Polymorphing into creature with Swim / Burrow

Rules Questions


Hi everyone,

Last session, a question popped up about character who is playing a melee oriented druid. The question was in regards to polymorph effects (specifically his wild shape ability). He believed that creatures that which have swim or burrow speed, automatically gain the ability to breathe under water or earth. Below is relevant text as well as entire Transmutation (polymorph) section:

Relevant Text: "If the form grants a swim or burrow speed, you maintain the ability to breathe if you are swimming or burrowing."


Polymorph: a polymorph spell transforms your physical body to take on the shape of another creature. 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. Each polymorph spell allows you to assume the form of a creature of a specific type, granting you a number of bonuses to your ability scores and a bonus to your natural armor. In addition, each polymorph spell can grant you a number of other benefits, including movement types, resistances, and senses. If the form you choose grants these benefits, or a greater ability of the same type, you gain the listed benefit. If the form grants a lesser ability of the same type, you gain the lesser ability instead. Your base speed changes to match that of the form you assume. If the form grants a swim or burrow speed, you maintain the ability to breathe if you are swimming or burrowing. The DC for any of these abilities equals your DC for the polymorph spell used to change you into that form.

In addition to these benefits, you gain any of the natural attacks of the base creature, including proficiency in those attacks. These attacks are based on your base attack bonus, modified by your Strength or Dexterity as appropriate, and use your Strength modifier for determining damage bonuses.

If a polymorph spell causes you to change size, apply the size modifiers appropriately, changing your armor class, attack bonus, Combat Maneuver Bonus, and Stealth skill modifiers. Your ability scores are not modified by this change unless noted by the spell.

Unless otherwise noted, polymorph spells cannot be used to change into specific individuals. Although many of the fine details can be controlled, your appearance is always that of a generic member of that creature's type. Polymorph spells cannot be used to assume the form of a creature with a template or an advanced version of a creature.

When you cast a polymorph spell that changes you into a creature of the animal, dragon, elemental, magical beast, plant, or vermin type, all of your gear melds into your body. Items that provide constant bonuses and do not need to be activated continue to function while melded in this way (with the exception of armor and shield bonuses, which cease to function). Items that require activation cannot be used while you maintain that form. While in such a form, you cannot cast any spells that require material components (unless you have the Eschew Materials or Natural Spell feat), and can only cast spells with somatic or verbal components if the form you choose has the capability to make such movements or speak, such as a dragon. Other polymorph spells might be subject to this restriction as well, if they change you into a form that is unlike your original form (subject to GM discretion). If your new form does not cause your equipment to meld into your form, the equipment resizes to match your new size.

While under the effects of a polymorph spell, you lose all extraordinary and supernatural abilities that depend on your original form (such as keen senses, scent, and darkvision), as well as any natural attacks and movement types possessed by your original form. You also lose any class features that depend upon form, but those that allow you to add features (such as sorcerers that can grow claws) still function. 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.

You can only be affected by one polymorph spell at a time. If a new polymorph spell is cast on you (or you activate a polymorph effect, such as wild shape), you can decide whether or not to allow it to affect you, taking the place of the old spell. In addition, other spells that change your size have no effect on you while you are under the effects of a polymorph spell.

If a polymorph spell is cast on a creature that is smaller than Small or larger than Medium, first adjust its ability scores to one of these two sizes using the following table before applying the bonuses granted by the polymorph spell. (see Table: Ability Adjustments from Size Changes)

As a GM, it made zero sense to me that his chosen dire rat form would grant him the ability to breathe because rats do not usually have such ability so I temporarily ruled that he doesn't gain it. If I understood the relevant text, it implies that creature gains the ability to breathe if it normally has such ability. Did I understand it right?

Thanks for responses,


Silver Crusade Contributor

It appears that by strict rules-as-written, he may be correct.

That said, I would have made the same ruling you did. ^_^


It's true. I pointed this out years ago when a Druid Wildshaping into a Dolphin gained the ability to breathe underwater.

It's best to just look the other way when it happens.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Polymorphing into a Dire Rat, or Dolphin, is not the same as being a Dire Rat, or Dolphin.

You don't have the same stats, and often, not the same abilities.

You can change into a Skunk, but you don't have it's musk.

So, you look like a Dolphin, or Dire Rat, but you really are not.

In the end, it's magic.


I am still uncertain how to interpret it. The text mentions that person "maintains the ability to breathe", not that it "gains" it. It seems logical from my perspective, but I know it might not be to others. I would still prefer to hear additional opinions on the subject.

Silver Crusade Contributor

To be fair, I probably would houserule gaining abilities like musk, depending on the level of Beast Shape and the power of the ability.

That's just me, though - I enjoy a more freeform approach to such things. ^_^

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Well, you don't gain the Aquatic Subtype either, so you can turn into a shark, and still breathe air.

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Amazing what a quick google search gets you.

Spoilered for length:
James Jacobs wrote:

The part of the giant squid that grants it the ability to breathe water is its aquatic subtype. The part that makes it not able to breathe air is the lack of the amphibious quality.

A druid uses wildshape to turn into a giant squid functions as beast shape III.

Beast shape III does not grant the Aquatic subtype or the amphibious ability.

Beast shape III DOES allow the user to gain the squid's swim speed (although not at speed 90, the spell's max, but at speed 60, the squid's swim speed).

Now, looking back at the base polymorph rules on page 211, we see that, "if the form grants a swim...speed, you maintain the ability to breathe if you are swimming..." That means that while you're swimming, you can, essentially, breathe water. It does not remove your ability to breathe air if you normally breathe air.

Therefore, a STRICT by-the-rules reading in this case informs us that if you wildshape into a giant squid, you can breathe water ONLY WHILE SWIMMING (not if you're floating in the water, as if when stunned or paralyzed or unconscious), and can breathe air normally.

Frankly, that super-strict by-the-rules reading is wacky. I think that the easiest solution is to just allow the aquatic subtype to apply when needed, and to add amphibious to the list of powers granted. After all... that's the WHOLE INTENDED POINT of the various polymorph spells. If beast shape III can grant more powerful effects like blindsense, flight, poison, pounce, and the like... allowing it to also grant the Aquatic subtype and the amphibious special quality is hardly over-the-top. Of course... in that case, your giant squid WOULD end up having to hold its breath when fighting out of water or risk suffocation, but I think that's actually kind of cool and interesting.

(Bonus Round: The reason "amphibious" isn't mentioned on the beast shape lists is that the amphibious special quality didn't really gel and propagate into the Bestiary until very late... at a point AFTER the Core Rulebook was finalized. This is the same reason there's weird disconnects between how horses are presented in the two books, or why early printings of the Core Rulebook had a few weird errors on the summon lists.)

PATHFINDER SOCIETY ORG PLAY: In a game like the Pathfinder society massively multiplayer offline campaign, you pretty much need to play by the RAW. And until the design team gets a chance to look at this and/or Mike & Mark get to weigh in... a druid who wildshapes into a giant squid can breathe water AND air... assuming the duruid himself can breathe air, of course.

ALL OTHER PLAY: If you wildshape into a creature that can breathe water, you can breathe water. If that creature doesn't also have the amphibious quality, you must hold your breath when you have no water to breathe. And frankly, if you use this ruling in a Pathfinder Society game, I'm pretty sure that no one will mind, as long as you're clear about it up front and if a player suddenly realizes that not being able to breathe air is a bad thing, don't be a jerk and let him go back and either choose a different form OR a different act in that round entirely if he wants.

So, according to his interpretation, by RAW polymorphing into anything that has a swim speed lets you breathe while swimming.



I appreciate the response. I did attempt to search on this same topic, but with little luck. This answers my question completely. Thanks a lot.

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