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Shapeshifters

The boundary between human and animal is often blurry, especially in the land of Nor’, where forests, swamps and rivers always threaten to encroach on the fastnesses of settled life. In places where animals compete with people for living space, they are greatly respected and emulated, even by the old gods, who themselves take on animal shapes and impart their powers to animals whom they patronize.   Given the desirability of animal characteristics, there are a number of ways to change one’s skin and assume the guise of an animal. Some shapeshifters are simply powerful sorcerers, witches, and volkhvy, who transform into animals in pursuit of knowledge and other mysterious goals. Others become shapeshifters as a result of being bitten by one, cursed by a spellcaster, consuming the flesh of a predatory animal or shapeshifter, or even being born on the eve of the Feast of the Nativity.   In certain cases, however, shapeshifting becomes congenital. Progeny born to shapeshifters who have chosen (or been forced) to live part of their life in human form are only able to take human form, and remain in this form until adolescence, when they gradually begin to acquire more and more animalistic characteristics. Shapechangers in human form are largely indistinguishable from normal humans, but they always possess some physical feature that associates them with the creature of their type – an overly hairy face, bulging eyes, bright red hair, and aquiline nose, etc. (the particular feature may be chosen by the character’s player). In hybrid form, shapeshifters are able to assume the shape of a bipedal humanoid with an animal head, tail, and partially animalistic limbs and torso. As they reach full maturity, shapeshifters are able to adopt a fully animal form, and may transition between each form a limited number of times per day.   Usually, around this time, shapeshifters decide whether to remain among humans, or to seek out their own kind. If they choose the latter, they age normally as humans, but those who choose to live apart from people stop aging as long as they live in the wild. The choice between the benefits of civilization and immortality is frequently a difficult one to make.   Because shapeshifters are typically unable to raise human children, they place them under the care of peasant families, monasteries, boyar households, or distant outposts, hoping that their children rejoin them when they develop the full extent of their powers. Shapeshifters growing up among people are not common, but neither are they entirely unusual, and as a result, there are particular characteristics that are shared by, and associated with, shapeshifters of particular types. Though some shapeshifters are distrusted, others are nearly fully accepted in human society, and in certain cases, even lionized.   Different shapeshifters are even more distinct from one another than the nechist'-descended changelings, who at least recognize some sort of kindred relation to one another.   Companions Anatoly Frolyn, Lokan, and Alden Gravenitch are all shapeshifters.


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