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A low strength druid has been hit twice by a Shadow's Strength Drain ability, reducing their strength score from 9 to 3. Fearing potential instant death, the Druid uses Wild Shape to turn into a Brown Bear, changing their physical ability scores to match that of the Brown Bear, which would normally mean their strength is now 19. What happens to the reduction to strength score? The only official information on this matter comes from Sage Advice:

Can a creature under the effects of polymorph have other spell effects on them, or are those game statistics also replaced by the those of the beast form? Polymorph replaces only the target’s character sheet or stat block with the stat block of the chosen form. Other effects, such as other spells, still exist.

However this only covers what could happen if a creature already polymorphed has an effect placed on them. In this instance, would the Druid in Brown Bear form have 19, 13, 3, or something else as its strength score? Would the result be the same for Polymorph, or other shape-changing abilities that take the new form's statistics?

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I don't believe that the rules cover this unambiguously.

The DM needs to determine between two interpretations of the ability:

  1. Strength Drain works like a persistent magical effect/"aura" on the character, reducing their strength by 1d4 from whatever it would have otherwise been. In this case, when the Druid wildshapes their natural Strength would be 19, and the effect reduces it to 13.
  2. Strength Drain instantaneously reduces the character's Strength by 1d4, lasting until they rest. In this case it's been applied to the e.g. human body, and a new Wild Shape body would not suffer this effect, with the unwounded bear retaining its 19 Strength.

Does Strength Drain work by affecting the body directly, or is it more like a curse that sticks to the character? The description doesn't make it clear which of these applies, so the DM will have to interpret it accordingly.

(Personally I would rule as per case (2) - as a rider on a melee attack it feels more likely that it's a physical interaction with the body, which would not apply to the druid's new body which hasn't been hit by the Shadow. But I can see arguments for either.)

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The druid's Strength in Brown Bear form is 13.

Here are the relevant rules for this case.

Wild Shape

Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast, but you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores.

Shadow

Strength Drain. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) necrotic damage, and the target's Strength score is reduced by 1d4. The target dies if this reduces its Strength to 0. Otherwise, the reduction lasts until the target finishes a short or long rest.

Emphasis mine.

When the druid uses Wild Shape to morph into a Brown Bear, his Strength is replaced by the Strength of the bear, becoming 19. Then, the Strength Drain effect still applies and reduces it by 6.

There is nothing in the Wild Shape rules indicating that effects affecting Abilities are removed or altered, so the Strength reduction must still be applied.

Note: the druid must be careful if his Strength in Brown Bear form is reduced to 10 afterwards, because shaping back to humanoid form would kill him ! (having a -9 Strength effect).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Agree mostly, but not sure about the need to be careful changing back if Strength reduced in bear form. Since druid's strength replaced by bear's strength on wildshape (overriding any damage) then I think that on changing back, the bear's strength - no matter if reduced - would be replaced back to druid's (damaged) strength as it was before, e.g. 3. At least, that's the way I would rule as a DM. \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Mar 16 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand. You agree that the Druid should have 13 Strength in Brown Bear form (thus bringing the -6 reduction with it), but the reduction should not come back from Brown Bear form to humanoid form ? \$\endgroup\$ – Yotus Mar 16 at 10:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I've only just realised you were also saying the reduction should carry over to bear then back to druid. Hmmm. I think there may be an argument for treating it like hit points, where the hit points, even if damaged, are simply replaced with the bear's. But that would be a separate answer. \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Mar 16 at 10:48

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