Shapeshifting In TTU

This page discusses the various ways that people change the physical shape of their body in TTU, whether via spells or therianthropy. It also has some notes on the interaction of shapeshifting, shapeshifters and magic. Although it discusses the mechanics of therianthropy, it does not cover how to become a theri; see that page for more.

The basis of therianthropy

The one-sentence summary of what happened to the Earth when it was struck by TheChanges would be: "It became possible for people to directly manifest their beliefs within reality." In other words, magic started working. But "magic" in the traditional spellcasting sense was not the first sign of The Changes: shapeshifting was, as therianthropes changed from human form into Something Else.

In TTU, it's a common belief that shapeshifting is merely a facet of the greater "magic" phenomenon. Shapeshifters change in the same way mages cast spells: they create physical effects via the manifestation of their beliefs (in this case, a belief that they possess a different physical form from the human one they started with).

However -- as some scholars of magic point out -- if "manifesting beliefs" was solely responsible for all of The Changes' effects, physical shapeshifting certainly shouldn't have been the first manifestation! Shapeshifting is a huge and hugely intricate effect -- including (but hardly limited to!) creating/destroying/rearranging large amounts of matter; making said matter organically functional; and changing a living organism's biofeedback loops on the fly without internal injury or disruption. It's one thing to light a candle by willing a flame into existence; it's quite another for a theri to grow a set of arms or wings and immediately be competent at their use. There's a LOT of extra power that goes into that latter process -- seemingly without any effort!

In the early days after the Changes, it was only theris who seemed to be able to tap that "something extra"; it remained elusive for others. But as mages began to study shapeshifting and what made it behave differently from their spells, the insights they gained would ultimately bring about magic that unlocked the possibility of shapeshifting for everyone.

So far, only mages who work within the Volitionist school of thought have managed to come up with a theory that coherently explains shapeshifting within the rules of magic. The rest of this page will examine shapeshifting from within this Volitionist view. (Alternate hypotheses generally claim that there's something arbitrarily exceptional about theris. While such theories make sense within their traditions, they don't offer any real understanding of shapeshifting, so we'll ignore them here.)

How souls shape theris

"Every living being has a life force -- let's call it a "soul." Most of my fellow mages do, even though the mechanism by which this "soul" acts doesn't match the image the word traditionally conjures up.

"Your soul is the
total of what it means to be you. It is your consciousness -- but it is not just what happens when you're conscious. It is your life itself. It's more than the memories and emotions in your brain. It's more than the nervous system's bodywide control and biofeedback. It's more than the cellular processes that keep the body alive to receive those messages. It is all those things, and more. It's the way that your body interacts with itself, reacts to itself, remembers itself, directs itself -- from molecules to cells up to organs, from mitochondria metabolizing glucose to your arm reaching for a soda. It's the gestalt of the incredible society of moving parts that goes into what we call a person.

"Cogito, ergo sum, Descartes said, and he was more right than he knew. Life itself is matter deciding to assert that it is alive, continually throwing willpower behind this assertion until one day it gets a little too distracted and can't fight off the universe's suggestions to the contrary any more."
-- CharacterDennisRedwing, in "We Walk Among You," describing the basis of volitionist willworking

According to the Volitionists, it is this willpower that mages tap to power magic in TTU: just as the soul provides the energy to sustain life, it can also loan its energy to sustain whatever effects its owner creates in the world outside.

But here's the trick: That volition is always active, whether its owner is consciously directing it or not. Volition's most important and immediate job is to subconsciously maintain itself exactly as it is. So a person's soul is constantly coursing through their body, giving and receiving feedback -- being shaped by the limits of the physical form, and reinforcing that form in return.

Mages call this continuous synchronization of a person's soul and body their resonance.

However, resonance is not a constant. It can be changed. If a kitchen knife slips and cuts you, your body asserts its normality as usual, but is suddenly opposed by the knife's physical rearrangement of your skin and your subconscious acceptance of the laws of physics. Resonance fails, regroups, and reasserts itself in its new slightly-bloodier configuration.

Resonance changes can also come from inside. Some people simply believe that the body they currently possess is not the one they were meant to inhabit. (Here on our Earth, this can range from phantom limb syndrome to the transgendered or transspecies). Their awareness of its incorrectness is itself a form of feedback, and the resonance reacts to that.

Their soul is never quite at home in their body. And within TTU, the dramatic increase in the power of that internal volition can charge up the soul enough for it to assert itself into something it finds more appropriate. Then, under the right circumstances, the body itself can be rebuilt to that resonance; the new match between soul and form cascades into a positive feedback loop, and they not only change form but stabilize into their "proper" shape. They have become a therianthrope.

Methods of Shapeshifting

Although many theris can voluntarily control their shape, not all of them do it in the same way!

Therianthropic Shift

As described above, after The Changes, some humans with strong self-images as different sorts of creatures found themselves able to trigger a shift in form that realigned their physical body with their expectations. That is the essence of what TTU calls "therianthropy."

However, this realignment requires dedication, clarity, and a specific endpoint; and (barring a life-changing shift in self-image) is not repeatable. Any subsequent changes -- and any shapeshifting by people who already match their self-image -- must come from one of the other methods listed below.

Therianthropic shift is permanent (i.e., the resonance adapts to the new form completely, and that form is now the default unless another type of change is voluntarily undertaken).

Memory resonance

When therianthropes shift into their new form, they no longer feel out of place within their own skin (or fur, or scales), and so there is nothing pulling their resonance toward different forms. However, theris who began life in a human body do have a very powerful shapeshifting tool in their internal arsenal, should they choose to make use of it: memory.

A theri who has just become a dragon after The Changes will have a body that finally fits, but will also have decades of experience in a human body -- a lifetime of memories and sensations. Those who are willing and able to do so can sit down, focus, and imagine themselves back into their original human body; their soul will respond and reshape itself, and their resonance will get fuzzy again. At that point, the theri -- who by definition has already had experience with physical shapeshifting, and who has a better idea of how to summon conscious willpower and evoke a specific trigger -- can catalyze the resonance cascade and prompt the soul to force another body rebuild back to human form. (And, armed with the memories of their earlier shapeshifting, their next return to true form will be even easier; ad infinitum.)

Memory resonance does seem to come intuitively to some theris, but for most, it requires basic knowledge of magical effects or resonance theory (or decent instructions to follow). And attempting this sort of shift -- especially for the first time -- can be an unsettling experience, raising fears of getting stuck again in a form the theri wanted desperately to discard. So not all theris can access this ability. Some cannot even reshape their resonance back to their original form after specific tutoring -- but these also tend to be the theris that were so firm about their need to change that they may not even want to try! The TheriType page has statistics about which classes of theri are more likely to be able to use memory resonance.

(Do note that inability/refusal to use memory resonance does NOT force unintentional theris to be stuck in an unwanted form. Reversion of a therianthropic shift is always possible. See BecomingATheri for more details.)

Memory resonance shifts are extended effects: they do not self-cancel with loss of focus or consciousness, but they are not truly permanent because the original human resonance is still not ideal. If a theri maintains their human form this way over an extended period of time, they will become increasingly uncomfortable, and an almost physical need will develop to spend time in their "true" form.


Some therianthropes are lucky enough to be able to inherently shapeshift: their nonhuman body possesses some sort of innate capacity to rewire its own resonance. This is not an issue of memory -- a young (were) werewolf that was born in wolf form will still be able to instinctively become a human. The resonance that their body generates is full of small and subtle cues that can produce reorientations and resonance cascades with a thought.

Largely, this is limited to theris whose mythology includes shapeshifting prowess, such as werecreatures, obake and (a few) dragons. Theris whose form is that of a non-mythological animal also seem to have an innate shapeshifting ability, even those who don't think of themselves as "werecreatures"; some mages say this is due to a subconscious acceptance that they exist somewhere between the animal and human worlds, and can't be fully animal due to their status as a sapient being. In either case, innate shifting is limited to a small number of specific forms (generally 2, sometimes 3), and outside of the werecreature cases, does not necessarily include a human form!

Innate shifts are permanent. (In a sense, all of the theri's innate forms are just parts of the same larger whole.)

True Shifting

A tiny minority of (un)lucky theris are truly shapeshifters in the traditional sense of the word: when they take a new form -- any new form -- their resonance immediately adapts to it. All of their physical changes come with the ease of an innate change -- even to totally new forms -- and are permanent. (At least until they make another shift.)

This ability isn't unlimited; the form has to be something that's within the power of their soul to create and animate (i.e., no 90-foot monsters). They also have to shift into living matter -- their soul's sense of self-preservation is strong enough to disallow anything it can't inhabit. But true shifting is still far beyond the capability of mages (or normal theris) to reproduce.

Unfortunately, the great power of this ability comes with severe drawbacks. It tends to leave shifters mentally unstable, which magic use worsens (see the spell section below). As such, those Volitionists who have studied the phenomenon consider so-called "true shifting" (which mages generally call "multishifting") to be a malfunction, and a taboo has formed against seeking this kind of shapeshifting.


Spell-based shapeshifting is complicated; see below.

Notably, spell-based shifting is transient -- it self-cancels with loss of focus or consciousness. And it is not limited to one's original form (like memory resonance) or a small pool of forms (like innate shifts). So even among theris able to shapeshift via some other method, spell-based shifting can have its advantages.

Spells and Shapeshifting

The amount of power necessary to turn someone into a theri is simply not achievable via spellcasting; in TTU, the stereotypical wart-nosed evil witch cannot go "poof, you're a frog", and there's no such thing as a Ring of Dragon Shape. When an outside spell works against the body's resonance, the body instinctively fights back ... and it's on its home turf, with nothing to lose.

However, spells can produce shapeshifting effects -- they just have to do so indirectly!

The earliest -- and still most common -- shapeshifting spells can temporarily detach a target's resonance from their sense of self, offering them a chance to alter themselves under conscious direction. This requires a willing target with a precise visualization of the intended result. When a subsequent spell (or mental effort) triggers a resonance cascade, shapeshifting occurs. This effect can be maintained for as long as the target's consciousness can actively assert the shift. (Once the target loses focus or consciousness, their soul will go "Hey, waaaaaiiit a minute!" and revert itself.) More advanced versions of the spell allow the resonance change to be wholly under the caster's direction, but the target still has to be willing, and has to have at least a basic idea of what they're turning into.

A variant of that spell lets the caster link the target's resonance to that of another willing participant -- synchronizing the target's resonance to the volunteer's, and freeing the target of the necessity to visualize a shift. The earliest of these spells required active concentration on the part of all participants; over time, more advanced versions began to merely "sample" the volunteer's resonance (not requiring their active maintenance); and then began binding the spell more deeply into the target (not requiring the mage's active maintenance either). The most advanced versions of this effect read the other participant's resonance so expertly that even nonconsenting third parties can be emulated. (Though if they are actively resisting, it will still cause the spell to fail.) In any case, the target can't maintain the shift without consciousness and focus, as above.

Some theri spellcasters also use basic shapeshifting spells to return to their original human form. Mythics, in particular, seem to have a natural affinity for shapeshifting magic, and it is not rare to find mythics who intuitively realign their resonance as a temporary (spell) effect rather than a semipermanent (memory) effect. And at higher skill levels, mythic mages may cultivate this as a deliberate skill -- meaning that in a high-intensity situation, such as a fight, returning to their (more formidable) nonhuman form is literally easier than staying human!

Negative Effects

Magical Mishaps

Spells and Theris

Spells and Shapeshifters

/in progress

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