Polymorph 5e: How, What, and Why?


If you’re here you’re probably looking to learn about Polymorph 5e?

So, how does the Polymorph spell work in the 5th edition anyways?

Well, you’re not alone. A lot of players are wondering the exact same thing. And it’s understandable why. Just opening the handbook and you’re bombarded with a wall of text that can be convoluted at best, and confusing at worst.

This guide will explore the hows, whats, and whys of Polymorph and similar spells.

Just keep in mind that this article only explores Polymorph as it appears in the 5th Edition. As such, the principles and rules may vary if you are using another edition or 3rd-party “house rules” or material. Therefore, let’s get into the meat of the article.

What is Polymorph 5e?

Simply put. Polymorph is a spell that you can get on level 4 with multiple classes. It allows you to transform a creature within range into another creature. In other words, the target assumes a form that isn’t its normal form. Keep in mind though – an unwilling creature can perform a wisdom saving throw to avoid the effects.

This spell also has no effect on shapechangers or creatures with 0 hit points and on an unconscious creature. The spell transforms a creature into another. And very rarely is the spell permanent.

Speaking about Shapechangers…

What is Shapechange?

Shapechange is an ability to assume the form of any other creature as long as they are not a construct or undead. There is also the added criteria of having to actually see the creature prior in your adventure to be able to adopt its visage.

As mentioned above, using Polymorph on such a creature is practically a waste of an action point; as it can change right back at a whim. At first glance it might seem like a familiar spell, but it really isn’t.

What is True Polymorph?

True Polymorph is an advanced form of Polymorph that is less constraining than Polymorph.

Unlike Polymorph, the True Polymorph spell allows you to transform anything, and everything into another creature of your choosing (if your DM allows you, that is). Here is how it works:

  • Creature > Creature: These kinds of transformations only work if the creature you morph turns into the same challenge rating or level as the enemy creature.

The creature is henceforth also limited to the actions and capabilities of its new form, also. Any and all equipment it may have had beforehand is morphed into the new form until it reverts back. The target’s gear melds into them practically.

  • Object > Creature: These kinds of transformations work if the object you are morphing into a creature is of similar size, and its challenge rating is 9 or lower.

The GM has control of the newly transformed creature, and if the spell somehow becomes permanent. Well, then its temperament towards you depends on how you’ve treated it up until that point.

  • Creature > Object: These kinds of transformations work as mentioned previously if the newly created object shares similar sizes with the creature that it is created by. Any equipment it may have carried with it also becomes a part of the object. In this state, the creature has no memories until the spell wears off – thus returning to the creature’s original body.

Now that we’ve answered the Whats about Polymorph in the 5e, let’s look at the Hows.

Polymorph 5e forms can be quite varied, as such. Here are the options for Polymorph in the 5e.

DnD Polymorph 5e Creature List:

Before we begin the list, it is important to know that the creatures in the list are divided by their CR, as such we will have a category for each creature and their respective combat rating. This will include the Polymorph 5e beast list, as most of the beasts appear at a higher CR than the regular animals.

CR 0

  • Baboon
  • Badger
  • Bat
  • Cat
  • Crab
  • Deer
  • Eagle
  • Frog
  • Goat
  • Hawk
  • Hyena
  • Jackal
  • Lizard
  • Octopus
  • Owl
  • Quipper
  • Rat
  • Raven
  • Scorpion
  • Sea Horse
  • Spider
  • Vulture
  • Weasel

Of all these, there are a few notables to watch out for. Of course, these are all situational – but some are outright better than others.

-Bat: A fantastic scout that has a decent fly speed, is small, and has blindsight.

-Owl: Arguably the best scout, 120ft darkvision, great flying speed, and both keen sound and sight.

-Rat: Some might argue this is the perfect disable form, its notability is in how unnoticeable it is. Not particularly fast or strong, but so common that many creatures will outright ignore it.

CR 1 / 8  

  • Blood Hawk
  • Camel
  • Flying Snake
  • Giant Crab
  • Giant Rat
  • Giant Weasel
  • Mastiff
  • Mule
  • Poisonous Snake
  • Pony
  • Stirge

This category sadly does not have many notables, the only one that comes to mind is:

-Flying Snake: The ability to fly offers it a great advantage in combat as it can be a good skirmisher. Having the added benefit of poison helps. Great for killing something weak while scouting for example. It also has blindsight for some reason, but with a pitiful range.

CR 1 / 4

  • Axe Beak
  • Boar
  • Constrictor Snake
  • Draft Horse
  • Elk
  • Giant Badger
  • Giant Bat
  • Giant Centipede
  • Giant Frog
  • Giant Lizard
  • Giant Owl
  • Giant Poisonous Snake
  • Giant Wolf Spider
  • Panther
  • Pteranodon
  • Riding Horse
  • Wolf

Going up in the CR you get to creatures with some mediocre utility and generally considered a weak combat form, some notables though are:

-Giant Owl: Basically like the owl… but giant. A slight boost in stats, especially durability. It’s debatable if this or the regular owl is better though.

CR 1 / 2

  • Ape
  • Black Bear
  • Crocodile
  • Giant Goat
  • Giant SeaHorse
  • Giant Wasp
  • Reef Shark
  • Warhorse

None of these are very notable so most players just don’t even bother, the Warhorse is an upgrade to the Riding Horse. And the Giant SeaHorse might allow you to ride it underwater, but that’s about it from this group.

CR 1

  • Brown Bear
  • Dire Wolf
  • Giant Eagle
  • Giant Hyena
  • Giant Octopus
  • Giant Spider
  • Giant Toad
  • Giant Vulture
  • Lion
  • Tiger

Another group that can be skipped, nothing notable here that isn’t done better by creatures in other categories. Same trick, poorer execution.

CR 2

  • Allosaurus
  • Giant Boar
  • Giant Constrictor Snake
  • Giant Elk
  • Hunter Shark
  • Plesiosaurus
  • Polar Bear
  • Rhinoceros
  • Saber-Toothed Tiger

Not a single remarkable polymorph form. Almost any other polymorphed creature can do their job better.

CR 3

  • Ankylosaurus
  • Giant Scorpion
  • Killer Whale

Another group of unremarkable combat forms.

CR 4

  • Elephant

Unlike in real life, a very lonely combat form with unremarkable performance.

CR 5

  • Giant Crocodile
  • Giant Shark
  • Triceratops

Giant Shark: This one is the most notable of the three, as it is the best underwater combat form that you can use.

CR 6

  • Mammoth

Great combat form if you want to cause a lot of chaos. It’s the lowest combat form you should consider, Trampling Charge is a neat ability.

CR 7

  • Giant Ape

This is the highest combat form you can use when you unlock Polymorph, it is debatable if it’s better than the Mammoth or not.

CR 8

  • Tyrannosaurus Rex

If you see one of these, run. The same applies to your opponents. Great grapple bite that can easily win fights against single opponents. The best polymorphed creature that you can use.

True Polymorph 5e List?

The reason I put this as a question is that unlike Polymorph, which is powerful – yet restricted. True Polymorph is unhinged, you can practically do whatever with it.

So instead of listing off any possibilities, I’ll just advise the reader to discuss the ability with the DM beforehand, as what the DM allows – is what the game rules will be. As such, it’s redundant to try to name a true polymorphed creature.

Sure there are rules that everyone must abide by, but if the DM decides to adopt new rules, or change the existing ones. Well, in that case, everything goes. As such, discuss all of this beforehand. Altering spell features, altering spell slots requirements, spell components, all of these can change how it works fundamentally.

Having discussed the Hows and Whats. Let’s now discuss the Whys.

Why use Polymorph?

The question of why to use Polymorph or True Polymorph really is a contextual question. The reasons you will discover on your adventure, I can only list some situations that might come up.

  • Reaching a difficult to reach position
  • Gaining a crucial ability to continue the story
  • Having an extra character to help in combat
  • Annoying the DM
  • Scouting out an area before advancing
  • Transport


Conclusion on the polymorph spell

We’ve looked at everything you might want to know about Polymorph and what it can do, of course for a more detailed analysis consult your handbooks. You might also get some true polymorph ideas to use later on.

Other than that this is everything you may need to know about the ability, from what it does, how it interacts with other creatures and abilities, and which creatures can be morphed into. All that’s left is to go out there and employ it in your stories.

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