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One of the limitations of using Wild Shape is that, in most beast forms, a druid cannot talk, as per the PHB:

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. (my emphasis)

One of the key benefits of Wild Shape is scouting ahead for the party, and it turns out the Cranium Rat (from Volo's Guide to Monsters) is ideal for this:

  • Rats are commonplace creature in many towns or dungeons, and are therefore less prone to generate suspicions even if detected.
  • Darkvision is a benefit in dark places.
  • No extra Stealth bonus, but +2 from DEX is still a bonus.
  • Telepathic Shroud makes it immune to emotion-sensing, mind-reading and divination spells.

Many animal shapes have great scouting abilities, but the Cranium Rat even has the ability to use Telepathy for up to 30ft, potentially allowing the druid to communicate secretly with the party, relaying information about what it sees.

I'm still baffled that the Cranium Rat is categorized as a beast, and not as a monster of some kind, but it's a beast per the RAW. Since the Telepathy ability of the Cranium Rat is a "capability of the beast form", does this mean that a druid can indeed use Telepathy when transformed into a Cranium Rat?

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3 Answers 3

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Yes, they can

I agree it seems strange that the Cranium Rat is a beast rather than a monstrosity or something. But until any official errata comes along, then it is perfectly eligible for Wild Shape!

Since Wild Shape grants you all the game stats of the beast in question except where noted in the Wild Shape rules (alignment, personality and mental stats etc) then you would also gain the telepathy and light generation features.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that while 'perfectly eligible for wild shape' the rules of wild shape are that the druid can assume that shape of "a beast that you have seen before." Unless the DM has specifically placed cranium rats in the druid's path or agreed on them in their backstory, a druid would still be unable to use that shape de novo. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 13, 2023 at 23:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might consider updating your answer now that an official errata has come along. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 14, 2023 at 21:14
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Not anymore; it's now an Aberration

Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse (p. 83) reclassified the cranium rat's Type from Beast to Aberration.

That said, it's fun and cool to be able to turn into a Cranium Rat, so I think your table should stick to the Volo's Guide to Monsters version (p. 133) and do it (ask your DM).

(See also the Stench Kow – which used to be a Beast with a 5-ft. Stench poison radius (VGtM, p. 207), but is now a Fiend (MP:MotM, p. 72).)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice catch. You might reference my answer here for a more in-depth explanation about Volo’s Guide being obsolete. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 13, 2023 at 22:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good find, and there are a number of other questions on this stack about the rats as Beasts that could be updated. Note that regardless of the Type of the cranium rat however, they still fall under the rules of wild shape, that the druid can assume that shape of "a beast that you have seen before." Unless the DM has specifically placed cranium rats in the druid's path or agreed on them in their backstory, a druid would still be unable to use that shape de novo. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 13, 2023 at 23:23
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Yes.

Surprisingly, it looks like this will work fine, per RAW, for the reasons you mentioned.

Makes me wonder if a bunch of druids could wild shape into enough Cranium Rats to form a swarm, and use the swarm's comprehend languages and other features.

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