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Surveying the Rule:

Shapechanging magic (polymorph, polymorph any object, shapechange) is completely frelled. The idea of changing shape is such a strong one in fantasy literature, but we've yet to see a version of polymorph that isn't horribly abusable. Every new revision just changes the dumb tricks players can use. And there are a lot of reasons for this, I think.

1.) Monsters aren't designed with players in mind. Most of them are given abilities that, in the hands of PCs, are insanely game-breaking. There's no standardization for monster abilites, no basis for how to build them so that they won't become abusable. This is the basis for ECL, but unfortunately ECL doesn't help when you can shapechangeinto that creature anyway.

2.) What abilities are granted by polymorph is confusing because not all monster authors were consistent in putting certain abilities in the "Special Attack" line and others in the "Special Qualities" line. Further, the defining abilities of a creature may actually be SQ's; with polymorph as worded, you do not get Scent if you change into a wolf, or you do not gain Low-light Vision if you change into an owl. That's counterintuitive.

3.) Polymorph currently makes your physical scores irrelevent. This is mostly a druid issue; after 5th level, a druid can take Natural Spell and spend all of his/her time in wild shape, making her rolled physical scores meaningless. A 5 Dexterity? No problem, I'll just stay in bear form all day. Blech.

4.) The 3.5 versions grant creature type. There are 101 Stupid Player Tricks to abuse this situation, all of which are ridiculous but technically possible. A druid can cast Awaken on himself when in animal form, just to point out the stupidest one. There are also situations where a character can polymorph to a creature type that is immune to polymorph. So what the hell happens then? No, this was a bad idea that needs to be rolled back.

5.) On a similar note, 3.5 shapechange grants Supernatural abilities. The number of abusive or even incomprehensible situations this cause will boggle your mind if you think about it too hard. Just as a taste, you can turn into a Choker and regain the 3.0 haste ability of an extra standard action per turn, or (in an example of a really badly written entry), you can turn into a Balor and gain a Vorpal Sword as a supernatural ability. And don't get me started on Barghests and Phoenixes.

6.) Every time someone puts out a new monster book, the opportunity for abuse from those last two points rises exponentially, as new authors put out monsters that don't follow the rules precisely or simply don't consider the ramifications of PCs turning into their monsters.

7.) One good thing on the surface for the 3.5 revisions: No more permanent duration for one version of polymorph, which used to make it worthwhile to turn all your party's fighters into Firbolgs, permanently. BUT, they really just delayed it a few levels, because currently polymorph any object can turn a human into a Firbolg permanently (since a giant might be considered "related" to a human, which makes a total Duration Factor of 9). What's more, PAO will actually give your fighter friend a BOOST to his Intelligence, for free, when you permanently polymorph him into a Firbolg. Who thought THAT was a good idea??

8.) All the shapechanging magic gives a +10 unnamed bonus to Disguise, which stacks with itself. So you can polymorph yourself into a human, cast alter self and disguise self and end up with a +30 bonus to Disguise. Ummmm…no thanks.

9.) On a related note, alter self is abusable in combo with polymorph by using the latter spell to take the form of a creature with ultra-high physical stats, and then casting the former to regain your normal appearance. So you can walk around all day with the stats and abilities of a Firbolg or troll but still look like you. No, these effects clearly need to replace one another, not stack.

Building the Foundation:

1.) There needs to still be a 4th level and a 9th level version of shapechanging spell, whatever form it takes. Further, every class or major monster with shapechanging abilities needs to work with whatever I come up with.

2.) Shapechanging is just that: The change of the shape. I want to move away from the idea that you actually become whatever creature whose shape you mimic and towards the idea that it is still you, just reconfigured. That means certain abilities will stay unaltered, and that ability scores will be based on your actual ability scores.

3.) There need to be limits on certain features to prevent unforeseen abuse when some author writes a 1 Hit Dice creature with a +34 natural armor class bonus. Again, move away from the idea of being able to have it when you polymorph just because it's written in the monster description.

4.) I don't want poison or other "milkable" monster traits to function. If the poison spell is 4th level, it is hard to justify a spell that is the same level but lets you poison someone again and again, and possibly with a nastier poison.

The Big Reveal:

This is going to be in two parts. This week, the basics of my new plan: the Polymorphed Creature template and the spells that grant it. In Part 2, I deal with turning creatures into inanimate objects, offensive polymorphing, wild shape, alter self, and monsters.

This article has been revised from its original form; all revisions are listed in this color.

 

Polymorphed Creature

"Polymorphed" is a temporary acquired template that can be added to any aberration, animal, construct, dragon, elemental, fey, giant, humanoid, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, outsider, undead, or vermin. The shapeshifted creature (known as the "base creature") takes on the shape and some of the characteristics of another creature (the "assumed shape"). Which creature types are available for the assumed shape are dependent on the spell, spell-like ability, or supernatural ability that grants the Polymorphed template. The assumed shape must always be the base form of the creature, and cannot be a version of the creature advanced in Hit Dice in any way.

A polymorphed creature uses all of the base creature's statistics and abilities except as noted here. Do not recalculate the creature's Hit Dice, base attack bonus, base saves, feats (including racial bonus feats and proficiencies) or skill points. For purposes of this template, a "racial" ability is inherent to any member of the creature in question's race; the template does not grant or remove any class abilities, even if it has the same name as a racial ability.

Size: The polymorphed creature takes on the size of the assumed shape, although note that certain spells or abilities limit the choice of the assumed shape based on the size of the base creature. The creature gains the reach of the assumed shape.

Type: The base creature retains its own type, as well as all qualities associated with it. For example, an outsider that has assumed human shape still does not need to eat or sleep. It loses any of the following subtypes: Air, Aquatic, Cold, Earth, Fire, Goblinoid, Incorporeal, Reptilian, Swarm, and Water. If the assumed shape has any of these subtypes, the creature gains them. The creature also gains the Shapechanger subtype if it does not normally possess it.

The traits of the creature's type remain unchanged as a result, so that a human taking the form of an elemental does not gain immunity to critical hits, but an elemental taking the form of a human does not lose it, either. Remember that the Cold and Fire subtypes grant energy immunities and vulnerabilities, even if not listed, and the Aquatic and Water subtypes allow the ability to breathe underwater. Also, if a trait is listed individually as a Special Quality, such as darkvision, it might be affected (see Special Qualities, below).

Speed: Same as the assumed shape. The base creature gains additional movement types as the assumed shape, such as a Fly speed, Swim speed, or Climb speed, if they are nonmagical.

Armor Class: The base creature loses any natural armor bonus it has, and gains any natural armor bonus of the assumed shape, with the following limit: the base creature may not gain a natural armor bonus higher than the caster level of the effect that caused the polymorphing. If a shape is assumed that would normally possess a natural armor bonus that exceeds this limit, the bonus is lowered to equal the caster level. (Use the Hit Dice of the base creature as the caster level if the ability to polymorph is Supernatural.)

Attack: The base creature gains all natural weapon attacks of the assumed shape. Natural weapon attacks are made using the base creature's base attack bonus, but using the assumed shape's attack routine. The creature may thus not use the same natural weapon to make multiple attacks as it might with a manufactured weapon.

Damage: The polymorphed creature's natural weapons inflict the same base damage as those of the assumed shape, modified by the creature's new Strength score. Don't forget that a creature with only one natural weapon adds 1-1/2 its Strength bonus to the damage for that attack.

Special Attacks: The base creature loses any of the following racial special attacks if they are Extraordinary in nature. If the assumed shape possesses any of these qualities as Extraordinary racial abilities, the polymorphed creature gains the same qualities. The DM might allow other abilities that are thematically similar to these, at his discretion.

  • Gross Physical Attacks: attach, capsize, constrict, crush, engulf, impale, improved grab, leap, pounce, powerful charge, push, rake, rend, rend armor, rock throwing, snatch, swallow whole, tail sweep, trample, trip.
  • Elemental Attack Traits: air mastery, burn, cold, combustion, drench, earth mastery, fiery aura, heat.

The base creature loses all other racial Extraordinary special attacks, including but not limited to acid, battle frenzy, beserk, blood drain, corrosive slime, cursed wound, disease, extract, ferocity, frightful presence, howl, light ray, mimicry, moan, paralysis, poison, quills, rage, sneak attack, spit acid, spittle, spores, stench, or web. As a rule of thumb, any ability that produces a sound, excretes a physical substance or object of any kind, involves reproduction or growth, or requires a a particular state of mind on the part of the assumed shape cannot be gained via the Polymorphed template.

The base creature loses all racial Supernatural special attacks, and gains none of the assumed shape's racial Supernatural attacks.

Special Qualities: The base creature loses any of the following racial special qualities that are Extraordinary in nature. If the assumed shape possesses any of these qualities as Extraordinary racial abilities, the polymorphed creature gains the same qualities.

  • Survival Qualities: amphibious, immunity to energy, immunity to poison, fast healing, hold breath, resistance to energy, rock catching, vulnerability to energy, water breathing.
  • Sensory Qualities: blindsense, blindsight, darkvision, keen senses, light blindness, light sensitivity, low-light vision, scent, tremorsense.

The base creature retains certain Extraordinary special qualities (listed below) and does not take on any of these qualities from the assumed shape. The base creature loses all other Extraordinary special qualities.

  • damage reduction, magic immunity, regeneration, spell resistance.
  • Any ability to overcome damage resistance granted by type, subtype, or damage reduction.

The base creature retains all Supernatural special qualities, and gains none of the Supernatural special qualities of the assumed shape.

Spells/Spell-Like Abilities: The base creature retains the ability to cast spells, if it possessed such in the first place, though the new form may limit the creature's ability to use material, somatic, or verbal components. The subject never gains any spellcasting ability possessed by the assumed shape.

The base creature keeps all spell-like abilities, and gains none of those possessed by the assumed shape.

Saving Throws: The base creature loses all racial bonuses to saves. If the assumed shape possesses any racial bonuses to saving throws against any effect, the polymorphed creature gains equal bonuses.

Abilities: The base creature loses all racial modifiers to Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, and gains the racial modifiers to Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution belonging to the assumed shape. The base creature may not gain a racial bonus to any ability score that is greater than the caster level of the effect that caused the polymorphing. If a shape is assumed that would normally possess a racial ability score bonus that exceeds this limit, the bonus is lowered to equal the caster level. (Use the Hit Dice of the base creature as the caster level if the ability to polymorph is Supernatural.) The racial ability scores of the assumed shape can be determined by subtracting 10 (if even) or 11 (if odd) from the creature's listed score.

The base creature does not gain or lose hit points as a result of any change in Constitution. The base creature cannot gain or lose a Constitution score, either; if the creature is turning into a creature with no Constitution (an undead or construct), it instead merely becomes a living facsimile of the assumed shape. Likewise, an undead creature or construct that polymorphs into a shape that would have a Constitution score does not gain one. A creature cannot be returned from death or undeath, or granted life, as a result of the Polymorphed template.

Skills: The base creature loses any racial skill bonuses to any Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution-based skills, as well as the Listen, Search, and Spot skills. The creature gains any such racial skill bonus possessed by the assumed shape. The creature is considered to be disguised as a member of the assumed shape, and gains a +10 shapechanging bonus to Disguise skill checks.

Equipment: Because it is temporary, the Polymorphed Template affects the equipment and possessions of the creature at the moment that they acquire it. When the spell takes effect, the equipment worn or held by the target is affected depending on its nature:

  • If the equipment is the proper size and can be used by the new form "as-is", the equipment is unaffected.
  • If the equipment is not the proper size, but could otherwise be used, then it grows or shrinks to a usable size. No other aspects of the equipment is altered; the clothing does not change color or texture to make it any more appropriate to the assumed form, for example. When the spell ends, the equipment reverts to its original size, as it does if the creature drops or removes the equipment.
  • If the equipment cannot be used by the new form, regardless of size, then it melds into the assumed shape and is nonfunctional. For example, if the assumed shape does not have hands or limbs capable of manipulation, any handheld weapons meld into the body. When the Polymorphed template is lost, any melded equipment reappears, in the same location on your body and unharmed.

Gaining the Polymorphed Template through Spells:

Animorph
Transmutation
Level: Druid 4, Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Willing living creature touched
Duration: 10 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

You transform the target into the shape of an animal, granting it the Polymorphed template for the duration of the spell. This replaces any existing Polymorphed template the creature may have had. The assumed shape must be the most common form of any creature of the Animal or Magical Beast type, subject to the following restrictions:

  • The total Hit Dice of the creature must be equal to or lower than your caster level.
  • The size of the creature can be no larger than one size greater than the target, and no smaller than Fine.
  • The creature cannot be one with a template.
  • The creature cannot have the Swarm subtype.
  • The creature may be the adult form of the creature or any younger form.
  • You must be familiar with the kind of creature chosen. The details of what constitutes "familiarity" are left up to the DM, though encountering the creature of that kind in the flesh certainly qualifies.
  • You are free to designate the cosmetic appearance of the assumed shape, choosing the hair color, hair texture, eye color, height, and weight, within the normal range for creatures of that kind. If the base creature possessed the Shapechanger subtype before gaining the Polymorphed template, they may revert to their original form (that is, lose the Polymorphed template altogether) as a standard action. If slain, the subject reverts to their original form.

This spell dispels animal growth, enlarge person, and reduce person if the target is affected by these spells.

Anthromorph
Transmutation
Level: Bard 5, Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Willing living creature touched
Duration: 10 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

This spell functions as animorph, except that the assumed shape must be of the Fey, Humanoid, Giant, or Monstrous Humanoid type.

Aeromorph/Geomorph/Hydromorph/Pyromorph
Transmutation
Level: Druid 7, Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Willing living creature touched
Duration: 10 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

This spell functions as animorph, except that the assumed shape must be of the Elemental type, or of the Outsider type with the Air, Earth, Fire, or Water subtype. In addition, you may also grant the target the form of an Animal or Magical Beast with any inherent template that would cause the creature to gain the Elemental type.

When you use this spell to take the form of a creature with the Air, Earth, Fire, or Water subtypes, it is a spell of that type. For example, aeromorph is an air spell when used to take the form of a djinni. While the spell is often called by the name that reflects the element being chosen, it is still one spell, not four separate ones.

Xenomorph
Transmutation
Level: Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Willing living creature touched
Duration: 10 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

This spell functions as animorph, except that the assumed shape must be of the Aberration, Ooze, or Vermin type.

Planomorph
Transmutation
Level: Clr 7, Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Willing living creature touched
Duration: 10 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

This spell functions as animorph, except that the assumed shape must be of the Outsider type and not possess the Air, Earth, Fire, or Water subtypes. In addition, you may also grant the target the form of an Animal or Magical Beast with the Celestial or Fiendish templates (but not Half-Celestial or Half-Fiend templates) applied. At the DM's discretion, there may be additional templates allowed based on other Outsider types.

For the duration of the spell, your natural weapons and any weapons you wield are treated as aligned with any alignment subtype your assumed shape would have (Chaotic, Evil, Good, or Lawful), though you do not actually gain that subtype. When you use this spell to take the form of a creature with one or more of these subtypes, it is a spell of that type. For example, planomorph is a Chaotic and Evil spell when used to take the form of a demon.

Dracomorph
Transmutation
Level: Sor/Wiz 8
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Willing living creature touched
Duration: 10 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

The target takes on the form of a mighty dragon. This spell functions as animorph, except that the assumed shape must be of the Dragon type and may be up to two sizes larger than the target's normal size.

In addition, once during the spell's duration, the target may use the breath weapon (if any) of the assumed shape as a standard action. The damage, area, and energy type are identical to those of the assumed shape at that particular age category. The saving throw for the breath weapon is equal to 10 + 1/2 the subject's HD + the subject's Con modifier (which is itself modified by the dracomorph spell).

Infinimorph
Transmutation
Level: Sor/Wiz 9
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Personal
Duration: 10 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

You gain absolute control of your form. Once per round as a free action, you may apply or remove the Polymorphed template; the assumed shape may be a creature with any type. Any assumed shape must be the most common form of any creature type and may be of any size (from Fine to Colossal) or stage of development. The assumed shape chosen must be a creature that conforms to the following restrictions:

  • The total Hit Dice of the creature must be equal to or lower than twice your caster level.
  • The creature may not have more than one template applied. Further, any template cannot be one that increases the Challenge Rating of the creature by an amount greater than one-quarter your caster level.
  • You must be familiar with the kind of creature chosen. The details of what constitutes "familiarity" are left up to the DM, though encountering the creature of that kind in the flesh certainly qualifies.

Other than the wider range of available shapes and the ability to change shape repeatedly, this spell functions as animorph.

 

Living With the Rule:

Example 1: A 7th level elf wizard uses anthromorph to take the form of an ogre mage.

  1. His size becomes Large, and he gains 10 ft. reach.
  2. His type stays Humanoid, and he neither gains nor loses any subtypes.
  3. His speed increases to 40 ft., but he does not gain a fly speed, as the ogre mage's ability to fly is specifically called out as a Supernatural ability.
  4. He gains a +5 natural armor bonus.
  5. He gains no natural weapon attacks.
  6. He gains no special attacks.
  7. He gains darkvision and low-light vision. He does not gain the ogre mage's spell resistance or regeneration.
  8. He gains none of the ogre mage's spell-like abilities.
  9. He loses his racial +2 bonus against enchantment spells.
  10. He loses his +2 racial bonus to Dexterity and his -2 racial bonus to Constitution. The ogre mage's racial adjustments are +10 Strength, +0 Dex, and +6 Constitution. Because he is a 7th level caster, however, he cannot gain the full Strength bonus and must settle for gaining +7 Strength, +0 Dexterity, and +6 Constitution.
  11. He loses his racial bonus to Listen, Search, and Spot skills.
  12. His equipment grows to be appropriate for a Large-sized creature.

Example 2: A 15th level dwarven cleric casts planomorph and takes the form of a planetar.

  1. His size becomes Large, and he gains 10 ft. reach.
  2. His type remains Humanoid. While he does not gain the Good subtype, his natural and manufactured weapons are treated as good-aligned weapons.
  3. His speed increases to 30 ft., and he gains a fly speed of 90 ft. (with good maneuverability).
  4. A planetar has a +19 natural armor bonus, but as the cleric's caster level is only 15, so he only gains a +15 bonus.
  5. He gains a slam attack that inflicts 2d8 damage, plus 1-1/2 his Strength bonus.
  6. He gains no special attacks.
  7. He gains darkvision, low-light vision, immunity to acid, immunity to cold, resistance to electricity 10, resistance to fire 10. He does not gain the planetar's damage reduction, regeneration, or spell resistance. He does not gain immunity to petrification, because it is not on the list of special qualities gained. He does not gain the protective aura or tongues abilities, because these are Supernatural.
  8. He gains none of the planetar's spell-like abilities or spells.
  9. He loses his dwarven +2 racial bonuses against spells and poisons, but gains the planetar's +4 racial bonus against poison.
  10. He loses his +2 racial bonus to Constitution but not his -2 racial bonus to Charisma (because it is a mental ability score). He gains the planetar's racial ability adjustments of +14 Strength, +8 Dexterity, and +10 Constitution.
  11. He loses his +2 racial bonus on Search checks concerning stonework. This may seem odd, but it's a necessary simplification, as many creatures have bonuses to Search based on superior eyesight.
  12. His weapon and shield grow to be appropriate for a Large-sized creature. His armor, however, is not able to accommodate the planetar's wings, and thus melds into his new form.
  13. The dwarf retains his conditional dodge bonus against giants, his stability bonus against bull rush or trip attacks, and his attack bonus against orcs and goblinoids.
  14. He retains his ability to turn undead. While this is a Supernatural special attack, it is not a racial special attack, and thus is not affected by being polymorphed.

Example 3: A very old silver dragon uses its natural Shapechanging ability to take on the shape of a halfling.

  1. His size drops from Huge to Small, and he loses his reach.
  2. His type remains Dragon, but he loses his Cold subtype.
  3. His speed drops to 20 ft., and he loses his fly speed.
  4. He loses his natural armor bonus of +30.
  5. He loses his claw, bite, tail slap, wing, and crush natural weapon attacks.
  6. He gains no special attacks, and loses his Supernatural breath weapon.
  7. He loses his blindsense, darkvision, frightful presence, immunity to acid, immunity to cold, keen senses, and vulnerability to fire. He retains his cloudwalking ability, as it is a Supernatural special quality. He retains his spell resistance and damage reduction.
  8. He retains the use of his spells and spell-like abilities.
  9. He gains the halfling's +1 racial bonus to all saving throws. He does not gain the halfling's +2 bonus against fear effects because that is a morale bonus, not a racial bonus.
  10. He loses his +22 racial bonus to Strength and his +12 racial bonus to Constitution. He gains the halfling's +2 racial bonus to Dexterity and -2 racial penalty to Strength.
  11. He gains the halfling's +2 racial bonus to Climb, Jump, Listen, and Move Silently skills.
  12. Since he doesn't normally use any equipment, he is naked and weaponless when the transformation is complete (though he might keep appropriate clothing available for such situations).
  13. The dragon does not gain the halfling's racial bonus to attack rolls with slings.

 

 

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