In the 3.5e campaign I'm running, a very real concern has arisen that the player characters might actually fail to save the world from the horrific fate that the villian has planned for it. If this occurs, the world would be reduced to a wasteland in which the the player characters are the only remaining living things. My players, being the forward-thinking types that they are, have started brainstorming contingency plans for repopulation.

One possibility that was suggested was to cut locks of hair from the elven party members and to use Polymorph Any Object spells to turn them into elves. This seems like a perfectly reasonable use of the spell, and the potential for narratives to emerge from the premise has me salavating.

Unfortunately, the spell description isn't clear on how much accumulated knowledge a lock of hair polymorphed into an elf would have. My first instinct was to assume that such an elf would have as much accumulated knowledge and skill as a newborn, which is to say, practically none.

However, when I thought about it, I realised that other shape-changing spells (including polymorph) don't specify any particular penalties associated with getting used to a new body, which suggests that some minimum understanding of how to use the new form must be magically imparted along with the shape change. I would assume that this understanding would be whatever is required to use the physical form with some prowess (that is, enough to walk around and not take a massive penalty to AC), but not enough to perform tasks that depend on cultural or taught knowledge, such as speaking elven or building a boat.

In the hopes of finding more information on the subject, I turned to my second edition Player's Handbook. Unfortunately, the spell description there made the question even more complicated: It referenced the Polymorph Other spell, the wording of which seems to suggest that after a period of time a creature subject to a Polymorph Other spell comes to possess the mindset of the race it was transformed into as if it had been a member of that race its entire life - which suggests to me that an elf created from a lock of hair would probably possess the mind of an adult, be fully capable of speaking elven, and perhaps even have some useful skills.

The interpretation I pick could have dramatic consequences for the campaign, but none of the three options I've mentioned have much evidence supporting it. I could just make an arbitary ruling, but that's not my style. So I have to ask: Are there any extant adventures, sourcebooks or other material from any edition that clarifies how much a creature created by polymorphing should know?

EDIT: Ah, one thing I should have mentioned was that part of the polymorph plan is that the created hair-elves would not be related, genetically speaking, to the hair donor(s), to avoid inbreeding from becoming a problem later on. This seems reasonable enough to me - after all, the spell can turn a lion into a lizard. Changing from one bloodline of a species to another seems trivial in comparison.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk how do you figure two weeks? It looks permanent to me: Same kingdom (+5), Same class (+2), Related (+2) = 9+ or permanent. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Aug 23 '12 at 17:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you're miscalculating. Note the example they give of sheep to wool coat = DF6, 2 days, which is a perfect parallel. And the coat is dumber than the sheep so that should be a 2 point bump. "Hair" is not of the animal kingdom, I think you're misapplying the +5. In fact, 3 hours is your likely result. The clear intent of the spell is "one mammal into another, permanent, the more different, much less" and hair to elf isn't' the same. Plus, if you are trying for "not genetically related" I wouldn't give you the "related" bonus, seems cheesy. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 23 '12 at 22:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ As long as you ignore the examples... "Wool" is not a mammal or indeed an animal. Sheep to coat is same size, related, lower int=DF6. Marionette to human is same size=DF2. What you need are some medium mammals... \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 24 '12 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk You make a fair point. Your interpretation is more consistent with the examples than mine, so your reading is probably more in line with 3.5e designer intent. Still, I like my version, and I don't like going back on my rulings, so I'll stick with it in this campaign - and since my version is consistent with how the spell worked in second edition, there's still a possibility that there's some material out there which answers my question about granted understanding. Does anyone know of any? \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Aug 26 '12 at 5:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe 3.5? First spell turns the target from X into Y. Second turns the target from Y into Y. First one lasts however long it does, then expires, the second one has a permanent duration (Same Kingdom, same class, same size, same or lower intelligence, possibly related depending on DM). As long as you have at least 2 eighth level spell slots you can turn anything into anything, permanently. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jul 6 '15 at 21:37

The stats received imply quite a lot:

  • Average intelligence -- The polymorphed creature shouldn't be perceived as a simpleton or ignorant. No penalty to knowledge checks implies an average level of knowledge.

  • Average wisdom -- Should appear to operate on basic common sense (knows when to come in from the rain). No penalty to sense motive checks implies not naive.

  • Average charisma -- Interacts normally with others. No penalty on diplomacy checks implies that it knows the niceties of local interaction, and generally doesn't come across as creepy.

So when you polymorph the hair into an elf, you get an elf. They might be missing very specific knowledge (like the best place to grab a coffee in the major elven town), but they are otherwise indistinguishable from another perfectly average elf: They know what gods to worship, how to interact with each other, how to care for themselves in their native environment, etc.

Individually, your elves are fine. Average, but fine. Where you're going to run into problems is as a society. Your elves are going to be completely lacking in specialists:

  • No great leaders to run the society.

  • No great architects and builders to build and maintain their cites/infrastructure.

  • No great generals to protect them.

  • No great scholars to remember the details of their history.

  • No great priests to maintain their relationship to their gods (beyond the basics of worships the average elf knows).

How big of a problem this is depends on what your PCs do to prop up the new society, and how you handle the advancement of NPCs in non-adventuring classes.

Note that this assumes an elvish mono-culture, as is typical of D&D. If there are many elvish cultures in your world, the PCs should either pick one or the DM should select one at random (or pick the most dominant one).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point on the assumption of elven monoculture. Fortunately, it shouldn't be too much of a problem in this campaign. In any case, I accept this answer. I still don't know if my players will go down this route, but I'm glad to be prepared. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Aug 30 '12 at 5:20

Because the link you provided specifically lists that the generated elf would have an INT, WIS, and CHA of 10 (average for the creature in question). Therefore, I would say that your initial assertion of bodily awareness would be correct, and that learned behaviors would be gone. Quite frankly, this would seem to fall into the "clone" clause unless you want to polymorph it into a baby just to be certain that the behaviors go through. Generation 1 might be "super babies" if the DM so wills it, but everything subsequent would be normal. I would also like to see a premise where this new race turns into piles of hair when they die depending on how fully blooded they are to this new race. You could also go so far as to say something similar to how the Oriental Adventures had the heraldic feats for the various clan families, and say that elves derived from certain hair might get an inherent bonus on certain skills or an automatic proficiency (in addition to the elven ones).

On the d20 SRD link you provided, it can only mimic Polymorph or Baleful Polymorph, and I noticed no mention of any knowledge retention other than understanding language but not speaking them on Baleful. Therefore, you would have to rely on your good common sense as to what to allow, but make sure to tell the players that they are working with something on a very grand scale and the rules will be specific to this campaign with everything that affects the planes. The bottom line is that you are the final arbiter of what applies and you will need to be judicial because the players will likely grab at every straw you give them. Beware your players deciding that because memories transfer, they can make a clone army and go all "Order 66" on the world.

EDIT 1: Treat it as any standard run of the mill elf they would find as a level 1 commoner. Work from a base of 10 Int/Wis/Cha. If the stats increase, so should the abilities as per the stat (EG more languages with a higher Int).


You have much bigger problems than no elves: no trees, no cows, no grain, massive runoff, altered weather patterns, etc. etc.. What will your elves eat?

I think the best and most realistic way out is, unbeknownst to the players, have certain areas survive the devastation. If they are so certain that they're going to fail that it's not even worth trying to defeat the villain, they could possibly find ways to save some important resources. Will the devastation reach arbitrarily far underground? Will it penetrate anti-magic fields? What about dimensional magic? Maybe they can come up with some of these solutions, but others exist either unplanned or planned.

Alternatively, you could give them a choice of the lesser of two evils. If the villain is not actively courting demons, maybe they would rather have a lush world to ravage than a wasteland, and the PCs could open up a huge portal to the abyss right near where the villain is. His plan is spoiled, but at terrible cost. (The roleplaying possibilities here are perhaps even more interesting than the repopulation ones: being viewed as both the savior and destroyer of the world is an interesting and uncomfortable position to be in.) If the villain is actively courting demons, then the PCs can court devils instead. In exchange for control of all the major kingdoms on the world, the devils will launch an all-out assault on the villain (and win).

Finally, if they don't manage to stop the villain, and someone else realizes the world is about to be destroyed, maybe they will make some horrible bargain with evil instead. This is slightly less dramatic than letting the PCs do it, but could still leave the campaign in a more tenable situation than trying to create elves from polymorphed hair so that they will starve or resort to cannibalism in a matter of days. (Create food and water spells aren't going to support much of a population. Also, deities don't generally do very well when all of their worshipers are dead.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the advice, and don't worry, the polymorphing thing is only one small part of my players' convoluted plans for post-apocalyptic renewal. Um, I'm not sure how this answers my question, though. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Aug 26 '12 at 5:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe - It provides a solution to the scenario you gave as background which renders the question irrelevant. "You shouldn't be asking that question because accomplishing your goal this way is better" is a reasonable, if not always helpful, way to answer a question. (Granted, it's more useful in the context of programming; with gaming, you can always decree that you want the plot to go a certain way and arbitrarily much will be bent to accomplish this end.) \$\endgroup\$ – Ichoran Aug 26 '12 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough - but this isn't my plan, it's my players, and I like to let players' plans fail or succeed on their own merits. This answer doesn't really fit with my GMing style. Thanks, anyway! \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Aug 27 '12 at 4:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe - That context is useful, thanks. If disposing of tens of millions to billions of shadows is within the capabilities of the players, I do wonder why they don't just export every remaining elf off-planet until the shadows are gone and then, when it's clear, bring them all back on. (Also don't understand how they could have let it get so bad.) But, anyway, you're right: at this point it's not an answer to your question. \$\endgroup\$ – Ichoran Aug 27 '12 at 4:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ They can't dispose of tens of billions of shadows - they're hoping that the shadows are unlikely to come back, which may or may not be the case, depending on how the war with the dragons goes. It's complicated. As for how it got so bad, the apocalypse is currently in it's 18th year. The players technically didn't exist for the last 20. Some time travel may have been involved. Yes, I did simplify some details of the scenario for brevity. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Aug 27 '12 at 5:07

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