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Does your scent change when using polymorph / change shape?


Rules Questions

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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

So there doesn't seem to be a thread on this that I've found (though I might have just missed it), and there's nothing in the FAQ about this; as such I'm moved to ask, if you alter your shape, such as via polymorph or the change shape special quality, does your scent change as well? Or do you smell the same?

This seems kind of relevant since creatures can recognize familiar scents the same way creatures that can see can recognize familiar sights. Hence, scent could be a way to see through a magical disguise...if it works that way.

Are there any rules or rulings on this that I'm overlooking?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

As a GM the way I would play that is if the alteration is Transumtive - like polymorph - your scent changes to the creature you changed into. But if the alteration is Illusionary - like Disguise Self - it comes down to weather you are playing illusions as real manifestations or only in the mind. If they are real manifestations, light shows to block the truth of what is seen, then the scent would not change unless the illusion specifically grants olfactory illusions. But, if your world sees illusions as "all in your head" there is a reasonable chance the illusion could fool a good smeller. I would use either an opposed check, Disguise vs whatever the scent creature uses (typically Survival as a track) over a distance or a Will save to identify the illusionary effect as illusion when smelled and seen.

Most peeps on the rules board like illusions to be light shows, something manifested, just look up the endless arguments over a mirror image and blur. If you play that way, unless the illusion provides an olfactory component (Disguise Self does not) scent should still work for tracking, but you have to define what "interacting with the illusion" means to penetrate an illusionary disguise by scent.

No RAW support here, just a method of resolution.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It's questionable, and I could see various takes easily. Disguise self (and thus seeming) might not (it doesn't mention allowing you to alter smell, though it explicitly notes neither touch or sound), but veil would. I'd say expect table variation.

Otherwise, I tend to agree with 2bz2p.


Pages 211-212 of the Core Rule Book describe the Polymorph school. The section on Page 211 opens with:

Polymorph: A polymorph spell transforms your physical body to take on the shape of another creature.

Based on this opening general line, I would say that polymorph does not change the way a character smells, only the shape.

The rest of the description lays out specific things a character can and cannot get/do when polymorphed, none of which relate to how the polymorphed creature smells. Therefore, I would rule that spells of the polymorph school do not change the way a creature smells, unless the specific spell calls out change of smell explicitly.


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I don't think it ever mentions texture either, but I'm pretty sure that if you polymorph into a reptile your skin feels scaly.


Texture is a function of shape.


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What is scent a function of? Something unrelated to your body?

If you polymorph into a duck, you look like a duck, you quack like a duck, you feel like a duck, and you smell like a duck.


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Pink Dragon wrote:

Pages 211-212 of the Core Rule Book describe the Polymorph school. The section on Page 211 opens with:

Polymorph: A polymorph spell transforms your physical body to take on the shape of another creature.

That's only one sentence of a multi-paragraph set of rules.

You also gain movement types, resistances, and senses. You gain natural attacks and the related proficiency. The various different polymorph spells grant the use of a variety of Supernatural Abilities (breath weapons, whirlwind, regeneration, etc.) and/or Extraordinary Abilities (rock throwing, rock catching, etc.).

It is clear that Polymorph spells do far more than merely change the shape. They change the fundamental physiology of the recipient of the spell, otherwise they wouldn't gain all those other abilities.

It would not be unreasonable to rule that such spells also make you smell different.

Sovereign Court

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

A creature's smells are determined by the shape of their volatile excretions and those of organisms living upon it.

Shadow Lodge

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To be fair the druid kinda smelled like wet dog before he shapechanged.


Saldiven wrote:

That's only one sentence of a multi-paragraph set of rules.

You also gain movement types, resistances, and senses. You gain natural attacks and the related proficiency. The various different polymorph spells grant the use of a variety of Supernatural Abilities (breath weapons, whirlwind, regeneration, etc.) and/or Extraordinary Abilities (rock throwing, rock catching, etc.).

It is clear that Polymorph spells do far more than merely change the shape. They change the fundamental physiology of the recipient of the spell, otherwise they wouldn't gain all those other abilities.

It would not be unreasonable to rule that such spells also make you smell different.

Yes. And everything else in the multiple paragraphs have nothing to do with the way the polymorphed character smells. It would have been far easier for the devs to have simply written "A polymorph spell transforms you into another creature with all the attributes thereof." and then added a little text about retaining mental capacity if they wanted the polymorphed character to have the fundamental physiology of the creature. The fact that they spelled out all of those abilities leads me to think that it is an exhaustive list and anything outside the list is not granted to the polymorphed character.

It is not unreasonable to rule that the spell also makes you smell different. But it is also not unreasonable to rule the other way.


Fuzzy-Wuzzy wrote:

What is scent a function of? Something unrelated to your body?

If you polymorph into a duck, you look like a duck, you quack like a duck, you feel like a duck, and you smell like a duck.

Scent is a function of internal chemistry, not body shape.


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I think it's clear that the designers either found it obvious that your scent changes or simply failed to consider the matter at all. If they thought about it and consciously decided "hey, let's make scent a glaring weakness in polymorph spells," they would have (a) made note of it, and (b) made at least some polymorph spells, if only at high level, that explicitly did change your scent. I really can't imagine what thought processes would lead them to decide that scent doesn't change but neither mention it nor provide any polymorph spells that got around it.

Shadow Lodge

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Pink Dragon wrote:
Fuzzy-Wuzzy wrote:

What is scent a function of? Something unrelated to your body?

If you polymorph into a duck, you look like a duck, you quack like a duck, you feel like a duck, and you smell like a duck.

Scent is a function of internal chemistry, not body shape.

if your internal chemistry is unchanged, wouldn't a fire elemental just boil their spleen ?


I have no idea of what were the thought processes of the designers. But I don't think it is clear that they either found it obvious that your scent changes or failed to consider the matter. It is quite possible that the designers considered polymorph spells to only change the shape of the polymorphed creatures so that the creature visually looked different, and nothing else. And then decided to tack on a pile of other abilities that they felt the character should also receive when polymorphed.


BigNorseWolf wrote:
Pink Dragon wrote:
Fuzzy-Wuzzy wrote:

What is scent a function of? Something unrelated to your body?

If you polymorph into a duck, you look like a duck, you quack like a duck, you feel like a duck, and you smell like a duck.

Scent is a function of internal chemistry, not body shape.

if your internal chemistry is unchanged, wouldn't a fire elemental just boil their spleen ?

You can look at it this way, or simply say part of the magic is that your spleen doesn't boil.


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You know I thought, can undead poop was a silly question, but...

I would assume that polymorph would change your scent, and that some illusion spells might.

The real answer though is whatever your GM thinks.

Shadow Lodge

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Pink Dragon wrote:


You can look at it this way, or simply say part of the magic is that your spleen doesn't boil.

There's too many ways of looking at it that reasonably say your scent should change and no discernible reason to say that it shouldn't.

For one thing, scent works through invisibility. it doesn't have any provision that it works through polymorph to see through the +10 disguise bonus.


I have provided the discernible reason to say that it shouldn't above. You may not agree with it, but it is quite within a reading of the rules that the way the character smells doesn't change.

The very next lines on page 211 of the CRB, after the initial one under the Polymorph school description says:

"While these spells make you appear to be the creature, granting you a +10 bonus on Disguise skill checks, they do not grant you all of the abilities and powers of the creature."

It is clear that polymorph spells do not grant everything about the creature.


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I expect it would change but still be recognisable. You still ate what you ate before shapeshifting, there would still be most of the same microorganisms on you, and creatures with a good sense of smell really are amazingly good at it.

Shadow Lodge

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Pink Dragon wrote:

It is clear that polymorph spells do not grant everything about the creature.

"it doesn't absolutely 100% say yes" is NOT a reason to conclude no.

While most of these should be obvious, the GM is the final arbiter of what abilities depend on form and are lost when a new form is assumed. Your new form might restore a number of these abilities if they are possessed by the new form.

which makes it pretty clear that the list of what changes or does not is by no means exhaustive.

Shadow Lodge

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One of the easiest thing to smell on humans is the oil produced for the hair which stays on the hair. If the hair isn't there, and the folicle that produces the oil isn't there.. what would you be smelling?


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Pink Dragon wrote:

I have provided the discernible reason to say that it shouldn't above. You may not agree with it, but it is quite within a reading of the rules that the way the character smells doesn't change.

The very next lines on page 211 of the CRB, after the initial one under the Polymorph school description says:

"While these spells make you appear to be the creature, granting you a +10 bonus on Disguise skill checks, they do not grant you all of the abilities and powers of the creature."

It is clear that polymorph spells do not grant everything about the creature.

I'm pretty sure that smelling bad is not an ability, nor a power. But it could be considered your olfactory appearance.


BigNorseWolf wrote:


While most of these should be obvious, the GM is the final arbiter of what abilities depend on form and are lost when a new form is assumed. Your new form might restore a number of these abilities if they are possessed by the new form.

Rule 0 is a prerogative of any GM at any time.


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Quote:
While these spells make you appear to be the creature, granting you a +10 bonus on Disguise skill checks, they do not grant you all of the abilities and powers of the creature.

That suggests that if a typical druid with no Disguise skill attempts to impersonate a duck by Wild Shaping into a duck, any moderately perceptive person could recognise him fairly easily. Given that there are no special bonuses or penalties here (e.g., nothing saying "a creature with the Scent ability gets a +X bonus to see through your Disguise"), we should presume that all senses are roughly equally easy to fool. So you might look approximately like a duck, sound approximately like a duck, smell approximately like a duck, have approximately vaguely like a duck, and taste approximately like a duck.

Shadow Lodge

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Pink Dragon wrote:


Rule 0 is a prerogative of any GM at any time.

This isn't rule zero. No one is changing a rule. What you have is a gray area of the rules that you, not the rules, have decided works a certain way and any deviation from that is changing things and requires all the burden of proof.

That is a terrible way to handle a rules discussion. Especially when no argument for the position is being presented beyond shifting the meta discussion.

You have the gross physical qualities of the creature. If you turn into a dog you have 4 legs and a higher carrying capacity than a medium sized biped. You are harder to trip. You have fur and would count as wearing clothes in a survival situation. You don't have hands to grip things anymore, even though there's no "can grab stuff" special ability.

The idea that a giant water elemental is still going to smell like bob and not lake/salt water is kind nuts. Sure, it might smell like a lake of water that bobs been swiming in, but if you're made out of water now you're going to smell like water.

Shadow Lodge

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Matthew Downie wrote:


That suggests that if a typical druid with no Disguise skill attempts to impersonate a duck by Wild Shaping into a duck, any moderately perceptive person could recognise him fairly easily.

Erm. No. It's a +10, not a DC 10

The druid takes 10 and he has a 20. Thats a really hard DC for most people. Adventurers learn to be paranoid and look at everything and suspect the duck (and the table. And the gazeebo) of trying to kill them, but john q public isn't very likely to notice anything


BigNorseWolf wrote:


Especially when no argument for the position is being presented beyond shifting the meta discussion.

4th post from the top.


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Speaking of the top post, I FAQ'd it. While I find the answer clear, I'd like something more solid to point to next time I go polymorphing.

Shadow Lodge

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Pink Dragon wrote:
BigNorseWolf wrote:


Especially when no argument for the position is being presented beyond shifting the meta discussion.
4th post from the top.

Simple, Martial, and Exotic Weapons: Most character classes are proficient with all simple weapons. Combat-oriented classes such as barbarians, cavaliers, and fighters are proficient with all simple and all martial weapons.

Since that is a section of the rules i'm quoting, and it doesn't say that a creature changing shape changes it's scent , then the rules don't say that a creature changing it's shape changes its scent.


The weapon proficiency rules are not in the section on polymorph, whereas the sentence I quoted is.


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Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

If the scent of a polymorphed creature does not change, must humanoids are still fooled because they have a relatively poor sense of smell. All you need to do to fool the humanoid sense of smell is not have a strong odor.

However, there are many common animals such as dogs that have a really good sense of smell. Do you really want people to be able to use their pet dogs as an automatic way to detect polymorphed creatures?


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David knott 242 wrote:
If the scent of a polymorphed creature does not change, must humanoids are still fooled because they have a relatively poor sense of smell. All you need to do to fool the humanoid sense of smell is not have a strong odor.

Unless you've changed into something that's supposed to have a strong odor, which you lack. Does the human druid wildshaped to a horse who gets rained on smell like wet horse (strong odor) or wet human (not a strong odor)?


David knott 242 wrote:

If the scent of a polymorphed creature does not change, must humanoids are still fooled because they have a relatively poor sense of smell. All you need to do to fool the humanoid sense of smell is not have a strong odor.

However, there are many common animals such as dogs that have a really good sense of smell. Do you really want people to be able to use their pet dogs as an automatic way to detect polymorphed creatures?

Yes.

And dogs aside because you still have to train the dog to be able to identify different smells and then tell you specifically what it smells, another question is whether I really want people with the scent ability to be able to automatically detect polymorphed creatures. My answer to that is also yes.

Shadow Lodge

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Pink Dragon wrote:
The weapon proficiency rules are not in the section on polymorph, whereas the sentence I quoted is.

Okay then, what your argument leads to since all you change is shape is that the creature doesn't change size, color, or texture. Since they are not shape.

Yet you clearly do change these things. So the idea that taking a myopic look at one sentence and bolding one word means that nothing else but shape changes is clearly wrong.


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Pink Dragon wrote:
David knott 242 wrote:

If the scent of a polymorphed creature does not change, must humanoids are still fooled because they have a relatively poor sense of smell. All you need to do to fool the humanoid sense of smell is not have a strong odor.

However, there are many common animals such as dogs that have a really good sense of smell. Do you really want people to be able to use their pet dogs as an automatic way to detect polymorphed creatures?

Yes.

And dogs aside because you still have to train the dog to be able to identify different smells and then tell you specifically what it smells, another question is whether I really want people with the scent ability to be able to automatically detect polymorphed creatures. My answer to that is also yes.

Why do you want those things?


Fuzzy-Wuzzy wrote:
Pink Dragon wrote:
David knott 242 wrote:

If the scent of a polymorphed creature does not change, must humanoids are still fooled because they have a relatively poor sense of smell. All you need to do to fool the humanoid sense of smell is not have a strong odor.

However, there are many common animals such as dogs that have a really good sense of smell. Do you really want people to be able to use their pet dogs as an automatic way to detect polymorphed creatures?

Yes.

And dogs aside because you still have to train the dog to be able to identify different smells and then tell you specifically what it smells, another question is whether I really want people with the scent ability to be able to automatically detect polymorphed creatures. My answer to that is also yes.

Why do you want those things?

Polymorph spells are already very powerful providing many options to already very powerful classes. I would like to balance that out a bit.


BigNorseWolf wrote:
Pink Dragon wrote:
The weapon proficiency rules are not in the section on polymorph, whereas the sentence I quoted is.

Okay then, what your argument leads to since all you change is shape is that the creature doesn't change size, color, or texture. Since they are not shape.

Size and texture are elements of shape (macro and micro) so I might rule that the general rule applies to those. I would not for color.

Further, if a specific spell indicates that size, texture, color or any other feature, can be changed, then that feature can be changed by the use of that spell.


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David knott 242 wrote:
Do you really want people to be able to use their pet dogs as an automatic way to detect polymorphed creatures?

This makes me imagine a world where Druids are like Terminators, using their wild-shaping powers to exterminate humans, in order to protect the natural world. The only way to know if that horse is planning to murder you in your sleep is with specially trained dogs.

Shadow Lodge

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Pink Dragon wrote:

Size and texture are elements of shape (macro and micro) so I might rule that the general rule applies to those. I would not for color.

This is objectively wrong.

While these spells make you appear to be the creature

A flesh colored Red breasted robin does not appear to be a robin. At all.

Although many of the fine details can be controlled, your appearance is always that of a generic member of that creature's type.

and you can control the fine detail, which pretty explicitly includes the color.

You cannot just take one snippet of rules, say it doesn't say anything, and draw a conclusion from that. You need to look at the whole thing.

Shadow Lodge

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Matthew Downie wrote:


This makes me imagine a world where Druids are like Terminators, using their wild-shaping powers to exterminate humans, in order to protect the natural world. The only way to know if that horse is planning to murder you in your sleep is with specially trained dogs.

Wouldn't the druids just infiltrate the dogs first?


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*eyes his dogs suspiciously*


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Also: Of course your scent changes. Otherwise we’d get the following dialogue:

“Dude, what smells like feet?”
“I think it’s that snake.”
“No way. Snakes don’t have feet.”
“I’m telling you, man, that snake smells like feet.”
“And I’m telling you, they don’t. Have. Feet!”
*scuffle ensues; Serpent Druid slithers off, cackling quietly to self*


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Oh gods... they’re going to introduce a “metaphysical hands of effort” type concept called “feet of stank” aren’t they?


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*makes note of campaign idea*

The vestiges of many humanoids are scattered. Desperation has united even age-old enemies, as dwarven smiths make axes for orcish guards. Mines are beginning to run dry as the materials of the earth are used in the ubiquitous chain vestments, the only way someone knows another being is not a threat.


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Unlike 3.5 your creature type does not change. All you do is gain the shape of the creature, and some of its powers as described by the spells. Since you don't actually become the creature there is no reason to think that your smell changes. Smell is not a function of shape. Tactile based things such as how skin feels would make sense though.

Shadow Lodge

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wraithstrike wrote:
Unlike 3.5 your creature type does not change. All you do is gain the shape of the creature, and some of its powers as described by the spells. Since you don't actually become the creature there is no reason to think that your smell changes. Smell is not a function of shape. Tactile based things such as how skin feels would make sense though.

there are lots of reasons to think your scent changes.

Your molecules are different. If you turn into a water elemental you're made out of water.

You simply don't have the parts that cause the same odor anymore (snake that smells like feat for example)

Humans smell because of sweat. No sweat (like most animals), less odor.

The scents are integrated into the creature. If you're an otter for example you have thick oily fur. If you didn't, you wouldn't be able to swim.

hard to have bad breath if you're not breathing (like if you're a tree)


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I'm leaning on the side of "yes, your scent changes," myself. Though given how scent works, you might still have a lingering scent of your former shape for a few minutes after the change, as if you'd been in close contact with ex-you, unless you keep on the move. More intelligent monsters that are tracking you by scent might also be able to figure out the new smell that started where yours disappeared is probably also you, if you don't take steps to obfuscate the connection.


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I would rule that your scent changes, but that it is not entirely different for the purposes of just negating a creature tracking you with scent. First off, there's a lot of things about a creature's scent that allow distinction and tracking and second there's a lot of possible things you could polymorph into that may or may not alter various scents on a person, so there may be specific examples that alter one part but not another. Similar to a creature that can change shape but its eyes are always green or it still casts no shadow, a creature that spent time in a smoky bar may still carry that scent even if it melds its clothing (which tends to hold the smell more). A person who owns a cat may still have cat dander on them, even if changing form (assuming you had already identified them distinctly by that scent).

Obviously, if you change shape into another form that wears clothes, then your clothes will still have your scent, so a human going to elf will still be trackable. If you walked through something, such a field of flower or a pile of manure, your trail is still likely detectable, even if you turn into a creature without feet or boots (they meld into you); the scent will still likely be clinging to you. Also, maybe you have a distinct perfume or ate onions for breakfast. Turning into a duck might alter the scent a bit but there will still be a trace of that same scent about you.

I would certainly call for a new tracking check at that point in the trail where the target had changed (without telling the character why) just like if they had reached a point where normal tracking had become more difficult (harder ground, party starts hiding tracks). At that point you could add a bit to the DC depending on specific changes.

Note that this would be for continuously tracking a target. For instance, you don't necessarily lose a trail of a creature you track via scent as it moves through a poppy field (though that might necessitate a new roll at that point) and then out the other side, but if you lost the trail and tried to pick it up later (say because you circumvented the poppy field where their scent altered significantly for some reason), or ran into that same target later without having reached the point where its scent altered you might not just suddenly pick it out of a line-up (unless it truly had a unique odor, like a cologne or somesuch). In other words, if you were tracking someone you would still have a chance to keep following (with a new check) but if you just ran into someone you met earlier in a significantly different form then (probably) not, depending on other distinct factors which are too numerous and mutable to try and cover universally (like clothing or magical items that might still be on them, even if melded or resized).


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BigNorseWolf wrote:
wraithstrike wrote:
Unlike 3.5 your creature type does not change. All you do is gain the shape of the creature, and some of its powers as described by the spells. Since you don't actually become the creature there is no reason to think that your smell changes. Smell is not a function of shape. Tactile based things such as how skin feels would make sense though.

there are lots of reasons to think your scent changes.

Your molecules are different. If you turn into a water elemental you're made out of water.

You simply don't have the parts that cause the same odor anymore (snake that smells like feat for example)

Humans smell because of sweat. No sweat (like most animals), less odor.

The scents are integrated into the creature. If you're an otter for example you have thick oily fur. If you didn't, you wouldn't be able to swim.

hard to have bad breath if you're not breathing (like if you're a tree)

Good points BNW.

As for the OP the rules dont go that deep into biology though so there is no rules based answer at the moment. There have been threads on other things that don't work if we go realism such as very large versions of animals not even being able to exist.

So I guess if we want to go with a more simulation based answer the scent should change, but that does not mean the devs would say it does if they were to answer this.

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