Every polymorph spell that grants you special attacks in your battle form notes that you are trained with these attacks. They are also always unarmed attacks. Does your proficiency bonus for these attacks get a downgrade if you are usually an expert with unarmed attacks, and now you are only trained?

Arguments for:

  • "Trained" is not just proficiency in general, but the name of one of the proficiency levels in particular. The descriptions could have said "You apply your proficiency for unarmed attacks" or just nothing, because every class is at least trained with unarmed attacks.
  • Animals are not usually very educated (see also: elephants with high strength and medium athletics)
  • This could be meant to keep you from getting too powerful with these attacks or exploit monk abilities with them, as the attacks allow you to use your own attack modifier if it is higher than the (relatively high) modifier included in the spell.

Arguments against:

  • I seem to vaguely remember errata saying that yes, every class is trained in unarmed attacks. These descriptions could be a holdover from the time where that wasn't clear.
  • There aren't many skill downgrades in the game, and those are always described as obvious drawbacks (literally, in the case of the silvertongue elixir.) It seems strange to limit your character's powers here and only here.
  • If you did just want to say that players don't need to worry about proficiency penalties, should they want to use their own attack modifier, I guess that would be a concise way to say it.

Edit: The answers make me think I have asked this question in a misleading way, because I missed the obvious answer: You can be trained in a weapon and still be expert in its weapon category. I have added a suitable answer to explain.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The errata that you mention is "Any class feature that improves the proficiency rank or grants the critical specialization effect access for simple weapons or a specific set of weapons, that ability also grants that benefit for unarmed attacks" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 5:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ So most classes will have Unarmed at the highest proficiency they have for weapons (with the exception, I believe, of Fighters getting a weapon group bumped for some levels) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 5:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can we assume that that applies to the first training as well? I also checked the rules and verified that every class starts trained in unarmed attacks, so there's really no need to specify that in the spell (but it can still be useful just because these spells have a lot of information to be aware of.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 8:45

3 Answers 3


Polymorph Attack Bonuses cannot be modified, only replaced

The Polymorph trait states

the special statistics can be adjusted only by circumstance bonuses, status bonuses, and penalties.

This includes item bonuses, your ability modifier, your proficiency, etc. They're fixed, and only change by heightening.

However, most polymorph spells state

If your unarmed attack bonus is higher, you can use it instead.

In this case, you use your normal, modified unarmed attack bonus, if it's higher. This includes your ability modifier, your proficiency, and your item bonuses. Because you're using your unarmed attack bonus, it is no longer a "special statistic" mentioned in the polymorph rules.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't answer the initial question of whether you need to treat your unarmed attacks proficiency as if you were only trained, because the spell description says that you are (only) trained with these attacks. It turns out that this is a silly question to ask in the first place, and I haven't been able to see the forest for the trees while trying to figure it out. I have updated the question to explain my mistake. Thank you for getting me on the right track! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess I'm not sure what difference the proficiency makes other than the bonus, so I answered in regards to the bonus. If there's something the proficiency would affect other than the attack bonus that you were asking about let me know. \$\endgroup\$
    – WeirdFrog
    Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 15:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let's say I'm level 6 and an expert in unarmed attacks, with a modifier of +10. Animal Form grants me a +9, but I'm allowed to use my +10 instead. Nice. But now the spell says "you're trained with these attacks". Suddenly, I'm no longer an expert, and my bonus is +8. I use the +9 from the spell and lose 1 point in my attack bonus. I wanted to know if that's how it works. It turns out that no, it doesn't, and honestly I should have known that it doesn't. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're overthinking it. You can use your normal unarmed attack bonus, or you can use this special attack bonus. If you use your unarmed attack bonus, it overrides the lower proficiency of the special attacks, so it's just your normal unarmed attack bonus. \$\endgroup\$
    – WeirdFrog
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 16:08

Looking at Animal Form it says, in part

If your unarmed attack bonus is higher, you can use it instead.

This tells me the bonus (and training) provided by the spell is a minimum, rather than a fixed change. I would apply the character's Unarmed proficiency rank, if required.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer. I don't really see this saying anything about the training, in particular because it specifies only the bonus, and training and bonuses are treated with very different weight in the rules. Your bonus could be higher without a high proficiency (say if you cast a low-level spell with a high-level character). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 8:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer ignores the line in the Polymorph trait that says the special statistics can't be adjusted (except by circumstance and status) \$\endgroup\$
    – WeirdFrog
    Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 14:27

You can be trained in a weapon and still be expert in its weapon category.

It turns out this was a silly question. I have been too deep into details and trying to get it exactly right to see this obvious answer (that I have already applied to dozens of weapon calculations before).

If a wizard is trained in the club, but somehow gains expert proficiency in simple weapons, he will apply that proficiency to the club. This is not usually possible to achieve through feats, but it's what happens in polymorph spells: You get trained in Claws, Fangs, Tail etc. - but that doesn't change how good you are with unarmed attacks. And if your (e.g. expert) bonus with unarmed attacks is better than the +9 from animal form, you are free to apply that to your Claws, Fangs and Tail attacks. No downgrade.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You may think that you asked a silly question, but all of these answers are likely to be helpful to people down the line, and that's the important thing! \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 16:54
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not finding the original rule, but in Dual-Class rules it says "As always, use the highest proficiency granted for a given statistic." The "as always" is the important part. You use the best proficiency you have. The only exception to this that I can find is the special attack bonus from polymorph spells, and that simply states that the bonus itself cannot be modified. I'm not sure if that's what this answer is saying, it's a bit hard to follow with all of the examples. \$\endgroup\$
    – WeirdFrog
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 16:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, that's it. Even polymorph only gives you another proficiency to choose from. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 22:43

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