(The masculine pronouns "he," "him," and "his" are used throughout this document in reference to Shifters of all or no genders. This is merely a matter of convenience, since a full listing of pronouns each time would quickly become tiresome.)
Shapeshifters. Properly called "Shifters," though some prefer the subtype nickname "Crafters." Shapeshifters can indeed shift their shape, and that is one talent that they all share. There are, however, further talents known in the Shifter community - some of which are markedly more uncommon than others. There are perhaps additional talents so rare that they only manifest once, in selected individuals. The Shifter community is uncertain whether to classify these as Shifter powers, and a heated debate rages to this day. For purposes of this document, these isolated powers are not considered Shifter powers, but rather a manifestation of some other paranormal phenomena, much akin to the well-documented psionic powers which manifest in equal proportion in both the Shifter and Mundane communities.
The first talent, that which almost universely defines what a Shifter is, is the ability to shift from one form to another. This does not involve shedding skin like serpants, a metamorphisis period akin to many insects, nor the grotesque body-hopping practice of some parasitic paranormal phenomena, like possessor spirits.
No, a Shifter simply wills his body into a new form, and it happens. The process by which this occurs is not yet well-known since it is almost impossible to study a Shifter's physiology independent of the form that he is wearing. Furthermore, a Shifter gains any abilities of the form that he is in. A Shifter-Dragon can fly and breath fire, a Shifter-tree can photosynthesize, etc. This does not, however, automatically convey "knowledge-type" abilties. Additionaly, a Shifter seems capable of "creating something from nothing" as well as "turning something into nothing" as there seems to be no constraints on mass. A Shifter can move from the form of an insect to that of the largest Redwood in the span of five seconds. Where does this mass come from? No one knows.
A popular theory is that it comes from the same place that allows a Shifter to fashion clothing upon his form. Again, this seemingly allows a Shifter to create matter from nothing, even if he is limited to that which can be worn on his body. Inconclusive results from numerous tests suggest that a Shifter can pull ambient matter and energy with which to augment his form or to create clothing and sundry items. Evidence from an experiment conducted in a near-vacuum seem to support this theory, as a Shifter's "creative" powers were greatly reduced, while "altering" and "destructive" powers seemed largely unaffected.
Even outside a vaccum, however, a Shifter cannot always alter his form at will. Shifters suffer from two chief limitations on thier powers. In the first, all Shifters have what can be termed a material allergy of some sort. All Shifters share the same "allergy" to silver, that is, a Shifter, in physical contact with silver (chemical symbol Ag) is unable to exercise his powers, effectively remaining locked in the form he is in. The reasons for this are unknown, though prominent Shifter philosophers and researches liken it to the iron aversion that "true fae" allegedly suffer from. Furthermore, they point to Mundane legends of silver stopping or killing lycanthropes (a different, but related condition). Though the comparison with lycanthropy is tempting, there is no concrete evidence that lycanthropes (on a whole) are indeed harmed by silver. This legend seems to have arisen based on the conenction between lycanthropy and the lunar cycle, with moonlight oft considered silver. Nor does it explain the other aversions that Shifters suffer.
Roughly 90% of all Shifters have an aversion to leather of all sorts. Common wisdom maintains that since a Shifter can alter his skin at will, wearing another's (processed) skin blocks a Shifter's power. Almost half of all Shifters report an aversion to rubber and almost fifteen percent report an aversion to plastics and other petroleum-based products. Ninetyfive percent of all Shifters report other aversions, though no single one is statistically significant. These "minor" aversions seem to run in family lines.
The second limitation affects merely one eight of the Shifter populace (though statistically, 85% of those affected self-identify primarily as "male" or a variant thereof) and is known in medical circles as "spacial displacement aversion" (SDA for short). A Shifter with SDA is unable to change form if confined in a location too small for him to "revert to default." A typical example would be a Shifter in a common songbird form confined to a birdcage. The space within the cage is to small for him to change into his default form (typically an appropriate-sized human form for his comparative age), so he is unable to shift forms, even to something of comprable mass with his songbird form.
Furthermore, if a Shifter has other Shifter powers beyond merely changing his form, these also are limited by any aversions, including SDA, that the Shifter has. A Shifter unable to change is a Shifter unable to use any Shifter powers. This, in fact, is the strongest argument both for and against miscellaneous powers being Shifter powers. Some seem to be blocked accordingly whereas others aren't.
Interestingly, given it's universal deterimental affects, silver plays a strange role in Shifter society. It is neither banned, nor outright shunned. Conversely, silver has historically tended to be, and remains to this day, the most popular material with which to form ornaments and accessories in Shifter culture.
The second common Shifter power, though not shared by the whole of the populace, is to shift through "realities." A Shifter with a powerful version of this power can not only shift to a different "reality," but can shift to a "reality" that didn't exist before, essentially creating a whole new universe to live in. Though, typically, these universes are uniformly small in nature, not existing beyond the confines of a small house, to at the largest about one city block. Very little is known about this power, as Shifters with it tend not to publicize their ability.
The third main Shifter power, though the percentage of the populace with it is unknown, is again related to physical Shifting, but on a drastically different level. Some, perhaps all, Shifters can change their minds, meaning something quite different than chosing a different decision. A Shifter with this abiltiy can modify his own memories, giving himself skills and knowledge that he did not have before. This ability, however, is fraught with danger, since the mind is even less understood than Shifter physiology. This process of gaining new skills or knowledge can affect other aspects of the mind and personality. Often, things are not gained without a corresponding loss somewhere, and the way memories are stored is not very well understood. A Shifter who uses this ability frequently has a significant risk of losing Shifter powers altogether, for he may Shift them completely out of his mind. (Or, Shift the knowledge of how to use them out of his mind.)
The final main Shifter power - the fourth of the four universally acknowledged powers - is what sometimes lends its nickname to Shifters as a whole. These are the Crafters. Only a small minority, certainly no more than three percent, of all Shifters have this ability, yet it is so intristically tied into the other Shifter powers, that there is no doubt that Crafting is a Shifter power.
Simply put, a true Crafter, one with this power, can use his Shifting powers on beings other than himself. He may or may not have Mind-shifting and Space/Reality-shifting as well (less than 25% of Crafters have either, and less that .1% of Crafters have both), but Crafters, as a whole tend to be both feared and respected in Shifter society.
The reason for this fear and respect should be apparent. Even without mind or space shifting, a Crafter can completely defeat an opponent, for he can reach out and shift silver into his opponent, rendering the target incapable of using his powers, but still capable of being further changed by the Crafter. A Crafter with space shifting can completely remove his opponent from his base reality, and if the target is a Shifter without space shifting, or is a Mundane, then there is no way for him to return. Even more fearsome is a Crafter with mind-shifting...
Almost all Crafters follow a strict personal Ethical code that prohibits them from using their powers against anyone else except in cases of self-defense (and then limited to what is immediately necessary) or in the rare case that the target request specific changes from the Crafter. There have, of course, been exceptions. One popular villain in Shifter mythology was Lyan Turkyle, a Crafter with all four Shifter powers and a healthy dose of Precognition. In his (fortunately failed) attempt to take over the world, Lyan would transform his opponents, both physically and mentally, into storybook princesses and send them off into alternate realities "to live happily ever after, out of my way" as he put it. (A footnote for the curious: according to the myth it took divine intervention to put an end to Lyan Turkyle's rule. An unnamed goddess bestowed immunity to Shifter powers upon an East African princess, and she slew Lyan Turkyle in armed combat that raged across the skys for forty days and forty nights. It is said that the sweat from their exertion rained down upon the lands in a torrential downpour, causing flooding in many low-lying regions of the world.)
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