Skinwalker is a Pathfinder race. They have the Change Shape racial ability to assume a so-called bestial form 3+1/2 character level times per day. While in bestial form, they gain a +2 racial bonus to one physical attribute, as well as other bonuses and penalties which are irrelevant to my question. To quote:

Change Shape (Su, 5 RP): A skinwalker can change shape into a bestial form as a standard action. In bestial form, a skinwalker gains a +2 racial bonus to either Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution. While in this form, a skinwalker also takes on an animalistic feature that provides a special effect. Each time a skinwalker assumes bestial form, she can choose to gain one of the following features:

  • 2 claw attacks that each deal 1d4 points of damage

  • Darkvision to a range of 60 feet.

  • +1 racial bonus to natural armor.

The racial ability score bonus and additional feature last as long as the skinwalker remains in that form, and a skinwalker can remain in bestial form for as long as she wants. While in bestial form, a skinwalker takes a –4 penalty on Charisma and Charisma-based checks when interacting with humanoids that lack the shapechanger subtype.

A skinwalker can return to her humanoid form as a swift action. To change forms and gain a different benefit, a skinwalker must first return to her humanoid form then use her shapechange ability again. A skinwalker can shapechange into bestial form a number of times per day equal to 3 + 1/2 her character level.

The question is: would a skinwalker druid keep their +2 bonus to the attribute while using their Wild Shape ability to assume an animal form? To me, the answer seems obviously no, since the description outright spells out that they only keep the bonus as long as they are in their bestial form, and Wild Shape makes the druid assume a different form. However, my players are adamant that the druid should keep the racial bonus and add the attribute bonus from Wild Shape too. I honestly tried to understand their reasoning, but I couldn't. Am I missing some rules here? Can you please explain me how would this be possible?

Please do note that I'm specifically looking for a RAW answer here - I wish to understand how the rules work before houseruling anything for flavor or balance.


2 Answers 2


The rules for polymorph subschool spells in pathfinder states:

While under the effects of a polymorph spell, you lose all extraordinary and supernatural abilities that depend on your original form (such as keen senses, scent, and darkvision), as well as any natural attacks and movement types possessed by your original form. You also lose any class features that depend upon form, but those that allow you to add features (such as sorcerers that can grow claws) still function. While most of these should be obvious, the GM is the final arbiter of what abilities depend on form and are lost when a new form is assumed. Your new form might restore a number of these abilities if they are possessed by the new form.

So the answer to your question is a resounding no. Using Beast Shape to transform would remove any buffs that you get from Change Shape(Su), However the GM is the final decisionmaker as far as allowing any abilities to persist in Wild Shape are concerned.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is true if the Skinwalker's Change Shape is a polymorph effect. It's not altogether clear if it is; see my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – pi4t
    Aug 12, 2021 at 12:20

As Sandwich has explained, polymorph effects don't stack - so if the change shape ability is a polymorph effect then the answer is no.

However, the Skinwalker's ability doesn't actually say it's a polymorph effect at all. Normally, this kind of ability seems to function as such-and-such a polymorph spell. For example, the Kitsune's ability to turn into a human explicitly functions like Alter Self (despite the fact that it doesn't give any of the benefits Alter Self normally offers).

But the Skinwalker doesn't have language like that. He can just change his shape; no mention of polymorph anywhere. And his racial ability scores change when he does so. Mechanically speaking, the Skinwalker shape change seems to function more like a reincarnate spell which can't bring you back from the dead than like a polymorph spell.

There is one argument I've seen for the Skinwalker ability being a polymorph. It happens to share a name (Change Shape) with a universal monster ability, and that universal monster ability is explicitly a polymorph. This seems like a dubious argument to me since a monster Change Shape normally works differently to the Skinwalker's ability, but YMMV.

So: If you decide that the Skinwalker's ability is actually a special case of the Change Shape monster ability, then no, it won't stack with wild shape. If you decide it's a separate ability with the same name, then it will stack.

Do note, though, that you may lose the ability to change into or out of bestial form while wild shaped, since it's a supernatural ability. Similarly, you'll lose your claws and darkvision if you wild shape with them out, so I suggest picking the natural armour bonus instead.

  • \$\begingroup\$ -1. Change Shape explicitly mentions you need to retain that form to keep it's benefits. Polymorph rules explicitly say you change your form. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Aug 12, 2021 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Change Shape (the Skinwalker ability) says you retain the abilities "until [you] return to humanoid form as a swift action". Turning into an animal using wild shape wouldn't qualify for that. The word "retain" doesn't appear anywhere on the Skinwalker page except once in unrelated fluff text, so I really don't know what you're referring to. \$\endgroup\$
    – pi4t
    Aug 13, 2021 at 1:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ The quote in the question states "While in bestial form" or similar verbiage for everything it grants. So if you leave that form, you discard the benefits. The word "retain" was me rewording it to fit sentence structure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Aug 13, 2021 at 8:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ But do you count as leaving bestial form if you wild shape? There's nothing in the RAW to say you do, as far as I can see - you explicitly retain the benefits of bestial form until you return to human form. This question was specifically about the RAW. \$\endgroup\$
    – pi4t
    Aug 14, 2021 at 9:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ The RAW is clear that you're always in human form or bestial form. Even if you've wild shaped yourself. Despite how silly that sounds. The only question is which one you're in, and there's nothing to indicate you go back to "human" and lose your bestial form when you turn into a beast unless change shape is a polymorph effect. \$\endgroup\$
    – pi4t
    Aug 14, 2021 at 9:27

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