When under the effects of the Polymorph spell:

The target's game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of the chosen beast. It retains its alignment and personality.

If someone is polymorphed into a creature like a spider (INT = 1), a riding horse (INT + 2), or a cat (INT = 3), their intelligence is severely reduced. Does this impair their general ability to communicate with people?

Polymorph does prohibit speech:

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.

However, this could be interpreted as only preventing the physical act of talking. If so, then one could still attempt to communicate with the polymorphed person by other methods such as telepathy.

Would telepathy allow someone to have a normal conversation with the polymorphed person, or would that person's severely impaired intelligence also impair their ability to communicate in general?


3 Answers 3


You can't communicate if using a helm of telepathy or detect thoughts spell as it relies on detect thoughts, which doesn't allow this, but yes for 3 int animals with telepathic bond.

You become immune to detection of thoughts at int 3. (PHB 231-2)

If the creature you choose has an Intelligence of 3 or lower or doesn’t speak any language, the creature is unaffected.

As such telepathy doesn't work as you're immune to detect thoughts.

It may work with telepathic bond if you have at least 3 int, such as being a cat.

You forge a Telepathic link among up to eight willing creatures of your choice within range, psychically linking each creature to all the others for the Duration. Creatures with Intelligence scores of 2 or less aren't affected by this spell.

Speak with animals allows communication with less intelligent creatures and says this.

You gain the ability to comprehend and verbally communicate with beasts for the duration. The knowledge and awareness of many beasts is limited by their intelligence, but at minimum, beasts can give you information about nearby locations and monsters, including whatever they can perceive or have perceived within the past day. You might be able to persuade a beast to perform a small favor for you, at the GM’s discretion.

As such, them imposing some penalties on complex communication if you are an animal is reasonable, as a spell that allows you to talk to animals (like horses, spiders, and cats as you said) says you should have limited knowledge and awareness.

From personal experience, it's generally less fun if you require too much thinking about what low intelligence means for players. Some enjoy being dumb some don't and find it emotionally painful. That said, I don't allow complicated communication between players when polymorphed into low int animals because that would lessen the value of druidic wildshape, which explicitly lets your retain mental facilities, and I have found it makes my druid players less happy with their class features.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 good find, but 5thsrd.org/spellcasting/spells/telepathic_bond says it's "creatures of intelligence 2 or less" that are not affected. Is it possible this is a per-spell limit which isn't meant to be a general rule? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 15:01
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ That spell presumably has a limit of 3 because 3 int is the minimum possible you can roll in character creation. I'll add it in anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused by your answer, especially its opening. Might you revise it to clarify how exactly it relates to the question asked? \$\endgroup\$
    – gto
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ I adjusted the answer so it more clearly answers the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 19:01

Rules As Written, having a low INT does not prevent you from communicating.

The designers of 5e have a saying: "The rules only do what they say they do. There are no secret rules."

There is no rule that says that you can't communicate abstract concepts if your Intelligence score is too low.

It's possible to write lots of arguments for why something should be true, but ultimately, if there's not a rule saying it happens, then you're just creating a house rule.

And house rules are great and can make the game more fun, but it's important to understand the difference between a house rule (which applies to your table) and an actual game rule (which applies to everyone's table).

The DM may choose to house-rule additional penalties for characters with very low INT.

Many DMs like to add additional rules to their game, to better model reality. This seems like the sort of rule that someone could add.

But it might be a bad idea.

It would be tricky to enforce this rule, because you basically have to start policing what your characters are/aren't allowed to say. Imagine:

BARBARIAN (polymorphed into spider): We should probably check for traps on that chest.
DM: Hey, you can't suggest that! You're not smart enough to think of it.
BARBARIAN: Um, I guess I didn't say that, then?
BARD: Well, I think we should check for traps on that chest. I've just gotten the idea for it.
DM: You can't say that either, because now you're just metagaming.
WIZARD: Okay, but I've got an 18 INT, so I definitely could think of it, and also I was just going to suggest it before the barbarian said it first.
DM: (grumbling) Okay, but I kind of feel like you're metagaming and lying about it.

I think a lot of the fun of D&D is in solving problems, so I try to stay far away from any house rule that would tell my players that their characters aren't smart enough to solve problems.

(In terms of practical experience: my players already say things sometimes like "my character isn't smart enough to think of that" and I don't like it and I wish they would stop.)

Characters with a very low INT score already get penalties from that: they get a low modifier on Investigation checks and on knowledge skills such as Arcana and Religion. I think that's enough of a penalty.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Your druid example doesn't work because the druid keeps its INT score (among other things). According to the PHB, while transformed by wildshape, "Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast, but you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores." This is one of the things that makes druids in beast form better than your average polymorphed characters. \$\endgroup\$
    – gto
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 23:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ If I had written "wild shaped into spider" then the example would not work. In this case the druid is polymorphed into a spider and I think the example does work. I'll change it to some other class just for clarity. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 23:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ An interesting way to talk about this could also include how bounded accuracy and modifiers work when you apply an ability. A modifier of -5 makes some rolls impossible, but most standard rolls are achievable, and there isn't much of a difference between -5 and -3 as a range that people tend to compare. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Commented May 1, 2021 at 8:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ The example is more an example of bad play on both sides of the screen, than a problem with the interpretation. Players are perfectly capable or roleplaying low intelligence scores without breaking the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 4:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a rule about low int impairing communication : the description of intelligence in the phb. Having low int means reduced mental acuity etc, so its only natural the gm will enforce that. Speak with animals also has this to say The knowledge and awareness of many beasts is limited by their intelligence, but at minimum, beasts can give you information about nearby locations and monsters, including whatever they can perceive or have perceived within the past day.. also the idea that a spider could comprehend the concept of human traps and also mention to check for them is absurd. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 9:44

Yes, impaired intelligence impairs communication.


From the Player's Handbook:

Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason. (PHB pg. 177)

The Polymorph spell can severely impair a character's intelligence. When it does, that individual's reduced mental acuity, reduced accuracy of recall, and reduced ability to reason mean that they can no longer understand or form complex thoughts, nor can they recall grammar and vocabulary the way a human would.

Communicating like an Animal

Someone with INT = 2 has the same intelligence as a riding horse, goat, or black bear.

A lack of vocal cords isn't the only thing that limits their communication.

Telepathy alone will not allow a horse to have a human-level discussion with a person; the horse's mind is simply not up to the task. Magic is necessary if you want to speak with animals.

While the Speak with Animals spell doesn't explicitly state that it makes animals smarter -- and, in fact, acknowledges that "The knowledge and awareness of many beasts is limited by their intelligence" -- it does give you the ability to comprehend beasts. This implies that you would be unable to comprehend them in this thorough and complete fashion without the spell.

Telepathy alone would allow a person polymorphed into an INT = 2 creature to communicate, but only in a limited fashion. If you're thinking with the mind of a horse, you should still be able to express things like:

  • I'm hungry. / I'm tired. / I'm scared. / I'm irritated.
  • That person hurt me.
  • Follow me.
  • I smell something dangerous.

You should also be able to understand simple telepathic instructions like:

  • Go home.
  • Follow me.
  • Attack him.
  • Keep watch.

An impaired character does not necessarily mean the player is also impaired.

The above limitations to the character's communication do not mean that the player must be similarly limited. Ladifas found an excellent discussion of this point: How can I model a character polymorphed into a (stupid, speechless) Tyrannosaurus Rex?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Correct, that's why the Druid wildshape feature specifies that you keep your mental faculties, while the Polymorph specifically says that your mental scores are replaced by those of the animal as well as the other ones. Honestly i can't understand why you had a downvote. \$\endgroup\$
    – TheBumba
    Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 10:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ You say Speak With Animals allows greater levels of communication than telepathy would, but Speak With Animals does not grant any additional mental faculties to any animals you talk to, so anything that can be communicated through one method would be able to be communicated through the other. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 14:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please remember that in real life primates taught sign languages were able to talk about things as abstract as "where do dead ones go after they die?" BTW the answer was "to a comfortable hole". Lower than human INT didn't appear to significantly higher what concepts she could communicate, just the way she did it. Elephants (int 3) are able to perform burial rituals and understand sorrow of other species. Rats (int 2) can communicate which one will test the food for safety, scout and report. This answer is based on incomplete knowledge of real life animals communication. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Yes, I'm quite familiar with Penny Patterson's work with Koko the gorilla, but an INT of 7 hardly counts as impaired. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are some party members with that stat! Your other examples are exactly the kinds of concepts I intended to express that a low INT creature would be able to communicate; but I don't expect them to be able to discuss, oh, say . . . the finer points of maritime law. \$\endgroup\$
    – gto
    Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 21:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Axoren My argument is that being polymorphed into a low INT creature would make you unable to think complex thoughts. My "maritime law" comment (below the answer) was simply an off-the-cuff example of a topic that the polymorphed individual probably wouldn't be able to grasp due to its inherent complexities and subtleties. \$\endgroup\$
    – gto
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 7:13

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