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This first sentence in the polymorph spell description says (emphasis mine):

This spell transforms a creature with at least 1 hit point that you can see within range into a new form.

I have heard that polymorph only turns into a "beast", but one of my players pointed out the "new form" part, claiming that a level 7 wizard could turn a level 6 paladin into a young white dragon (challenge rating 6).

This doesn't sound right to me, because I think it's only beasts... Maybe it's a druid thing?

Does "new form" in the polymorph spell description mean "any creature or monster"? Or does it just mean "any beast"?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Worth noting: you have adequate answers saying that this isn't possible at 7th level, but pulling something like this was much easier to do in 3rd edition. You having heard that is probably people talking about previous editions, or them not realizing that Polymorph has changed. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael W. Feb 14 '18 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of Why does the book suggest polymorphing into a giant? Can polymorph do that? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Feb 14 '18 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ While it may be good to have a single question on this topic, it probably shouldn't be the one stuffed half full of spoilers about a very specific adventure module. The whole "not all polymorphing is the spell" thing could be covered in a new canonical question. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 14 '18 at 20:48
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Polymorph (4th level) is limited in what it can turn things into.

From the spell text (second paragraph):

The new form can be any beast whose challenge rating is equal to or less than the target’s (or the target’s level, if it doesn’t have a challenge rating).

A beast is a particular creature type. The creature type is listed in the stat block of a creature. Compare adult red dragon (dragon) with allosaurus(beast).

Beasts are nonhumanoid creatures that are a natural part of the fantasy ecology. Some of them have magical powers, but most are unintelligent and lack any society or language. Beasts include all varieties of ordinary animals, dinosaurs, and giant versions of animals. (Basic Rules, p. 110).

Other types include fiend, fey, dragon, aberration, celestial, construct, monstrosity, ooze, and humanoid. Unless the creature form chosen is a beast (allosaurus, brown bear, etc) the 4th level polymorph spell won't turn the PC into a dragon. As far as the game is concerned, a dragon is not a beast; a dragon is its own type of creature.

Dragons are large reptilian creatures of ancient origin and tremendous power. True dragons, including the good metallic dragons and the evil chromatic dragons, are highly intelligent and have innate magic. Also in this category are creatures distantly related to true dragons, but less powerful, less intelligent, and less magical, such as wyverns and pseudodragons. (Basic Rules, p. 110).

The 9th level spell, True Polymorph, has no such restriction.

Creature into Creature. If you turn a creature into another kind of creature, the new form can be any kind you choose whose challenge rating is equal to or less than the target’s (or its level, if the target doesn’t have a challenge rating).

Your friend may be confusing the two spells, or may not see the distinction between the two creature types. On a humorous note, @NathanS suggests that the most powerful choices for polymorph (4th level) are Godzilla (T-Rex, CR 8, beast) or King Kong (Giant Ape, CR 7, beast). How does the character, or the player, feel about being polymorphed into one of those magnificent beasts? 😎 The PC would need to be level 8 or 7 (respectively) for that to work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "chosen beast" does that make it a beast then? or still anything? \$\endgroup\$ – Youjay Feb 13 '18 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ so a wizard turns a paladin into a dragon with 4th level polymorph, even if the dragon is of the same challenge rating, wouldn't work, correct? \$\endgroup\$ – Youjay Feb 13 '18 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Youjay No, he doesn't, since a dragon is not a beast type, it is a dragon type. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 13 '18 at 14:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Youjay Page 6 of Monster Manual defines "beasts" and discusses how these creature types are relevant to spells, notably: "Certain spells…interact in special ways with creatures of a particular type." So when you see "beast" in a spell definition, it's referring to the term defined on page 6. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Feb 14 '18 at 1:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I DM'd a party whose favorite strategy for killing dragons was to polymorph the raging barbarian into King Kong, grapple the dragon (+9 Athletics vs about +5 STR) and hold it in a Wall of Fire \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Feb 14 '18 at 1:24
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Polymorph can't turn creatures into dragons, only beasts

The polymorph spell's description says "new form" at first, but then later specifies that the new form must be a beast (emphasis mine):

This spell transforms a creature with at least 1 hit point that you can see within range into a new form. [...] The new form can be any beast whose challenge rating is equal to or less than the target's (or the target's level, if it doesn't have a challenge rating).

When the game says "beast", it is talking about a specifically defined game term. Every creature in D&D 5e has a type, and beast is one of those types. You can find a creature's type at the top of its statblock, just under the creature name, listed after its size (e.g. "Medium beast").

If the statblock for a creature says "beast" as its type, then it is applicable for the polymorph spell to turn a creature into that form. Anything else (dragon, fiend, aberration, fey, etc.) is not allowed.

A dragon is not a beast

If you look at an adult red dragon's statblock, it says: "dragon". Since it does not say "beast", it is not an applicable form for polymorph.

If you look at the statblock of a cat or a black bear it says "beast", so it would be allowed.

Common points of confusion

Don't confuse the spell polymorph with the spell true polymorph, because true polymorph has no such creature type restrictions on its transformation. It is also a 9th-level spell, so your wizard will not be casting it any time soon.

Druids have an ability somewhat similar to polymorph called Wild Shape. However, like polymorph, it can only be used to transform into beasts. There are other differences between the spell and the druid feature as well, but those are unimportant for this question as long as you understand they are separate things.

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    \$\begingroup\$ However, dinosaurs are perfectly valid targets. Turning party members into T-rexes is always good times. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Feb 13 '18 at 14:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty Godzilla and King Kong, the best two options for Polymorph! \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Feb 13 '18 at 16:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Consider keeping a wizard in t rex's mouth for breath attacks \$\endgroup\$ – OganM Feb 13 '18 at 20:32

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