[RPG] Can a polymorphed creature use class features that don’t require speech or hand gestures


The Polymorph spell states (in part):

The target’s game statistics, including mental ability scores, are
replaced by the statistics of the chosen beast. It retains its
alignment and personality.

The creature is limited in actions it can perform by the nature of its
new form, and it can’t speak, cast spells, or take any other action
that requires hands, or speech.

So, can a polymorphed Paladin use their Divine Smite class feature? It expends a spell slot, but it is not a spell, and as far as we can tell does not require hands or speech.

We know (based on the 10th level Transmutation Wizard feature) that a wizard is supposed to be able to polymorph herself, and we can assume that she is also supposed to be able to maintain concentration needed to stay in the new form (otherwise it would be a pretty useless ability). This is (as far as I can tell) not something any of the beasts eligible as polymorph targets can normally do. So it is clear that the polymorphed creature maintains some abilities from her old form. The question is which ones.

The Druid's Wild Shape ability explicitly says you can use class features, while Polymorph does not, suggesting that you can't use class features while polymorphed. However, Wild Shape also explicitly says that you can continue to concentrate on a spell (see below, emphasis mine), and Polymorph does not, yet we believe that a polymorphed creature can continue to concentrate on the polymorph spell. So the fact that Wild Shape explicitly allows something and Polymorph is not explicit about it does not necessarily mean that the polymorphed creature cannot do those things.

From Wild Shape rules:

You can't cast spells, and your ability to speak or take any action
that requires hands is limited to the capabilities of your beast form.
Transforming doesn't break your concentration on a spell you've
already cast
, however, or prevent you from taking actions that are
part of a spell, such as call lightning, that you've already cast.

So, since Polymorph is silent on the question of whether or not class abilities can be used, and states only that the polymorphed creature cannot perform actions that require hands or speech, how can we best determine whether (RAI) polymorphed creatures maintain any of their old abilities beyond spell concentration?

Best Answer

No, the polymorphed creature can only use actions that a normal creature with the new form would be able to do. It comes directly from the definition of “game statistics”. The Statistics section of the The Monsters Manual starts with:

A monster's statistics, sometimes referred to as its stat block, provide the essential information that you need to run the monster.

The subsections include not only static numbers “Ability Scores” and “Speed” but also “Actions” meaning that RAW actions are also stats (and I cannot name a reason why it wouldn't be RAI as well). Under “Actions” it is written:

When a monster takes its action, it can choose from the options in the Actions section of its stat block or use one of the actions available to all creatures, such as the Dash or Hide action, as described in the Player's Handbook.

Thus the polymorphed character's actions are limited to those the creature would be able to do were it a normal creature.

As for the possible inconsistency with the concentration ("A Wizard can polymorph self, therefore polymorph doesn't break concentration. If concentration is a class feature and it survives polymorph, all other class features can be used too.") there are two choices here:

  1. Concentration is not something everyone has automatically. E.g. if a creature would not be normally able to cast spells it cannot concentrate on them either. In this case there is no consistent RAW answer: "statistics" cover all the aspects of creature -> if the creature cannot concentrate, polymorph breaks concentration -> polymorph cannot be used at self, even though PHB clearly states that it was intended to be used this way. Also Sage Advice says that concentration is not broken by polymorph, so this is definitely not a path to go with.

    You can’t cast spells while you’re transformed by polymorph, but nothing in the spell prevents you from concentrating on a spell that you previously cast before being transformed.

  2. Concentration is something everyone can do and/or let's use common sense. The point of the offensive use of Polymorph is to render a creature useless in battle, i.e. if a creature is turned into a sheep it is as harmless as one. If the class features were preserved we would have sheep going into rage (barbarian), teleporting (shadow monk) or... turning into dinosaurs (unless druids are considered to be shapechangers and thus are automatically saved) which is bizarre. Therefore, all the class/race features are gone. As for the possible inconsistency with concentration, it comes from a simple fact that designers cannot see all the connections between all the bits of the rules and sometimes we can only rely on how we think things are supposed to work.