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When I was but a tween, addicted to the original Neverwinter Nights on our crappy family computer that could hardly run it, I refused to play anything but the Shifter prestige class. The idea of shapeshifting into different creatures to face my enemies was too exciting to even consider abandoning. Now that I’m much older and only very slightly less single-minded (sadly my computer can run Deadfire only slightly better than the old junker could run NWN), I’ve imported my love of shapeshifting to this game, resolving from the beginning to make the most of the Shifter Druid subclass. At this time, I believe I have some insights that are worth sharing for others who may be interested in this subclass. This post will be a bit long and unusual, because I will provide a brief analysis of the strengths of Shifters in general as well as my favourite class build to illustrate my points (it’s a Tempest build, so Barbarian fans, stick around). I hope that the post encourages others to give the Shifter subclass a shot, whether in the form of my Tempest build or otherwise. Let’s jump in. First Principles The biggest pitfall one may succumb to when planning a Shifter build is to think of the Shifter as an entirely martial subclass. Spiritshift has the benefit of two strong single-handed weapons in combination with armour as strong as superb Heavy Armor (when fully scaled) without any recovery penalty, and with no vulnerabilities (i.e. the armour has the same rating for all damage types unlike regular armours, which have weaknesses). This is a solid foundation to build on, but it is not equivalent to the martial benefits of an entire martial subclass like Fighter or Rogue. Shifters are still Druids, and Druids are spellcasters. Now let’s take a step back and ask what makes Druids special. What is their niche? I would provide two answers to this: healing and versatility. If there is one single thing a Druid can do better than any other class, it’s keeping a team healed. But that’s far from the whole story. Druids can also do significant damage, valuable crowd control, have some good summons, and a few very useful party buffs. And, of course, they have bursts of martial power from Spiritshift. No other class packs such diverse value in a single team slot, even though other classes will be better at most specific aspects. Druid subclasses leverage this versatility by offering specialization in one of the dimensions of the Druid kit, usually compromising another. This might lead one to think that a Druid subclass should be built to focus on that one specialist dimension and no other, but this is simply the general form of the pitfall that I mentioned at the beginning of this section. Versatility remains a core strength of the Druid class in each of its subclasses. The subclasses emphasize a dimension of the class – they do not invalidate all others. Your Lifegiver can still drop strong damage spells. Your Fury can still summon and do plant/beast DPS. Forgoing such versatility will always just make your Druid worse than they could be. This class is not supposed to just do one thing. Our first principle of building a Shifter follows easily: spellcasting must be respected as a core part of the character. Shifters are Druids, not furry warriors. And because Shifters lose their spellcasting when they shift, each battle must be divided between casting and martial phases if we want to benefit from all the character’s strengths. These are the parameters within which we will be thinking in what follows. Single Class vs. Multiclass I admit that I’ve never played a SC Shifter (I’ve had 3 Shifter playthroughs; a man only has so much time) but theorycrafting it is pretty straightforward. It would be decent. The main Shifter-specific benefits from SC would be Avenging Storm and Wildstrike Frenzy. Shifters will have good melee attack speed (especially cat form) and relatively low deflection, so AS is liable to put in some decent work (though nothing at the level of what can be metagamed with hand mortars, blunderbusses, Frostseeker, etc.). The Wildstrike Frenzy passives ought to be the #1 draw, but they are unfortunately lacklustre. Their effects only proc on kill with a shifted animal-weapon attack, not on spell kills (thanks to Boeroer for testing this). As we established in our first principle, good Shifter will be doing a lot of damage with spells, and Shifters will emphasize spells that do continuous damage while they are transformed. This means Wildstrike Frenzy will do nothing when the final blow comes from Avenging Storm, Nature’s Terror, Plague of Insects, Relentless Storm, or several other DPS spells you may have cast. Now, ‘on kill’ is an inherently weak trigger condition: the goal of combat is to kill enemies, therefore on-kill effects reward you for having already been successful and can’t help when you are struggling to get kills. On kill effects can still be very good for momentum (see the build below), but they need to be reliable with a trigger with such an inherent drawback. SC Shifters will be doing most of their damage from spells since they lack martial passives to help with melee, get higher level spells, and benefit from high power level (shifting doesn’t benefit from PL). That Frenzy doesn’t work with spell kills is therefore a major disappointment. A great thing about SC Shifter is that Shifters don’t lose access to any Druid spells (before they shift), meaning that you can enjoy the complete Druid spell list with the added benefit of sustained martial abilities. I would recommend SC Shifter to a player who primarily wants to play a caster but likes the idea of having a respectable melee presence without much fuss (i.e. no relying on buff chains or specific gear). Multiclassing is where we can get a bit more creative in drawing out a Shifter’s strengths, most obviously by giving our Shifter access to martial passives that will help their melee power. But if there is one thing you take from this post, let it be this: try to pick a second class that synergizes with the Shifter’s spellcasting as well as its melee ability. You’re going to be spending a significant amount of time casting spells and relying on spell damage so, ideally, you don’t want your second class to be irrelevant to that dynamic. A shifter has two major dimensions, two combat “phases” – you want to build for both. The class build below demonstrates what this looks like. Beast Tempest Shifter/Fury Shaper Dive into your enemies’ midst and thrash them to pieces with spells, claws, and teeth. Game version: 5.0 Difficulty: POTD (upscaled) Solo: Untested Overview: Perhaps most importantly from a synergistic point of view, Barbarians are most effective in melee when going after groups of weakened enemies. That’s because they get damage spikes against low-health enemies and massive action speed benefits on kill (see writeup on Blood Thirst below). This means that their damage per second increases significantly when they can crush multiple low-health enemies, back-to-back. Accordingly, compared to other possible martial multiclasses, you get significantly more value out of your Druid spell damage-over-time effects that you will have casted earlier in the fight. Making every enemy weaker before you start your melee phase therefore has a direct and noticeable effect on Barbarian power. This alleviates the inherent martial-caster action time tension whereby spell damage and melee damage compete with each other since time spent doing one is time not spent doing the other. With a Tempest, time spent casting damage feeds into your melee power directly. Note well that, unlike Wildstrike Frenzy, Barbarian on-kill buffs (Bloodlust and Blood Thirst) do indeed trigger on spell kills, so no need to worry about what gets the final blow (except for when a spell steals your Barbaric Smash kill and you lose resources), and you’ll find that when you have multiple spells going on against a large group of enemies, these buffs will pop up regularly when you didn’t even notice you got a kill. Finally, the action speed and Might benefits from Frenzy obviously help in your spellcasting phase. Furthermore, Barbarians have some tension in their design: with very low deflection, very high health, an armour passive, and more, they are meant to take hits. This screams, “get the highest armour value possible!” They also have multiple ways to increase action speed, so you want to build them them to swing fast. Unfortunately, heavy armour comes with a hefty recovery speed penalty, so if you try to maximize your armour, you action speed bonuses get eaten up compensating for it. You’ll recall, though, that Spiritshift armour has a high rating and no action speed penalty whatsoever. Therefore, while shifted you will fully leverage a Barbarian’s tankiness and action speed perhaps unlike any other context in the game. You can see that though Barbarian is traditionally a “martial” subclass, it benefits from the characteristically Druid form of spell casting (damage over time across a wide area) and it powers up spell casting as well. Add this to Spiritshift’s inherent speed and armour benefits and you’ve got yourself a beautiful set of synergies. I chose Fury Shaper because access to Fear Ward is worth the Will penalty, especially on a caster Barbarian because you can leverage Captain’s Banquet, which gives you immunity to most of the most dangerous stuff that targets Will. No subclass would work fine too, as the wards aren’t essential to the build. Mage Slayer is out because you’ll resist your own Druid stuff, and I find Corpse-Eaters looks pretty bad, but do your thing if you really want to be a man-eating werewolf. Berserker could do a lot of damage but Confused is particularly bad for a Druid with their dependence on Intellect and powerful foe-only AOEs, so you’ll have to constantly make sure you’re managing that. Also, this build uses high Might, which increases Berserker self-damage, making you significantly squishier. Attributes: I’m not going to give numbers because they depend on whether there are Berath’s Blessings, the player’s comfort with stat dumping, role-playing, and so on. Instead, I’ll give priorities. MGT: High DEX: Medium CON: Medium PER: High INT: High RES: Low Druids rely on a lot of damage and healing over time, so MGT is better than DEX for both (DEX helps you move through your casting phase faster, but it’s not going to make your spells tick faster; this is unlike burst damage/healing or buffs where getting a spell off a little faster can significantly change the flow of the fight). In addition, you’re getting a lot of action speed buffs as a Barb, so it’s better to give more weight to each swing than try to be the Flash. PER is a priority for anything that needs to hit enemies, and Barbarians have some nice on-crit benefits. INT is critical for all your many AOE radii and (de)buff durations (including Spiritshift). You want as much of this as possible. DEX and CON are good but should only be invested into when the priority three are maxed out. Having some RES can be nice so hostile effects don’t keep you down, and you don’t get crit against deflection to a ridiculous degree (crits give bonus penetration, potentially bypassing your high AR), but if you want to dump a stat this should be it (as per usual). Skills: I like a split between Athletics and Stealth. Athletics for some heals and Stealth so you can more reliably get a cast off while sneaking for the reduced recovery. Not super important. For non-active skills pick what you want. Abilities: I’m going to give brief writeups on key abilities so the reader can get a good sense of how this plays. The “no brainer” passives are Combat Focus, Blooded, Two Weapon Style, Wildstrike and upgrade, Thick Skinned, Unflinching, One Stands Alone, and Brute Force. Along with what is detailed below you will have a couple free points. Use them where you like. Frenzy: Blood or Spirit? – The Spirit line has great synergy here: spell hits cause Staggered as well as melee hits, and Might afflictions are valuable for lowering Fortitude, which synergizes with Brute Force and many strong spells. The AOE terrify can also be clutch in buying yourself casting time when surrounded. However, you may be using lots of Might Afflictions elsewhere on your team (I nearly always run Serafen spamming Dazing Shout) and find that you’re not getting much mileage out of Staggered, and would prefer the resource-saving Blood Storm over Spirit Tornado’s short terrify (especially if you’re packing Fear Ward anyway), in which case the Blood line works just fine. I personally find the Spirit line generally better because of the reliable Staggered, and Terrified lasts for about 10secs, which can save your skin and help you to cast in a pinch. I don’t think you’ll usually benefit that much from Blood Frenzy’s extra crit damage because melee targets don’t usually last long enough to experience all the DoT. Barbaric Roar: Your only command interrupt; always good to have. Especially nice as a quick-cast, foe-only, ranged attack. More valuable than the alternative upgrade – you’re not a main tank. Leap: Jump right in. Just do it, you'll be fine (usually). My playstyle usually involves tanks taking the initiative and diving at enemies to start combat, which effectively takes a lot of pressure away from the backline. This character isn't a main tank, but can and should certainly be right up in the thick of things with the tank. You want Leap to get around with no fuss and Daze enemies while you cast. You can take Wild Sprint as well as sometimes that's all you need and it's cheaper, but it's no replacement for Leap. Barbaric Smash + Bloody Slaughter: You can get some big damage numbers with these. A bunch of crit conversion, up to +100% crit damage, and increased base damage can save you a few attack resolutions (plus your animal form gives a little roar with each swing that sounds cool). Depending on the enemy, casting this around 40-30% usually reliably picks up the kill for no Rage cost, allowing you to continue your rampage. Don’t overlook the bonus penetration. Blood Thirst: better than I originally thought. Turns out not only does this cancel the recovery of your killing blow, but it also cancels the recovery of the next action you make within the buff’s duration. That means that after you kill an enemy, not only do you not have to recover, but your first attack against the next enemy doesn’t impose recovery either. I kept wondering why I seemed to be getting random Full Attacks in combat until I realized this. Remember, it triggers whenever spell damage gets a kill, too. Moonwell/Garden of Life: This character can be a primary healer. Insect Swarm/Plague of Insects/Infestation of Maggots: Core spell damage, and you get two for free! Stack these on enemies and watch them wither away. Do note that Plague does not affect Poison-immune enemies (and there are quite a few), but Swarm and Infestation do. Plague of Insects is absolute gold because apart from its good damage and stripping Concentration, the Sickened affliction increases your accuracy via Brute Force and lowers enemies’ max health (all the better for smashing). Nature’s Terror: A fantastic spell for this build. You want to be standing in the middle of enemies anyway. Having damage from this constantly wearing them away along with Carnage is great, and the Frightened affliction can block dangerous abilities and make them easier to hit (if you’re using Spirit Frenzy, it debuffs both Deflection and Fortitude). It’s friend-or-foe, so watch your step, but don’t let that make you afraid to use it. Having teammates with resolve affliction resistance can help (Wild Orlans like Serafen come with it, Fighters have a perk, etc.). This spell also seems bugged in that randomly it will sometimes do like 5 ticks of damage to a single enemy instantly. Not sure what causes it. Most important of all, the spell looks really cool (Tempest indeed). Relentless Storm: Of course. Depending on your needs for the fight you can and should cast any two of this, Plague, and Nature’s Terror. Cast all three if you get resources back. Venombloom: Must-have for any Druid, in my opinion. Does nothing against Poison-immune enemies but is devastating to anything else. And with Brute Force it will hit the lower of Deflection and Fortitude. Gear: Weapon: Spine of Thicket Green - unfortunately, your damage bonus on Beast/Plant spells will go away when you shift, but the duration and initial accuracy bonuses from power level are done deals at the time of casting. There's very little reason to use any other weapon. The crush damage and extra effectiveness against Vessels (who are often pierce immune or resistant and tend to be more vulnerable to crush damage) also means this is very occasionally worth using over shifting. Head: Helm of the White Void or Survivor’s Tusks – HotWV gives +10 to every attack roll involved in affliction-causing attacks (i.e. not just the roll for applying the affliction but also for dealing damage, etc.). For this build that means Barbaric Roar, Spirit Tornado, Plague of Insects, Nature’s Terror, Relentless Storm, and Venombloom (Fear Ward, being its own “creature” does not benefit). If you want to use this on another character, Survivor’s Tusks can give you survivability, though the Spiritshift upgrade is less valuable on this build because you will usually have Strong from Frenzy anyway. Neck: Strand of Favor – more INT and beneficial effect duration means longer shifts, etc. Armour: Garari Cuirass – any light armour can work here but I like this one because it gives you as much AR as light armour can so you can take hits before you shift. See also Miscreant’s Leather for the recovery bonus and Cabalist’s Gambeson for the extra effect durations, but remember your normal armour gets replaced when you shift. Feet: Rakhan Field Boots – always nice to dash around and get another interrupt. Footsteps of the Beast can be nice too since you tend to run around a bit. Cloak: Greater Protection Hands: Woedica’s Strangling Grasp – extra Might and AR Rings: Kuaru’s Prize + whatever you like Pet: Giftwrapper or Abraham – Abraham speeds your casting up but Giftwrapper gives you free AR when you get her. Both offer a bit of healing. Food: Captain’s Banquet – Immunity to half of the affliction types, including those which most often target your debuffed Will, is huge in itself. Extra spell damage is fantastic on top. Unfortunately, the action speed buff gets overridden by Frenzy, but with this you don’t need to cast Frenzy at the beginning of your casting phase just for the speed. Being able to wait without much drawback let’s you use Spirit Tornado when it’s most impactful. Closing comments: Embrace a Shifter’s versatility and you’ll be rewarded for it, in both power and fun. The build I’ve detailed has been my favourite to play in the game and is no slouch in power. I hope this post encourages more people to consider playing a Shifter and to play around with getting the most from the subclass. I can confirm that Ascetic builds are great, and I bet interesting things could be done with Wizard, Priest, or Paladin. Thanks for reading.
I love the Concept of a Shapeshifted focused Druid, Though, I wonder, do we really need all 5 Transformations ? What's your opinion on the Subclass ? I'd rather choose & Focused my Gameplay on One Form rather than having all five personnaly. Moreover, in my mind, going into a Shifter focused Class, I kind of don't want to rely on "Magic Spells", you know. Developp my Character more on the Passive side of the Ability Tree, where in that case, lacks for some more Passive Options to choose for. I don't really like Leveling up & being forced to choose a Magic Spell, that I don't wanna rely on because of the Nature of my Class, because there's no more Passive Options left to choose from... So here's the thing regardind the Shifter Subclass : I'd like Josh & Devs to take kind of the same approach towards this Subclass. More Options : When Shifted - A variety of Active Abilities if you're aiming at an Active "Micro-Management" Playstyle. And Options to be Passive. Natural Tankiness [skin Upgrade], Regenerating Over-Time [similar to the Fighter Recovery], DPS oriented Passives [upgraded Claws, Auto-Leap when switching target (1 meter range)], Etc. Lol I don't know, just iterating here. I know it kinda implies they'd sort of have to create custom Ability Trees for Forms but, wouldn't it be worth... Anyway, for now I guess my main concern is to be forced to choose a Magic Spell, when I don't want to. I imagine i could try to Multiclass a Shifter with a Fighter [unbroken if I wanna Tank], but I don't want the penalty of Lower Power-Level, Etc. EDIT : Even when Multiclassed, still forced to choose a Magic Spell at some point. [Hint : Any Form + Monk's "Swift Strikes" = Shred your way through Ennemies.] Dedicated Shifted Druid that can Access the highest potential of its Class, Passively or Actively. Also, I'm a Shifter, shouldn't I be able to "Toggle" ? And comeback to my Form ? It shouldn't be regarded as a Consumable thing that is lost because you used it... I'm a Shifter, I'm a Master at it.