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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
    Apr 21, 2015 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\$ Jul 9, 2015 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\$
    – Temp
    Aug 2, 2015 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Tweeted \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Feb 12, 2019 at 10:12

5 Answers 5

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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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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, 2015 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\$ Apr 6, 2017 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, 2018 at 17:31
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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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Permanent means it lasts until one of its two end conditions are met

The true polymorph spell says:

Choose one creature or nonmagical object that you can see within range. You transform the creature into a different creature, the creature into a nonmagical object, or the object into a creature

Creature into creature: the slug

By choosing the creature, you have made the creature into the target of the spell. After its transformation, it remains the target of the spell.

The spell lasts for the duration [Concentration; up to one hour], or until the target drops to 0 hit points or dies. If you concentrate on this spell for the full duration, the spell lasts until it is dispelled.

This spell has no effect on a shapechanger or a creature with 0 hit points.

There is some disagreement about whether concentrating on the spell for the entire duration means that the "or until the target drops to 0 hit points or dies" still applies. Fortunately that is largely irrelevant because of the next sentence; the spell has no effect on a creature with 0 hp. If the target of the spell drops to 0hp (which it will when you step on the slug), the spell ends. This is true even if the spell has been concentrated on for the full duration; it is an overarching condition that can end the spell. Thus while concentration still applies the spell has four end conditions; it will end when the concentration ends, when it is dispelled, when the target drops to 0hp, or when the target dies. After the spell has become 'permanent', it has only two end conditions - being dispelled or losing its effect if the target is at 0hp.

One might argue that "this spell has no effect on a shapechanger or a creature with 0 hit points" refers to targeting rather than duration, but this claim is not supported by context. First, if the clause was about targeting it should go in the first sentence of the spell description, which is about targeting, before the effects of the spell are described ("you transform"). If it was about targeting, the clause would not go in the second paragraph, after the section on duration. Second, it does not say "This spell cannot target a shapechanger or a creature with 0 hit points". It does not say "You cannot choose..." It does not say "This spell will not affect..." (future tense). Rather, it says (present tense) this spell has no effect. Thus anything that reduces the original target creature to 0hp will end the spell effect.

That the effects of the spell end when its target is at 0hp is RAW. Unofficially, it is RAI as supported by a JC tweet1.

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 0 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 0 hit points, it isn’t knocked unconscious...

So, you wait out the 61 minutes for your foe to be permanently a slug. Then you step on it, reducing the slug to 0hp. That triggers one of the two remaining end conditions of the spell; it has no effect on creatures at 0hp. The former slug returns to its normal form under the 'creature to creature' rules, with the hp it had before it transformed, less any damage that carried over from you squishing it as a slug. You now have your original foe, down a few hp. Perhaps you should have kept the slug, letting it live out its days in a terrarium, and had it die of old age rather than damage? Or maybe we should have made the foe into an object?

Creature into object: the cup

Choose one creature or nonmagical object that you can see within range. You transform the creature into a different creature, the creature into a nonmagical object, or the object into a creature

The target of the spell is the original creature. The object it transforms into is also under the effect of the spell. The original creature is still the target, even though it exists at the moment only in a conceptual, not a physical sense. You know that the game treats the creature as if it still exists because it will be restored when you use dispel magic, and because the creature itself can still be seen with truesight.

If you turn a creature into an object, it transforms along with whatever it is wearing and carrying into that form, as long as the object’s size is no larger than the creature’s size. The creature’s statistics become those of the object...

Since the creature's statistics are now those of the object, the creature's hp are those of the object as well. This is important because, as above, if the object's hp become zero, then the target creature's hp become zero, and this will end the spell.

Normally the game does not worry about the hp of an object unless something is damaging it. The DMG section on statistics for objects (246, 247) focusses entirely on how to break or destroy them, including saying:

Hit Points. An object's hit points measure how much damage it can take before losing its structural integrity.

Damaging the object should at some point reduce the target creature to 0hp and thus end the spell effect. If the cup is stomped on, it will at some point 'lose its structural integrity' and reach 0hp. When the spell ends, the creature is restored.

If the creature had the statistics of the object, and was restored when the object reached 0hp, does that mean that the original creature is at 0hp when they are restored and you have killed your foe (or at least forced them to start making death saves)? I don't think so, based on a comparative reading of the 'creature into creature' and 'creature into object' sections of the spell (emphases mine except for the heading).

Creature into Object. If you turn a creature into an object, it transforms along with whatever it is wearing and carrying into that form, as long as the object’s size is no larger than the creature’s size. 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.

Note that the 'creature into object' description does not specify what hp the creature is at when it is restored, but only says it 'returns to its normal form'. Since the 'creature into creature' section occurs first, I believe that it is defining what 'returns to its normal form' means: 'the creature returns to the number of hit points it had before it transformed'. The 'creature into creature' section then further elaborates that the original creature takes the excess damage that went beyond what was needed to reduce the new creature to 0hp. The 'creature into object' section does not specify such a thing, so the excess damage rule appears to apply only to creatures.

Thus breaking the cup restores the original creature, which returns at the number of hp it had at the time the spell was cast and having not even taken excess damage from the destruction of the object.

Further evidence that the destruction of the object is not meant to kill the original creature is the phrase, "the creature has no memory of time spent in this form", which would be unlikely to be necessary if it was dead.

This is a 9th level spell, and a powerful way to manage enemies that fail their save. It is not, however, a one fail = death solution to all foes.


1RAI tweet:

@DMJazzyHands once a true polymorph spell is made permanent from concentrating for the full duration, does reducing that creature to 0hp still cause them to revert to their original form?
@JeremyECrawford The text of the spell says it has no effect on a creature with 0 hit points. That statement is made after the bit about lasting until dispelled. At 0 hit points? The transformation ends.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @MJ713 Link fixed, thank you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 24 at 16:15
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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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