and not alter self, a 1st-level transmutation, to emphasize how it was appearance-only. They found it clearer to say “like disguise self except your appearance actually changes rather than being an illusion,” than to say “like alter self except you don’t gain any abilities or stats from it.” \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 15, 2021 at 12:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ In 4E there was a feat Becomer that allowed changelings to pick up minor racial features - skill proficiency and language - from a specific "favoured" target race. It would probably work translated to 5E as a homebrew. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 15, 2021 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ eh. i found a homebrew that does what i want it. now to see if my dm will let me use it... \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Scott
    Dec 16, 2021 at 6:08

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