Getting Creative with Transforms

Hi, I’m Jyn!

Dan asked if I’d share some thoughts I wrote about transforms and transform plot over here at NEROlogy.

Transforms seem to stir up a lot of mixed feelings, because some people associate them with less than stellar experiences. However, they offer some amazing opportunity for creativity and personalization when they are handled well. So here are some examples of great things I’ve seen done with transform plot in the past. I hope you’ll comment with your own examples and ideas too.

NPCs that are transform hooks AND something else

Transform plot can be really narrowly focused, so you don’t want to send out an NPC to do only that, if you can help it. So you double up. For example:

  • A dream elemental NPC who is an IG marshal for dreamvisions, and is the guy who gently suggests that people go to bed when major plot is done for the night. He’s also the guy that people talk to if they want a dream transform, and who trains and tests PC dream elementals
  • A life elemental who is delivering info for a major plotline can also be a point-of-contact for a PC who wants to become a life knight.
  • An undead hunter can be a mod hook, and also answer PC’s questions about how to join his order.

This works best if you get a sense of what kind of transforms PCs are interested in, so you can make sure the appropriate NPCs are out there, doing various other things. Then it’s just up to the PCs to approach them. Having a variety of potential transform-hook NPCs also lets PCs learn about what’s possible so they can decide what they want.

Transforms as an opportunity for more cool costumes

How much costuming people do for transforms seems to vary wildly between chapters, but I really dig games where the transformed folk have special masks and costuming for when they go active. None of this “visibly a phoenix” stuff; the girl has red, feathery wings and fiery costuming! (Full disclosure: I’m a mask-maker, so I have a vested interest in convincing more people to get cool transform masks!)

Transforms as a part of ongoing plot

Transform plot doesn’t have to be something that happens instead of a main storyline; it can be a part of it.

There is an elemental NPC who will only give certain plotline information out in exchange for service. So to get the info the PCs need, someone has to accept a transform from the NPC (and possibly do specific tasks for her).


There’s a major plot arc that involves fae courts. The PC base is doing mods, encounters, and fights to help the various courts defeat a mutual enemy. As a way of thanking the PCs who helped them, the leader of a court offers the opportunity for PCs to join their court as knights or champions(possibly after some further questing). Those PCs who join the court receive some kind of appropriate fae transform.

This sort of thing can also be personalized- In one such situation, there was a PC who was interested in fae plot, but his character also really cared about money, to an obsessive degree. So he was offered the chance to earn a leprechaun transform. His stat card was custom-written so he could utilize his money to be more effective when his transform was active.

Plot for scroll-earned transforms, too

Some people draw a major distinction between transforms PCs gain from interactions with NPCs, or transforms cast from formal scrolls. However, for the most part, they can both be handled in similar ways.

A PC wants to be a treeant, but has no idea how to go about pursuing this through plot (he’s never met a treeant NPC), so he has someone get a scroll for him instead. He has the scroll cast on him, and on another PC. One of the staff members sees that they’re really into this thing, so he makes a treeant NPC to go talk to them and test them, teaching them what treeants have to learn. Even though they already have their transforms, this NPC can help them get them higher level/re-upped, as well as teach them IG what they need to know to be a proper treeant.

Plot that is fun for non-transformed folk

There also seems to be this idea floating around that all transform-related plot is destined to be unfun for non-transformed PCs: dull and envy-inducing. That isn’t necessarily the case at all though! You just have to come up with cool, useful, and interesting things for the other PCs to do.

So the treeant guys’ first test is to be able to conceal themselves in the woods, and they have the time between events to prepare. The guys get all their natural-colored costuming, and bark-looking masks. One of them buys a ghillie suit! The next event, they are told at the appropriate time to conceal themselves by the NPC treeant.

Then the NPC goes and hires a group of players (lower-level and out-of-chapter guys, if I recall correctly) to go find these guys who are hiding in the woods. They split up and canvas the area, and eventually locate both of the hiding PCs. 

The non-transformed characters had an absolute blast, though I’m pretty sure some of them to this day have no idea the people they were hunting for were PCs. The transform guys pass their test, and the the other PCs have a great time hunting for them, and get treasure. Win-win!

Transforms as player-directed plot

Few things get players as invested as giving them the reins a bit, and transform plot can be a neat way to do that.

A PC approaches a dream elemental NPC and tells him that he has had a lot of interaction with Dream in the past, and would now like to work towards getting a transformation. Over the next few events, they have conversations about it in which the PC is asked what he wants his purpose to be as a dream elemental. The PC says he wants to give people hope in bad situations.

So the PC is given a series of tasks, over the next several events, where he has to talk to people who are feeling despair, and inspire them. So the main plot of the weekend might involve a liche who destroyed a town, but this PC’s specific task would be to talk to the survivors and encourage them to persevere and rebuild. His transform quest is somewhat self-directed, but it’s integrated into the existing plot of the game, not divorced from it.

When the PC has completed all of his tasks, he gets a transform with a personalized stat card– he has some of the usual dream elemental abilities, but not all; instead he has abilities that let him cast inspiration or renew the abilities of others with a rousing speech.

Transforms as a level equalizer/social switch-ups

Part of the problem with character level in NERO is that it often restricts which PCs can do fun stuff with each other. Transforms usually draw those lines in different ways, so a transform mod can provide an opportunity to hang out with different people than usual. If they’re both transformed, a 10th level guy can be as effective as a 40th level guy. Also, rather than go on a mod with people your level, or the people from your barony, you could go on a mod with all the elemental-transform people, or all the nature-themed-transform people.

Transform opportunities from emergent plot

Sometimes you plan out in advance what transforms are available through a particular plotline. And sometimes things just come to you:

There’s a fairly new, very young player, whose character is a gypsy rogue. The weekend plot has to do with elementals attacking and some weird elemental gateways.

By happenstance, this rogue finds himself caught on the other side of one of these gateways on the plane of earth, with an angry earth elemental. The elemental rants about how awful Tyrrans are, and why he’s mad, and threatens the gypsy. In classic fashion, he talks his way out of it, promising he’ll be the elemental’s ambassador, and convince those awful Tyrrans to stop whatever they’re doing.

So throughout the course of the weekend, as PCs are dealing with the plotline, this gypsy is the go between for the PCs and the earth elementals. PCs do various tasks to close the gates and solve the weekend plotline, and the gypsy keeps reporting back to his elemental boss. They have a lot of conversations like:

“Ahh, so you have told the Tyrrans of our might, and have convinced them to surrender their puny efforts to attack my realm?”

“Uhh, sure, ‘zat ees exactly vhat happened.”

Of course the staff member playing the elemental knows that’s not quite what happened, but his NPC doesn’t, so the charade continues, until the end of the event, when the plotline is finally solved, and the gateway closed. The earth elemental then rifts into town to congratulate the gypsy in front of all the PCs (and to see if someone tells him the real story).

Elemental: “I have come to congratulate my ambassador, who has single-handedly crushed the enemies of the earth realm and destroyed the accursed gateways that were eroding our home. Huzzah!

Crowd of PCs: Wooo, yaaaay! Huzzah! Go gypsy kid!

(Seriously, not one person outed him or tried to take partial credit for what was obviously a joint effort. It was hilarious and awesome.) So the gypsy gets a boon from the earth elemental.

Later, after being encouraged by other PCs, the gypsy tells the elemental that he’d like to use his boon to get a transformation. However, he tells the elemental that he values his fair, delicate skin, and doesn’t want it to turn all rocky. So the elemental offers to empower him as the ambassador of the earth realm, to represent them on Tyrra. After a few diplomacy-themed tests, the gypsy gets his transform and a personalized stat card.

He’s a newish player, so it has to be pretty simple, but also thematically appropriate. He gets some immunities (like to control), a handful of defenses, and no offensive abilities, but he gets a special power that lets him negotiate with someone in safety. While he is negotiating, he can’t use any other skills, but he calls no effect to everyone expect the one he’s negotiating with. The effect ends if that person attacks him, or if that person is attacked.

It was perfectly apropos for the player, the character, and the IG situation, but it’s definitely not the sort of thing that would be in a standardized transform database. Nor should it be, I think. Part of the value of the transform to that player was that someone took the time to customize something just for him.

  1. #1 by heather on May 10, 2011 - 4:34 pm

    Excellent article. I like some of the tips here, especially ideas that weave more of the roleplay and overall story into transforms. I hate it when people basically just go after transforms because they want to have better ink. Speaking of which, I think that’s one of the biggest problems with transforms as they are, is that a lot of chapters go crazy with them. If transforms were more roleplay-driven rather than OMG MONSTER ABILITIES, it would probably help tone down some of the problems we see, especially the problem where transformed PCs on a module tend to make it unfun for any non-transformed PCs. I can’t tell you the number of times plot has had to resort to silliness where some random NPC comes into town and grants temporary transforms to all the non-transform PCs just so they can participate with the plot aimed at the transformed folks.

    Personally I’ve always liked the idea of transforms from the standpoint that it allows the character to gain some uniqueness where it may otherwise be difficult in the NERO setting. Fun costuming and roleplay is also a benefit; I always love to see what the different PCs come out with whenever transforms are turned on. Interestingly enough, though, I’ve never had a transform for any of my own characters. I haven’t found something yet that “clicks” with me, and I didn’t want to have one just for the extra stats.

    • #2 by mummerscat on May 11, 2011 - 2:33 am

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked it!

      If it helps, I find that when you have players who got a transform for the stat card, it helps to treat them like that isn’t the case, even if you know it is. If someone became a Death Elemental for the L337 skillz, but they are constantly approached by NPCs who call their bluff and expect them to actually act like a Death Elemental, they will either shape up and adapt to the RP, or ditch their transform.

      One way of handling the power disparity between transformed and not-transformed PC is to only activate transforms on closed mods. So for a weekend plotline that involves a bunch of different modules to solve, one of those might require that PCs be transformed to go. Sometimes they make weird exceptions and give non-transformed people temporary empowerments if some IG circumstance requires them to go on the mod, but otherwise its pretty strict. So having a transform gives you the ability to go on these ‘pop mods,’ but it’s never activated in mixed company.
      (I’d never heard of this way of dealing with them until I played in Massachusetts, so it definitely seems like a Northeast thing, but it seems like something that could easily be applied elsewhere).

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