Five Moons RPG: Retraining… and Reshaping

One problem I mentioned in an earlier blog is how the ability to swap spells every day means a wizard can (in effect) rebuild himself from day to day to better handle the threats expected that day, whereas a martial character’s combat feats are “locked in” (barring the fighter ability to swap a few of them over the course of 20 levels) which makes those classes increasingly specialized and unable to adapt to new challenges. And, as I stated in that blog, martial characters will be able to learn new fighting styles as easily as casters learn new spells.

(Update September 23, 2014: If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!)


The retraining rules in Pathfinder’s Ultimate Campaign (which is a part of the book I developed) allow characters to swap feats, skill ranks, archetypes, class levels, ability score increases from leveling, and so on. Because in a world where dragons fly, wizards teleport, and warriors routinely survive hundred-foot falls, it’s not a big deal for a character to unlearn one ability and learn a different one in its place.

Players are used to video games where they can retrain (or “re-spec”) their characters to a different configuration. For example, if you’ve played Borderlands, you can customize the soldier character so his futuristic turret weapon deals more damage, or provides more shields, or heals nearby characters… and if you’re in town you can stop at the New-U station (a high-tech medical device/transporter/DNA scanner) if you want to reset your points and build your soldier character an entirely different way. World of Warcraft lets you visit a class trainer and reset your talent points, allowing you to “re-spec” a healer paladin to a tank paladin, a fire mage to a frost mage, and so on.

The videogames do this because if you’ve been playing a character for a while, you become invested in that character–you’ve put in some time exploring who that character is, established relationships with the other PCs, and acquired some useful gear. But if there’s some aspect of that character you don’t like, it sucks to have to start over with a new level 1 character. Retraining/re-speccing lets you alter your existing character into something a little more to your liking. It also lets you undo a bad mechanical choice (like taking a feat that you no longer feel is useful).

The Ultimate Campaign retraining rules let you retrain stuff you’ve learned (skills, feats, class levels). They even get their feet wet by allowing you to retrain a bit of what you arelike the physical or mental change from an ability score increase, or a racial trait (like the dwarven racial traits “magic resistant” and “stubborn” from the Advanced Race Guide that you can select in place of the “hardy” standard dwarven racial trait).

But why stop there?

Why not allow characters to retrain their actual ability scores? There’s already a point-buy system in the game that lets you know what each ability score is worth. Say you have a rogue with Str 13 and Wis 11, and he really wants a better Wis so he can multiclass into cleric; you could reduce Str from 13 to 12 to regain 1 point and spend that point increasing the Wis 11 to Wis 12. Would that be a bad thing? No. It might have some other repercussions to the character (frex, if you reduced your Int, you’d have to reduce your skill ranks), but you can manage that. Or if the rogue was originally built with a high Str and one heavy weapon, but the player would like to see what it’s like playing a high Dexterity character who fights with two smaller weapons. The player still gets to keep playing that same character (the same person, in-game), the GM doesn’t have to invent a new backstory reason for a newly-introduced character to join the campaign, and so on.

But why stop there?

The retraining rules already allow you to change a character’s physical and mental changes (in the form of ability score increases) and aspects of your race. Why not allow you to actually change your character’s race? If Lucy’s character is a half-elf but really wants to become an elf, why not let her actually change race to elf? Maybe she undergoes a magical ritual to “purge” her humanity and become a full elf. Or maybe Brian’s half-drow is tired of dealing with all the prejudice and searches for a sacred pool that will fully transform him into a human? That’s a cool character-development incentive for the character, right?

After all, the game already introduces race-changing as a punishment, temporarily transforming into another race, and permanently turning someone into a newt, so why not actually allow players to permanently change their race without having to resort to dying or high-level magic? Sure, some characters will try to abuse it to make a more powerful character… but they wouldn’t be any more powerful than a character who was naturally born of that race. And it might take some work to reconfigure the character (losing racial abilities unique to the old race, rearranging stat modifiers and racial favored class bonuses, and so on, deciding whether or not an ability is “learned” or “inborn”), but if the player wants to do that leg work, let them. After all, World of Warcraft lets players change a character’s race, whether you’re going from human to dwarf, gnome to elf, or elf to orc (although it costs real dollars for these changes, so it’s not something you’d do casually).

And if you can change a character’s race, there are plenty of other things you can change about the character that are less radical than that. After all, if it’s a “real” race change, then a human who becomes an elf is 100% elf, and any kids they have with another elf are 100% elf (not half-elf), which means the race-change is altering the creature on a genetic level (or the fantasy equivalent) as well as a cosmetic and magical level. You can change the character’s eye color. Hair color (not just the existing hair, but the new hair that grows out). Skin color. Physical features (taller/shorter, bigger/smaller nose, fatter/thinner, raise/lower cheekbones, and so on… petty stuff compared to turning an elf into a dwarf). Gender. Voice. Birth defects. Handedness. And so on.

Because it’s a fantasy game. Just because it’s not possible on Earth doesn’t mean it’s impossible on a world that isn’t Earth.


In Five Moons RPG, there are people called “shapers” who have the ability to reshape bodies and minds. It is their power that makes retraining faster and easier, and that allows more radical changes in a person’s physiology that simple training can’t account for (like changing race). So if you’re a strong character and you instead want to become an agile character, you go to a shaper and they’ll adjust your DNA (or its fantasy equivalent) so it stops pushing strength so much and instead starts pushing agility, with the net effect of your Strength going down and your Dexterity going up. If you want to be shorter because you work in a mine and are tired of stooping, see a shaper. If you love elven culture so much that you reject your human family and want to join an elven village, see a shaper. If you want to be able to grow a beard, see a shaper. If you have a fear of heights or frequent seizures, see a shaper.

Of course, this brings up the question of “if a shaper can make me into any race I want, what does it really mean to be ‘human’ instead of ‘elf’ or ‘orc’?” And therefore, “if it’s so easy to transform me from a human into an orc, is it morally justifiable to slaughter orcs just because they’re orcs?”

Obviously, the power to shape flesh naturally lends itself to healing injuries, and shapers often support themselves as healers. And not all shaping is necessary (just as extreme body piercings on Earth aren’t necessary, but some people pursue them), so some people might visit a shaper to have their fingers elongated, recolor skin like a tattoo, or modify other features to match–or challenge–local beauty standards. And not all shaping is positive–a macabre shaper might give his minions beastlike features (like a vampire with the vicissitude discipline) or use it to perform vivisection without tools.

And yes, PCs can learn how to become a shaper, just as they are able to learn new abilities like Fireball or Power Attack.

Shapers play an important role in the setting associated with Five Moons RPG (called the World of Five Moons), and they can be useful in a campaign even if you’re playing in a different setting.


To sum up: Five Moons RPG allows you to retrain most of your character options (but not necessarily quickly or easily), including your ability modifiers, race, and physical configuration. This is facilitated by exceptional individuals called shapers who have the ability to alter bodies and minds like sculptors do clay.


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Five Moons RPG cover

17 thoughts on “Five Moons RPG: Retraining… and Reshaping

  1. This sounds like a really interesting concept which could lend itself to some great settings and scenarios. If a human can become a full-blooded elf, for instance, what does that mean for naturally-born elves? Would they be welcoming of their new kin, or hostile? Would new-elves be treated as second-class citizens in an elven society, perhaps partitioned off into the less-nice sections of society? Would they be sceptical of their intentions? Treated in much the same way as ‘old money’ treats ‘new money’?

    Imagine a guild of assassin’s that use shapers to change their member’s appearance to better infiltrate their mark’s ranks, and then change back?
    Or a horde of orcs that discovered the power in their tribe and now ransack villages, kidnap villagers and transform them into newly-orcish recruits?

    There are a lot of possibilities that a talented GM (or talented PCs) could take advantage of. I cannot wait to learn more about it.

  2. How long does it take to change certain parts of yourself? What’s the standard fee? Are there societal repercussions? (“Bob the Dwarf who used to be an Orc” or “Bill the Elf Poseur”).

    Why not just role up a new character and slap the old name on it?

    • {Why not just role up a new character and slap the old name on it?}

      Why force a player go through all that work when you can just let them change the parts of the character they want to change?

      • It depends. Are you talking about a 1st-level character? Then sure, it’s exactly the same, just swap out Jeffrey the Stabber for Keffrey the Stabber.
        But a character above 1st level? In a party that’s been adventuring with Jeffrey for weeks or months? Assuming you have a permissive GM who lets your new character acquire exactly the same gear as the old character did, then yes, mathematically your character is exactly the same. But in terms of the story, you now have Jeffrey 2.0 who acts just like the original Jeffrey, and shows up in the party the same day that Jeffrey 1.0 leaves, and apparently the other PCs and everyone else in the world is supposed to treat Jeffrey 2.0 as if he were actually Jeffrey 1.0.

        Or you could just let the actual Jeffrey–a character in a magical world–change his race, height, or whatever, and do so as easily as you or I could get a tattoo or get cosmetic surgery.

  3. This is one of the changes I’m not sure i’d be 100% on board with. It is an interesting concept and I enjoyed your post the other day about martial training vs. The flexibility of spell casters. I could be in for ability score training to a limited degree but I don’t think I like the idea of changing races.

    • Let me remind you that the game already lets you do this: die, get reincarnated, roll on the race chart. It’s a bunch of hoops you make characters jump through… for the sole purpose of making it hard for them to play the character they want to play.

  4. Quite unexpected!

    Shapers feel like something a GM could regulate, too. Maybe in the GM’s campaign, shapers can only make minor cosmetic changes and radical transformations are always temporary and can be dispelled. Or perhaps a complete race change does not change the person spiritually. And how shapers magic works could be fun to work out. Perhaps every mortal has a metaphysical quality to their soul called a “strand of existence” that details the structure and appearance of their mortal coil. I would imagine shapers would have different capabilities or specialties in what they reshape. The radical changes might cost more money. Perhaps some shapers will do their work in exchange for a debt to be paid, perhaps with a ritual or curse that undoes the transformation or triggers a horrific one. I’d imagine such unsavory shapers would almost be like loan sharks, the worst of them making the transformation process addictively pleasing so their patients always come back and become perpetually in debt.

    Though, I always wanted to play a character of one race with a long term goal of somehow changing to another race. I’m surprised with all the fun and interesting races in fantasy settings that I haven’t seen many stories about characters feeling like they’re an elf in a human’s body or something to that effect. It’s one major reason I liked dragonborn in the original 3.5e book Races of the Dragon, a race of humanoids that mutated themselves into dragon form as tribute to their deity. That says a lot about a race than simply being the offspring of mutant dragon eggs…

    Sorry to dump all of that out. This has captured my imagination! Many of the people in my group love transfiguration in fantasy stories. The alchemist in my campaign wants to open a shop that sells cosmetic remedies. Shapers being a PC class or other option will be something much to their delight.

  5. You should perhaps think of applying the same logic to items in the game as well. Yes, we found the +5 glaive-guisarme of awesome everythingness, and your system would let Broadsword Bob retrain himself to Glaive-Guisarme Greg, but could you not also have a shaper turn the glaive-guisarme into a broadsword? Or a magical cloak into a magical ring, or what have you? Just something to think about.

    Also, renaming and cloning characters made me think of the classic Simpsons scene where Lisa renames Snowball V “Snowball II,” in her words, “to save money on a new dish.” She also vows to pretend the whole thing never happened (i.e., two adopted cats dying in quick succession). Principal Skinner, who happens to be walking by and overhears Lisa talking to the cat, asks “Isn’t that a cheat?”, to which Lisa replies “I guess it is, Principal Tamzarian” (referring to when he admitted he was not the real Seymour Skinner, while knowing that the citizen’s of Springfield should never speak of that again). Skinner says, “I’m just gonna keep on walkin’.” :)

  6. I love some of this but I’m also very hesitant to some things. In fact a friend of mine that is considering removing the backing just because of this.
    Retraining feats, skills and spells isn’t much of a problem. Stats, classes and race are another thing. I can see how this could be a problem in the hand of a player that want to abuse the system.

    What I dislike is the thought of someone being able to swap race or stats in an hour. I feel some players really could abuse this. I wouldn’t mind retraining stats and classes if it’s done over a long time, but race should be even harder. It should take time and there should always be a risk that a shifter says no.

    I like Garrick’s ideas. The GM should be able to regulate this, but I also think that changing race or stats shouldn’t be like spend an hour workout at the gym and get a totally new body immediately.

    Still, I like most of it :)

    • Well, I said the process takes “at least” an hour. :) And as far as a shaper saying no, they’re not mindless robots who do whatever the PCs want. :) And it’s fully valid for a busy shaper to say, “I don’t do those sorts of changes” or even “I’m too booked up healing sick people to set aside time to make that change for you.” Much as a surgeon might refuse to give a person elf ears, even though they’re perfectly capable of doing so.

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