Dragons and shapechanging


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Been reading about dragons in various places and I've got a question.

It appears to me that some dragons have some kind of innate shapechanging ability, and some don't. I've seen references in a couple of places to brass dragons in human form, and in some places I've found a statement that a particular chromatic dragon (I forget which one) can't do that. What I haven't found is a discussion of which dragons can assume human (or other) shape and which can't, how long the change lasts (I would assume "until the dragon wants to assume another shape" but I don't know), and in general how it works. I realize that some dragons get the polymorph spell eventually, but my reading leads me to believe that this shapechanging thing is not that.

Can anyone enlighten me?


Ed Reppert wrote:

Been reading about dragons in various places and I've got a question.

It appears to me that some dragons have some kind of innate shapechanging ability, and some don't. I've seen references in a couple of places to brass dragons in human form, and in some places I've found a statement that a particular chromatic dragon (I forget which one) can't do that. What I haven't found is a discussion of which dragons can assume human (or other) shape and which can't, how long the change lasts (I would assume "until the dragon wants to assume another shape" but I don't know), and in general how it works. I realize that some dragons get the polymorph spell eventually, but my reading leads me to believe that this shapechanging thing is not that.

Can anyone enlighten me?

The dragons presented in the Bestiary are typical for their color. This means that the spells they have listed are common to their type, but it does not mean that every single blue dragon has ONLY the spells listed. I would think that the most common way for a Dragon to take the form of a human would be the Alter Self spell. With the silly number of feats dragons have access to, the dragon could very easily have extend spell if it wanted access for a longer duration than 1 minute per level. Dragons of higher age categories are very accomplished spell casters in their own right.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
MechE_ wrote:
Ed Reppert wrote:

Been reading about dragons in various places and I've got a question.

It appears to me that some dragons have some kind of innate shapechanging ability, and some don't. I've seen references in a couple of places to brass dragons in human form, and in some places I've found a statement that a particular chromatic dragon (I forget which one) can't do that. What I haven't found is a discussion of which dragons can assume human (or other) shape and which can't, how long the change lasts (I would assume "until the dragon wants to assume another shape" but I don't know), and in general how it works. I realize that some dragons get the polymorph spell eventually, but my reading leads me to believe that this shapechanging thing is not that.

Can anyone enlighten me?

The dragons presented in the Bestiary are typical for their color. This means that the spells they have listed are common to their type, but it does not mean that every single blue dragon has ONLY the spells listed. I would think that the most common way for a Dragon to take the form of a human would be the Alter Self spell. With the silly number of feats dragons have access to, the dragon could very easily have extend spell if it wanted access for a longer duration than 1 minute per level. Dragons of higher age categories are very accomplished spell casters in their own right.

Dragons that change form have a Change Shape ability with unlimited duration.


Ed Reppert wrote:

I realize that some dragons get the polymorph spell eventually, but my reading leads me to believe that this shapechanging thing is not that.

Can anyone enlighten me?

Certain varieties of dragons have a "change shape" ability that allows them to 3 times per day assume a humanoid (or animal) form with an indefinite duration. The Bestiary dragons who can shapeshift in this manner are the Bronze (young or older), Gold (very young or older), and Silver (any age).

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Are wrote:
Ed Reppert wrote:

I realize that some dragons get the polymorph spell eventually, but my reading leads me to believe that this shapechanging thing is not that.

Can anyone enlighten me?

Certain varieties of dragons have a "change shape" ability that allows them to 3 times per day assume a humanoid (or animal) form with an indefinite duration. The Bestiary dragons who can shapeshift in this manner are the Bronze (young or older), Gold (very young or older), and Silver (any age).

And for story purposes there's nothing preventing you from adding that ability to any dragon you think appropriate. Most however, would cringe at the idea of confining themselves to such a puny and weak form. Some however would be overjoyed at getting into a political game, a.k.a. Deathwing taking on the guise of Lord Prestor in Warcraft 3 or 2. as did his daughter Onyxia and son Neltharian in World of Warcraft.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

And dragons that don't have change shape can always learn spells like alter self or polymorph, given the right resources.


If a dragon is shapechanged to a human and you use true seeing, do you see a medium sized dragon or a hunger one (assuming its normal size is huge).. what f you saw this true form while indoors.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
James Jacobs wrote:
And dragons that don't have change shape can always learn spells like alter self or polymorph, given the right resources.

The only real issue with the spells as opposed to the Change Shape ability is the limited duration, so for a dragon that's REALLY spending a lot of time in humanoid diguise just giving them the Change Shape ability by FIAT is a better move. It doesn't change the effective CR of the dragon if combat becomes the issue, after all.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
gourry187 wrote:
If a dragon is shapechanged to a human and you use true seeing, do you see a medium sized dragon or a hunger one (assuming its normal size is huge).. what f you saw this true form while indoors.

That's a GM call. After all, a changed shape IS real, not an illusion. You probably would however in either case detect the strong magical aura surrounding the being, after all.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

LazarX, is is irrelevant that it is not an illusion.

True Sight is just that, True Sight and states, "The subject sees through normal and magical darkenss, notices secret doors hidden by magic, sees the exact location of creature or objects under blur or displacment effects, sees invisible creatures or objects normally, sees through illusions, and sees the true form of polymorphed, changed, or transmuted things."

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Tempestorm wrote:

LazarX, is is irrelevant that it is not an illusion.

True Sight is just that, True Sight and states, "The subject sees through normal and magical darkenss, notices secret doors hidden by magic, sees the exact location of creature or objects under blur or displacment effects, sees invisible creatures or objects normally, sees through illusions, and sees the true form of polymorphed, changed, or transmuted things."

Of course the power of True Sight is kind of balanced in that you really can't cast the spell subtly with the rubbing of that ointment over your eyes. The other argument can be made is that Change Shape itself is a particular and unique power unlike standard polymorph spells.

And again since we're not talking about PFS, the GM is STILL entitled to make their own call, regardless of what the rules say. It could very well be that True Sight isn't the instant giveaway IF THE GM DECIDES THAT THAT WOULD BE BETTER FOR THE CAMPAIGN. And if it is a high level campaign, a dragon that knows it's operating in an area where powerful spellcasters abide, WILL be taking steps to counter or at least diminish the efficacy of mid level reveal spells like True Sight, such as a ring, or amulet.

Liberty's Edge

Any dragon can learn spells, or use an item of Alter Self (which is 4500 gp to do at will). Those with Change Shape have a serious advantage in this area, though.

For clarity, those with Change Shape inherently are as follows: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and all Imperial Dragons.

It's also worth noting that the ability was more common in 3.5, and some references (Brass Dragons in human form, for example) may date back to that.


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Thanks all, I think I've got it now.

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