Morphing is a unique ability and therefore was not copied from any one existing thing and is almost the sole reason why I have opted to try and create this setting from scratch rather than adapt anything out there. The morphing is a combination of many different things. It is slightly complex and there is a lot to keep in mind. However in this campaign morphing takes the place of classes and most weapons. It was (for the most part) the only tool the Animorphs had at their disposal and thus has to be all encompassing and able to adapt.
Before getting to the rules and numbers there are some story and written things to get a hold of. For fans this will help set up the canon for this setting and for newly introduced players this will help flesh out the world they’re playing in. In the following few paragraphs I will outline important distinctions for morphing in this setting. The information will not be 100% complete and nor will I compare it to the existing lore. It is written to give a very quick guide for leveling and playing purposes. Players and GM should keep in mind characters will not inherently know this information unless they are playing an Andalite.
Morphing is an alien technology. It was created by the race known as Andalites. Originally it was developed for research purposes. After Seerow’s Kindness however it was militarized. Younger Andalites tend to favor the power whereas older generations tend to be more dismissive. It is taught as a form of self defense mostly and all cadets acquire a morph without ears. This is to be used as a sort of cyanide pill wherein young cadets are taught to assume this morph and stay as long as necessary to avoid Yeerk infestation. There are special classes of Andalites who train the ability but for the most part it is seen as a lesser form of warfare.
The morpher does not simply acquire the target’s DNA but more of a current template or current consciousness. This permits some wiggle room as far as technicalities like state of hair/fur, clothing, piercings and tattoos, etc. In this canon I have called this a current consciousness or enos ermaff in the Andalite language.
Acquired morphs age. They do so in a time altering way that will sync-up and make them age concurrently with the morpher. This means that if the morpher acquires a fruit fly (or like bug with a 24 hour lifespan) that the morph will practically cease to age, allowing for a human lifespan without altering the animal itself. This applies to the way nothlit age as well—the nothlit will still have a lifespan equal to that of its natural form regardless of the morph. This does not enact an immortality clause and illness, disease etc may kill the nothlit well before their time.
Having the ability to morph and storing DNA within themselves enhances the morpher and their morphs over time. This, mechanically, explains some of the aspects of leveling up. This will make a morpher’s high level lion morph (for example) potentially much stronger or more dangerous than a regular lion aside from the fact that a human is in control of the body.
Mechanics of morphing may seem overwhelming at first, which is why fully playing out and experiencing the learning curve is important. By letting the players and GM experiment with how morphs work, with how the rules are set up, before throwing the players into combat situations with tons of morphs at their disposal, everyone gets a chance to feel things out first.
Acquiring a Morph
The Animorph must make direct physical contact with the target. They may not wear gloves or other protective gear. This contact does not have to be through the hands—for example someone standing on a whale barefoot could acquire the whale through the contact of their feet on the whale’s back. The contact must hold for at least ten seconds and situational die rolls may apply. The target being acquired must be alive but may be unconscious or dying provided it lives the required ten seconds of contact. Blood alone is not enough to acquire a morph. Multiple Animorphs may acquire the same target but an Animorph can not acquire a morph from another Animorph in that morph. Multiple Animorphs may also acquire from the same target at the same time. Once acquired a morph can be used immediately.
Morphing in combat is essentially a two round action, so Animorphs are encouraged to be in battle ready morphs before combat starts. The first full round action is the physical act of morphing itself. The Animorph must make a Concentration Check if dealt damage during the morphing process. DC is the damage dealt. The second round is the Animorph attempting to maintain control of their own mind in the midst of combat. At the start of their next turn the Animorph must make a WIS save to resist the morph’s mind. If they succeed they may act less an action. If they fail they must spend the round getting control. They may attempt to regain their mind (if they fail) at the beginning of each subsequent round. Outside of combat the whole process takes less than a minute but the WIS save still applies. The difficulty of these WIS saves will vary greatly and so no numbers are assigned. The GM should evaluate the situation and set a DC based upon each scenario. Morphs that are brand new to an Animorph should have relatively high DCs.
As Morphing is a strenuous activity, Animorphs start out only able to morph 4 times a day. This does include morphing back—meaning the Animorph can morph four times a day into four separate morphs and end in their natural form. They may attempt to go beyond this (without a Feat) but must make a CON save (DC 10+ CON MOD) to morph into and another CON save (DC 10+ CON MOD +2) to dimorph. If successful they are at exhaustion level 1. To make any further attempts they are at disadvantage and each successful morph-demorph puts them at the next level of exhaustion.
An Animorph may stay in morph up to two hours. If they remain in morph even a few seconds beyond this they are at risk of becoming nothlit—that is stuck forever in that morph. They will retain their own mind and memories, and the abilities of thought speak, but will function elsewise completely as the morph they were stuck in. Attempts to demorph past the two hour time limit may be made but are to be set at incredibly difficult DCs.
An Animorph can chose to eat in morph vs their natural state to survive. If they spend at least an hour after eating in the morph resting, the meal acts as filling—as if they’d eaten in their natural form. If they do not spend at least an hour in morph after eating, or if they engage in any kind of strenuous activity, demorphing will reset their need to eat.
Animorphs must be in their natural state to morph. They may not morph directly from one morph into another. They also cannot combine attributes of different morphs together, for example morphing a cat with wings.
The physical aspects of morphing are completely randomized and no two morphs (even back-to-back and by the same Animorph) are alike.
An Animorph may only have one ‘copy’ of a specific morph at a time. They may, however, have multiple morphs of the same type of animal. For example they may only have one copy of their own pet dog, but may also have a copy of their neighbor’s dog and a dog down the street.
In the event an Animorph loses a morph they may reacquire the same morph from the same animal. They may do this any number of times, even back-to-back if necessary.
There is a 50/50 chance that acquiring a morph will put the target into a sort of trance for up to five minutes.
There is no limit to how many morphs an Animorph may have at once.
The Mind of the Target.
Acquiring most targets will give the Animorph a taste of the animal’s instincts. Prey animals will come with an overwhelming urge to run and hide where as predators will be a bit more calm. Animals used to human environments will be more relaxed when morphed in strange locations whereas more wild animals will be a bit more anxious. All of these mental effects will feel to the Animorph as if they are experiencing them through their own minds. No amount of prep can completely negate these effects, especially for a new morph.
When it comes to morphing more sentient creatures things get a little more tricky. Individual memories will not transfer over but more generalized things will. The main language of the morph will carry over even if the Animorph does not speak it however upon demorphing the ability to speak/understand/read/write that language will be lost. This means Animorphs can communicate with other aliens if in a like morph. However an Animorph will not have access to memories of specific people/places or events and would not recognize their morph’s family just by accessing the morph’s knowledge.
Injuries and Healing.
When acquiring a morph certain things will remain within that copy and certain things will not. Injuries will not carry to the copy made however genetic disorders/diseases and birth defects will. Acquiring a dog who lost a leg due to a car accident will give the Animorph a copy with all four legs. Acquiring a dog who was born with three legs will give the Animorph a copy with only three legs.
Morphs take damage normally but this damage does not carry over if the Animorph demorphs. If an Animorph is able to demorph from an injured morph they will return to their natural state completely physically unharmed. This will effectively end all DOT effects (including bleed and poison) and restore any lost limbs. The morph, however, will still be injured. If the Animorph were to immediately return to the injured morph all injures would return. Morphs require 8 hours (long rest) to heal completely, and they must remain unused for the entire duration. After those 8 hours they heal completely and revert to the state they were in when acquired—meaning all limbs or other disfiguring injuries are non existent.
If the morph is knocked unconscious the Animorph may make three CON saves as they might vs death. A success means they demorph and then regain consciousness. Failures simply mean they remain in that morph and unconscious until an outside source (or time) wakes them. This can cause them to stay in morph over the two hour time limit.
If a morph is taken to 0HP or below and is in death saves the player may chose to try and demorph instead of trying to stabilize. Regular saves work as normal and successes mean the Animorph is still in the morph but stabilized. If they attempt to demorph and succeed they will return to their natural form. If they fail they will remain unconscious, dying and in their morphed form.