The Changeling Research Group 410 members · 1,111 stories
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So, before The Times They Are A Changeling, it could have been argued a changelings disguise was solely illusory in nature. This is clearly not the case if Changelings can take dragon form. Their disguise must at least partially involve some actual transmutation of the self, which leave a whole interesting slew of questions on what they can actually change about themselves.

These can be summed up as:

1) Is it magical in nature? Biological? Both?

2) Is their still illusion involved? If so, how much and where?

3) How does such transmutation affect their culture?

This thread is for these questions and any other subquestions that may stem from them.

To get started, let's look at one of the tougher issues. The third question can be broken up into a lot of subquestions. Some of... dubious nature isn't quite accurate. They'd be dubious by some human standards, but humans don't casually shapeshift. Suffice it to say casual shapeshifting in a species raises a lot of questions about what sorts ideas and characteristics they use to identify themselves on an individual basis.

For example, what kind of weight would sex and gender hold with changelings if they can simply change their sex at will? On the one hand, there's not exactly a need for their culture to develop the concept of a gender identity if they are capable of such fluid transformations. There would be no need to think in terms of he or she, because the species as a whole would not have ties to one or the other. Any "masculine" behaviors can just as easily become "feminine" behaviors in a burst of emerald flames, so the ability to identify one self as one or the other loses meaning. On the other hand, as a parasitic species, Changelings might see the weight ponies and other species put in sex and gender and thus choose to adopt it as a form of identification. In this case, rather the physical sex leading to the mental construct of gender, you would get the reverse. Changelings would view their personalities and actions in terms of other races definitions of 'masculine', 'feminine', and any other gender constructs they might come across, and then they would gain a preference for a physical form based on said identification.

There are other options, of course, but they can be hard to define when we don't even have something similar in the real world as far as I know. The closest I've found is something called sequential hermaphroditism where some species do, in fact, change sex over their lifespans. Clownfish live in small groups with one female, one male, and a number of sexless others. If the female dies, the male becomes female and one of the others grows a pair, but such hermaphroditism seems to always be based on certain environmental conditions -- like the lack of a female.

Changelings have potential for what is best described as selective hermaphroditism. They may be able to change sex at will, and might have to do so to survive and feed on love whenever the need arises. Indeed, it's questionable if they could have evolved in a way that their transformations could only be male or female, but not both. It would effectively cut off a significant portion of their food source, and that's all that would matter to them before the development of society. That said, we have Queen Chrysalis, so the first option is much less feasible unless the term Queen is more in reference to the role a Queen Bee might have.

My headcanon is that it's a complete biological change. Instinctively, when they shift, if they've got a specific target in mind, everything sort of follows (blood, bones, new organ systems). It's changeling magic. That being said, with the right amount of focus, they could, say, give themselves larger lungs and shift every other organ smaller for hiding underwater.
Illusion no; it's a complete bodily change. I've got one scene where Twilight says that she thinks this is a colossal waste of energy, and Chrysalis snarks that it's a good thing we didn't ask you, then.
Every changeling has a base, natural form; and it's changeling taboo to hide that (it's considered just plain wrong to change your changeling appearance, even as a joke). Changeling culture and pony culture are different enough that a good changeling infiltrator can take either sex and run with it, and still feel like they're just acting.

5456466 The bigger implication in the episode was the fact that they can turn into inanimate objects (a rock).
I think it's both biological and magical at the same time, like how pegasi, without overt magic, can walk on and manipulate clouds.
Plus the fact that they feed on love is clearly magical in nature.

5456466 I generally go with the idea that it's just some sort of glamour they use; they don't actually change, but everyone that sees them just thinks they look/smell/feel like something else. I mean, if they can effectively alter their physical make-up to literally anything they want they'd pretty much be unstoppable. :rainbowlaugh:

5457016
Oddly enough, I view passive magic as a sort of awkward inbetween point on the magic versus biology scale. There's the ever common idea that Pegasi passive magic allows them to fly with wings to small for flight, for example. It's something that's evolved. In contrast, unicorn magic is learned and cast consciously. It's about as far from biological as it gets.

5457033
Actually, based on how Glamors are usually treated in fiction, a pure Glamor at this point is the more terrifying option. Most glamors are generally depicted as fooling some but not all of the senses -- in particular, the sense of touch is almost always a major weakness to any glamor. A phantasm sometimes fools touch, but the key aspect of phantasms -- well at least in DnD terms -- is that they're usually more personal spells. A phantasm lurks in the mind of the few subject to the spell, allowing a more convincing facade, but a glamor projects onto reality itself so everyone is subject to it. Having a phantasm powerful enough to continually affect anyone coming in range or a glamor strong enough to routinely fool every sense flawlessly over extended periods of time would suggest that Changelings are such masters of mind magic that they wouldn't need to bother with hiding. Illusion magic's capabilities are only limited by your imagination at that kind of ability to deceive.

In contrast, transmutation can grant you the powers of what you turn into, but you are constrained to the same limits as what you shift into, possibly less depending on how complete the transformation is, and energy costs tend to be a bit more extreme because the change is tangible. Thorax as Spike, for example, might not truly have the full capabilities of a dragon. What we saw suggested he could match Spike's shape, but nothing says the transformation was more than mimicry of shape. He might breathe fire -- key word might -- but there's a chance it would lack the magical properties of a real dragon.

I normally, think of the process of a mix of small transmutations that cover the wholes in the glamors. Giving yourself a normal pony sized tongue, or shifting the density of chitin such that it's pliable and smooth like skin.

5456532
I've never really understood that particular viewpoint -- the true form one, I mean. It makes more sense if changelings are cursed or converted ponies, because then they have a base pony mind set, but if we're talking about an evolved species there is absolutely no reason for them to have any attachment to their "true" form. Their shapeshifting is part of them. It's a natural tool used for who knows how many years, so being uncomfortable with it in any way doesn't really make sense. I mean, should catapillars be ashamed of metamorphosis because they're losing the form they were born with? Of course not, because it's simply part of their maturation. True form is a very human idea. We're born in bodies that -- compared to some other species out there -- don't really change. We have very stable forms, so it's quite natural that we tie our physical forms to our identity. Changelings on the other hand can literally be anything it seems. Unless they absorbed the idea of true form from another species culture -- like ponies -- then there isn't really a need for them to care about their "true" form. It's too... absolute a concept for a species that literally lives off of constantly changing their bodies.

5457171
I disagree mostly because I've been an actor, I've played roles, I've worked different jobs that needed me to act differently, I've become someone else; but I always had myself to go back to when I was done. I like to think changelings are pretty proud of their culture and their (hidden) contributions to society, and revert to their normal changeling shape as often as they can. That's not to say they're uncomfortable with it; they've just got a home position they revert to.
I think that ponies and changelings are different enough that when a changeling becomes a pony, they're 'hunting' and don't see it as "I'm a pony now"; it's "I'm hiding as a pony now".

5457171 Yeah, an all-sense glamour could be quite overwhelming in power, depending on what limitations are placed upon it. I mean, if a changeling could glamour itself as anything it wanted then they could become perfectly undetectable, bucking somepony in the face (or worse!) and leaving them wondering why their face suddenly hurts. :rainbowlaugh:

I suppose a limitation on such a power would be one of imagination, ie. that a changeling could only disguise themselves as a thing they can perceive as 'real'... which would make disguising oneself as something imperceptible problematic for any changeling without a very unusual mind. :pinkiecrazy:

5457237
Well, yes, they should have a home position, but that home position should be based on what they find preferable -- what they enjoy -- even if that ends up being a pony. Saying it's taboo to change their form is like saying it's taboo for Rarity to make the next big fashion. Maybe someling likes stripes or spots so he changes the pattern of his carapace. Maybe someling likes square holes instead of round ones. Maybe someling wants a razzmatazz mane with Xanadu highlights. Shapeshifting is a tool for them to use, as well as a means of self expression, and unless their species is completely immune to vanity I'm pretty sure it'd be natural for them to experiment and make their "true" form an expression of who they are. In essence, their true form would be that of a relative truth not an absolute.

I just thought of a severe issue (or benefit, depending on your POV) with changeling shapeshifting being a physical transformation: since they can shift into inanimate objects, there's nothing preventing a disgruntled (or very dedicated) changeling from transforming into a supercritical mass of plutonium-239. :rainbowlaugh:

Except it would kill the ling at once.

5457171

He might breathe fire

In the alternate reality where Changelings rule Equestria, Spike was asked to do 'something dragon-like' to prove he wasn't a changeling.

My head-canon is that changelings can only mimic physical shapes, not magical properties that they don't already possess.

5457287 I agree with you. To changeling, appearance is the same thing as avatars are to us. Some may choose the default one, like 5604569, for instance. The rest may choose their own as an extension of their personality or just switch through them based on their current feel.

As was seen with Thorax, he had no problem shape-shifting just for the fun of it.

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