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I am a level 20 wizard and have been using the True Polymorph spell to create expensive spell components. However my DM, who will never overrule RAW, has recently created a spell which requires "rare inks", his argument being that a bottle of ink, or even the ink itself is a collection of objects (pigment and solution).

So I am wondering if ink would be allowed in true polymorph, by RAW?

If you would rule that ink is a collection of objects, then so would a chair, or a sword or anything that isn't a single molecule — which is almost everything in the known universe bigger than a tennis ball.

So how would one define a single object for use of the True Polymorph spell?

Or to come at this problem from a different angle: To help my DM, is there any possible spell component that would be impossible to make via True Polymorph?


Any RAW answer or Sage Advice or posts by WoTC, or anything official would be greatly appreciated.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you turning living things into the ink? So creature -> object? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 8 '18 at 17:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ related: What is considered an object? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 8 '18 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose I am using creature -> object, as there isnt another clause that allows you to turn something into an object. As for the related question, it's useful, but doesnt answer the question, really. The difference being that i would like a definition of a single object. \$\endgroup\$ – Timi Jan 8 '18 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ How is ink different from adamantine? See this related question. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 8 '18 at 20:19
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Even though this is a homebrew spell, I think the question should be able to be answered from the rules and come to an applicable conclusion. That being said, all the normal caveats about homebrew material apply.

I am adhering very strictly to RAW (to the point of being over-strict possibly) due to your DM's ruling policy and your request.

I'm going to assume in my argument that you are only trying to create the actual ink and not also a bottle to hold it in.

Definitions

True Polymorph

Choose one creature or nonmagical object that you can see within range. You transform the creature into a different creature, the creature into an object, or the object into a creature [...]

Creature into Object. If you turn a creature into an object, it transforms along with whatever it is wearing and carrying into that form. The creature's statistics become those of the object, and the creature has no memory of time spent in this form, after the spell ends and it returns to its normal form. (basic rules)

Definition of object:

[A]n object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects. (Basic Rules)

Note on this definition D&D5e likely specifically left this definition vague so that DMs could and should decide for themselves what is an object and what is not. Thus, this is almost always going to boil down to DM fiat at some point. However, RAW does offer some guidance beyond just that.

Your DM is technically not following RAW by disallowing objects with multiple materials

  • Objects composed of different materials are still considered one object

    The good news here for your argument is that there are things in the definition that are obviously composed of more than one piece or material and still considered a single object (a window for example). A musical instrument, some of which can be very complex, have also been confirmed to be a single object by Jeremy Crawford. Dead bodies are also single objects (more on this later).

    So, your DM's current method of counting different types of molecules as different objects really does not hold weight with the rules.

Strict RAW - TP can't create ink because ink is not discrete

  • Objects must be discrete

    However, we run into a problem right away when it says "discrete".

    Liquids are, by their very nature, not discrete. Discrete objects can be easily distinguished and separated from other objects. For example, if I put three different colored ice cubes in a bag and shook it up, I could open the bag and still see 3 different ice cubes and point them out. If I put them in a bowl and let them melt and mixed them up there would be no way to separate them. Thus, ink (and liquids in general) are not discrete. And thus, ink would not be a legal target or result of true polymorph.

    So, by this very strict reading, making ink via true polymorph would not be allowed.

    In some ways this actually makes sense. If you saw a puddle of ink on a desk would you consider it "an object"? Probably we would more describe it IRL as a substance actually. Regardless the rules are what they are.

  • Possible things to try

    You might be able to get around this by creating a bottle of ink, which, as a whole, would be considered discrete. However, would likely run afoul of your DM's interpretation of how you separate objects out.

    Some inks can also come in solid form so maybe you could try that as well.

However, there are possible counterexamples/contradictions

  • Acid, Oil, and Holy Water

    Despite the definition above, the rules specifically allow vials of acid, holy water, and oil to be used as improvised weapons.

    Acid. As an action, you can splash the contents of this vial onto a creature within 5 feet of you or throw the vial up to 20 feet, shattering it on impact...treating the acid as an improvised weapon. (basic rules)

    The improvised weapon is important in this case because an improvised weapon requires an object:

    An improvised weapon includes any object you can wield in one or two hands, such as broken glass, a table leg, a frying pan, a wagon wheel, or a dead goblin. (basic rules)

    A bottle of acid and ink (or a bottle of ink) are similar enough to say that if one can be considered an object, so can the other.

  • Dead bodies

    Also of note is that dead bodies (!) are considered to be objects by the rules. And bodies are composed of many different and varied materials and a LOT of fluid. This creates the interesting ruling that if you hold to strict RAW, any spell you cast on a dead body would not affect the blood, bile, urine, etc. inside the body. This makes no sense and it is not clear what would happen to the body and/or the fluids in the case of a spell affecting the body.

    So, if a dead body (composed of lots of materials, essentially just a sack holding a bunch of liquid) can be considered an object it might not be unreasonable to say that ink could be as well (or even a bottle of ink).

If you are going by strict RAW, your answer might just be "no" unless you can convince the DM that these counterexamples make a compelling case for the game intending this to be allowed.

It is possible that your DM has other motives

If your DM created this spell and has a specific spell component in mind, maybe he is using this as some sort of plot hook or interaction hook on purpose and that is why he is limiting you in this case. Worth checking to make sure you are understanding each other.

Regarding spell components

(I still think this question deserves its own question but I'll make a pass at answering it here)

Obviously, if you follow the strict RAW above, anything liquid or gaseous will not be able to be created because of the "distinct" issue.

You can't create living plants because they are neither creatures nor objects.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the acid -> improvised weapon -> object example is simply a case of specific beats general. Yes, "An improvised weapon includes any object" (suggesting it isn't an exhaustive list), however, you may treat the acid as an improvised weapon. Suggesting it is not considered an improvised weapon, but you may treat it that way because of this specific rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Luke Jan 8 '18 at 22:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Luke: Yeah that had occurred to me as well actually, but since it was already a counterpoint I thought it might fly. I'll think about it further and might remove it. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 8 '18 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ That "discrete" stuff is incredibly silly; that rule should really be fixed. In any case, maybe target ink that's frozen solid? Or dehydrated ink? Or a sponge saturated with the ink? \$\endgroup\$ – Nat Jan 9 '18 at 0:23
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Yes, on the basis of relative complexity

You can true polymorph an object into a creature of up to CR 9. For example, a young silver dragon. (CR = 9) You could also polymorph another creature into a young silver dragon.

The complex combination of materials, elements, compounds, tissues, fuids, and what not in a living creature, particularly a flying dragon, would look to well exceed the complexity of a vial of ink. From the spell description:

Object into Creature. You can turn an object into any kind of creature, as long as the creature’s size is no larger than the object’s size and the creature’s challenge rating is 9 or lower.

Make sure that a creature that you transform into this ink is larger than the portion of ink that you are trying to create.

Creature into Object. If you turn a creature into an object, it transforms along with whatever it is wearing and carrying into that form. The creature’s statistics become those of the object, and the creature has no memory of time spent in this form, after the spell ends and it returns to its normal form.

It would be well to position this creature in or over a large receptacle, so that you don't spill the ink all over the floor when it changes form. For example, stick the cat into a bath tub, so that the liquid that was once a cat is caught in the tub, and then you can transfer it into a vial.

The answer might be "maybe" since "rare ink" is an unknown substance

The question your DM has to answer is this: is a young silver dragon more or less complicated / complex than a bottle of rare ink?

  1. If it is more complicated, then the ink is well within the power of the magic to achieve. Make the ink.

  2. If less complicated -- this rare ink is made of something more complicated than a living silver dragon -- then the power of this 9th level spell isn't up to making that ink.

The rules leave open the rulings on such esoteric details, by design.

It is within the rules that the ink be created by this spell, in that the rules do not disallow it. That go/no-go ruling rests with your DM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The DM's main problem was not that the spell wasn't capable of reproducing the complexity, but that it was essentially creating multiple objects which the spell disallows. You may want to address that more. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 8 '18 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose I have chosen not to overcomplicate this, which IMO is the core of the issue in the first place. Thanks for your point, however. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 8 '18 at 20:44
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Problem

You seem to be attacking the problem from the wrong direction. Let me illustrate with a concrete example: Consider that the rare ink is really the blood of a red dragon. You are able to form the whole dragon with polymorph, but you can't form a vial of its blood (because say blood is not a discrete object)? How does that make sense?

Well, it does and doesn't. It does make sense from the point of view of the game mechanics. Yet, it does not make sense from the metaphysical self-consistency of the game's multiverse. The only thing you can say that this is magic in a fantasy world. Taking this as a clue, why don't we stick to something fantastic?

Solution

This brings us to how we could define a "spell component that would be impossible to make via True Polymorph". Define the ink such that it requires an extraordinary process. For example, require that the ink is the blood of the adult red dragon, Gallast, spilled in its lair on a night of full moon, mixed with the juice of roses that have been cultivated on the outer plane of Elysium.

Now the question of whether dragon blood could be produced by polymorph becomes a non-issue. Even if you could produce it, it will be ordinary dragon blood, not Gallast's full-moon blood. You can arguably produce rose petals with polymorph, but they won't be from the plane of Elysium. You could ask, how are roses cultivated in Elysium different that other roses? No difference at all in terms of "real world physics", but the metaphysics of the fantasy multiverse will somehow make them different.

Sage Advice

In the same spirit as described in the previous section, one other solution would be to require that the spell component be a magical ink. According to Jeremy Crawford, you cannot polymorph a creature into a magical item.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As a wizard, lets say i buy a vial of this with the gold from selling a polymorphed diamond, and analyse it. Surely i would be able to recreate it exactly afterwards, since i now have intimate knowledge of such a specimen \$\endgroup\$ – Timi Jan 9 '18 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Timi While that's a rational train of thought, I think the point ZwiQ is making is that the rare materials themselves are the obstacle to manufacture, rather than cloning what's in the vial that you purchased at great expense. (IRL, I can buy a bottle of single malt scotch whiskey but I can't buy the water from that Island in Scotland, nor the local peat). The flip side of that is "if someone else made it, I can transmute something into it" which is a basic tenet of the transmutation school of magic. At this point, we get into what is more important: process or product? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 9 '18 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Timi: How? Can you as a wizard analyse a given vial of rose juice and find the "missing" ingredient that distinguishes it from the vial of juice obtained from Elysium-cultivated roses? I would argue that no, you cannot. The difference is not physical, it is metaphysical. Can you convert blood to blood spilled on a full-moon? (This you cannot anyway because true polymorph does not allow object to object transformations, but let's forget that for the sake of argument.) \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 9 '18 at 17:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ (well, you would transform a creature into it anyway). I see your point, but my argument is that if it exists, it can be replicated. The weave will notice the difference between both kinds of ink, so there is definitely a difference to it, proving that the full moon must imbue the ink with some ingredient/magic. This is also different to spell components without a cost, because you would use them to focus your mind on what you want to happen, whereas a material component with a cost is taken by the weave and used in some way to make stuff happen. \$\endgroup\$ – Timi Jan 9 '18 at 17:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Timi: I see your point. But I feel you are using your out-of-game logic to make an in-game assumption: that the wizard is able to command the weave to make an exact replicate. Polymorph is not a copy spell, it is not worded that way, so you cannot expect it to do things beyond what it states. Actually we see a counter example in its creature transformation description: you are unable to change personality, right? So you cannot transform me to another you, there is something metaphysically distinct and polymorph does not copy that. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Jan 9 '18 at 17:30
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Your DM is going the wrong direction

Your DM wants you not to be able to produce the components of this spell via True Polymorph. Therefore they have made the components lots of objects, so that you can't make it with a single casting.

Ignoring the problems with that reasoning in terms of rules support, let's assume that that works. You can still make the ink with True Polymorph, simply by casting it a couple extra times, once per ingredient in the ink. Plus, you can make the ingredients separately in bulk and then use Fabricate to mass-produce this ink in 10' cubes of volume at a time. Unless the spell uses a truly massive volume of ink, this will actually result in you producing more material components on average per casting than just making a casting's worth directly. That's probably not what your DM wanted.

Your DM should have required the ink be entirely mundane instead

True Polymorph, even when its permanent, affects its target. Ink created by it will always have a magical aura detectable via detect magic. It will always be actually something else turned into ink, and it can be dispelled or suppressed or whatever by the appropriate magic effects. If the spell required entirely unaffected by magic, mundane, ordinary ink you couldn't use True Polymorph to produce it. He can just tack on "entirely unaffected by magic" to whatever fancy ink he wants you to need to use, and then you have to get it some other way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Judging by the position on the writing, I would have thought that when something becomes permanent, the spell does not end when it drops to 0hp or dies. "The transformation lasts for the duration or until the target drops to 0 hit points or dies. If you concentrate on this spell for the full duration, the transformation becomes permanent". Specific beats general, so a permanent transformation would not be dispelled or end when the target drops to 0hp. I would also argue that you could only create completely mundane ink via this spell too, since it cannot create magical items (or not intended) \$\endgroup\$ – Timi Jan 9 '18 at 15:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Timi The True Polymorph spell got adjusted after the first printing. This related question may be helpful. The SRD and the errata which got included in the later printings included "until dispelled" which is a change to the first printing's "becomes permanent" text. I have the first printing; I check on the errata with some frequency. It's posted at WoTC's web site. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 9 '18 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think there is a better term; the result of a true polymorph is completely non-magical in the same way that the subject of fly is non-magical. I don't think there's a way to cleanly specify "an object that is unaffected by magic in any way" other than saying that (but that's a larger set than what's intended). \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 10 '18 at 16:15

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