The polymorph spell description is kind of elusive about this:

The creature is limited in the 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. (5th Edition SRD, p. 169)

We were in an arena doing some gladiator fights and one of the foes, controlled by the DM, was a sorcerer.

My DM took it this way: spells don't require hands or speech while casting a Subtle Spell, so he could transform his character into a Giant Ape with polymorph, buffed with Mage Armor, and kept counter-spelling me since I was the only caster in the fight.

I think this is the wrong way to interpret the whole thing, but I am running out of proof. Here's the question: Who is wrong and why?

I searched a lot about the topic, but couldn't find anything. Was it included in an errata I could not find?

  • \$\begingroup\$ May I add I will probably agree with most answers saying I was right, but I want to play along this debate and try to challenge opinions, so we can find a true balanced answer about that topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I fount an other post that could also answer this question, so this post can be closed rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/57717/… \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ You might add the RAW tag here because as written the DM would always be correct, and to be honest he still would be. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Sep 28 '17 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ The DM would also need to be fair, but I get what you mean and I added the tag, thank you \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 19:14

You are right, but for a different reason.

The relevant portion of polymorph here is actually this passage:

The target's game Statistics, including mental Ability Scores, are replaced by the Statistics of the chosen beast. It retains its alignment and personality.

Game statistics include special features (thanks CTWind for the rules citation), so a sorcerer who polymorphs no longer has the spellcasting class feature, the metamagic class feature, or the sorcery points class feature. Those have been replaced by the features of the chosen beast.

  • \$\begingroup\$ In your quote, it only talks about statistics and ability scores, not class capacities \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 17:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ but now that I think about it, I think I read something about darkvision in the wild shape ability. somethink like "you don't keep this sense while in wild shape, unless the creature you transform into also has it". I need to check if there's something like this about class features in the polymorph spell description \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sirmyself A monster's statistics includes more than just their ability scores, it includes everything in the linked section- including spellcasting (in the "Special Traits" section) and actions available to them. \$\endgroup\$ – CTWind Sep 28 '17 at 17:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ this pretty much closes the debate! thank you, I did slip over that \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 17:21

Polymorph is explicit in saying:

The creature is limited in the actions it can perform by the nature of its new form, and it can’t [...] cast spells[...].

If it was phrased along the lines of "The polymorphed creature cannot cast spells with somatic or verbal components", then there may be an argument for Subtle Spell to get around this, but it explicitly forbids any spellcasting, which includes spells without verbal/somatic components. Subtle spell shouldn't make a difference here.

Note that this means that even if the creature that the target was polymorphed into was naturally capable of spellcasting, they still couldn't even cast the spells a 'true' version of the creature was capable of.

See also the Sage Advice Compendium entry about polymorph:

Can you concentrate on a spell while transformed by polymorph?

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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A druid's wild shape allows you to keep concentration while transformed because it is stated in the class feature. I don't think you can keep concentration on a spell if you are in a situation where you would not be able to cast the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sirmyself Druid's wildshape is not the polymorph spell. It's a class feature. As to concentration, unless one of the three conditions arises to break concentration, the spell remains in effect. (If you could not concentrate on the polymorph spell once you cast it, you'd pop right back out of beast form immediately rendering the spell useless). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 28 '17 at 17:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ but considering you can cast the spell on an ally to make him stronger in a fight, the precision would not be irrelevant. \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 18:37

The creature is limited in the 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.

This seems pretty conclusive to me. It says you can't cast Spells while under the effects of this spell. That you can cast spells without using your hands doesn't change that you can't cast Spells or do anything that requires your hands or ability to talk.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You could also read it this way : "can't speak, cast Spells, or take any other action" as if casting spells was included in this limitation \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 17:22

If we only look at the grammar of the spell, you are right. The sentence formed is a list of three things:

  1. Polymorphed creatures can't speak.

  2. Polymorphed creatures can't cast spells.

  3. Polymorphed creatures can't perform any other actions that require hands.

If you look at a fundamentally similar ability- the druid's Wild Shape- you are still right. Wild Shape is arguably more powerful, as it allows you to retain those mental ability scores that you use to cast spells in the first place, and it is rather more explicit in saying you can't cast spells:

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.

And when I checked the errata, the only thing I saw about polymorph was that it couldn't be used on creatures with 0 hit points.

While the wording of polymorph is mildly ambiguous (the interpretation changes the moment you so much as move one of those commas), it seems pretty clear that you shouldn't be able to cast spells when you take on an animal form.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The druid's wild shape is actually more powerful since it states you keep concentration on already cast concentration spell. Therefore DC for the effect of your concentration spell is not reduced by the transformation. \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 17:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ The DC shouldn't change anyway, as your proficiency bonus doesn't change (unless their bonus is better) and your mental stats stay the same. Like I said, it's arguably more powerful- because there are those who argue that it's more powerful still to turn someone else into a duck. \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Sep 28 '17 at 17:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know, but your charisma, intelligence and wisdom scores do change when you transform via polymorph : therefore the DC of any spell that you cast if you are able to do so. They don't change when using wild-shape. This is why wild-shape would be more powerful \$\endgroup\$ – Sirmyself Sep 28 '17 at 17:31

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