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I was curious about what the differences are for a True Dragon between using its natural Alternate Form feature vs the Draconic Polymorph spell.

The Alternate Form feature (link to Gold Dragon on SRD) says this:

Alternate Form (Su): A gold dragon can assume any animal or humanoid form of Medium size or smaller as a standard action three times per day. This ability functions as a polymorph spell cast on itself at its caster level, except that the dragon does not regain hit points for changing form and can only assume the form of an animal or humanoid. The dragon can remain in its animal or humanoid form until it chooses to assume a new one or return to its natural form.

The Draconic Polymorph spell description (from the Draconomicon) says this:

As polymorph, except as follows: The assumed form can have no more Hit Dice than you have, to a maximum of 20 Hit Dice. Your Strength and Constitution in the new form are above the average for the race or species into which you transform; your Strength is the average for the creature +8, and your Constitution is the average for the creature +2.

So, I have a question about this:

Damage: Does a dragon using the Alternate Form feature only revert to its true form if it takes enough damage to kill said true form, or might it revert to true form if it takes enough damage to kill its assumed form?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 7, 2020 at 12:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ It looks like the issues of this question are addressed now. I voted to leave open -from review. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 7, 2020 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Both forms have Idential HP, so how some attack is going to kill one without also killing the other? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 8, 2020 at 20:07

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If you use Alternate Form or the (Draconic) Polymorph spell you gain the physical ability scores (Str, Dex, Con) of the new form (which get modified in case of Draconic Polymorph). Normally, when an ability score changes, all attributes associated with that score change accordingly. Thus, if your CON modifier changes, your number of hit points change.

But this general rule does not apply to the supernatural ability Alternate Form.

"Apply any changed physical ability score modifiers in all appropriate areas with one exception: the creature retains the hit points of its original form despite any change to its Constitution."

So concerning hit points, there is no difference between the assumed form and the true form. An ancient gold dragon who uses Alternate Form to change into a halfling still has 542 hp.

If you use the spell Draconic Polymorph (Draconomicon, 79) (which is just a stronger version of the Polymorph spell (and has actually nothing to do with dragons)) it is controversial whether your hit points remain unchanged or whether they should be recalculated using the constitution modifier of your new form (see Q&A here and here and also Yopi Lapis comments below). According to the rules of the Polymorph Subschool any target of a spell from that school also retains its own hit points. But then again, the specific rules of the spells Alter Self, Polymorph (and Draconic Polymorph) and Shapechange trump the general rules of that school.

No matter whether you changed form via Alternate Form or the Polymorph spell: only the stats of your assumed form are relevant for anything that affects you and for any damage you take. If your assumed form drops to -10 hp you die and revert to your original form.

Alternate Form: "A creature using alternate form reverts to its natural form when killed"

Polymorph: "If slain, the subject reverts to its original form, though it remains dead."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your hit points also stay the same with polymorph, despite any difference in the constitution score of your new form. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yopi Lapi
    Sep 9, 2020 at 14:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @YopiLapi No, they change. See here ... but I see: it seems to be controversial \$\endgroup\$
    – Peregrin
    Sep 9, 2020 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ The polymorph subschool explicitly says "The target retains its own hit points.", and there are other sources that state the same, like the DMG errata about the polymorph spell: "They retain their original class and level, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, hit points, base attack bonus, base save bonuses, and alignment." \$\endgroup\$
    – Yopi Lapi
    Sep 10, 2020 at 15:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @YopiLapi Regarding the spells that "came before" the polymorph subschool was introduced (Alter Self, Polymorph, etc) it says that "the spells’ existing rules text takes priority over that of the subschool“ (UA, 96). So the Polymorph spell was left unchanged. - I was not aware of the DMG Errata entry, though. And I have to admit that the question whether you keep your HP or adjust them is ambiguous - to say the least. I‘m going to edit my answer … Thanks for your comments! \$\endgroup\$
    – Peregrin
    Sep 10, 2020 at 22:52

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