Protean (5e Race)

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"I don't hate her, okay? I know she's just trying to get by, same as any good dwarf. But... the way her skin moves around, it gives me the creeps! It's unnatural!" - Ethelwyn Thunderfist, Graniteholm Hearth Guard

The vast majority of so-called "shapeshifters" instead move between a variety of set forms. Lycanthropes can appear to be animal, human, or in-between, sapient magical creatures like dragons and rakshasa can appear in humanoid form or their true shape, druids can take on the bodies of many ordinary beasts. There are a very small number of varieties of "true" shapeshifting creatures in the world, and of that number, only one is both sapient and largely capable of living alongside other thinking humanoids. These beings are known as proteans.

Proteans are capable of controlling and molding their bodies the way other creatures manipulate their muscles. They can adapt to breathe water, squeeze bonelessly through impossibly tight spaces, sprout armored plates all over their bodies, grow additional eyes that can see into other spectra of light, or simply change the shape and length of their limbs as situations dictate. While this process is somewhat disturbing to see in action, it allows the protean race to expand into nearly any sort of environment imaginable, from the heights of icy sky-scraping mountains to the lightless depths of the oceanic abyss to the strange cobbled streets of the new biome know as the "city," each time by perfectly adapting to any new environment.

Physical Description[edit]

Proteans obviously lack a single, coherent from, but most share a few unifying traits. They are generally between 5 and 8 feet tall, and most do maintain a generally humanoid body structure, with two arms, two legs, and a single head. Additionally, while they are capable of rearranging the mass within their bodies, they cannot generate new mass out of nowhere. Almost all proteans are thus much, much heavier than they look.

Beyond that, however, their bodies exhibit slow, constant shift. A single eye might, over the course of several hours, slowly split into two eyes, then four, then a whole cluster of eyes that slowly re-merge back into a single one. Fingers might lengthen and thin, before growing shorter and thicker, or multiplying and splitting into duplicates. Skin is likely to change color in waving patches, or to ripple as muscles and organs beneath rearrange themselves. Scales might melt into smooth, wet skin, might begin to sprout hair, feathers, or fur.

This slow shift becomes quite rapid when the protean uses their natural shapeshifting to intentionally rearrange their body for whatever purpose.

While sleeping, proteans are observed to stop shifting and go "slack." A great puddle of usually-contracted flesh tends to form around them, and their constant drifting features grow still.

Younger proteans are more "restless," and shift more rapidly while at "rest," while older proteans are more "set" and don't tend to shift as much without intentionally trying to. Some elderly proteans might need to put a lot of effort into shifting, though the power never fully vanishes.


The precise origin of the protean race is a mystery. Some scholars believe they are the descendants of humanoids exposed to the powers of Chaos from the plane of Limbo, or of ancient primordial creatures of wild unfixed change from before the creation of the world. Others believe they are simply the results of experimentation by a mad wizard, or strange relatives of the doppelganger.

However they came into being, however, proteans do not tend to form advanced societies of their own. Instead, they spread and integrate into the societies of others, where they have played many roles in the service of others. Fleshweaver proteans are prized as soldiers and shock troops in many militaries, while mindwarp proteans are often valued artisans, scholars, or other advisors for their strange and unconventional conclusions. One of the most prominent philosophers in the world, Miletius, is a protean, articulating the idea that only living creatures can philosophically consider the values of life, therefore survival is the first of all virtues.


Proteans are survivors. This is the most important thing about them. Just as their bodies adapt to survive whatever dangers they find themselves in, so does their society and outlook on life. Proteans that have settled in rich farmlands are hardworking men and women who strive for a good harvest. Those living in wild woodlands or mountains are quiet, observant beings, and thus master hunters and trackers. Those living in cities or townships typically either master a certain trade or become skillful politicians and sales-people, the better to make themselves indispensable to other inhabitants and ensure they can still feed themselves.

These proteans might seem like vastly different cultures, but to believe that is to impose another creature's values on theirs. Each of these proteans would recognize the others as engaging in the same sort of behavior they themselves are: adapting to survive in a specific environment. None would pass judgement on the others, nor take offense at their behavior, so long as they can easily think of a rational explanation for it. It also might seem to lead them into evil behavior, but this is somewhat faulty reasoning: very few "evil" behaviors offer long-term survival benefits. Most proteans who engage in robbery and murder are attempting to use their culture as an excuse, not as a legitimate reason.

This intense culture of survival-first and self-reliance somewhat stunts the spiritual development of many proteans. While none actively disdain the gods or insult them (that's not a great survival strategy, after all!), neither do they tend to invoke them or petition them for aid, believing that they are to rely on their own powers and adaptation rather than on divine assistance to achieve their goals.

Proteans do have a racial god, known as Proteus. He is variously depicted as whatever creature the proteans feel is perfectly adapted to the environment they find themselves in. Popular subjects are large predators, thriving prey animals, and various humanoids. Sometimes, he mixes features of many of these together. He is always distinguished by some strange deformity that sets him apart from others, such as a vestigial extra arm or a third eye. Proteans believe that, like them, their god is one who adapts to whatever situations he finds himself in, and that they emulate him by spreading across the world.

Beyond pure survival, many proteans develop or cultivate an interest in art, writing, or composition. Perhaps because their own bodies lack any sort of permanence, the idea of leaving something solid behind appeals to them.

Most proteans embedded in other cultures or communities mimic their dominant family structure, whether stable long-term relationships among dwarves, multiple dalliances based in legitimate friendships among elves, or simply normal married life practiced by halflings. On their own, they tend towards remaining together long enough to raise a child to maturity at least, and potentially longer if the relationship seems to be successful, though they do not have formalized ritual pair-bonding even for long-term partnerships between closely emotionally-bonded individuals.

Protean Traits[edit]

Adaptable survivors, proteans can literally mold their flesh to suit their day-to-day needs.
Ability Score Increase. Your ability scores are only modified by your sub-race.
Age. Due to their extreme physical adaptation, most proteans live well into their second century, possibly even into a third in some cases.
Alignment. Survival is the highest virtue in protean culture, so most proteans are morally neutral, and many lean towards chaos thanks to their mutable bodies. However, most proteans absorbed into other cultures instead take on the alignment of the dominant culture around them to "blend in."
Size. Though you can shift your density somewhat, you still obey physical laws regarding matter and mass. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Shapeshift. Your body is capable of evolving itself to adapt to environmental demands. Choose one of the following abilities. As an action, you can gain the effects of that ability for as long as you wish. At each new level, you may pick a new ability. Only one ability may be activated at a time.

  • Aquatic: You sprout fins, and gain either gills or more-efficient lungs. You can either hold your breath for fifteen minutes or breathe water but not air. You also gain a swim speed of 30 ft.
  • Boneless: Your bones are replaced by tough rings of muscle, or simply become very flexible. You can squeeze through any space a Small creature could, you take half damage from falling, and you have advantage on all tests made to escape grapples or slip out of restraints.
  • Climber: You have developed sticky pads, tough gripping hairs, or simply digging hooks on your fingers. You have a climb speed of 20 ft.
  • Darkvision: Your eyes have gained the ability to see in the dark, or you’ve grown a new set that can. You have darkvision up to a range of 60 ft.
  • Powerful Build: Your muscles either bulge with additional mass or rearrange for maximum efficiency. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
    Environmental Adaptation. You are naturally adapted to any one environment, including its climate and altitude as described in Chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. After you remain in any one environment for longer than a week, you are instead considered adapted to that environment.
    Languages. You speak Common and the Protean dialect of Slaad.
    Subrace. There are two major divisions of protean: fleshweaver and mindwarp. Choose one for your character.

Fleshweaver Protean[edit]

Fleshweaver proteans are powerful physical specimens, and masters of modifying their bodies to suit any task they happen upon. Mentally, while diverse, they tend towards a fairly stable, balance personality, focused on the hard work in front of them rather than pie-in-the-sky idealism, and practical immediate concerns over abstract troubles. They are usually seen as the more approachable of the two protean subraces, and often form lasting friendship based in mutual respect with other hard-working people of other races.

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity increases by 3.
Natural Weapon. You can transform one or both of your arms into one of the following natural weapons whenever you use your Shapeshift racial trait, or cause them to return to being normal limbs. Unless otherwise noted, you can't use the transformed limb to wear shields, carry weapons, or otherwise manipulate objects. You are considered proficient with your unarmed strikes with transformed limbs.

  • Slam: The end of your arm has become a powerful pincer, a muscular tentacle, or simply a huge, meaty fist. Your unarmed strikes deal 1d4 + Strength modifier bludgeoning damage, and you have advantage on all Strength (Athletics) tests made to shove or grapple another creature. At 5th level, your unarmed strike is considered to have the Reach quality while transformed in this way.
  • Claw: Your fingers have sprouted deadly talons, completely transformed into segmented claws, or perhaps your entire arm has become a lethally sharp blade. Your unarmed strikes deal 1d4 + Strength modifier slashing damage. You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the Attack and Damage Rolls of your unarmed strikes while your arm is transformed in this way. At 5th level, if both of your arms have transformed into this natural weapon, you can make an additional unarmed strike as a bonus action during your turn.
  • Spike: You have sprouted razor-sharp teeth, spike-like quills or spines from your body, or a tail tipped with spikes. This natural weapon doesn't prevent the use of either of your arms while in use. Your unarmed strikes deal 1d4 + Strength modifier piercing damage. At 5th level, you have learned to fire these spines from your body, and your unarmed strikes gain the Thrown (range 20/60) quality while you are transformed in this way. You can fire up to ten spines in this way, and can regrow all fired spines bonus action.
    Hearty Adaptation. At 3rd level, your body becomes inured to hardship. You have advantage on all saving throws to prevent exhaustion, and you lose two levels of exhaustion instead of one whenever you complete a long rest.

Mindwarp Protean[edit]

Mindwarp proteans are the more notorious of the two protean subraces. While physically more stable than their cousins, they are masters of subtly altering their natural biochemistry, glands, and brains to alter their mental capabilities, with strange effects on their personalities. While it is extremely rare for a mindwarp protean to suffer a complete outlook shift, such as turning from a loving father into a murderous psychopath, or from a greedy miser into a generous philanthropist, they can and do change radically in their tastes, views, and even overall opinions from day-to-day. However, like all proteans, this shifting is an adaptation focused on survival: these mental changes allow them to outthink whatever problems are in front of them by literally altering their minds to improve their ability to defeat them.

Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence increases by 3.
Artificial Intuition. You subtly alter your physical chemistry to give yourself a bit of natural talent in a particular area. Whenever you use your Shapeshift racial trait, you gain advantage on your choice of Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma ability score tests for the next minute. Others can easily see that you are using this trait if you use it in front of them, though it can be subtly masked.
Delicate Transformation. You can finely control your body's shifting, and use it in place of other tools. You can use your body in place of any set of tools or musical instrument you are proficient with that weigh less than 10 lbs., though you are still injured if you willingly expose yourself to fire, dangerous chemicals, or other dangers, and you cannot replace supplies like paint or thread that are normally consumed as part of their use.
Twisting Maze. Those who seek to enter the tempest of your thoughts do so at their own risk. You have advantage on saving throws against any spell or effect that would cause you to gain the charmed condition, or that mentions that creatures immune to the charmed condition would be immune to its effects. If a spell or effect would read your thoughts, force you to tell the truth, or if you succeed on a saving throw or effect that this trait grants you advantage on, you may use your reaction to cause the caster to immediately take psychic damage equal to twice your character level.


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