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By the SRD description, an Ape is a Beast, with a Climb speed of 30. However, if somoene is polymorphed into an Ape, by the wording of Polymorph, that Ape cannot climb, because climbing (for an Ape) requires the use of its hands. However, it also says that the statistics of the chosen beast are used, which includes its climbing movement type.

So by RAW, is it the case that someone polymorphed into an Ape cannot climb?

The new form can be any beast ... 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 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.

ETA: Apes and Baboons, Gorillas, Monkeys, etc DO have hands, not 'paws' (Regardless of what famous short story titles may say)

Also adding that even though the stat blocks for Apes and Baboons DO say they have a Climb speed, those are general, and the spell is specific, which means the spell trumps the stat block.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 5 '18 at 21:31
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I think the answer to your question is in the excerpt you quoted:

The new form can be any beast ... 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 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.

Primates can naturally climb and have fairly dexterous hands. I would argue that because of this, they could perform most actions that humans could (provided their intellect allows for it)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Or you could call them 'paws', as in the famous short story "The Monkey's Paw". \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Oct 5 '18 at 20:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I already addressed this in my first edit, because the short story is the only place that money hands are called that \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Oct 5 '18 at 21:49
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The creature is limited in the actions it can perform by the nature of its new form and it can't [...] take any other action that requires hands [...]

The 'actions that require hands' bit is a specific example of being limited to what your new form can do. In other words, the polymorph spell is saying that because you now lack hands, you can't do things that require hands.

It should not be read as stopping you from doing things that your new animal form can clearly do, such as use your limbs to climb or grasp -- whether you call them hands, paws, or claws.

An ape's paws doesn't have the same degree of dexterity that a human's hands do, but it would be up to the DM to determine which activities would be too complex for your new form.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, it doesn't specify how dextrous those hands are, it just says they can't be used. Precision grip doesn't enter into it. \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Oct 5 '18 at 21:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ You seem to be going out of your way to read this spell in a strange way that clearly isn't intended, and I'm not sure why. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Oct 6 '18 at 12:28
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Yes, all apes can climb trees.

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.

The first clause here expresses a principle, but is not specific about what the new form prevents the creature from doing. Because of that, I read the second clause as explaining the typical consequences of the principle: most polymorph forms can't speak and don't have hands. This is typical of 5e rules: they talk about the usual case, and leave it to the DM to sort out the edge cases.

In this case you have a new form that does have hands and (per its stat block) can do certain actions that require hands (climbing, punching, and throwing rocks, at least). So even "limited by the nature of its new form", the polymorphed creature should be able to do those things. You want to do the thing, you check whether the new form allows it, and the new form says "yes".

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Yes, the ape can climb a tree

Rules as written (RAW), it's valid to read the polymorph spell as restricting what some animals can naturally do. For example, the Giant Eagle is one of the few beasts that can speak a language (specifically, it can speak "Giant Eagle"). However, I think it would be valid to rule that a creature polymorphed into a Giant Eagle could not speak that language, because the spell says "it can't speak."

However, as the spell doesn't similarly say that it "can't use hands," we have a couple of a loopholes which allows the Giant Ape to take (most) actions that it could naturally do. The loopholes are as follows.

1.) Climbing doesn't "require hands"

Polymorph states that (bold added for emphasis):

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.

Climbing does not require hands. Many creatures (like cats, lizards, and certain birds like woodpeckers) climb without them, and there's nothing RAW that requires hands to be free or used when climbing. The spell does not say that the creature cannot use its hands for any action: it says that it cannot take any action that "requires hands". Thus, the ape could not grapple a creature with its action (which RAW requires the use of "at least one free hand" [PHB, p. 195]), but could certainly climb (which does not require hands under the rules).

2.) Climbing isn't an "action:" it's a kind of movement

Again, polymorph states:

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.

The rules on climbing do not require an action to climb. They are found on page 182 of the Player's Handbook, under the section "Special Types of Movement."

There are varieties of climbing that require an action (like climbing onto a bigger creature, DMG p. 271), but your question was specifically about the simple act of climbing a tree. And even if climbing did require an action, the first point (that it doesn't "require hands") would still make it a valid thing for a polymorphed creature in ape form to do.

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