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When a wizard learns true polymorph, do they also learn about every creature in existence? Since the spell says the new form can be a creature of any kind you choose, it seems to me that this would mean they must have gained some knowledge about every creature in existence.

Or can you only turn into creatures that you have encountered "in your lifetime"?

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No, but its up to the DM what this means.

There is no rule that states the learning true polymorph gives any knowledge beyond how to cast the spell. That said, it's going to be up to the DM to determine if your particular choice of creature is permitted in game.

When it comes to (true-)polymorph, I have always ruled that there is a reasonable expectation that the caster has seen or learned about the creature some time in their past. For most creatures my players have ever come up with, this hasn't been an issue. However, I have ruled against using dinosaurs before, even though they are beasts and appear in the Monster Manual, because they didn't even exist in my world. There have been a few other times where I have said, "you know about that because you have read the Monster Manual, your character has most likely never seen that, pick a different creature."

The motivating principle behind ruling this way is that you have to know what your choices are to be able to choose them. This rarely is an issue, and when it has come up, I have never had players get upset over my ruling. Why? I discuss this with my players when they reach a point where they can learn polymorph. I tell my polymorph hopefuls that I intend to rule this way so it is no surprise when the deep-gnome sorcerer that grew up under a mountain is told she cannot become a sperm whale.

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Spells do what they say they do.

In DnD 5e, the general rule is that spells do what they say they do, and that they only do what they say they do. The spell True Polymorph doesn't say it grants you any special knowledge about creatures, so it doesn't. However, it doesn't require you to have ever seen or heard about a particular creature to polymorph into it; if it did, it would say so, in a similar fashion to the Druid's Wild Shape ability.

You could justify this in-game however you want (maybe the Weave knows about creatures and works based on the caster's general intent), but it's how the spell works, according to RAW.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ To me this answer makes more sence, since I prefer to take the rules as written. But I can see why some DMs might want to "homebrew" the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Leray Jenkins Nov 28 '20 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ This isn't actually a rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Nov 28 '20 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells The term "general rule" usually does not refer to an actual rule. \$\endgroup\$ – trlkly Nov 28 '20 at 20:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trlkly If this answer is going to conclude with "according to RAW" then it should stick to actual rules, rather than "general rules" that are commonly confused with actual rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Nov 28 '20 at 22:09

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