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The awaken spell targets a tree or an animal. The Polymorph, polymorph any object and baleful polymorph spells change, or can change, the target's type to Animal, as do some other spells outside core, such as aquatic escape [Complete Scoundrel, p.95] or aspect of the wolf [Spell Compendium, p.16].

Awaken instantaneously sets the target's Intelligence to 3d6, adds +1d3 Charisma, adds 2 Hit Dice (apparently Animal Hit Dice, according to this question and answer), and changes the target's type to Magical Beast (Augmented Animal).

All the polymorph spells fit within the polymorph Sub-school [Player's Handbook II, pp.95-6], and that may have bearing here.

So, how do these interact with awaken, including what happens when the polymorph effect is dispelled, lapses, or is otherwise removed? Most especially, how are the stats of the target's original form affected by its being awakened while polymorphed (or otherwise turned into an animal or tree) and then ceasing to be polymorphed?


Note: Even with the 24-hour casting time of awaken, the short duration spells are possible here, since "You do not have to select your target until you finish casting the spell."1


1: SRD, Magic Overview: Aiming, Target or Targets

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When cast on a subject with humanlike sentience, awaken fails

If a creature is the subject of the 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell polymorph [trans] (Player's Handbook 263) or a similar effect that causes a subject that already possesses humanlike sentience to assume animal form therefore the creature type animal yet that also sees the subject retain its humanlike sentience, when the 5th-level Drd spell awaken [trans] (PH 202) is cast on that subject, the awaken spell fails.

That's because there's no distinction between rules text and flavor text in the Player's Handbook like there is in, for example, the Spell Compendium (see this question). With that in mind, the awaken spell, in part, says

You awaken a tree or animal to humanlike sentience. To succeed, you must make a Will save (DC 10 + the animal’s current HD, or the HD the tree will have once awakened). (202)

The Player's Handbook on Spell Failure says

If you ever try to cast a spell in conditions where the characteristics of the spell (range, area, or the like) cannot be made to conform, the casting fails and the spell is wasted. (171)

Because one of the effects the awaken spell is to grant the subject humanlike sentience, the spell fails if it's cast on a creature already possessing an Intelligence score of at least 3 like most PCs. (Yes, even the barbarian.) That is, essentially, one of the first questions the awaken spell asks of its subject is Do you possess humanlike sentience? If the subject's answer is Yes then the spell fails, but, if, instead, the subject's answer is Grr? or rustlerustle then the spell continues.

This means that it doesn't matter if the subject just meets the requirements for the awaken spell's entry Target: Animal or tree touched. The spell's description also mandates that the subject not already possess humanlike sentience. If, for example, a wizard uses polymorph to turn the fighter into a rhino, the fighter—despite possessing the type animal—, still possesses her humanlike sentience, and the awaken spell will fail.

A rules lawyer (and I use the term with affection as a frequent member of that esteemed bar myself) could make a case that the awaken spell does not explicitly specify that the subject can't have humanlike sentience already. However, the spell says that the subject undergoes a change to sentience. If the awaken spell's subject already possesses humanlike sentience there's no change for the subject to undergo or for the spell to make.

The awaken spell doesn't turn a dial but flips a switch. In the case of the awaken spell, there's no room for comparisons (e.g. being more awake after a morning coffee); the spell grants humanlike sentience to a subject that doesn't have it, and to a subject that has it already it does nothing (e.g. being woke by a rooster means needing to go back to sleep before being woke again by an alarm clock… or even the same darn rooster). Attempting to use the awaken spell multiple times to change a subject so that the subject is even more awake is like trying to make something that already is—to even a small degree—become even more pregnant, opaque, ready, or unique.

When cast on a subject without humanlike sentience, awaken succeeds

If a creature is the subject of 5th-level Sor/Wiz spell baleful polymorph [trans] (PH 202-3) or a similar effect that causes a subject that possesses humanlike sentience to assume animal form therefore the creature type animal yet that also sees the subject lose its humanlike sentience, when the 5th-level Drd spell awaken [trans] (PH 202) is cast on that subject, the awaken spell operates normally. (The same applies if the subject is turned into a tree that possesses nonhumanlike sentience, by the way.)

The awaken spell has several conditions for its use, like its entry of Target: Animal or tree touched and that the subject not possess humanlike sentience. If all of the awaken spell's conditions are met, though, the awaken spell does affect the target, and the spell's instantaneous duration means that, once the spells effects occur, those effects remain nonmagically—typically forevermore and immune to nearly all attempts at excising them.

This can be gamed, certainly, by using the baleful polymorph spell, above, and the subject failing both the Fort and Will saves; the 8th-level Sor/Wiz spell polymorph any object [trans] (PH 263) that could be used also to turn the subject into a tree that possesses nonhumanlike sentience; or even the 1st-level Drd spell aquatic escape [trans] (Complete Scoundrel 95) that, as spell of the subschool polymorph, reduces the subject's Intelligence score to that of a toad yet somehow preserves the subject's capacity for understanding language. (Yeah, I don't even.)

Anyway, the effects of the awaken spell on such subjects is brand new each time, not beholden to the Same Effect More than Once in Different Strengths rule (PH 172). That's because the awaken spell's instantaneous duration leaves behind only results rather than an ongoing spell effect. Like in the same way that the next fireball spell doesn't care that you are still damaged by that last fireball spell, the next awaken spell doesn't care that you were affected by a previous awaken spell!

This means that each time such transformed subject also becomes the subject of the awaken spell, the subject will gain another round of awaken results: 2 Hit Dice of the creature type animal or plant, adding +1d3 to its Charisma score, and rerolling its Intelligence score in addition to other effects. For many PCs this will be cause to retire—being, essentially, at least 2 levels ahead but with animal Hit Dice is tough to overcome for a wizard, for example,—, but for some PCs—like those who may have given up on advancing levels anyway—and many NPCs—who would be otherwise stuck forever as level 1 commoners—it may be an incredible boon.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chemus You are, indeed, correct sir! I had basely assumed shenanigans were the primary order of the day. I'll address those other less shenaniganny concerns in an upcoming edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 21 '18 at 17:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interestingly, I'd assumed that the polymorph subschool brought nothing to bear here, but I may have been incorrect. Since "The target is treated has having its normal Hit Dice for purpose of adjudicating effects based on HD,... though it uses ... all statistics derived from [the new form's] Hit Dice. In all other ways, the target's normal game statistics are effectively replaced by those of the new form" Awaken affects the target while it's been polymorphed. It's stats change back to its normal stats when it refers to its normal form, no? \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus Oct 21 '18 at 20:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chemus I've had a PC use the spell aquatic escape before, and I was surprised to learn that aquatic escape gave the druid nonhumanlike sentience yet preserved the druid's ability to communicate by spelling words in the sand with its itty-bitty fins. Spells are weird. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 21 '18 at 20:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, the polymorph subschool actually codifies that for all polymorph spells that change intelligence. And in my previous comment, I meant reverts not refers \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus Oct 21 '18 at 20:33
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The rules don't appear to address this possibility. It appears that the people who wrote the awaken spell never considered the possibility that it might be used on transformed player characters, and further that no errata has been issued for this.

When we find ambiguities in the rules like this, one thing that we can do is we can search for tangentially related rules text and try to argue that it applies. For example:

  • We could try to argue that the awaken spell alters the polymorphed creature (since it is a valid target) but does not alter the "underlying" creature -- this is in much the same way that a fireball would affect the polymorphed creature. No rules text justifies this, other than our general feeling that it "should make sense".
  • We could ask if the awaken spell might fail when its target becomes illegal. An answer to this question cites the D&D FAQ to show that such spells do not fail. But the D&D FAQ itself is suspect -- and, in any case, it's not clear if we can generalize that ruling to this rather unusual scenario.
  • This excellent answer, based on an ambiguous phrasing in the awaken spell text, argues that it doesn't work on creatures that already have "humanlike sentience"; it further argues that "humanlike sentience" is equivalent to having an Intelligence score of three. We don't have strong rules backing for either of these claims.

Ultimately, all of these answers have the same problem: the rules don't actually give us a clear way to resolve the question, so we're just sort of making stuff up based on rules text that doesn't really support this style of interpretation.

If this question comes up in your game, you'll have to resolve the ambiguity in the way that we resolve all ambiguities of this type: you'll have to ask your DM for a ruling. (Or, if you are the DM, you'll have to make something up.)

Personally I would argue for a "this doesn't work at all" ruling; other rulings lead to scenarios where the druid can purchase HD for other characters at a price of 250xp per 2HD, and this seems likely to warp the worldbuilding and the game in ways that are undesirable.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ (Having an Intelligence score of at least 3 is humanlike sentience because that's the minimum Intelligence score the awaken spell can grant.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 22 '18 at 7:41
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You get plants or magical beasts friendly to you that last forever

What the spell does is already described in the question and there is no reason why this should not work on a polymorphed creature.

I think the crucial question is what happens when Polymorph or its related spells expire. And I would judge: nothing.

The spell effect of Awaken is instantaneous. In the SRD magic section linked to the question it is ruled under "same effect with different results":

The same spell can sometimes produce varying effects if applied to the recipient more than once. Usually the last spell in the series trumps the others. None of the previous spells are actually removed or dispelled, but their effects become irrelevant, while the final spell in the series lasts.

Which is: forever. The paragraph cited applies to several castings of the same spell, but polymorphing a creature several times is close enough to this case that I would judge: if you " awaken" a polymorphed target the new condition lasts.

Finally, I would like to express my concern that using Awaken in this manner can lead to abusive applications that I would discourage it as a DM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, I cannot cite a source. I just wanted to express my concern that this idea opens a door to abuse. A spell that creates mediocre nature-type allies can now be used for eternally polymorphing virtually anyone. Consider the party that has just overcome Togor, the demon lord, unconscious on the ground. Now the party comes up with a plan to prevent ressurection of the fiend: They keep him stable for 24 hours, then they cast Polymorph to create a nice kitten from the unconcious (=willing) demon lord and Awaken as follow-up. Voilà: Togor, the friendly kitten. Forever. No save for Togor. \$\endgroup\$ – Giorin Oct 20 '18 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ SR might save Togor. \$\endgroup\$ – Giorin Oct 20 '18 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do not understand. Polymorph is not instantaneous and it does not cost XP. \$\endgroup\$ – Giorin Oct 20 '18 at 18:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ O, I know, but awaken is and does. That is, can the concerns that are alluded to in the answer's final paragraph be made explicit? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 20 '18 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't think that I implied that I was suggesting that the polymorph spells are used more than once; only one is needed to make a creature into an animal. The multiple similar effects seems to be immaterial to me. @HeyICanChan can you expand on this "However, a duration of instantaneous doesn't work the way the question describes"? \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus Oct 21 '18 at 4:43

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