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Traxigor is an archmage with a rather unique morphology, who is encountered during Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus:

Traxigor was polymorphed into an otter years ago, and decided he preferred the new form to his original one (that of a wizened old man). His otter form was made permanent by a wish spell. He uses the archmage stat block, but is a Tiny beast with a Strength of 3.

What exactly happened here? Are the circumstances of this transformation recorded in any official source material (from any edition)?

This answer establishes that (in D&D 5e) the spell polymorph would not allow a spellcaster to retain their spellcasting abilities while polymorphed into a beast, and this answer establishes the same for true polymorph. On the surface, this seems like an inconsistency (which wouldn't be surprising), but do the circumstances of Traxigor's transformation into an otter resolve this inconsistency somehow?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've used both the [dnd-5e] and [dungeons-and-dragons] tags because I'm asking about lore from any edition and how it relates to a 5e inconsistency. I know this is two questions, but the questions seem related enough to leave as a single post - it should be immediately evident from the circumstances if it explains the polymorph dilemma, and trying to resolve the polymorph dilemma obviously requires examining the circumstances. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23, 2021 at 18:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Who is Traxigor and where do we find him? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 23, 2021 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Only mention in 5e material is found in Descent into Avernus, and the only info given is that he's an otter who is an archmage and he has a tower. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23, 2021 at 18:35

2 Answers 2

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It's a Wish, used free-form. It's not limited to just what Polymorph spells can do.

As far as his current state, that pretty much resolves all discrepancies right there. He was transformed via Polymorph into an otter (for a maximum of 1 hour per casting), during which time he was unable to cast, he decided he liked it, and he risked a free-form Wish in an attempt to have that experience permanently while also retaining his spellcasting. Luckily for him, the Wish worked out reasonably well.

Worth noting that regardless of how it happened it would have to have been a free-form Wish rather than a spell-duplication Wish, as spell-duplication Wish is not able to duplicate 9th-level spells, and there are no permanent polymorph-like effects before then.

But we don't know precise details of how it happened, because there's very little actual information here.

As far as previous lore is concerned, it appears that there isn't any. At least according to the Forgotten Realms wiki, this particular Otter Archmage was created for the adventure itself.

Now, one chain of events that might make sense would be that he was polymorphed, he liked it, he possibly polymorphed himself a few more times, he didn't stop liking it, and so he carefully crafted a Wish that would turn him into an otter capable of spellcasting, which (as a wizard caster capable of casting 9th-level spells) he cast himself.

On the other hand, we don't know that to be true with certainty. The wording in particular is a bit odd here. "His otter form was made permanent" seems to imply that the Wish was used while he was under the effects of Polymorph, perhaps for the first time, thus requiring both another caster and a more complicated Wish. If it was the first time, it would also have required this particular old man to have made a life-changing decision like that, and assembled the necessary effects for it in under an hour, while in the form of an otter. An unusual series of events indeed, though still within the bounds of the possible for high-level D&D characters.

Regardless, it's both beyond the scope of the information we're given and also not terribly important. The text could be read in a number of ways. Regardless of how you read the text, you could do that thing with Wish. No other information has been provided, or is likely to be provided. He's a bit character in a specific adventure, whose most significant feature is that he can be used as an excuse by rules lawyer powergamers who want to abuse Polymorph to make their 12th-level characters able to cast 9th-level wizard spells. I suspect that the wording is awkward just because the person who wrote it couldn't be bothered to put that much attention into the few sentences of description that the archmage was allotted.

If the specific details of the episode matter for your campaign, then it's going to have to be DM adjudication, and that's all there is to it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems conjectural, as the material in Avernus says he only used wish to make the effect permanent, so proposing whish was used for more than that is speculative without further citation. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23, 2021 at 19:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, due simply to the fact that this character has so little written about him, all answers are likely to be speculative. However, since he can still cast spells, and prepares spells off of the wizard list, it is reasonable to suggest that Wish was used for the entirety of the transformation while retaining the ability to cast spells, and it's reasonable to suggest that he was also the one who cast Wish. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23, 2021 at 19:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ He could first cast Shapechange, which is available as a 9th-level Wizard spell and retains spellcasting capabilities in other forms, and then Wish to make it permanent. In my subjective opinion, that's a slightly smaller fudge factor than modifying Polymorph or generating custom effects \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23, 2021 at 19:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ We could speculate a great many things about the backstories of briefly-described characters in printed campaign modules, but at the end of the day, the real answer is "He used Wish, and the DM let him get away with it." I mean, if I were running a game, and a player came tome and said "I have access to Wish, and I want to be a spellcasting otter", I'd probably let them get away with it too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 23, 2021 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Punintended To be fair, (and I don't know why I forgot this before) he also could have probably just made a Spell Scroll of one of the two spells and done it that way. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23, 2021 at 20:13
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Polymorph in this instance does not refer to the spell, but as a verb describing what happened to the wizard

You have quoted the relevant text from the book, and the only bit of lore that really explores this transformation:

Traxigor was polymorphed into an otter years ago, and decided he preferred the new form to his original one (that of a wizened old man). His otter form was made permanent by a wish spell. He uses the archmage stat block, but is a Tiny beast with a Strength of 3.

I've retained the original formatting for this, as it is important. Notably, the spell, wish, is italicised while the word polymorphed is not. Wizards has taken the convention, in their printed works, to italicise words when they are referring to specific spells. In this case, we can take the lack of italisiation on the word polymorphed to mean they are using it as a verb (specifically the past tense of the verb) as opposed to a reference to a spell with polymorph in the name.

One other interesting feature of the wording is that it doesn't say he didn't transform back into his wizard form intermittently to perform the wish, just that he was polymorphed into an otter, and then at some point after that initial polymorphing he used wish to make the otter form from that polymorphing his permanent form.

Do WoTC use this "verb" form in any other contexts in their work? (to support this interpretation)

Yes.

In any creature who is a shapechanger their Shapechanger ability has text of the form:

Shapechanger. The imp can use its action to polymorph into the beast form of a rat, a raven, or a spider, or into its devil form. Its statistics are the same in each form, except for the speed changes noted. Any equipment it is wearing or carrying is not transformed. It reverts to its devil form if it dies.

(I've quoted from the Imp statblock specifically, but the form of the ability is the same)

Similarly, in the text describing the Lythari elves, from the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide they are described as:

Lythari. The Ly’Tel’Quessir have the ability to polymorph into wolves. Unlike werewolves, lythari don’t have a hybrid form and aren’t afflicted by a curse. They dwell together in secretive packs, primarily in wolf form, living free in the deep wilds of the world.

Lastly in the DoTMM adventure (enclosed in spoilers), there is this "feature":

POLYMORPH TRAPS Throughout Arcturiadoom lie magic traps designed to polymorph humanoids. (Creatures that aren’t humanoids are unaffected.) These traps are marked P on map 14. The hobgoblins are aware of these traps and do their best to avoid them. A polymorph trap is marked by a nearly invisible glyph inscribed on a 10-foot-square section of floor. A character searching the area for traps can detect the glyph with a successful DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check. The first humanoid to pass over the 10-foot-square area triggers the glyph and must succeed on a DC 20 Wisdom saving throw or be transformed into a monster with average hit points. All items worn or carried by the creature are absorbed into its new form. The new form is hostile toward all other creatures and must attack any other creatures it can see. Roll a d10 to determine the creature’s new form: 1. Carrion crawler 2. Chimera 3. Fire elemental 4. Gelatinous cube 5. Gorgon 6. Hook horror 7. Manticore 8. Otyugh 9. Owlbear 10. Wyvern When the polymorphed creature drops to 0 hit points, it reverts to its original form and is stable at 0 hit points. Once a glyph is triggered, it disappears, rendering its space safe to pass through until Arcturia sees fit to replace it. A successful dispel magic spell (DC 17) cast on a glyph removes it.

This "feature" describes how someone would be magically polymorphed without using one of the two polymorph spells. Indeed it has some elements that are explicitly contrary to the polymorph spells themselves:

> When the polymorphed creature drops to 0 hit points, it reverts to its original form and is stable at 0 hit points. This is explicitly contrary to how polymorph itself works, in which the creature reverts back to it's original form, with any damage transferring over to the full hit points of it's original form

and

> The new form is hostile toward all other creatures and must attack any other creatures it can see. Under the polymorph named spells, the hositility or otherwise of the creature is not changed by the spell.

and

It very explicitly does not carry the "The creature is limited in the actions it can perform by the nature of its new form, and it can't speak, cast spells, or take any other action that requires hands or speech" restriction, so the newly polymorphed form from this "feature" will be capable of those things!

Ok, do we have any potential candidates for how this polymorphing might have happened?

Yes a few:

  1. Shapechange (cast by another spellcaster) followed by Traxigor casting wish upon himself to make the change permanent
  2. Shapechange (cast by Traxigor) followed by another spellcaster casting wish upon Traxigor to make the change permanent
  3. Using wish directly to change himself into a permanent otter form with the ability to cast spells
  4. He (or another spellcaster) used a spell like polymorph (but not one of the Polymorph spells) without it's limitations on casting spells that isn't available to the players. Remember the PHB says the spells printed are not the only spells possible in D&D, just

    [...] the most common spells in the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons.

  5. His form was changed by a god or some other more powerful being without the spellcasting limitation, and then he wished to retain it.

Do we know which one of these was used, or if some other method was used?

No. The only place Traxigor appears is in Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, and no further lore sources are given for his specific transformation.

Conclusion

The use of the word polymorphed in the description does not, and should not, be taken to refer to the two spells with Polymorph in the name, particularly given the clear inconsistencies of the character's abilities when compared with what would be possible for those two forms.

There are a variety of ways he could potentially have had his shape changed that would be consistent with his form, but we do not know which one it was, so absent some additional publication from WoTC, or a Forgotten Realms novel featuring Traxigor, we are not able to give a definitive answer. The only thing we do know is that he cannot possibly have used Polymorph or True Polymorph to achieve this state (because he can cast spells).

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