The Shifter is a class introduced in Ultimate Wilderness, and is intended as a class that focuses entirely on the druid's animal shapeshifting niche without any of the spellcasting. Shifters get full BAB, and access to a somewhat-better list of weapons and armor than druids, though they still can't wear metal armor, and get a lot of the "nature" powers that their various natural brethren share: you know, Woodland Stride, Trackless Step, Wild Empathy? They also get, as their main draw, access to a number of the hunter's "animal aspects," which they can either get bonuses for partially shifting into (minor form), eventually learning to chimerize together multiple aspect bonuses at once, or fully Wild Shape into for some more bonuses (major form). They also get the power to shapeshift claws in any form, which scale up in damage and gradually penetrate better DR, and they get a monk-like ability to apply their Wisdom bonus to armor class while not wearing armor, or half that bonus if wearing armor. They also get two good saves, Fort and Reflex, and their class benefits for Wisdom indirectly helps their Will, so there's that.
Unfortunately, while advertised as being a more newb-friendly version of the druid for people who like the idea of turning into an animal and eating people but don't want to deal with the homework of being a full caster, the shifter is generally seen as weak and lacking. Indeed, every prior option for shapeshifting was stronger, even Druids purposefully gimped so they couldn't cast spells were stronger. It can't take full advantage of having full BAB because of its focus on poorly-scaling natural weapons that don't gain iterative attacks and stack with other natural weapons weirdly. Wild Shape is really a whole hell of a lot worse than a druid's for the sake of "thematics" (being unable to ever do powerful shifting feats like turning into elementals or other humanoids and being limited to only shifting into forms specifically allowed by the shifter's aspects without jumping into archetypes), and the aspect bonuses are mostly some combination of weak and boring with the "benefit" of staying shifted for far longer than necessary. At least they count as druids for the purposes of qualifying for Wild Shape feats, though even that begins driving a wedge between reaching the Wis requirements for those feats versus spending feats to actually be not shit at combat.
Also, their claws don't scale up in damage nearly hard enough to justify the absence of extra attacks while using natural weapons, and without them the shifter has a number of "dead levels". In general, the class feels like it's a druid or a hunter that's had a bunch of its spellcasting features carved away and hastily replaced with some of the monk's low-level features. Not awful, but definitely well below the power level of any other nature-based class.
Without the Adaptive archetype, Shifters are low Tier 4 or even tier 5. They are slightly better than Barbarian out of combat, since even gimped wild shape has some utility uses, but far worse in it.
Paizo received enough negative feedback about the Shifter class and Ultimate Wilderness in general that among the changes in Ultimate Wilderness' subsequent reprints (the FAQ list that led to the changes was quite lengthy) was making some changes to the Shifter class; most importantly was the addition of "Shifter's Fury" which gives a natural weapon you designate as your primary the ability to perform iterative attacks following the norm as if it were a manufactured weapon. All other natural attacks become secondary natural attacks and lose the benefit of the Shifter's Claws feature during this full attack.
For extra RIP AND TEAR factor, this allows a Shifter's claw attacks to function with Two-Weapon Fighting feats and these factors extends to their primary natural attack in other forms such as when using Wild Shape. Level 18's lack of abilities were addressed by granting the Shifter "A Thousand Faces" and "Timeless Body".
As is the custom for PF, there are a bundle of archetypes all set to address various matters with the base class.
- Adaptive Shifter replaces all that aspect garbage with a limited times/day pool of temporary boosts to add things like energy resistance, new movement types, and a native recovery feature. Like normal, these can eventually stack, and some of these boosts can be made to last the whole day.
- Dragonblood Shifter gives you the option to finally turn into a dragon and exploit some of the cool shit like energy damage and breath weapons. The trade-off is that the shifter can no longer chimerize different types, instead being able to pick any type they want when shifting.
- Elementalist Shifter replaces animal aspects with elemental powers, the least of which allows the shifter to inflict typed damage with their unarmed attacks. Naturally, this allows you to eventually turn into weaker elementals, though when you gain the power to stack two different elements together, you gain a minor hybrid perk.
- Feyform Shifter your first animal aspect is replaced with a an aspect that apes some fey abilities including damage reduction bypassed by cold iron. You get normal animal aspects later to chimerize with their fey aspect. Their wildshape changes to function as the Fey Form spells.
- Holy Beast you lose slashing damage with your claws and must worship a deity but your claws are treated as an alignment within one step of your deity's (you get to choose what that is when you reach level 3). You also trade some abilities for ranger's favored enemy but it's limited to an outsider alignment type of your choice.
- Leafshifter available only to Ghoran, you swap your claws for slams and your animal aspects are replaced with the plant aspects from the plant master Hunter archetype.
- Oozemorph is an awesome idea that makes for a very bizarre and dubiously-useful archetype in practice. Sure you can turn into an ooze, but now you're pretty much an ooze by default and means you can only turn into a person for a few hours. It also leaves some very absurd situations like benefiting from items while being an ooze or being unable to become a person ever again because you violated the arbitrary druidic code of conduct. And it cuts out without warning partway through. Curiously enough, this became its own archetype in Pathfinder Second Edition as part of a special module about a human-hating slime infestation with uncomfortable parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic that's rocked so much of 2020.
- Rageshaper also removes the animal part and instead turns you into the Incredible Hulk. Unfortunately, this comes complete with attacking your own party in a berserk frenzy.
- Style Shifter makes the Shifter's ties to the Monk far more prevalent. Like a Monk, they gain a few extra feats, though these must be Style Feats (feats that grant a fighting style) and the shifting is locked into aspects that match some of the basic fighting styles. However, some of these feats can be reserved so that when shifted into an aspect based on an acquired Style Feat, the free feat becomes one that has the basic style feat as a prerequisite. This all comes at the cost of medium armor and shield proficiency, a considerably weaker wild shape feature, and your natural attacks remain as weak as ever.
- Swarm Shifter lets the shifter turn into a swarm, if you enjoyed 4E's Swarm Druids. This comes with a few other tricks like gaining area attacks while still humanoid and adds special properties to the swarm-form.
- Verdant Shifter you want a shittier leafshifter? You can speak with plants, count as your race's type and a plant, you lose animal aspects for an always-on bonus to constitution and fortification effect, and your wild shape works as the plant shape spells.
- Weretouched locks your shifter into only one aspect. As compensation for this travesty, they can eventually turn into a sort of hybridized were-beast with a couple paltry perks on top or turning into an animal and gaining a weakness to silver.
- Wild Effigy your animal aspects take the form of animate rock plating covering the shifter's body; you give up several utility abilities for natural armor and damage reduction when taking on an animal aspect. Defensive instinct gets replaced with a bonus to stabilize at negative hit points, a fortification effect, and eventually immunity to petrification, bleed effects, and blood drain. You can also burn minutes of your minor aspect to treat your claws as if they were made of adamantine.
- Fiendflesh is a typical bad guys only archetype... that still has to follow the code of conduct about revering nature even though it's literally powered by demons.
Spheres of Power
Before Ultimate Wilderness, the third party Spheres of Power introduced a separate class by the same name. It's a mid-BAB, mid-caster, but counts as a full-caster for the purpose of the Alteration sphere. It gains a bunch of class features that makes it better at that sphere.
|The Classes of Pathfinder 1st Edition|
|Core Classes:||Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
|Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|
|The Third Party Classes of Pathfinder|
|Psionics:||Psion - Psychic Warrior - Soulknife - Wilder |
Aegis - Cryptic - Dread - Marksman - Tactican - Vitalist
|Path of War:||Stalker - Warder - Warlord - Harbinger - Mystic - Zealot|
|Akashic Mysteries:||Daevic - Eclipse - Guru - Nexus - Radiant - Rajah - Stormbound - Vizier - Zodiac|
|Spheres of Power:||Armorist - Elementalist - Eliciter - Fey Adept - Hedgewitch - Incanter |
Mageknight - Shifter - Soul Weaver - Symbiat - Thaumaturge - Wraith
|Spheres of Might:||Armiger - Blacksmith - Commander - Conscript |
Savant - Scholar - Sentinel - Striker - Technician
|Champions of the Spheres:||Prodigy - Sage - Troubadour - Dragoon - Mountebank - Necros - Reaper - Warden - Crimson Dancer|
|Pact Magic:||Pactmaker (formerly known as Medium)|