Thoughts of post-rework shapeshifting

First, on shapeshifting in general: a stated goal of the shapeshifting rework is to make it easier to transition in/out of shapeshifting, but there’s currently a gap for characters that don’t care about weapons but do want to use armor.

I’m mentally grouping the forms into three buckets - full meld, weapon-agnostic, and (body) armor-agnostic. If you look at it that way, there’s a hole for an armor-agnostic form at tiers 2 and 3. The only forms that don’t meld your body armor are beast, death… and blade hands.

But blade hands has such a harsh penalty to your body armor that you may as well be melding body armor at the start of tier 2, and by the time you recoup most of your AC you’re ready to move into tier 3 forms. You may as well just ditch your armor, use statue form, and if you still want to use armor by the time you reach 23 or so shapeshifting, switch to death form then.

Also, because shapeshifting has been completely decoupled from spellcasting, it makes it harder than before for spellcasters to transition into a form. As spells, forms benefited from spellcasting and having multiple schools, so you could mainly train UC and put a moderate number of levels into transmutation to get say, storm form online. Now you have to sink a bunch of levels into shapeshifting, which doesn’t benefit your spells in any way. Casters do occasionally pick up forms, but from what I’ve seen it’s mainly as a defensive layer after they’ve gotten all their important spells castable.

I also have some thoughts about specific forms (besides blade hands):

  • Serpent form: on a lot of runs, I find enough aux slots and enchant scrolls that the AC of serpent form isn’t good enough to entice me out of flux form for like +3-4 AC and the HP in exchange for large size. The offensive bonuses are fine, I think. I was also very happy when I found this on a cat, so I don’t think this needs changes.

  • Blade hands form: As mentioned earlier, this is nominally the doesn’t-meld-armor form of tier 2, but it’s very punishing for a body armor user.

  • Maw form: This is the tier 2 form I probably use the most. I think it’s really cool, and I dream of quickblade + species aux attack + maw form aux bite. I wish there were a tier 3/4 form that also didn’t meld weapons, and provided an aux attack.

  • Dragon form: From the commit, “Possible this should be tier 4 and Storm should be tier 3 - dragons are cool! Dragons should be the best!”
    Unfortunately dragons are not the best. Dragon is a good implementation of glass cannon but has the problem that Statue form is also a cannon, but of the non-glass variety. Even with the statform slowdown, dragon form feels more fragile due to giant size, lower ac, worse resistances, loss of shield, and only 20% more HP than statue form already offers. I chose statue form over dragon as an iron draconian, which is a big problem I think. That is as defensive as dragon form can ever get and it still felt too squishy to safely use.

  • Death form: The debuffs on melee read well on paper, but it hasn’t been a big enough carrot to entice people to use it as a primary combat form. It’s still very much the “grab this for extended for torment immunity” form. Siphon Essence has a prohibitively high MP cost, which can be a problem even for a spell-less heavy armor melee if you have any god abilities that cost mana. I don’t think it’s underpowered, just underused. Maybe it’d see more use if there was a smoother on-ramp for armored characters?

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Would keep in mind that offense is a defense of a sort. Doing roughly double damage (Not counting all the dragon aux attacks) and not being slowed down is huge! I found acrobat unusually helpful in DForm for positioning (getting to the the next enemy). It’s definitely very capable but that might depend on species HP apt (mine was naga)!

I do wish that dragons would get just a bit more AC, or something to take the edge off of one of the other ways that endgame attacks can remove large portions of dragon hp.

It is probably design sacrilege but torment resistance or immunity at high shapeshifting would be nice. Still leaves a myriad of ways for endgame enemies to kill you but might make dragon form a more interesting choice. By the time I have the choice, with Melee shapeshifters, I am usually doing so much damage with death form (and weakening whatever I hit) that it is no question I ignore dragon. And with octopodes, just love statue form too much regardless of how I am killing.

Talismans vs old spell forms achieve two completely separate things:

  1. They decouple forms from spellcasting. I do not like this, because:
    A.) It feels as power creep: originally those characters that were good at spellcasting (good IQ and spell aptitudes, low enc. body armour) were usually not the ones who would like to use most forms, which enchanced melee.
    B.) It removes a melee playstyle that has easy (automatic) access to some spells. Currently most forms are simply a form of melee, the playstyle is not much different from melee fighters with armour and weapon.

  2. It removes the tedium of re-casting, and makes cancelling forms much harder (slow in combat).

I really like that we do not need to re-cast. It makes playing more smooth. I also like that forms are not easy to get out of, as this makes penalties much harsher. For example, statue form lovers seem to underestimate how bad being permanently slowed is, persumably because it is very easy to kill lots of popcorn with statue form. Note that because of point 1A, statue form is now still useful for many characters, as it is much easier to access it with trolls or ogres than previously, but it is a little bit of a “win more” ability, as it is most useful if your character is strong enough so that being permanently slow is not that bad. When statue form was a spell, you could just end it in a turn, and you could expolre without it, casting when needed.

Dragon form is much better as a permanent form. I think some people unserestimate how good the insanely high damage is, probably they do not like to move around and position properly (of course, the mental image of a dragon is not someone who needs to position very carefullly to be powerful, so I kind of understand this). When I last played it, it still had permanent vulnerability for cold. This is very annoying for a semi-permanent form, and I strongly suggest to just drop it. Dragons are not supposed to be especially vulnerable to cold flavour wise, and it makes terrible gameplay.

Using statue form instead of dragon form on an iron draconian honestly suprises me. Last time I used statue form on them it supressed the +15 AC of the iron draconian, making statue form completely useless for them. Dragon form on the other hand was always awesome on a draconian, the plus AC really helps.

Some remarks for the OP:

a stated goal of the shapeshifting rework is to make it easier to transition in/out of shapeshifting

I have no idea where you get it from (maybe someone said this), but the results are the opposite. Since shapeshifting has its own skill the current investements are always significant XP wise, unlike for example old high earth statue form users, making strategic transition harder. Tactic transition of course made impossible by the delay.

Armoured forms not supported well I think an attempt to avoid power creep (I think it is unsuccesful tough, current forms are still power creep.), because spells did not work well together with armour, but shapeshifting skill gets no penalty on its own.

Finally, I liked spider form much better than the new middle forms. Of course it was insanely powerful as a spell, but still, you were a cool spider. I would like to bring it back with the old wall climbing and a new web throwing ability, instead of the boring new middle tire forms.

I also dislike that transmutations have been dis-coupled from spellcasting, for pretty much the same reasons.
For me just making the forms permanent, and probably reserving some maxMP for them as hellcrawl does, would have been preferred.

It would have been even better if there were good reasons to switch forms mid-combat.

It is easier to transition into shapeshifting now. Any late-game character can switch to 100% shapeshifting, set a skill target of 21, and switch to lichform when the skill target is reached.
Though most forms suffer from the fact you’d be discarding you armour or shield skill if you switch into them later.

It is true that in the late game it is much easier to pick up a form than it was, it is true, and in the late game forms are clearly power creep features. Sorry, for some reason I tought mid-game strategy switching.

Small nitpick: in console, Maw form changes the player’s glyph from @ to W. That makes me expect to be insubstantial and floating. I think X would be a more intuitive character glyph for Maw form. More like tentacled monstrosities, less like phantasmal warriors.