In a campaign as a wizard at 17th level, I have accomplished turning into an adult gold dragon with variant innate spell casting. My DM and I agreed the dragon can cast spells, but then the following questions came up:

  1. What spells can I cast?
  2. Can I cast in dragon form or only when I change shape to my wizard?
  3. If I change shape into my wizard do I have the capabilities of a 17th level wizard, or is everything a wizard does considered "class features"?

We kind of just want some other minds on the matter because my DM and I are the only experienced ones so we can't really get any other thoughts from our group, who just kind of agree to everything.

  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ Did you use Shapechange, or True Polymorph? \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 11:06

1 Answer 1


CR versus Class Levels and Class Features

Generally, if you are now an Adult Golden Dragon, your ability to turn back into a wizard (the PC class) is moot.

Its statistics and capabilities are otherwise replaced by those of the new form, except any class features or legendary actions of that form. (MM p. 114)

As I pointed out in answering question number 2 below:

He doesn't turn back into his bard self, since the change shape feature does not provide the new form's class features.

There are reasons for this.

  1. His new self is the Dragon, not the humanoid. That's what the permanent feature of True Polymorph does; the Player Character(PC) becomes something new. (Until/unless dispelled)

  2. PCs don't have CR; CR constrains what the PC can turn into.

    Your question overlaps with a variety of points and details addressed in previous questions:

  3. Can a True Polymorphed Wizard use a spell book?

  4. Shape Changing a 20th Level Bard into an Ancient Dragon
  5. Once a creature is permanently True Polymorphed, who is really in there?
  6. CR is not the same as PC Class Level
  7. Can I use a Dragon's Shape Change Ability to change back into myself?

A lot of what a wizard does is "class feature1"

Class feature examples: regeneration of spell slots during a short rest, preparing spells from the spell book, and Spell Mastery are all class features1. The spell book is a critical matter here as a class feature since the wizard's ability to cast spells is bound to the spell book. The adult Golden dragon "magically polymorphs" into "a humanoid or a beast that has a challenge rating no higher than its own" but does not accrue class features.
Not level - challenge rating.
What the Gold Dragon becomes using that metallic dragon feature will not (by a strict reading of what does and doesn't have a CR) create any class in the PHB. Notes:

  1. There is a second answer in question 5 cited above that offers a dissenting opinion; you may wish to follow that reasoning.
  2. Spell casting options for the dragon I would recommend, based on the class descriptions, that a spell casting dragon casts spells as a sorcerer2 does, or simply uses "innate magic" like a pit fiend or a planetar, but that's a call for you and the DM to work out.

To take your questions in order:

  1. What spells can I cast?
    That's for you and your DM to work out. There isn't a lot of specificity on draconic spell casting in the MM. I'd recommend reviewing a variety of creatures and monsters that have spell casting (like celestials, various demons and devils, aboleths, hags) to get a feel for creature/monster spell casting.
  2. Can I cast in dragon form or only when I change shape to my wizard?
    You can cast in dragon form, given that the DM has gone with the variant ability permits dragons (from the MM) to cast spells. Does a creature with a CR need a spell focus or material components? Frequently not. Examples = Planetar, Pit Fiend, Night Hag:

    The planetar can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
    At will: detect evil and good, invisibility (self only)
    3/day each: blade barrier, dispel evil and good, flame strike, raise dead 1/day each: commune, control weather, insect plague
    The pit fiend’s spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 21). The pit fiend can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
    At will: detect magic, fireball
    3/day each: hold monster, wall of fire
    Night Hag, "can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
    At will: detect magic, magic missile
    2/day each: plane shift (self only), ray of enfeeblement, sleep

  3. If I change shape into my wizard do I have the capabilities of a 17th level?
    No, that's where the class abilities come in to play, and CR. (Unless you go with the dissenting opinion in question 5, above). Your dragon can become a humanoid or beast, but the class features of 17th level don't come with that.

You otherwise have the abilities of what you change shape into, keeping an Adult Gold Dragon's Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, Hit Dice, etc. (MM, p. 114)

Given that a CR 17 (something) is a challenge for 2 or 3 level 17 PC's, changing into a wizard may be a sub-optimal choice (and I take the position that it isn't a choice in the first place). 17th level wizard doesn't have CR. I'd consider giving other creatures more consideration as what to change shape into. (Why not a CR 16 Balor?)

Can I become an Archmage?

You can make the argument that turning into a CR 12 Archmage (which can cast 9th level spells) is a way to get around the CR level thing, and classes. (MM p. 342). The Archmage has a CR, is not a character with "class levels" and has spell casting ability. See what your DM thinks of that. Spellcasting as a feature of a monster / creature with CR is not uncommon. Repeated for emphasis: Archmage isn't a PHB class and is not described as having "class features."

But an Archmage is a spellcaster. One could argue that it is enough like a PC / character such that it's spell casting feature is a distinction without a difference, but I'll offer that term "spellcaster" is used rather than Warlock, Sorcerer, Wizard, Druid makes it a way around that limitation.

Archmages are powerful (and usually quite old) spellcasters dedicated to the study of arcane arts.

However, let's look at this. The archmage can cast disguise self and invisibility at will and has he following wizard spells prepared:(a list of spells follows, cantrips through 9th level).

Is this a wizard class feature -- which means you can't do this -- or is this the loophole that means you can prepare any spells in your spell book by changing into an archmage since the CR 12 archmage prepares spells as a wizard does? I can see arguments both ways, so this is for your DM to rule on.

What about a Sorcerer NPC?

There are NPCs (warlocks and wizards) in Volo's Guide. Review them, as I did above for archmage, to see if you find a better fit. Swap the Charisma and Intelligence scores from a wizard, or the archmage, and make the NPC a sorcerer. The MM guides you to make spell swaps:

One way to customize an NPC spellcaster is to replace one or more of its spells. You can substitute any spell on the NPC's spell list with a different spell of the same level from the same spell list. Swapping spells in this manner doesn't alter the NPC's challenge rating. (MM, p. 342)

Use the Sorcerer, rather than the Wizard, spell list and swap away.

... is everything a wizard does considered "class features"?

Not all, but a great deal of it does. Class features specific to what a Wizard does are listed in the PHB for the class. Simply being a spellcaster isn't one of them; what kind of spellcaster a wizard is is specific to the wizard class, as are things like the spell book, arcane recovery, specialization in a school of magic, etc.

1Class Features for a Wizard (per the PHB) are:

Class Features As a wizard, you gain the following class features.

Hit Points, Hit Dice: 1d6 per wizard level, Proficiencies {Armor: None} {Weapons: Daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, light crossbows} {Tools: None} {Saving Throws: Intelligence, Wisdom} {Skills: Choose two from Arcana, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, and Religion} Equipment (at this point, 17th level, these are long gone, but a key piece of equipment is your spellbook! Spellbook {Your spellbook is the repository of the wizard spells you know, except your cantrips, which are fixed in your mind} Preparing and Casting Spells How Many Spell Slots an Ancient Golden Dragon has is where you and your DM need to do some work together. The book is silent on that, but the class feature of the wizard, spell slots, is not going to be available.
Arcane Recovery {Class feature, not available} Casting Ability Intelligence is your spellcasting ability Note here: should your Dragon cast like a Wizard, or more like a sorcerer using Charisma? That's between you and your DM.
Ritual Casting (While most PC classes have the ritual spell casting capability, does any Creature with a CR have that? Up to you and your DM to decide if the Dragon gets this feature. I'd recommend yes, see the relationship between Dragons and Sorcerers. Spellcasting Focus Available or not for the dragon? Can it hold a focus? Sorcerers use them. Learning Spells of 1st Level and Higher Each time you gain a wizard level= class feature. (Another suggest on the spells known/sorcerer for a dragon). Arcane Recovery Wizard Class Feature: not available. Arcane Tradition No wizard school benefit; class feature. Spell Mastery Wizard class feature: not available. Signature Spells Wizard class feature, not available.

2 Dragon / Sorcerer Spell Casting Linkage (PHB, p. 102-103)

An event in your past, or in the life of a parent or ancestor, left an indelible mark on you, infusing you with arcane magic. This font of magic, whatever its origin, fuels your spells. Draconic Bloodline
Your innate magic comes from draconic magic that was mingled with your blood or that of your ancestors. Most often, sorcerers with this origin trace their descent back to a mighty sorcerer of ancient times who made a bargain with a dragon or who might even have claimed a dragon parent.
Dragon Ancestor
At 1st level, you choose one type of dragon as your ancestor. The damage type associated with each dragon is used by features you gain later.


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