This spell transforms a creature that you can see within range into a new form. An unwilling creature must make a Wisdom saving throw to avoid the effect. The spell has no effect on a shapechanger or a creature with 0 hit points.
The transformation lasts for the duration, or until the target drops to 0 hit points or dies. The new form can be any beast whose challenge rating is equal to or less than the target’s (or the target’s level, if it doesn’t have a challenge rating). The target’s game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of the chosen beast. It retains its alignment and personality.
The target assumes the hit points of its new form. When it reverts to its normal form, the creature returns to the number of hit points it had before it transformed. If it reverts as a result of dropping to 0 hit points, any excess damage carries over to its normal form. As long as the excess damage doesn’t reduce the creature’s normal form to 0 hit points, it isn’t knocked unconscious.
The creature is limited in the actions it can perform by the nature of its new form, and it can’t speak, cast spells, or take any other action that requires hands or speech.
The target’s gear melds into the new form. The creature can’t activate, use, wield, or otherwise benefit from any of its equipment.
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S, M (a caterpillar cocoon)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour
School: 4th-level transmutation
Player’s Handbook, pg. 266
Polymorph is a staple of Dungeons and Dragons that’s been around since the game’s first edition. It’s also a concept that exists in fantasy stories and cultures across the world and through the ages.
In DnD 5e, Polymorph is a powerful utility spell that can transform your allies into useful beasts, or turn a powerful villain into a (basically) harmless turtle.
This article will go into more detail about maximizing Polymorph’s potential. It will also cover common Polymorph rules questions and provide tips for DMs running the spell.
Who Can Cast Polymorph in 5e?
The following classes have Polymorph on their spell list:
The following subclasses get Polymorph for free:
- Cleric (Trickery Domain)
What Does Polymorph Do in 5e?
Polymorph replaces a target creature’s game statistics with the statistics of a beast, including all ability scores and hit points.
If the creature is unwilling, it must pass a Wisdom saving throw to avoid the effect. The new form of the target cannot have a challenge rating that exceeds the target’s challenge rating (or character level).
The target can only perform the actions that the beast performs and can’t speak, cast spells, or take any action requiring hands.
Basically, put aside your character sheet or the target’s statblock and use the beast’s statblock instead — it’s as simple as that.
Polymorph lasts for up to 1 hour (concentration permitting) or until the target drops to 0 hit points or dies.
If the target is brought to 0 hit points, it reverts back to its normal form, with excess damage carrying over to its normal form. It doesn’t fall unconscious unless the damage also brings its normal form to 0 hit points.
The target’s gear does gain any benefit from their equipment in their new form, nor can they use items.
Shapechangers and creatures with 0 hit points are unaffected by Polymorph.
What Are the Rules for Polymorph in 5e?
The rules for Polymorph in DnD 5e are as follows:
Polymorph’s target does not lose concentration on spells. Otherwise, a spellcaster who used Polymorph on themselves would have it instantly break, as it is itself a concentration spell. This has been confirmed by the game’s developers.
Polymorph’s target loses class and subclass features. Things like Barbarian’s Rage and Rogue’s Sneak Attack don’t function if a creature is under the effects of Polymorph. Again, we have developer confirmation that “Polymorph replaces your game statistics, including class features.”
Weirdly, Arcane Ward (Abjuration Wizard subclass feature) is an exception to this rule in the developers’ opinion because “its duration isn’t dependent on your form” — an explanation I find confusing.
For me, it’s far simpler to say, “throw out your character sheet and use the beast’s statblock instead while under the effects of Polymorph,” so I can safely ignore all the edge cases.
You retain your memories and personality while Polymorphed. “You’re still you, despite the radical changes you undergo.” Polymorph targets may lose some reasoning power, but they still recognize friend from foe. They should also remember the gist of any plans they made pre-transformation and have basically the same goals.
External effects and conditions remain on a creature after they are Polymorphed. If you’re diseased in your regular form, you’re also diseased while Polymorphed, for example. This extends to advantageous effects, like Bless, as well.
Polymorph can’t restore an unconscious ally with 0 hit points. Unfortunately, you can’t use Polymorph to bring up a downed ally. The line “The spell has no effect on…a creature with 0 hit points” in the spell’s description makes that plain.
How Do I Use Polymorph in 5e?
Here are a few ways to use Polymorph in DnD 5e:
Use it as a disable. One of the most potent uses of Polymorph is using it to turn a powerful enemy into a non-threatening beast. The best option for this is a rat (bad speed, weak attack), or an aquatic creature that has no on-land movement speed.
Then, your party can deal with the other enemies in the area, circle the Polymorphed bad guy, ready your actions, and pummel through their hit points. Even though they’ll revert back to their normal form at 0 hit points, you’ll still have gained the initiative and dealt with all their minions.
Use it as a combat form. The Giant Ape is usually your best bet, unless your DM lets you be a T-Rex (many require that you’ve actually seen the creature in your life, so dinos are out for most characters). With a massive hit point pool (157), a melee multiattack that averages 22 damage on hit, a ranged attack that averages 30 damage, great physical stats, and a Huge size, the Giant Ape is just terrific to have around.
Cast it for temporary hit points. Some people argue that Polymorph is the biggest healing spell in the game, with the potential to grant an ally 100+ “temporary hit points” in the form of their new beast statblock.
Indeed, if your party’s tank is low on health, Polymorph can be just the thing to let them continue fighting…and absorbing damage instead of having it directed at your squishy caster body.
Make an enemy easier to capture. If you have a quest to bring a criminal back to face justice, Polymorph can be incredibly helpful. Turn the big-bad into a tiny creature, pop them in a cage, and bring them back to collect your reward.
If town is farther than 1 hour away, you’ll either need multiple castings or to make the cage strong (and big) enough to contain the evil dude once he reverts back to his normal form.
“Vanish” from pursuers. Getting chased in a city? Turn yourself into a run-of-the-mill city rat. Bandits pursuing you down a poorly-traveled path? Turn into an owl and fly out of that bad situation. The best part is your trace will vanish along with your normal form, even if your pursuers are using hunting dogs and the like.
Scout ahead. The owl, giant owl, giant eagle, rat, flying snake, and quetzalcoatlus are all good general-purpose options for scouting forms. Of course, you should consider the natural environment as well — an owl in a throne room isn’t exactly the most inconspicuous thing.
Make flying creatures land-bound, or land creatures aquatic. Just beware — the fall damage and suffocation effects might cause them to revert back to their normal form faster than you anticipated.
Fling now-tiny Polymorphed enemies to their death. The idea here is to Polymorph the bad guy into a rat or some other tiny beast, and then pick them up and throw them to their death.
A rat only has one hit point to “absorb” the damage before it reverts, and if you throw it from high enough, the remainder of that 20d6 bludgeoning fall damage should be enough to finish (or seriously weaken) most enemies.
Make a mount. If you need to get somewhere quick, why not turn one of your buddies (or yourself) into a warhorse to speed things up? Even flying mounts are possible and the Giant Eagle even offers flying mount capability — so long as you have an exotic saddle on hand (PHB 155).
Explore underwater. Underwater missions can be tricky. But not when you’re an octopus, a whale, or just a plane ol’ fish — depending on what you plan on getting up once you’re under the sea.
Spy on people. Similar to scouting, Polymorph is great for spying. Turn into a non-descript pigeon or city bird, alight on your mark’s window sill, and listen to all the secret conversations or read all the secret memos without fear of being identified.
Combine with the Power Word Kill spell. Last but not least, this high-level tip allows you to basically one-shot any enemy if you’re willing to use a 4th- and 9th-level spell slot on the ordeal. Power Word Kill instantly kills a creature with 100 or fewer hit points — no death saving throws, no reverting back to their regular form — just straight up dead.
If you Polymorph an enemy into a beast with <101 hit points, you or an ally can always follow up with Power Word Kill to eliminate them -- regardless of how tough their normal form is.
Who Can I Target With Polymorph 5e?
You can target any creature you can see within range with Polymorph. However, if it is unwilling, it must make a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC; if it succeeds, Polymorph has no effect.
Is Polymorph 5e a Good Spell?
Yes, Polymorph is a great spell in 5e. With offensive, defensive, and pure utility applications, Polymorph really can do it all.
While it’s not always the right tool for the situation, it’s often in the mix of the most optimal spells to have prepared.
Polymorph 5e DM Tips
Polymorph is a fairly straightforward spell to run, but there are certainly a number of tricky situations for a DM to handle. Here’s my two cents on these:
A Polymorphed creature can use basic tactics. Regardless of how unintelligent the beast form is, Polymorph shouldn’t turn your players into actual beasts — the game’s developers have made that clear enough.
But if a player in Polymorph form wants to run over to grab the MacGuffin rather than retaliate against a guy who just stabbed him in the leg, that’s more of a gray area for me. My feeling is that players should do their best to roleplay how their new form would realistically behave, without acting against the interests of the party.
Don’t let players Polymorph into creatures they’ve never seen before. The T-rex is the best beast a player can turn into with Polymorph — and players know this. But how many DnD characters feature a background replete with dinosaurs? Not many, from my experience.
My reasoning is that if a player can turn into any beast (even ones they have no idea exist), then what’s to stop them from turning into an even more powerful beast that they also have no idea exists? Why not make up totally new beasts with unbeatable powers?
And, again, roleplaying plays a role — what has your character experienced, and what can they do with that experience? That’s basically the crux of all RPGs, and I don’t see why DnD 5e should be any different here.
Employ enemies who are resistant to nonmagical damage if players rely on Polymorph forms too much. This isn’t even something you need to go out of your way for, really. As players level up, the regular attacks of their Polymorph forms will be less effective against higher-level enemies who are resistant (or even immune) to damage from nonmagical weapons.
Dispel Magic or go for the caster’s concentration. This is another good option for players who rely on Polymorph too heavily.