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The Polymorph spell states (in part):

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

The creature is limited in 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.

So, can a polymorphed Paladin use their Divine Smite class feature? It expends a spell slot, but it is not a spell, and as far as we can tell does not require hands or speech.

We know (based on the 10th level Transmutation Wizard feature) that a wizard is supposed to be able to polymorph herself, and we can assume that she is also supposed to be able to maintain concentration needed to stay in the new form (otherwise it would be a pretty useless ability). This is (as far as I can tell) not something any of the beasts eligible as polymorph targets can normally do. So it is clear that the polymorphed creature maintains some abilities from her old form. The question is which ones.

The Druid's Wild Shape ability explicitly says you can use class features, while Polymorph does not, suggesting that you can't use class features while polymorphed. However, Wild Shape also explicitly says that you can continue to concentrate on a spell (see below, emphasis mine), and Polymorph does not, yet we believe that a polymorphed creature can continue to concentrate on the polymorph spell. So the fact that Wild Shape explicitly allows something and Polymorph is not explicit about it does not necessarily mean that the polymorphed creature cannot do those things.

From Wild Shape rules:

You can't cast spells, and your ability to speak or take any action that requires hands is limited to the capabilities of your beast form. Transforming doesn't break your concentration on a spell you've already cast, however, or prevent you from taking actions that are part of a spell, such as call lightning, that you've already cast.

So, since Polymorph is silent on the question of whether or not class abilities can be used, and states only that the polymorphed creature cannot perform actions that require hands or speech, how can we best determine whether (RAI) polymorphed creatures maintain any of their old abilities beyond spell concentration?

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No, the polymorphed creature can only use actions that a normal creature with the new form would be able to do. It comes directly from the definition of “game statistics”. The Statistics section of the The Monsters Manual starts with:

A monster's statistics, sometimes referred to as its stat block, provide the essential information that you need to run the monster.

The subsections include not only static numbers “Ability Scores” and “Speed” but also “Actions” meaning that RAW actions are also stats (and I cannot name a reason why it wouldn't be RAI as well). Under “Actions” it is written:

When a monster takes its action, it can choose from the options in the Actions section of its stat block or use one of the actions available to all creatures, such as the Dash or Hide action, as described in the Player's Handbook.

Thus the polymorphed character's actions are limited to those the creature would be able to do were it a normal creature.

As for the possible inconsistency with the concentration ("A Wizard can polymorph self, therefore polymorph doesn't break concentration. If concentration is a class feature and it survives polymorph, all other class features can be used too.") there are two choices here:

  1. Concentration is not something everyone has automatically. E.g. if a creature would not be normally able to cast spells it cannot concentrate on them either. In this case there is no consistent RAW answer: "statistics" cover all the aspects of creature -> if the creature cannot concentrate, polymorph breaks concentration -> polymorph cannot be used at self, even though PHB clearly states that it was intended to be used this way. Also sage advice says that concentration is not broken by polymorph, so this is definitely not a path to go with.

  2. Concentration is something everyone can do and/or let's use common sense. The point of the offensive use of Polymorph is to render a creature useless in battle, i.e. if a creature is turned into a sheep it is as harmless as one. If the class features were preserved we would have sheep going into rage (barbarian), teleporting (shadow monk) or... turning into dinosaurs (unless druids are considered to be shapechangers and thus are automatically saved) which is bizarre. Therefore, all the class/race features are gone. As for the possible inconsistency with concentration, it comes from a simple fact that designers cannot see all the connections between all the bits of the rules and sometimes we can only rely on how we think things are supposed to work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer. I'd add that there is a sage advice explicitly stating that you can concentrate on spells while Polymorphed. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Mar 8 '18 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gandalfmeansme thanks for pointing to it, added \$\endgroup\$ – black_fm Jul 5 '18 at 6:01
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No, Polymorph does not allow you to use your class features. Compare it to the Druid's Wild Shape ability, or the Shapechange spell, both of which include this paragraph:

You retain the benefit of any features from your class, race, or other source and can use them if your new form is physically capable of doing so. However, you can't use any of your special senses, such as darkvision, unless your new form also has that sense.

Additionally, neither Wild Shape or Shapechange include the phrase "The creature is limited in the actions it can perform by the nature of its new form" that Polymorph does. It seems clear that Polymorph restricts you to doing things your new form is inherently capable of doing, whereas Wild Shape and Shapechange allow you to do anything you're normally capable of as long as your new form is physically able to do it.

To address your edit: Concentration is not a class feature of spellcasting classes. No spellcasting class mentions concentration; it's a general rule in the Spellcasting chapter. If that's not enough, the DMG includes this sentence on page 141 with regards to items that cast spells:

The spell uses its normal casting time, range, and duration, and the user of the item must concentrate if the spell requires concentration.

There are items that cast spells, such as the Ring of Spell Storing, that anyone can use. Since the user of items like this is the one that concentrates, anyone can concentrate. It has nothing to do with class, spellcasting or otherwise. As for "it is not something that a beast can normally do", the only argument in favour of that conclusion is that they're not specifically called out as being able to do it. Which is an argument you could use for every creature in the game, including, e.g. Wizards. The description of the beast type even says

Some of them have magical powers[...]

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Based on the discussion had so far, to answer this question, we basically have to answer the question: is the concentration act a class feature or a mechanic of the game system.

It is clear that RUI is for a Wizard (especially a Transmutation Wizard) is supposed to be able to polymorph himself and maintain the concentration needed to stay in that form. Otherwise, the feature at level 10 of the Transmutation Wizard doesn't work correctly, and as soon as he transformed himself into a rat, he would lose concentration and turn back into himself.

So clearly, one is supposed to be able to polymorph oneself. But this has implications toward your broader question. Because if concentration is a class feature of being a spellcaster, then that would, by inference, mean that a paladin would be able to use her Holy Smite class feature, as by inference, class features are acceptable so long as they can be done within the new physical form. A Holy Smite can work with a bite as well as a blade, so we're good there.

IF, however, concentration is not a class feature, then there is no inference to be made about Class Features getting special exception within Polymorph's text, and instead we must infer by omission- the fact the the Druid's Wild Shape specifically mentions that class features are retained means that, by omission, we can infer that Polymorph does not make such exceptions. No Holy Smite for the Paladin.

So which way do we rule? My interpretation involves a bit of being a pedant, but I think, given the circumstances, that that is exactly what is needed.

Holy Smite is a no-go

All classes have a list of Class Features in their respective entries in the Players' Handbook. Nowhere is concentration mentioned as a class feature of spellcasters (I reserve the right to change my mind should someone find a quote that contradicts this.) Concentration is, instead, a mechanic designed in the use of magic. An important distinction. Concentration is not granted as a Class Feature (capitols) of a spell casting class, instead it is a state they are in after they cast a spell with the time designation "concentration" because that is how the rules of the game interact with magic.

Concentration, therefore, is not a class feature. So when a Wizard is able to concentrate to retain his Polymorphed self, it is because he is engaging with a mechanic in the game, not because he is utilizing a class feature.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This reasoning chain strikes me as the right approach. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 13 at 13:18
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No features of the original creature can be used.

Game statistics include your entire character basically. See Black_FM's excellent answer with it's two rules quotes being the money quotes there.

However, there is one thing that does not fit. That's concentration.

If a creature is polymorphed into another creature, but is concentrating on a spell at that time, the concentration is not broken unless the DM forces them to make a Con save (with their new Con save) because they feel the change was traumatic enough to force said save.

Concentration (Player's Basic 79-80) can only be broken by one of three means:

  • Casting another spell that requires concentration
  • Taking damage (and failing the concentration save)
  • Being incapacitated or killed

Polymorph is none of these three things (though you might be able to argue it's incapacitating, though that is a specific condition which polymorph does not apply).

Again, the DM can force a concentration save (same as taking damage, though the DC is 10 always) at any time, and should do so in especially traumatic situations. So polymorph may force a concentration save, but it does not end concentration.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ -1, and I'll explain why. I feel the entirety of the "DM may force a concentration save" is wholly speculative. Nothing in the spell, concentration rules or saving throws suggests that a DM would or should call for a saving throw on a spell that does not require a save for a willing target. Basically, you're adding in a lot of home rules based on speculation of a hypothetical scenario with low to moderate potential. You have the core of a good answer here with the Concentration rules, but you immediately returned to speculation after that again. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Apr 16 '18 at 4:29
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There is a detailed discussion of this and similar issues at Dragon Talk issue of October 2, 2017, where Jeremy Crawford clearly states that you can maintain concentration but you cannot use any class features whatsoever, as your stat block is completely replaced. You put aside your character sheet and just take the relevant beast's page from the Monster Manual.

It is also mentioned that polymorph and the druid's Wild Shape should not be compared; they should be read separately from each other and not in relation or contrast to one another.

Finally, regarding the sentences in polymorph that mention actions, hands, and speech: The relevant segment begins around 15:40 in the video. Around the 17th minute, Crawford goes on to say that the wording is confusing and he would have written things differently if it were possible (this is in response to whether one could cast spells with somatic components, but still relevant):

So another question we get [...] is if you're transformed into, say, a primate - like you're transformed into a gorilla - could you then cast spells that require only, say, a somatic component? [...]

So the intent here is you simply can't cast spells. And that's actually why [...] the inability to cast spells is specifically called out. There is not meant in the polymorph spell to be some kind of workaround where if, well, you have hand-like appendages, you can now suddenly cast spells with somatic components. [...]

Now I understand why this question gets asked. Because the way we worded this, we sandwiched your ability to cast spells in between these references to hands and speech. Honestly, if I were rewriting the spell today, I would pull that prohibition on spellcasting out into its own sentence to make it clear the two concepts are not interrelated.

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No, not normally

Indeed, polymorph and its friends (as opposed to shapechange and Wild Shape) do not preserve the class features of the polymorphee -- Black_FM has the money quotes on this one in his answer, so I won't repeat them here.

HOWEVER: there's a way around this.

It appears, based on the answers here, as long as the rules for NPCs with class levels were in use that the caster could grant the new form class levels (in Paladin in this case), which would allow the new form to do all the Paladin things a Paladin of that level and form could do (such as smiting whoever deserves it). (Certainly, since the only restriction true polymorph places on the target form is on its CR, the notion of a polymorph granting the new form levels in a class is by no means absurd.)

However, this requires true polymorph. Plain polymorph is limited to beast-type creatures, and there is no precedent for giving beasts class levels in 5e.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you trying to say that I can't say "I polymorph this kobold into an elf paladin?" and thus not only polymorph the kobold into an elf, but give said kobold-turned-elf Paladin levels for the duration of his new form? \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Sep 8 '15 at 2:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wild shape does preserve class features, explicitly. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Sep 8 '15 at 5:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont -- 'tis why I said "vs. shapechange and Wild Shape" -- I was contrasting their behavior against that of a stock polymorph. \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Sep 8 '15 at 22:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, I misread that -- I was reading the parenthetical as being the "friends" of polymorph. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Sep 9 '15 at 5:20
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This is really in the DM's hands, but remember: if you have a DM choose to make this legal, it must be legal for NPCs and PCs alike.

Everyone is going to feel like their view on this subject is right (for or against) and they will both have good reasons for it, which is why this is something that won't have a clear answer until Wizards of the Coast come out with a more clear description. This is my view on the subject.

First: It seems apparent Wizards of the Coast meant for at least some class features to be able to be used while polymorphed; otherwise, there would not have been the clarifying sentence that stated what you cannot do. From an out-of-rules perspective, this makes sense. After all, though polymorph changes your form and mental statistics, you as an entity remain. For example, a cleric is still a devout follower of his or her god, and their god will still be able to recognize who they are and still allow them to channel their power. Therefore, the Channel Divinity feature should, from a logic stand point, still be able to be used while polymorphed. The sentence "it can't speak, cast spells, or take any other action that requires hands or speech." Seems to support this. This sentence also does not state that you cannot access your spell slots, only that you cannot cast spells, therefore "Divine Smite" should be fair game as well.

Following this line of reasoning, what polymorph really does is limit a creature from doing any action that requires their previous form. For example, a rogue's bonus-action Hide, Dash, etc. could be considered to be something that would be limited by this, as their ability to do so could be argued to be based on their familiarity with their natural form. A barbarian's Rage, however, would not necessarily be limited. A Fighter's Extra Attack would be limited, but Second Wind and perhaps even Action Surge might not.

The important thing is to think about what class features are the result of familiarity with the humanoid form, and what are inherent to your character as an entity. A wizard could be argued to lose access to higher-level spell slots while transformed, since their magical power comes from their intelligence. A sorcerer or druid would be similarly affected. A cleric, paladin, and warlock would not, since their magic power is not derived from their mental statistics. Of these, only the Sorcerer, using Subtle Spell, could be argued to be capable of casting spells, but any DM could rightfully argue that the spells be limited to cantrips as pretty much all beasts have a Charisma lower than 10.

Based on the grammar of the sentence prohibiting spells, however, even this is stretching things. The use of "or" instead of "and" makes it so each subject is distinctly separate, meaning the last part - "any action requiring hands or speech" - is not connected to "can't cast spells"; therefore, "can't cast spells" is a final and separate prohibition.

The line "The target’s game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of the chosen beast." does make a compelling argument that you cannot use class features, but it is not specific enough to provide a conclusive argument. A simple line of "You cannot use class features while transformed" would have sufficed instead of "it can’t speak, cast spells, or take any other action that requires hands or speech." if this were the case. In fact the inclusion of this line instead of leaving things blank makes it a more compelling argument that class features can be used as long as they are not spells and are not limited by their new form.

All in all, until Wizards of the Coast comes out with a new spell description, your DM calls the shots. Just make sure that things stay consistent. Remember, if your PC can do it, the enemy NPCs can too, and if your NPCs can do it, your players' characters can too.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Unfortunately, most of this answer is contradicted by what the spell actually tells you it does, and attempts to rely on inference and implication based on what's not explicitly stated. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 23 at 5:14

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