Are there particular rules or limitations to giving class levels to a dragon's alternate form? In context I'm working on ideas for a 3.5 campaign where the primary antagonist is a Red Dragon with the Xorvintaal template. One of his abilities is Alternate Form, and I meant for him to take the form of a high-level Hexblade during certain confrontations, but the thing is, I can't figure out how HD/levels work between forms. Do his dragon HD preclude the possibility of class levels, or can I pretty much give his human form up to his HD in class levels of my choosing? Would his dragon form need class levels for his alt form to have any, or can his alt form have class levels/feats different from his dragon form?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related (if nominally opposite): rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/41167/… \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 3 '14 at 4:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not exactly- that question is how to build a PC that is functionally a dragon; I'm just wondering what exactly a true dragon is capable of if it takes humanoid form. \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Nov 3 '14 at 4:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you include the text of Alternate Form? Without it, there's an assumption in your question that I don't quite understand. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Nov 3 '14 at 4:45

Despite Looking Like a Human, it's Actually still a Dragon

Alternate Form lists what the creature using the ability keeps and loses - notably, you keep HP and special qualities in the new form (although you gain the ability scores of the creature, so the dragon would lose it's racial bonuses to str and con). So you have all your dragon HD, your dragon skills, your dragon mental stats, etc.

If the Dragon already had levels in a class (in 3.5, nothing stops monsters getting levels in classes, even the 'advancement' section is a guideline not a hard and fast rule), it would still have those levels in a class, and could use any class ability it has. The things a dragon gets called out as losing are natural armour, movement modes, size, natural attacks and breath weapon. So spells, skills, hp, are all fine.

But Alternate form doesn't 'turn them into a regular human of the same CR', or something. They are still effectively the same dragon, but without the dragon body. If you want your dragon to lose his hp and dragon spellcasting in human form but gain equivalent class levels, then you'll need to homebrew something for that. I suggest homebrewing an ability called 'Alternate Self' and having it do that, if you want that to happen.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose DM fiat might be the answer here, but while I had considered something like the "Alternate Self" thing you mentioned, I am now also considering just retconning some of these dragon's human forms into their Exarchs. Might do a bit of both, actually; of all the regularly occurring dragon NPCs I had in mind, the red one would probably be the least likely to be met in human form, so making that Hexblade just be an Alternate Self would likely be a waste of a concept. \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Nov 3 '14 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Uh, IME, it's not a 'waste'. A dragon with a True Domination ability or something and a wardrobe full of bodies and the party later learns he was like half the people they met, sounds like a possibly quite interesting Grand Reveal. Especially if after they level a bunch they have to fight like (sequentially or all at once) all these NPCs from the campaign. Easy to get wrong, but also the kind of stuff people talk about for years. @Cobalt. \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Nov 3 '14 at 21:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Where/how does a dragon get True Domination? I've never heard of that before. Mind you if it's just a spell then it wouldn't work because Xorvinthall dragons lose all spellcasting ability in exchange for the ability to create Exarchs and a bunch of other powers they can get as they progress in their games. \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Nov 3 '14 at 22:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a term I made up, just then, as sort of a 'True Mind Switch But Less Permanent' ability. The great thing about being a GM, is as long as you remain fair and reasonable, you can make up new abilities that do the sort of thing you want. @Cobalt \$\endgroup\$ – user2754 Nov 3 '14 at 22:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh I kind of had something like that already in mind- basically upgrading the dragon's ability to Charm his exarchs at will to dominating them at will- "Assuming direct control" and all that. It is kind of weird thinking I get to just make up rules like that, but part of me still wants to stay within the rules to some degree. You know, actually stat out that over-leveled and over-powered Exarch they're fleeing from so there's a reason he's no-selling most everything they throw at him beyond "because the story demands it". \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Nov 3 '14 at 23:04

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