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Following on from this question: Can I True Polymorph a goblin into adamantine (and then forge him into a sword?)

Casting True Polymorph on an unwilling creature (relevant parts included only):

You transform the creature into a different creature...or into an object.The transformation lasts for the duration, or until the target drops to O hit points or dies. If you concentrate on this spell for the full hour, the transformation becomes permanent. An unwilling creature can make a Wisdom saving throw, and if it succeeds, it isn't affected by this spell.

Creature into Creature: The target assumes the hit points of its new form, and when it reverts to its normal form, the creature returns to the number of hit points it had before it transformed. If it reverts as a result of dropping to O hit points, any excess damage carries over to its normal form. As long as the excess damage doesn't reduce the creature's normal form to O hit points, it isn't knocked unconscious.

Creature into Object: If you turn a creature into an object, it transforms along with whatever it is wearing and carrying into that form. The creature's statistics become those of the object, and the creature has no memory of time spent in this form, after the spell ends and it returns to its normal form.

The consensus seems to be that if the creature fails the Wisdom save, you can transform it into a weak creature like a slug or an object like a cup, and can then wait for 61 minutes concentrating on the spell, then stamp on the item and kill it, permanently, because that was its new permanent form. But this seems terribly unbalanced, requiring a single wisdom save to be failed (and these can be influenced with features such as Heightened Spell and Magical Ambush) to kill any creature which can be polymorphed, no matter its stats. This also seems to make True Polymorph a better version of Power Word Kill (if delayed and requiring a save) since it is completely uncapped by health, only by Wisdom save proficiency, as well as including many other functions. This makes it seem unlikely this is the correct interpretation of True Polymorph since it renders another (already weak, for that level) spell almost entirely pointless.

I presumed the spell to be saying that after one hour of concentrating on it, the polymorphed form no longer needs to be concentrated on and could last forever, but will still revert back to the original form if reduced to 0 HP, as described in the linked question where the creature (polymorphed into crafting materials) was cut apart. This seems to make much more sense and retains balance.

Which interpretation is correct? Does the 'permanent' section overrule the 'transforms back if reduced to 0 hit points' part?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to "save or die," a tradition in pre-4e Dungeons & Dragons. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Apr 21 '15 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comment about it seeming OP: The mitigation to the OP nature of this spell is that there is an hour of concentration that can be broken. As it's a 9th level spell, yes, it's powerful. 9th level spells ARE powerful stuff. Also: amen to mxyzplk's point. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 9 '15 at 23:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I found several instances of 'permanent' being used for an applied condition where it can still be undone; DMG p59 and 64, 'Pervasive Good' and 'Pervasive Evil', and DMG p200, 'Sovereign Glue'. I think these examples show that 'permanent' isn't necessarily being used in the context of 'cannot be turned back', but rather is being used in the sense of 'doesn't have a time limit' as I suggested initially, and want to reiterate that nothing in the description of True Polymorph suggests that the 'revert when reach 0hp' ever stops being in effect, even after the permanency. \$\endgroup\$ – Zso Aug 2 '15 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this intended to be a RAW question, or one in which suggested DM rulings are freely mixed in? \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Sep 27 '15 at 3:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ RAW; it's unclear from the wording whether the 'revert at 0 hp' stops applying after the 60min, and is based on how 'permanent' is interpreted. I was really hoping one of the designers would tweet a response clarifying what the intention was behind the spell. I've just added the 'rules-as-written' tag to my question. \$\endgroup\$ – Zso Sep 27 '15 at 13:09
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The transformation lasts for the duration, or until the target drops to 0 hit points or dies. If you concentrate on this spell for the full duration, the transformation becomes permanent.

Given the positioning of the second sentence, I believe it is safe to assume that it is providing an exception to the transformation ending by either of the two methods described in the first sentence. In other words: yes, it's really, truly permanent.

As far as balance goes... strong, solo monsters will have Legendary Resistance that will prevent them from failing saves so easily. Everyone else has to rely on their friends to break the Wizard's concentration.

Consider the counterfactual where only the duration is permanent, but it still reverted at 0 hit points. This wouldn't prevent you from turning an enemy into an object and burying it somewhere. Even worse, think of the utility capabilities of the spell if the permanency didn't prevent you from reverting. Players could cast True Polymorph on themselves and all their party members, becoming powerful CR16+ creatures - then proceed to fight to the death - at which point they revert back to being fresh level 16+ characters!

As to why anyone would take Power Word Kill instead of True Polymorph... let's say you're going up against an Ancient White Dragon. You've managed to spend a few rounds burning through its Legendary Resistances. You cast True Polymorph on it. Your spellcasting DC of 19 (6 proficiency + 5 intelligence modifier) still lets the Dragon make the save 40% of the time, and you've now wasted your only 9th level spell slot. Compare to Power Word Kill, which is guaranteed to end the fight in half as many rounds as it would normally take. Moreover, True Polymorph has a range of 30 feet. If the Wizard seems unduly interested in getting into close range with you, its time to run far, far away.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the last sentence. The closer a wizard wants to get to you, the nastier the spell they must be readying to take you down. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Apr 21 '15 at 22:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I like this answer, and it fits with the first printing language (and it is well reasoned, +1) the more recent printings are consistent with the 'until dispelled' in the SRD version 5.1. See also this tweet. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 6 '17 at 13:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ a little off topic, but "turning an enemy into an object and burying it somewhere" .... oooh that would make for a great side campaign. You discover a small wooden box, partially buried. ... after carrying it for a while, there's something humanoid about it. \$\endgroup\$ – Acts7Seven Feb 13 '18 at 17:31
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The wording quoted in the question is from an earlier print of the PHB. In later printings, and in the SRD (v5.1, p.188) it reads:

The transformation lasts for the duration, or until the target drops to 0 hit points or dies. If you concentrate on this spell for the full duration, the transformation lasts until it is dispelled

This wording seems to answer the question, that "lasts until it is dispelled" replaces the ending conditions given earlier, but also notes that the effect can be dispelled.

For some reason, this change was never listed in official errata, though the wording did indeed change between printings.

Also, apparently Crawford stated explicitly that this clarification was made on Twitter.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have a reference for this? \$\endgroup\$ – Eamon Nerbonne Oct 27 '15 at 10:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I haven't been able to dig up anything in errata about it, but there was a (since-deleted) comment thread attached to the question in which myself and another poster compared editions and wording. The quoted text above is the description of the spell from a later print, however. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Oct 28 '15 at 4:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @EamonNerbonne The SRD 5.1, p. 188 \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 4 '17 at 13:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @EamonNerbonne for the reminder that there's actually a source I can legally copy/paste now! \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Apr 6 '17 at 2:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Polisurgist This tweet may be helpful as a reference. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 6 '17 at 13:36
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The target assumes the hit points of its new form, and when it reverts to its normal form, the creature returns to the number of hit points it had before it transformed.

Reading the rules literally, even with the updated SRD and PHB errata: 1) when True Polymorph is used to turn one's foe into a toad, 2) then the spell is made "permanent" (until dispelled) by concentrating for the full time, 3) then the toad is killed, 4) and then someone successfully casts Dispel on the toad's corpse -> the foe should be brought to normal alive and with no HP loss.

I do agree that it also makes much more sense when compared with other spells, such as Power Word Kill.

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The meaning of True Polymorph's permanence is ultimately up to the DM. The DM sets what is permanent and the only true existence of permanency is change...

Philosophy asides, if True Polymorph was truly permanent it would break/negate a lot of other aspects. As mentioned, Power Word Kill to a lesser extent. My point is Imprisonment would be a total waste since it can be specifically dispelled and wished away. Why can a less versatile and powerful 9th level spell be dismissed but polymorph arguably can't? True Permanent Polymorph would not only imprison them, but you can turn them into a platinum block and use them for MASSIVE amounts of currency. Why not? If it is a non-magical permanent block, merchants will be rolling out the red carpet for your PC. A pound of platinum is worth 500 gold pieces (50 PP). If you play your cards very well on that ancient dragon...Drooool... Meanwhile, Wish gives you 25,000 gold at a 1/3 chance of not being able to cast it ever again.

(Semi-)permanent polymorph is the only way I can see Polymorph being implemented. 0 HP and death are inferred to break you out. Whether the target has a continual, self-sustaining magic field "permanently" supporting the new form is up to the DM. I would personally say Dispel and Antimagic should atleast suppress permanency. As SevenSidedDie stated, several spells mention a permanent duration lasting "until dispelled" (including Imprisonment). You do make a solid claim for a true change to a new, non-magical based form. Just think very carefully of all the ramifications on both sides of the party line.

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