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Situation

A level 8 Celestial Warlock, Pact of the Tome, has an owl familiar1. The party Wizard casts polymorph on the Warlock such that a Tyrannosaurus Rex (INT 2, Wis 12) is now standing there.

How it was ruled

While your familiar is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. (PHB, find familiar, spell description)

We (DM and I) guessed that the telepathic connection between the Warlock and the familiar remained, but we weren't sure.

The target’s game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of the chosen beast. It retains its alignment and personality. {my emphasis} (PHB, polymorph, spell description)

The "retain its alignment and personality" was our basis for thinking that the owl would stick around and still have contact with the Warlock/T Rex. We weren't sure what the familiar could do, now that the Warlock's intelligence was 2. (Normal INT of that Warlock PC is 12). We did allow that a 12 Wis was helpful, but since INT is the "memory" trait we felt that the Warlock might have taken a hit on mental interactions (such as 'who is that talking in my head?').

Question(s)

The directly related questions to answer are:

  1. Does the familiar stick around to assist the polymorphed PC? (If No, then the rest is moot)
  2. What actions can the familiar take if its caster is polymorphed into a beast?

We weren't sure. The DM (for simplicity's sake, six players to take care of) let the owl fly around and do its usual scouting such that the T Rex could learn from the telepathic communication, but the T Rex was not able to share that info with the rest of the party2. The owl did a couple of flyby/Helps in combat to give the T-Rex advantage on a bite attack, but we (the DM and I) weren't sure, after the battle, if we'd gotten that right. (This familiar does that in some, but not all, of our combats depending on the situation).

When we took a look at the rules it wasn't clear. When I searched Familar + Polymorph at RPGSE I came up empty, beyond the two rules cited above and this:

Your familiar acts independently of you, but it always obeys your commands. In combat, it rolls its own initiative and acts on its own turn. A familiar can't attack, but it can take other actions as normal.

We think that an INT 2 (Wisdom 12) T Rex (with a Warlock's personality) could, if the telepathic communication is still active, issue commands to the familar to "do this, I need it" but that's about it. I wanted to not get more out of a 2 INT than seemed reasonable to the rest of the table.

Question restated

  1. If the familiar's caster is polymorphed, will the familiar remain and function normally? If yes,

  2. What can the familiar do while the caster is polymorphed into a beast?

If there are rules, rulings, or Save Advice that covers this that we missed, that would be helpful. If there's a glaring gap in how it was ruled, that would also be useful. (We expect for there to be T-Rex shenanigans, and Giant Ape shenanigans, in the near future in the city where we deal with a grand vizier who has been spying on us).


1 Book of Shadows, level 1 spell, find familiar
2 The Totem Warrior Barbarian didn't choose to cast the speak with animals ritual that they could have, even though I, OOC, suggested it


Related questions include: communicating with a familiar , minimum INT for using abilities, and what can my familiar do?

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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI, because you mentioned communication with your party, I added a section about that to my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – gto
    Apr 17 at 19:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ What about when my ps4 is polymorphed? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    May 4 at 18:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast haha it's a joke as the OP mentions their "PC" (as in "personal computer"). So I joked about my Playstation 4. But now that I've explained it, I have to delete it XD \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    May 4 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o See the egg on my face. Let's make an omelette. 😯 \$\endgroup\$ May 4 at 20:48
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The familiar functions normally, but you don't.

Your familiar is still your familiar.

Find Familiar says:

Your familiar acts independently of you, but it always obeys your commands.

While your familiar is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. Additionally, as an action, you can see through your familiar's eyes and hear what it hears until the start of your next turn, gaining the benefits of any special senses that the familiar has. During this time, you are deaf and blind with regard to your own senses.

As an action, you can temporarily dismiss your familiar. It disappears into a pocket dimension where it awaits your summons. Alternatively, you can dismiss it forever. As an action while it is temporarily dismissed, you can cause it to reappear in any unoccupied space within 30 feet of you.

None of these requires you to be smart or humanoid or even to have an unchanging body. If your race is changeling or verdan, you don't suddenly lose your familiar when you transform. Because the familiar has a magical and a telepathic connection to you, it will still recognize and obey you.

Also remember that the familiar is not a beast; according to the spell, it's a celestial, fey, or fiend spirit that takes an animal form. As such, it likely has a greater comfort with magical effects than you'd expect from a typical beast.

You might choose to role-play that your familiar is momentarily confused the first time you change into a particular form, but no game mechanic requires this. As an analogy, consider how a dog behaves when reunited with its human after a long separation. They may display an initial hesitance, but as soon as the dog catches the person's scent, there's instant recognition and acceptance.

You're dumber than you were.

Although your familiar still functions the same, you do not. As you quoted from Polymorph:

The target’s game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of the chosen beast.

In the case of the T. Rex, your Intelligence score is reduced to 2. To better understand what this means, it's helpful to compare that score to the scores of other common beasts.


INT = 1

INT = 2

INT = 3


So, as a T. Rex, you're not effectively brainless like an insect, but you're also not as smart as a dog. This will affect your communication, but it may not be as limiting as you might think.

Being dumb probably doesn't limit your communication with your familiar.

It's important to note that the Intelligence scores of Find Familiar's creatures are all between 1 and 3. Your owl shares the T. Rex's 2, so you and it are now matching in intelligence.

You can no longer formulate complex thoughts, but your familiar wouldn't have understood those anyway. You can still send telepathic commands, and although they're likely not structured as language, they'll still be as effective as necessary. For example:

  • Come Here
  • Go There
  • Fetch That
  • Stand Watch (i.e. remain alert and warn if there's danger)
  • Distract that Creature (e.g. fly into its face)
  • Find "Timmy" (a party member or other creature known to the familiar)
  • Search for Goblins

Communication with your party members is limited, but possible.

Like a horse or bear, the T. Rex will be able to use body language and simple sounds to communicate with party members in a limited fashion. Typical messages might be:

  • I Acknowledge You (a huff)
  • Follow Me (taking a few steps and then looking back at the person)
  • I'm Angry, Excited, or Proud (a roar)
  • Leave Me Alone (an incomplete attack, like a snapping of teeth)
  • Thank You (a gentle nuzzle)

(Of course, this limitation to the character's communication doesn't mean the player must be similarly limited. See this discussion for guidance: How can I model a character polymorphed into a (stupid, speechless) Tyrannosaurus Rex?)

The giant ape you mentioned offers more interesting options. With an Intelligence Score of 7, it may well be smarter than any members of your party for whom Intelligence wasn't a priority during character creation! In this case, communication through more complex sounds, body language, and gestures would be feasible.

In fact, because some real-world chimps and gorillas have been able to learn rudimentary (and somewhat clumsy) sign language, you might take the time to develop a small set of useful signs to use with your party.

Don't forget that you can't cast spells.

One way your being polymorphed does limit your familiar's function is related to their delivery of touch spells. Polymorph removes all of your spellcasting ability:

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.

The familiar would still be able to deliver any spells you sent its way, but your spellcasting has been disabled.

(Side Note: Some might argue that the wording here is ambiguous, and if your spells didn't need somatic or verbal components -- such as when using Subtle Spell metamagic -- they would require neither hands nor speech, so you could still cast them when polymorphed. This interpretation is discussed here and here.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thorough, well done. +1 \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ For further reference, here is a list of all monsters bare stats, which you can sort by INT for better comparison what INT 2 squares up to: docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/… But already very thurough answer \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 16 at 10:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ As an important side note: Your INT score being low does not affect your ability to communicate in any way. Your assertation that this changes is strictly outside RAW. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 3:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BaconyRevanant I disagree. By your logic, a person polymorphed into a spider (INT = 1) would be able to carry out an extensive, normal discussion with any person who can form a telepathic link. This is nonsensical. Your spider mind is not capable of forming complete human-level thoughts and structuring them into language. With Polymorph, you retain your alignment and personality but NOT your intelligence, and your intelligence is what would allow you to think clearly enough to communicate like a normal person. \$\endgroup\$
    – gto
    Apr 18 at 4:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BaconyRevanant I'm not referencing a hidden rule or arguing the spell does more than it says it does. "Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason." [PHB pg. 177] The polymorph spell severely impairs your intelligence. When this happens, your reduced mental acuity, etc., are such that you can no longer form complex thoughts or recall vocabulary like a human would. Is a lack of vocal cords the only thing preventing horses from having human-level discussions with us? No. Even in D&D, magic is required to speak with animals; telepathy is not enough. \$\endgroup\$
    – gto
    Apr 18 at 7:47
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RAW, nothing changes. Your familiar remains and can be commanded by you as normal.

When you are Polymorphed, you take on the statistics of the creature you are polymorphed into in place of your own. Since having a Familiar is not part of your stat block, we can be sure at the very least that the familiar is not lost.

In regards to how you can command it, since the telepathy is an effect from the spell that summoned the familiar rather than a trait that the caster themselves posses, telepathic communication is still possible. Nothing in Polymorph restricts your ability to communicate outside of the basic restrictions of your new form, i.e. a T-Rex doesn't have a mouth and vocal chords appropriate for normal speech, so you can't talk. Since nothing about a T-Rex's form would inherently inhibit your ability to use telepathy, communication via that method should remain possible.

Additionally, Find Familiar simply states that you can command your familiar. It doesn't give a how, a why, in fact from my reading, there are no qualifiers or limits at all outside of the specific range on the telepathy. My best advice is that common sense applies for this: your familiar needs to be able to hear you or be within telepathy range for you to command it. By necessity, it must magically gains the ability to understand your commands, regardless of language (or lack thereof), because if it didn't, there wouldn't be a way to command it in any situation outside of also casting Speak With Animals or something similar.


The only thing that gets sticky is what commands are you allowed to give it? As you said, a T-Rex only has an Int score of 2. Unfortunately this score is almost meaningless. An average humanoid has an Int of 10, so the difference here is about as great as the difference between an average person and a well trained wizard (that is to say, not much). Ultimately, how complex of commands and ideas you can communicate with an Int of 2 is up to your table to decide. All I can say is that nothing in the rules state having a low Int bars you from communicating just as effectively as a person with high Int.

For comparison, look at Feeblemind, which sets your Int to 1 and specifically bars you from communicating any way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Something else that may get sticky is any invocations that have to do with the familiar, as the warlock doesn't have access to class features while polymorphed, like Voice of the Chain Master and Gift of the Ever-Living Ones. \$\endgroup\$
    – RallozarX
    Apr 15 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ nice point on the comparison with feeblemind \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15 at 20:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RallozarX All that would do is negate the additional bonuses you get for your familiar, so it wouldn't make much difference in regards to your ability to command it other than not having the expanded range. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15 at 20:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok Like I said, that's something for your table to decide. Int is not, and never has been, a perfect sliding scale. Case and point, there's barely any difference between a character with 10 and 18 Int, which is the same amount of difference between a character with 10 and 2 Int. You can't reasonable say that someone with 2 INT is incapable of certain actions that a person with 10 Int could do without also saying that a person with 10 Int is incapable of certain actions that a person with 18 Int could do. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 16 at 12:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's also important to note that in 3.5e, any creature had to have a minimum Int score of 3 to know a language, but in 5e, this is no longer the case. There are no restrictions to your character based on stats in 5e at all. RAW, a character with 2 Int is just as effective at communicating as a character with 18 Int. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 16 at 12:40
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Familiar remains, communication may be difficult

There is no language about familiars disappearing when their caster dies or goes unconscious, so they do get to stick around until they are dropped to 0HP (since the caster isn't around to dismiss them.)

That answers the what happens to it bit, but not really the communication one.

For that, I need to dip into my own experience. Part of the 'fun' of polymorph, when not casting it on enemies, is to become a T-Rex. My Bard used to cast it all the time, but with an INT of 2 and effectively being a T-Rex, I try and roleplay like a T-Rex. Party are my friends, non-party aren't. Not a lot of communication because they can't talk and more importantly, with an INT of 2, I played them more as not able to form complex thoughts.

In this case, I'd try and play it the same way. How would a T-Rex communicate with the familiar? Maybe it's simple things like "Help" or "Go". But mostly, I just ignored everyone but the people I thought were bad. And maybe I'd trample a good guy on the way there. By accident. Yeah, by accident.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your last three sentences made me cackle. 👍😁 \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15 at 18:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Accepted gto's answer, but the experience based answer again provides value. Thanks! 👍😎 \$\endgroup\$ Apr 17 at 23:44

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