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My character started out as a dwarf cleric, but he died a couple of times. He was brought back to life each time via reincarnation which changed his race.

He was an Orc, then became a human, and is now a half elf. He still has the mind of a dwarf, and has finally found a way to turn back into his original form (that doesn't involve another dwarf dying).

He wants to use a permanent polymorph spell on himself so that he can turn back into a dwarf (since I am soon to prestige or split class, and the way I want to go requires I be a dwarf). Since my DM says that my character still has the mind of a dwarf even in a half elf body, would he gain back the racial feats and traits that came with being a dwarf?

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3 Answers 3

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Rules As Written

Let's walk through what a character, who's been reincarnated like your character and then polymorphs into a dwarf, looks like. First, it's worth pointing out that using reincarnate means you have to make some things up as you go along. The rules are infuriatingly vague. You definitely:

  • Become a young adult
  • Lose your racial adjustments to Str, Dex, and Con
  • Get adjustments to Str, Dex, and Con based on your new form
  • Gain "all abilities associated with [your] new form, including forms of movement and speeds, natural armor, natural attacks, extraordinary abilities, and the like."

Nothing is mentioned of:

  • The consequences of going down in age category
  • Losing your old racial abilities
  • What in the world "and the like" entails

Assuming you started as a normal, Player's Handbook dwarf, and reading reincarnate as permissively as possible, these should be your racial abilities:

  • -2 Charisma [from dwarf]
  • Darkvision 60 ft. [from dwarf & orc]
  • Stonecunning [from dwarf]
  • Weapon familiarity with waraxes and urgoshes [from dwarf]
  • Stability [from dwarf]
  • +2 racial bonus on saves vs. poison, spells, and spell-like effects [from dwarf]
  • +1 racial bonus on attack rolls against orcs and goblinoids [from dwarf]
  • +4 dodge bonus to AC against monsters of the giant type [from dwarf]
  • +2 racial bonus to Appraise and Craft checks related to stone or metal [from dwarf]
  • Light sensitivity [from orc]
  • Immunity to sleep and similar magical effects [from half-elf]
  • Low-light vision [from half-elf]
  • +1 racial bonus on Listen, Search, and Spot checks [from half-elf]
  • +2 racial bonus on Diplomacy and Gather Information checks [from half-elf]

You're a humanoid (elf) with a base land speed of 30 feet. You don't have any racial modifications to physical stats (you've lost the +2 Con from dwarf and the +4 Str from orc).

Polymorph, the spell, is much clearer than reincarnate.

  • You retain your mental ability scores, but your physical ability scores become average for a dwarf: Str 13, Dex 11, Con 14. (The dwarf in the Monster Manual uses the elite array, but I don't believe polymorph cares. It's possible your stats become Str 11, Dex 10, Con 13 or something, though.)
  • You lose all Extraordinary abilities from your base form (which is everything I listed above; Dwarf traits, Orc traits, and Half-Elf traits are all marked (Ex) in the Monster Manual, including that -2 Charisma that dwarves get).
  • You get the physical qualities of your new form, such as burrowing, flight with wings, racial skill bonuses (+2 on Appraise and Craft checks related to stone or metal), and racial bonus feats (none).
  • You become a humanoid (dwarf).

This is almost certainly ruinously bad for you, unless your physical scores are currently worse than Str 13/Dex 11/Con 14. You would qualify for Dwarf-only prestige classes like Hammer of Moradin or Dwarven Defender, and once you've entered the class you can dispel the polymorph, though some DMs don't like using temporary spells to enter prestige classes.

Interpreting Reincarnate

I've played in campaigns in the past, and would probably be inclined to so rule myself if it ever came up, where reincarnate distinguishes between cultural racial features and physical racial features. One might distinguish a dwarf's Stability feature, which is a result of their stocky physiques and low center of gravity, as a physical racial feature, and something like Stonecunning, which is a result of growing up in and around stonework constantly, as a cultural racial feature. So a dwarf reincarnated as a half elf loses Stability, because they don't have that stocky physique anymore, but still has Stonecunning, because they can still recognize odd stonework when they see it.

The problem is that this creates a lot of work for a DM, who has to sift through every racial feature. Some of them aren't so clear; a half-elf gets +2 to Diplomacy and Gather Information because they "naturally get along with people." Is that something they learn growing up, or is that how they're received by society? It's unclear.

The extension of this would be deciding which Dwarf-only prestige classes require a dwarf's physical build and which are simply cultural dwarven. As a DM, I'd say most of them are fine for anyone who was raised as a dwarf, regardless of what they are now, but really it's up to your DM. I highly recommend just asking your DM if you can take your prestige class as a dwarf-in-a-half-elf-body; I'd certainly let you.

A simple solution

If you really need a permanent solution that works according to the rules, reincarnate explicitly says that a miracle or wish spell can return a character to their original form. Ask your DM if you can go on a sidequest to get access to this somehow—a genie, a powerful cleric of Moradin, some magical item, etc. While wish and miracle are problematic in a lot of ways, using them for this purpose is much simpler than somehow getting a permanent polymorph and keeping track of all your various racial traits that you may or may not have, depending on how your DM is interpreting reincarnate.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the mention of miracle or wish alone, which I hadn’t even thought of. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 27, 2022 at 19:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Cultural racial features and physical racial features concepts are great! I am always confused about what should be and should not be applied to characters when they change their forms. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 8, 2023 at 23:59
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What you should do

As Prevarications’s fine answer points out, reincarnate specifically notes that miracle or wish can undo it. A single casting of miracle is worth 1,530 gp, which is a reasonable quest reward even at quite low levels—the tricky part will be finding a 17th-level cleric capable of providing that reward, though of course a DM could simply decide that Moradin or whoever just provides the miracle of their own accord when the quest is complete.

As From’s fine answer notes, Player’s Handbook II has “rebuilding” rules, including for race—which explicitly notes that it can be a solution to reincarnate. This has you going on a side-quest; the book has a few examples, but ultimately it’s just a usual adventure for characters of your level.

And, as I originally thought was the only thing you could go with, Savage Species defines several “major rituals” to change what type of creature you are on pages 149 to 151. The Ritual of Vitality is probably the cheapest, at 1,000 gp and 1,000 XP. But of the three, it’s the most expensive, and Savage Species is a much more obscure and troublesome source than either of the PHBs.

Problems with polymorph

Ultimately, polymorph isn’t a great answer, for several reasons:

The first thing to note is that, on some level, polymorph doesn’t make you a dwarf—it makes you (physically) a half-elf polymorphed into a dwarf. That doesn’t change just because you make it permanent—and note that permanent magic is still vulnerable to dispelling.

Second, you didn’t mention how you were going to make polymorph permanent, which is a question because I don’t know of any way to do it. The permanency spell only applies to a few, select, specified spells—and polymorph isn’t one of them. The far-more-powerful 8th-level spell polymorph any object can be permanent as part of its native properties—and probably would be, for a half-elf to dwarf. So that could be an option, but it would be considerably more difficult to acquire.

Third, polymorph (or polymorph any object) doesn’t just give you everything of what you’re turning into, and in the particular case of the dwarf, it’s very confusing what it actually gives you.

  • The subject gains the Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores of the new form but retains its own Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores.

    This arguably means you get the dwarf’s +2 to Constitution, but that is far from clear. Strictly as written, you probably instead get the Str 13, Dex 11, Con 14 of the example dwarf monster, which may or may not be to your benefit.

  • It also gains all extraordinary special attacks possessed by the form

    OK, again looking at the dwarf monster description, we see:

    Special Attacks: Dwarf traits

    Which is great news for you: this is all the things that a dwarf usually gets, including the Constitution bonus (and Charisma penalty), the movement speed and ability to ignore medium or heavy armor, darkvision, stonecunning, weapon familiarity, stability, skill and saving throw bonuses, etc. For some reason, those are all listed as special attacks, and they’re all extraordinary, so you get all of them.

  • but does not gain the extraordinary special qualities possessed by the new form or any supernatural or spell-like abilities.

    The supernatural or spell-like abilities aren’t a concern; the dwarf doesn’t have any. But the extraordinary special qualities are a problem, because, again going back to the example dwarf statblock, we have

    Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft., dwarf traits

    You may recognize these as the things that were also listed as special attacks, which polymorph said we did get (you might also note that 60-ft. darkvision was already part of the dwarf traits). So now we’re in a situation where polymorph says “you get dwarf traits, but do not get dwarf traits.” Ask your DM. (Notably, polymorph any object doesn’t fix this problem. Shapechange does, but now that’s a 9th-level spell, and in any event it isn’t permanent and I can’t think of a way to make it so.)

Fourth, there is absolutely nothing in the rules about how these things interact with requirements. Suppose you think you want to be a dwarven defender—you’d be wrong about that, but for the sake of argument—and you need to meet the “Race Dwarf,” requirement. Does a half-elf polymorphed into a dwarf count? For that matter, does a dwarf reincarnated as a half-elf? No one knows! All we have is “Race Dwarf.” Nothing in the rules anywhere expands on precisely what this means. Again, you’ll have to ask your DM. If your DM wants to know what the official rule is, you’ll have to tell them that there isn’t one, and they have to just make something up.

Were it me, I’d allow a dwarf-reincarnated-as-a-half-elf to just take any dwarf-specific feats or prestige classes, even in their half-elf body, unless something about it was really specific to the actual physical properties of the dwarven body.¹ But that ruling would extend only as far as my table—for your table, you have to ask your DM.


  1. For the sake of argument, I just checked, and at least in my opinion, there are just two dwarf-specific options that I wouldn’t let a dwarf reincarnated as a half-elf take. Those two are the Azerblood feat from Races of Faerûn, and the silver key from Dragonmarked—and the silver key is only a problem if you’re actually playing in Eberron. The Azerblood feat depends on the actual genetic heritage of Azers flowing through a shield dwarf’s veins—reincarnating as a half-elf would mean you don’t have azer blood anymore. The silver key is all about improving House Kundarak’s dragonmark, the Mark of Warding, and it’s very important to the Eberron campaign setting that the dragonmarks are limited to their respective families. Outside of Eberron, though, you can ignore that.

    There are 9 other prestige classes with a dwarf requirement:

    • 1, the knight protector of the great kingdom, actually requires “Race: Dwarf, elf, half-elf, human,” so you still meet that requirement no matter what.

    • 5 of them—battlesmith, deepstone sentinel, deepwarden, ironsoul forgemaster, and runesmith—have an official Adaptation section suggesting the racial requirement can be dropped (the runesmith suggests making the other requirements tougher if you do, though I don’t see any good reason why you should). So clearly there’s no real reason one has to be a dwarf for these, and Wizards of the Coast outright tells us so. (Ironsoul forgemaster and runesmith are also the only dwarf-specific prestige classes that are actually good, though a dip in deepwarden sentinel for Con-to-AC is interesting.)

    • 3 remaining classes are dwarven defender, hammer of Moradin, and stonelord. The dwarven defender is just a fighting style—and a really poor one, but still one a half-elf could learn. The hammer of Moradin is culturally very dwarven, but a half-elf body would be no impediment to anything it does. And the stonelord is just earth-and-stone magic, which anyone could do.

    For the feats, there’s 41 of them total, so I won’t list them all, but I’ve scanned the list and Azerblood was the only one that stands out. The rest are all about things you know (training, cultural background, etc.) and still would, or about spiritual connections to your people, the ground, or dwarven gods, which you would also still have.

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The other answers have covered most of the bases. Miracle and Wish explicitly work. Polymorph Any Object probably works. Working with the DM can make just about anything work, through Rule Zero/DM fiat.

There's also the "rebuild quest" concept. It basically sets up a "sidequest" which results in you being able to change your character's race. It could, however, derail the campaign a bit, so DM approval only.

Players Handbook II, page 198:

Race rebuilding

Changing your character's race [...] isn't unknown in fantasy[.] Whatever your reason, the race rebuilding rules show you how to keep playing the same person in a new body.

This method of rebuilding can also be used to recreate characters brought back by reincarnate and similar effects that restore characters to life as members of different races.

The Process

Each time your character completes a rebuild quest, you can change his race. [Swap racial traits and abilities, keep known languages unless you don't want to.]

[If you no longer qualify for a feat, it doesn't work, so it either stays in the slot or gets replaced, your choice]

[If you no longer qualify for a prestige class, you lose class features and special abilities granted by it, but retains hit points, BaB and saves. You can swap those levels out for something else if you want to.]

Page 196:

Rebuilding

[...][T]o accomplish a character rebuild, your PC must complete a significant and challenging quest. [...]

The DM can design new character rebuild quests for your campaign[.] [...]

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  • \$\begingroup\$ “I haven’t read the exact rules in a long time” doesn’t... exactly inspire confidence. Answers here should be authoritative, and back that up, and this one kind of undercuts itself. I think you should review those rules and confirm that they’ll work here. Personally, I’d happily upvote this answer with even just a statement that it does, in fact, fit the bill. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 27, 2022 at 23:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's pretty straightforward, and it actually (I didn't remember that) notes "fixing" reincarnate. I was honestly hoping it'd just be added to one of the (quite good) existing answers, so I then could remove mine. ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Aug 27, 2022 at 23:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Very, very nice—why shouldn’t you get rep for it? I’ll link to yours as I have to Prevarications, but I hope this also gets upvoted. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 28, 2022 at 0:13

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