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Shapeshifter Mode Lock

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"However, the giants of the Sul’at League studied the Gyrderi and found a way to counter the druids—the giants enacted a terrible curse that forever bound them in the wild shapes they were wearing, trapping them and their descendants in the forms of animals."
Eberron, "Secrets of Xen'drik, Chapter 3"

You know how when you were a kid, your mother always said that if you kept making that face, it'd stay that way?

This is the Shapeshifting equivalent, where the shapeshifter gets stuck in a particular form, unable to use their shapeshifting powers. If they're lucky, they're stuck in their most natural or inconspicuous form (possibly their Shapeshifter Default Form), but if not, the body they're stuck in is either weak and pitiful, or monstrous and riot-inciting.

Conversely, milder forms of Mode Lock may lock someone out of a certain form instead of into one, or require that they stay in the form they take for a certain amount of time. In practice, used to establish contrivance to why a shapeshifter may not look optimal to a situation.

The name is taken from Transformers, more specifically, from the Transformers: Universe profile for Cloudraker, where it is in an issue of the Marvel comic book, which states "His major physical problem is a tendency to suffer "mode-lock" — the inability to transform from one mode to another."

Compare The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body, And I Must Scream, First Law of Gender Bending. See also Power Incontinence. Contrast Involuntary Shapeshifting, Trapped in the Host (which is more or less the equivalent when a spirit or demon possesses a host and then can't get back out), and A Rotten Time to Revert.


Examples:

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    Comic Strips 
  • Appears in Calvin and Hobbes when Calvin's Transmogrifier Gun runs out of juice after a Shapeshifter Showdown, leaving Calvin stuck in the form of an owl until it recharges. Somehow, his mother doesn't seem to notice, but humours him.
  • In Scary Gary, Gary, a vampire, gets stuck in his bat form but with his human face at one point, and needs Owen to help him figure out what’s wrong, since as a bat, he can’t flip through the pages of his copy of an "undead owners manual".
    Owen: It says to be able to change back, you must first achieve mental clarity and emotional stability.
    Leopold: You better get used to those wings, bat boy.

    Fan Works 
  • All Assorted Animorphs AUs: Besides all the instances of this from canon...
    • Jake accidentally becomes stuck as a tiger in "What if Jake was stuck in morph?". He later gets his morphing ability back with the tiger as his base form from the Ellimist á la Tobias in The Change, then nothlits himself as a human at the end. Also, instead of turning David into a rat, Jake orders him to create a new human morph and stay in it for over two hours, then turn himself into the local youth shelter.
    • Kelly, whose cystic fibrosis can't be cured by morphing, nothlits herself into a new human identity in "What if the Auximorphs joined the team right away?".
    • "What if Tobias was stuck as a human in #33?" has it right there in the title.
    • Part of the premise of "What if Tobias and Rachel lived in NYC post-war?" is that Tobias nothlited himself as a human in adulthood.
  • Dæmorphing:
    • Aldrea, Arbron, Elfangor, and Tobias all become nothlits as in canon, but Aftran doesn't become a whale, nor does David get trapped as a rat.
    • Instead, Tom ends up spending too long as a Hork-Bajir; and after Alloran is killed, Esplin infests Gafinilan and nothlits him in Alloran's body.
    • Loren becomes an Andalite nothlit in A Place to Stand's alternate timeline to be with Elfangor.
    • The author makes a point of averting this with the Yeerks and Taxxons; they took issue with two entire species essentially committing genocide on themselves being portrayed as a happy ending.
  • Navarone and Twilight are temporarily locked in pegasus and human form respectively in Diaries of a Madman. Nav later also ends up being locked in female form after his gender switching stones backfire.
  • A Diplomatic Visit:
    • Swift-Pad's changeling friend Maxilla informs Swift-Pad that they've been given permission to do this, assuming the form of a female wolf permanently to prove how much he/she cares about him and their relationship. Swift-Pad, fully aware of the meaning behind this act, becomes fully committed to the relationship as a result. Maxilla later officially undergoes it in chapter 26.
    • Chapter 26 reveals that doing this is a last-resort option for changelings who don't want to die with their Queen.
  • While in the original series they chose to mode lock (making it not a real example), in Dragon Ball Z Abridged Goku and Gohan stay Super Saiyan cause they forgot how to power down.
    Gohan: Truthfully it's very concerning.
  • Eleutherophobia:
    • It's mentioned in THX 1138 that some people, nicknamed "transcenders", choose to permanently morph into new bodies, though it requires a ton of paperwork beforehand.
    • In Slaughterhouse-Five, Jake warns his class that the punishment for abusing morphing is being made into a nothlit.
    • Tom comes close to getting stuck as a king cobra in Escape from L.A. while he's lost in the sewers; he's barely able to demorph on time.
  • Standard for the first 72 hours in this paranormal-themed Emergency! fic series if a person manages to survive the initial infection that produces cat-shifters. After that, shifting comes freely.
  • In If Wishes Were Ponies: Animagi traveling through the portal from Earth to Equestria are automatically transformed into a Pony; regardless of whether they were in their Human or Animal Forms when crossing over as was shown with Sirius Black, Albus Dumbledore, Rita Skeeter, and Peter Pettigrew. By Book II, it is discovered that this Mode Lock also extends to Werewolves as was shown when Remus Lupin accidentally gazed up at Lunas' Full Moon, and collapsed in pain as the Werewolf Curse tried to forcibly transform him out of his Pony Body: only to wind up destroying itself and curing Lupin of his Lycanthropy altogether.
  • In Mirrored after Harry polyjuiced himself to look like Voldemort the polyjuice has a reaction with the horcrux inside Harry so he was stuck looking like Voldemort for an extended period of time.
  • Natsuru, of Kämpfer, is a Magical Girl whose real form is male. In Resonance Days, she dies and winds up in the Puella Magi afterlife, where she's now permanently in Magical Girl form. She seems to have taken it fairly well, though.
  • Tabula Rasa is centered around Ranma undergoing an irreversible one in her female form thanks to a gem that Cologne mistakenly told her and Ryoga would lift the curse.
  • Things I Am Not Allowed to Do at the PPC: Using the Imperius Curse to mind-control a morph-capable agent into staying shapeshifted longer than two hours and getting stuck as whatever they turned into is not allowed.
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug fic This Is It, The Apocalypse, Marinette and Adrien both get trapped in their superhero forms when their kwamis go into hibernation without warning.
  • In With Strings Attached, it happens to George thanks to a flaw in the ring that normally allows him to shape change at will. He gets stuck as a pigeon in New Zork and is not happy about it; he uses his ring more cautiously for a time after it happens.
    • A bigger problem for George in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, to the point where he becomes afraid to use his ring lest it die completely and trap him in some other form. And, indeed, Mode Lock kills him when he gets thrown into the Hungry Sea and can't change. He gets better real quick.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Howl's Moving Castle, Calcifer warns Howl that the more often Howl changes into his semi-avian form, the greater the chance that Howl will lose his humanity and never be able to change back. Other wizards in the film are mentioned to have done this deliberately in order to help with a war effort; Howl notes that by the time the war ends, they'll have forgotten that they were ever human to begin with.
  • In The Return of Hanuman, one of the conditions for Hanuman to be reincarnated as a human on Earth is that when he turns back into the original Hanuman, he could not turn back into human form.
  • Occurs in The Secret of Kells. After allowing Crom Cruach to hurt her so she can let Brendan sneak past safely, Aisling is stuck in her white wolf form, unable to speak to Brendan anymore. In the Distant Finale of the movie, however, we briefly see her in her human appearance, implying the lock is starting to wear off, or possibly already has.
  • In Turning Red, this is the purpose of the talismans Mei's female relatives wear; they lock the women into their human forms unless the talismans are broken.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald introduces the concept of Maledictuses to the Harry Potter lore. Maledictuses are women who are inflicted with a blood curse from birth, which would eventually transform them permanently into a beast. In fact, Nagini the snake was once a woman herself.
  • Ghostbusters: Whenever Gozer enters a reality and prepares to destroy it, it forces the inhabitants of that world to pick the form it will take as it does so. Once that form is decided, Gozer can only ever use that specific form while in that reality; once Ray semi-accidentally causes Gozer to choose the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man as its form on Earth, it always has to manifest as the Marshmallow Man in every subsequent attack on Earth in the Expanded Universe, no matter how many times the form is defeated.
  • The Magic Door: Liam captures the Black Witch when she's a mouse, which means she doesn't have room to turn back to normal.
  • My Favorite Martian: Elliot Coleye gets ahold of some of the nerplex gum that the Martians use to transform into different species. He's initially exhilarated to transform into an alien himself (as he had spent the whole film desperately trying to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life), but in the midst of the change he accidentally swallows the gum, leaving him stuck like that. This proves inconvenient when his fellow SETI members tranquilize and capture him despite his protestations that he's Dr. Coleye.
  • Done to the goddess Calypso by the First Brethren Court many years before the events of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, trapping her in the form of Tia Dalma. She says that "it has been torture."
  • Wes Craven's New Nightmare: When a new Nightmare movie is plagued by a mysterious series of deaths, it's revealed that an ancient shapeshifting evil that has existed in various forms throughout time but which can be contained by stories has been impersonating Freddy Krueger for the past 10 years. After being stuck as Freddy for so long, the spirit started to believe that it actually was Freddy and tries to target Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played the first Final Girl to face him.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In Celtic Mythology, the pregnant aunt of Finn Mac Cool is transformed into a dog by a jealous fairy. Although she is later restored, her twin children remain as dogs, because that was the form they were born in.
  • In Norse Mythology, Loki suffered a temporary Shapeshifter Mode Lock in the form of a mare, before giving birth to Sleipnir. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Selkies:
    • Some unscrupulous men invoke this trope by stealing the selkies' sealskins to trap them in human form and force them into marriage.
    • In some versions, selkies can only go on land a certain number of times before suffering permanent Mode Lock as a seal or human, depending on what they were at the time.
  • Another shapeshifter myth: the Margotines are fey white cats that can change into pretty human females — or can confer a human female the power to turn into a white cat. However, if the woman is wounded while in this form, she can no longer change back to her true shape — and the Margotine cannot turn into a human any longer either.
  • In some legends, the cat sìth is actually a witch who has transformed into a cat nine times, at which point they can't transform back. This is presumably related to the idea that Cats Have Nine Lives.

    Podcasts 
  • The Adventure Zone: Dust has Errol Ryehouse, who's stuck half-transformed after a botched attempt at removing his lycanthropy.

    Roleplay 
  • We Are All Pokémon Trainers:
    • If an armbanded human is caught while in Pokémon form, the Vow takes precedence and the human is forced to stay as a mon unless they're released. (The armband can be taken off, but they won't shift back to their original form.) However, putting on a Pokémon to human armband can work around that restriction.
    • The mon bombs used by the Seven Jerk Dragons work under similar principles, including the Pokémon to human armband loophole.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Amber Diceless Role Playing, it's possible for someone using Shapeshifting to lose the knowledge of how to shapeshift or even the ability itself, stranding them in their current form. It's also possible for them to lose their personality and take on the personality of the creature or person they're imitating, so they don't want to change back.
  • Ars Magica. Using Muto Corporem (shapechanging) spells is potentially dangerous. If a mage spends a month in the shape of an animal, they will start to act and think like that animal. Eventually they could lose their human personalities altogether.
  • A Transforming Mecha example from BattleTech. A Land-Air 'Mech that takes either a gyro hit or an actuator hit is as good as stuck in whichever form it's in at the moment. It has to have a complete working set of joints in order to transform properly. This property makes Land-Air 'Mechs into extremely Fragile Speedsters.
  • The Call of Cthulhu module Horror's Heart introduces the spell Cage of Kind, which causes a loup-garou to first shapeshift uncontrollably, then eventually become permanently locked in animal form.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • A number of spells, like moonbeam and wall of moonlight, can force a shapeshifted creature back into its default form and prevent it from transforming for a short time.
    • Traditionally, clerics who followed moon deities had the ability to inflict this trope on shapeshifters, primarily werebeasts but frequently on other shapeshifters as well.
    • The overwhelming majority of shapeshifting powers being supernatural in nature, any form of Anti-Magic (including a dead magic zone or a null-magic plane) will immediately revert shapeshifters into their true forms, and keep them from transforming again until they escape the area.
    • Eberron:
      • When the elves, most of which were the slaves of the giants, rebelled, the Gyrderi, who were the free elves, decided to help their kin. Being druids, they had an ability called wild shape, which lets them shapeshift into animals. The giants trapped the Gyrderi, and their descendants in their wild shaped forms.
      • The 3.5th Edition sourcebook Race of Eberron indicates that this is what happens to changelings if they become pregnant — they are still able to shift between female forms, but they can't shift to a non-female form until they give birth.
  • In Exalted, if a Lunar Exalted's anima banner gets too intense, the Lunar will be Mode Locked to a handful of his most iconic forms until the anima banner dies down.
  • Forgotten Futures: A magician who transforms into an animal may come to believe that they are that animal and prolong the spell until it becomes permanent and erases their true personality.
  • The Innistrad set of Magic: The Gathering has a beneficial one for Werewolves: Immerwolf, translating from German to "Everwolf". Werewolves normally transform back and forth between their human and wolf form depending on the amount of spells cast on the last turn, and their human forms are typically much weaker. As long as Immerwolf is on the battlefield, all werewolves already in wolf form are locked into it, making them far more formidable (werewolves in human form remain free to shapeshift into beast form, but not out of it).
    • A corollary is the Planeswalker Arlinn Kord, herself a werewolf native to Innistrad. She changes between human and wolf form, but only beneath the light of Innistrad's moon. She can Planeswalk to other worlds in either form, but is Mode Locked until she returns to Innistrad.
  • Weaponized by Task Force: Valkyrie in New World of Darkness with their Equalizer Grenades. You know how rapidly blinking bright light can cause seizure? Same principle, but it's applied to the part of the brain that controls shapeshifting. Suddenly those werewolves find themselves back to human form and unable to switch back, making them easy pickings.
  • The Court of Mirrors from Princess: The Hopeful have an interesting twist on this trope. Most Princesses are standard Henshin Hero fare: they default to a human form, can temporarily assume a powerful magical form, and must concentrate and make an effort to hold that form for long stretches of time. Princessess of Mirrors, on the other hand, default to their magical form and have to make an effort to assume or stay in their human shape.
  • In Rage (the card game based off of Werewolf: the Apocalypse), Tamara Lovegrove of the Seventh Generation can lock Garou into their current form as her special ability.
  • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse itself, there are a few ways it can come up:
    • Werewolves and other shapeshifters can "lose the wolf," permanently losing their Rage and becoming trapped in their birth-form, if they suffer too severely from depression.
    • There was once a gift that let a werewolf stay in Crinos war-form (used either for major battles or as punishment), but it's been long lost.
    • One variant that only kicks in upon death is a rite that locks a dead metis' corpse into either Homid or Lupus form instead of the Crinos form that a dead metis would normally take, done to preserve The Masquerade.
    • One particularly creepy one comes from when a shifter is possessed by a Weaver spirit and turned into a drone. Since the Weaver is all about calcified, unchanging "perfection," its drones cannot change at all - for shifters, this includes never being able to change into their other forms. This (combined being possessed by a spirit that works for an insane embodiment of pure order) invariably drives the shifter insane. The Weaver fortunately is loathe to do this, however, as it recognizes that its shapeshifting allies are more useful with that ability intact in most cases.
    • A particular vulnerability of the Rokea shifters is born of their link to the sea. Even if they find or possess other means of maintaining their Gnosis when they go too long without immersion in seawater or something close to it they are locked into whatever form they are in when the clock runs out forever, as one NPC operating in the upper reaches of the Amazon basin found out the hard way.
  • Downplayed in Werewolf: The Forsaken. A werewolf whose Harmony has tilted too far towards their human side can still shift forms, but it takes longer and requires Essence.
    • A variant with the idigam. These spirits start out as Formless, ever-shifting creatures of chaos whose weaknesses change from scene to scene. Once they choose something by which to define themselves they Coalesce, locking themselves into a specific shape and gaining a defined powerset, with the cost of also giving themselves a permanent Ban and Bane. They can revert to Formlessness, but it requires considerable effort and few are willing to lose the powers of their Coalesced form.

    Toys 
  • The Mistika Makuta from BIONICLE suffered from this, after being exposed to the Pit Mutagen.
  • Transformers: Generation 1:
    • Powermasters in theory, required their Nebulan partner in order to transform from vehicle mode to robot mode (in reality, all that was really required was to simply press a button. The toy was capable of working without it, but the partner made it a tad easier — not to mention the toys looked better with the partner attached).
    • More severe were the Action Masters, a series of non-transforming Transformer toys, stuck in their robot modes. The fluff explained that they had taken a substance called Nucleon, that had rendered them more powerful, more 'alive', but robbed them of their ability to transform into vehicles. To compensate for this, the Action Masters were all packaged with transformable accessories, such as weapons or vehicles.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • College Roomies from Hell!!!: Roger's mom is stuck in furry form (and happy that way), and tells him that it will eventually happen to him too.
  • Darths & Droids: Boba Fett is a shapeshifter, but acquires a childhood injury which locks him into the shape of his adopted father, Jango Fett.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Grace and her brothers could each shapeshift partially or fully into whatever animal's DNA was thrown in with their human DNA. Since the brothers were a threat at the time, Grace hoped they wouldn't be able to turn back to normal if they were hit with Tedd's transformation gun. They dropped that plan when all it did to Grace was give her new forms she could shapeshift to.
    • Which brings us to Vlad, who was in a de facto mode lock as his attempt to turn human nearly killed him; he ended up stuck in his hybrid wolf/bat/falcon form. He's unlocked after Ellen transforms him into a woman, but the idea of losing human form again bothers her so much she refuses to be transformed into anything else. It's implied that she rejects everything about her old form, including her former gender.
    • Also the TF Gun has a built in mode lock related to its original purpose: Transformations normally only last 30 days, but If you get pregnant while transformed, you stay female. (It's implied that you can always use the gun again after giving birth.)
  • In Harbourmaster, Seisha has such a strong Healing Factor that any shapeshifter which samples her DNA will wind up turning into her — permanently. This results in Mormo, who took over ten thousand forms over its life, captured and put into stasis until Gilou and the other Aquaans can figure out how to fix it, just on general principles. After all, there's nothing preventing someone from making another Seisha somehow.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Princess Voluptua is an insectoid alien who routinely uses a device to appear human. In the Cone story arc, it gets stuck, which is terribly dangerous.
  • In Jix, the main aliens (the Ambis) have the ability to going from cute and fuzzy to large and pointy beasts. This is known as their feral form. One of the villains, Maricax, was introduced in his feral form, unable to revert back to normal. That is...until another villain named Kelelder gives him super healing ability.
  • In NIMONA a comical incident in which the titular shapeshifter is briefly trapped in feline form becomes the catalyst for the webcomic's Cerebus Syndrome and a climactic Chekhov's Gun.
  • Slightly Damned: Kieri's "bunny curse" occasionally kicks in by itself and is difficult to revert.
  • In Spinnerette, the Werewolf of London, Ontario trained hard until he could change from human to werewolf and back again whenever he wanted. Then he forgot how to do it, and is now stuck in werewolf form permanently.
  • In Yokoka's Quest, anyone who enters Betel's Forest is turned into a beast form, and those who can normally shapeshift are unable to revert while remaining there. Kalliv couldn't revert until chapter 3, despite leaving the forest in chapter 2.

    Web Original 
  • In the Altered Fates universe created by Jennifer Adams, featuring the Medallion of Zulo, one changed by the Medallion has to wait twelve hours to change again or change back. The Medallion also tends to disappear or get misplaced at inconvenient times, leaving the changed person stuck in his new form forever.
  • The horror story We don't make good wives explains why one should never do this to a shapeshifting snake woman, no matter how much of a Cute Monster Girl you think she is.
  • Whateley Universe: Apparently this is a known hazard for shapeshifters, one common enough to be mentioned in the Powers Theory class and textbook.
    • Pejuta warns her brother Pounce about this, when he complains about having to set the biometric lock to his dorm room to accept readings in each of his forms (which includes a puma form, as well as a Cat Girl-esque form he finds embarrassing).
    • At one point, twins Phobos and Deimos were stuck while fused into their Fury form, and Jobe's attempt to separate them caused their already significant GSDnote  to worsen. It also led to Phobos' death months later, due to unforeseen interactions with the genetic tampering which had been done several years earlier by their mother, the Nazi supervillainess Wolfin the Purifier, unbeknownst to the twins.
    • In the Gen 2 stories, Reinforce can get stuck in a form for up to half an hour if he changes to many times in quick succession, or takes a form that is too different from human (such as that of his brother Razorback).

 
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Alternative Title(s): Mode Lock

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Forever Phantom

Danny Phantom finds himself unable to shift into any other mode.

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