When players create a character one of the most important decisions they make is choosing their race. Most often players look at the race that provides the best ability bonuses or most interesting racial power to compliment their class. It’s because of this min/maxing we tend to see the same race/class combos over and over again. Introducing the Metamorphosis Curse into your campaign will force players to try new races they might not otherwise choose on their own.
Let’s assume that you’ve created the perfect character. You’ve played through a few levels and you’re really getting to know this PC. He was built to kick butt and he’s doing a fantastic job so far. Everything’s clicking. What happens if his race is suddenly changed? How does this affect your character?
When looking through some old files I found notes for an adventure arc called The Metamorphosis Curse. The idea was that one or more of the PCs fall victim to this curse. The only detrimental effect is that they are transformed into a different race. That in and of itself might seem bad enough, but I took it a step further. Every time the PC leveled they would again transform into a new race and never into a race they’d been before. The idea was that over the course of the campaign (which I envisioned spanning at least five or six levels) the PCs would get to experience play as many different races.
I know that some players are reading this article and calling foul. After all if the DM forced them to change their Dwarf into a Half-elf the character would immediately loose his flavour. Suddenly you’re not playing the character you want to play. The DM has forced you to play something you’re not interested in. And that’s precisely the point of this hook.
Too many of my players are power gamers. All they play are those predictable and boring race/class combos. By introducing the Metamorphosis Curse they kept playing the same class but got to see what it was like to try different races.
Now I’m not a totally heartless jerk DM. I wasn’t going to impose this curse and then tie the PCs’ hands. As they searched for a cure they found that certain things could influence what race they became during their next transformation. The requirement for each race was different. For one it might require to the PC to kill that race’s mortal enemy. For another it might be to gain the blessing from a high priest of that race. Another still might be to defeat a member of that race in single combat.
As the campaign progressed the PC were given clues and ample opportunities to learn more about how the curse worked. They could apply this knowledge and shape their destiny while they sought the ultimate cure. Eventually they gained enough information to actively decide what race they’d become next. Sure the first few times they transformed it was totally random, but after a few changes it was more calculated.
To throw an additional quark into the mix I made sure that after the first couple of transformations none of the PCs were the same race. This way when the party learned the trick to becoming Dwarves during the next transformation, it might turn out that two of the PCs had already been transformed into Dwarves. So this knowledge was essentially useless to those PCs.
With the Character Builder and 4e D&D mechanics, introducing the Metamorphosis Curse is easier then ever. Every time the PC is transformed you just open Character Builder, change the race, print a clean copy of the character sheet and voilà, in less than 5 minutes you’re good to keep playing.
So think about how the Metamorphosis Curse would actually affect PCs. When they changed race their ability score modifiers would change, they’d get a new racial power and they’d get new racial bonuses to skills. Depending on if they were (or if they became) Human or Eladrin they might gain or loose training in a skill. These changes will have some impact to numbers, but it’s unlikely they’d be game-changing. Your primary ability might drop by 2 which mean all of your attack and damage scores are adjusted by 1. Assuming that this isn’t happening to level 1 PCs, is 1 point going to make that big of an impact? The way I see it, from the DM’s perspective, is that the role-playing gains outweigh the 1 point deficiency.
Given how easy it is to make the transformation, you may even decide to speed up the changes. Maybe they change after reaching 3 milestones, or if you’re looking for a really short-term arc, maybe after each extended rest. I have two big concerns about making the transformation more frequent.
The first is that it doesn’t provide a lot of time for the PCs to learn about the curse and find out what thy need to do to control the next transformation. If becoming a Dwarf means climbing to the top of a mountain then they’d better be able to fly because they’re not likely to get there in just one day.
The second is that it doesn’t give the players a lot of time to explore what it’s like to be the new race. The most fun part of seeing the Metamorphosis Curse in action is the role-playing. What kind of impact does becoming an Eladrin have on you if you’ve been a Half-orc all of your life?
If I was to use the Metamorphosis Curse again I’d keep the transformation to each time the PCs level, but I’d use 20 races taken from the PHB, PHB2, PHB3 and various Monster Manuals. Most PCs will likely only transform four or five times before they find a cure, but using a larger list means that there’s less chance of doubling up. One PC may become a Minotaur but no one else in the party ever does.
At the end of the story-arc it might be interesting to let the PCs decide what race they want to stay after the curse is lifted. Give them the option to return to their original race, but I think letting them choose from any race they’ve discovered the transformation secret for seem fair. It would be interesting to see just how many players choose to go back to their original concept and how many stick with something they never intended to play from the outset.
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Is the Metamorphosis Curse something you think you’d ever use in your campaign? Do you think your players would be outraged or would they accept the transformation? How many times do you think players would accept transformation before they’d just want things to stop?