Polymorph Spells


Skills, Feats, Equipment & Spells

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Shapeshifting is one of my favorite tropes in fantasy and science fiction. It creates a very broad design space that I feel most games do not fully explore. I looked forward to seeing how the playtest would implement them. However, after building and playing characters at various levels with multiple combinations of classes and spells, I ran into many issues with polymorph effects that hindered character concepts and made them not as fun as they should be.

Attack Bonus & AC: Polymorph spells overwrite your attack bonus and AC, which feels awful and creates a situation where polymorph spells are only useful if your natural form is weak. While this is neat for weak monsters turning into beasts, it feels terrible when a buff spell actually cripples you. This is also bad because it causes each polymorph spell to have a shelf life based on the maximum level you can heighten it. Much of this can be fixed just by having polymorph spells use your bonus/AC if it's higher without forcing you to buy an expensive item late in your career. Or have the attack bonus and AC be based on the target's level.

Level Gating: You can't turn into an animal or another humanoid until level 3. You can't turn into an animal that can fight until level 5. You can't break any of these restrictions unless you play a specific class. All of this hinders character concepts for no good reason. Level gating isn't as necessary in a game when you can balance spells using heightening. Level gating also creates some significant dissonance if the selection of spells has inconsistent standards. My classic complaint in Pathfinder was "Why is it that I can only turn a man into an elf for a few minutes at the same level I can permanently transform a dragon into a chicken AND brainwash him into thinking he was always a chicken?"

Limited Targeting: Almost all of the polymorph spells target the caster. Again, hurts character concepts. Wanna play a witch that punishes enemies by turning them into goblins? Well, tough luck. You can never do that!

Duration: Polymorph spells have prohibitively short durations that don't scale with level and have extremely few options to extend durations. Even non-combat polymorph spells only have (at most) a 10 minute duration, which isn't enough for most non-combat encounters and exploration mode. The short duration is also a problem in high level play where combats tend to drag for a long time. Many combats in Frozen Oath got very close to 10 rounds. Now that the 10-minute Treat Wounds might be the standard healing option, it seems less necessary to keep the durations so short.

Restrictive Choices: Not to sound like a cranky Protean, but the polymorph spells severely restrict your choices of form. I like that some of them try to cover all the bases and balance the different forms, but it still feels rather restrictive and doesn't make the forms feel distinct enough.

Rules Repeat: Minor nitpick about rules presentation. Many spells and effects repeat the same rules about polymorphing. While it's nice to have all the rules in one place, it makes the spells and feats bloated and risks consistency problems. This could be fixed by putting the rules in the polymorph trait or inventing new traits depending on how the polymorph effect changes you.

I understand there's good reasons for many of these quirks, especially now that monsters have completely different standards than PCs. However, so far, I had very mixed experiences.

Silver Crusade

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I now largely agree with you. I'd add a couple of additional issues

Size limitations: The more powerful combat forms are large or larger. So, even when they're still at a level where heighten makes them effective, they often can't be used due to limitations in where the combat is happening

Wild shaping removes ALL your options except melee combat - Until one gets Dragon Form, at any rate. You can't cast spells, use items, etc. So, you spend 2 actions to turn into a combat form that is then only slightly stronger than you would be with weapons and armor. Or, in fact, slightly WEAKER. And in exchange for that you lose all the flexibility you had in human form.

As you Heighten, the form matters less and less - Lets take the basic Animal Forms spell. When you first get it you have interesting options (frog for a ranged attack, puddy cat for agile claws, etc). But when you are heightening it the reach is just set by the level. As written, the Huge Frog and the Huge Cat have identical reach.

I found wild shaping quite effective in combat up to level 7 and far less so at level 9+.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16

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You're absolutely right. Heightened animal form doesn't give you the option to be a smaller size. So if you need to be Medium, you *have* to use the lesser spell, which forces you to use anattack bonus and AC worse than your own.

This is a huge contrast with Pathfinder 1st Edition. If you cast beast shape IV, you had the option to be Medium. It didn't cripple you in anyway aside from the usual limitations of having an animal shape. Casting it as a higher level spell was still a benefit because it gave you access to new abilities.

Silver Crusade

Those are some pretty legit concerns, particularly the level scaling, it seems reasonable, that your bonus to hit (exluding level) is limited (as is the damage), but the current implementation makes any polymorph effect that is no heightened to your highest level ... rather questionable for combat.

There are other issues listed in the first post, I would really like the chance to test the rules, right now it seems to be just worse for most builds.


I am guessing handwraps with potency runes wouldn't work with these polymorph spells because handwraps only effect unarmed attacks and the animal forms are listed as natural attacks?


Eh, then there is the line that says the traits cannot be modified except by penalties, conditional and circumstance bonuses. So no handwraps.

Silver Crusade

I believe that handwraps do NOT work. Others disagree. As far as I know, this is still unclear.

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