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The true polymorph spell specifies that:

The target's game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of its new form ... The creature is limited in the 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, unless its new form is capable of such actions.

So let's take the example of a level 20 Sorcerer who has permanently True Polymorphed himself into a Planetar Angel.

The sorcerer's game statistics are replaced by those of the new form. Does this include class levels? The angel's form doesn't limit the physical ability to use spellcasting, but does the sorcerer retain their class-given spellcasting ability?

The wording of the spell seems to imply the caster is still able to cast their spells, as long as the new form is physically capable of performing the required components.

How about a dragon? They are capable of verbal and somatic components, which are the only requirements for spell usage.

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Well, you definitely retain your class levels. If someone casts Dispel Magic on you, you'll become a level 20 Sorcerer.

However, True Polymorph does not allow you to use your class features (including the Spellcasting class feature). 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 True Polymorph does. It seems clear that True 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.

More intuitively, True Polymorph has an offensive use written in to it. The classic "turn your opponent into a frog" move doesn't really mean much if they become a powerful spellcasting frog wizard, or a stealthy sneak-attacking frog ninja. In some cases, it might even be a boost.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The OP appears to have already accepted that toads do not cast spells. The question seems to focus on creatures that might be reasonably argued to be spellcasting-capable. Discussing frogs dilutes your point, which point, by the way I believe to be correct. \$\endgroup\$ May 19, 2015 at 13:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see how it follows that polymorphed characters "definitely retain ... class levels". The spell explicitly replaces game statistics. Dispelling the spell undoes the replacement; that doesn't mean the class levels are present while the spell is in effect. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Feb 14, 2016 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ When a character is restrained, their speed becomes 0 (PHB, p. 292). When the restrained condition ends, however, their speed returns to its previous value. I don't think anyone would say that a restrained creature retains its speed, however. True polymorph works the same way; as long as a creature is subject to the effects of the spell, its game statistics are changed. When the spell ends, so does the change. The original statistics aren't retained in any special way; certainly not in the way that the word retained is used in effects like shapechange. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Feb 14, 2016 at 21:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkCogan Actually, wild shape and shapechange both say you retain the benefit of your class features. That you have them is assumed, what differs is whether you can use them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Feb 14, 2016 at 21:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman I will admit that it's conceivable that once polymorphed, a character's class, level, and features become epiphenomena; present but ineffectual. That seems somewhat abstruse, however. My essential objection is that I can't see how class and level aren't game statistics. If they aren't game statistics -- which polymorph spells explicitly replace -- then what are they? \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Feb 14, 2016 at 22:18
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I arrive to basically the same conclusion as Miniman, albeit perhaps for different reasons, so I'll venture a response.

As has already been observed, the spell states:

The target's game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of its new form.

The spell provides no language providing an exception to the above statement. For instance, the spell later states:

The creature is limited in the actions it can perform by the nature of its new form

If that creature has spellcasting actions, the target of a True Polymorph may perform exactly those spellcasting actions, as it is the case that those game statistics have replaced the target's statistics.

The remaining text doesn't provide an exception to the preceding text, but further restricts speech and other actions not possible with the new form.

...and it can't speak, cast spells, or take any other action that requires hands or speech, unless its new form is capable of such actions.

The very last statement reinforces the idea that, provided the new form can cast particular spells, the Polymorphed creature may also cast the same spells, and it does so without any verbiage restoring the creature's original spellcasting stats to herself.

In summary, while it might be argued that the last phrase implies the target might retain some spellcasting ability, the first phrase quite directly states that the target of the spell retains none of her original statistics (naturally, barring the termination of the spell), and further loses any speech or capability the new form is not capable of. I think the suspected implication in the last sentence is not strong enough to overturn rules clearly stated.

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Class levels are part of your stat block

at least for any class that qualifies you as a 'spellcaster'

Do you retain class levels when true polymorphed? The top-scoring answer here says "Well, you definitely retain your class levels. If someone casts Dispel Magic on you, you'll become a level 20 Sorcerer."

But I don't think that is the sense of 'retain' that the OP is asking about. Of course your don't permanently lose your class levels - they still exist 'somewhere' and are again accessible if your true polymorphed form is removed. The question is whether, while polymorphed, you currently have a class and are a certain level.

That answer continues, "However, True Polymorph does not allow you to use your class features (including the Spellcasting class feature)." This perspective, that your new form still is your old class, it just can't use class features, is a popular view, both here and at the question Can a polymorphed creature use class features that don't require speech or hand gestures? I don't think that view is correct, though.

Polymorph / true polymorph say:

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

Wild shape also includes a part about changing to the creature's stat block:

Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast, but you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores.

So the basic format of polymorph and wild shape is: 'the new form's stat block overwrites everything, with the following exceptions'. And for Wild Shape, one of the exceptions is

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.

Note that it does not say that you retain your class, or levels, just that you retain the benefits of class features. Thus the central question here for me is whether or not assuming the stat block overwrites your class and levels. If assuming the new stat block means that you no longer have a class or level, then under polymorph you simply don't have them, while under wild shape you still don't have them, but you are allowed to use the benefits of a class that you don't currently have. This is a different position than that taken by the popular view that under polymorph you still have a class and levels, you just can't benefit from them.

Why do I think that class levels are part of your stat block?

Because they are specifically listed for some stat blocks

The Monster Manual, in explaining what the parts of a stat block are (p. 10), says:

A monster with the Spellcasting class feature has a spellcaster level and spell slots, which it uses to cast its spells of 1st level and higher (as explained in the Player's Handbook). The spellcaster level is also used for any cantrips included in the feature.

Suppose you polymorph into a Priest. As part of its stat block, it explicitly says "The priest is a 5th-level spellcaster." This stat block overwrites anything that previously existed on your character. If you were not a spellcaster before, now you are. If you were a 10th level spellcaster before, now you are a 5th level one.

But, is 'spellcaster' really a class? Can't you still be a 10th level wizard (who you actually are) and a '5th level spellcaster' (the stat block you now have) at the same time? The DMG explains that a spellcaster is simply a character who has the Spellcasting feature. For example (DMG p. 288)

The number of spell points you have to spend is based on your level as a spellcaster, as shown in the Spell Points by Level table.

Further, the number of magic items listed that can only be attuned to 'by a spellcaster' shows that the term 'spellcaster' is generic and encompasses a number of different classes.

Thus, because the monster stat block includes your spellcasting level, the stat block must overwrite your class and level (at least for any classes with the spellcasting ability).

Hence polymorph removes, and in some cases replaces, your class levels.

To the OP's question, "does the sorcerer retain their class-given spellcasting ability?" I would answer,
No: not because they retain the sorcerer level and lose the spellcasting ability, though, but because they have actually lost their sorcerer class and levels while polymorphed.

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It's your game it's up to you. If your halfling wizard wanted to true polymorph to become a human, would you take away his ability to cast spells? I wouldn't. if he transforms into a squirrel his int isn't high enough to be a wizard. But if he were to be awakened and then read 3 intelligence tombs... He still has his spell book. He has hands and a high pitched squeeky voice. Don't see why he couldnt cast spells. I would say it takes a year before he can cast spells like he once could. And to transcribe his spells onto a book he can carry.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Helpful answers cite specific sources and provide specific answers to the specific questions. They don't generate new ideas, that's for forum discussions. \$\endgroup\$
    – ValhallaGH
    Nov 26, 2019 at 0:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Lyle, welcome to rpg.se! Please take the tour and visit the help center to learn about the site. Unlike traditional forums we are looking for supported answers based on rules or experience rather than idea generation. If you can, edit your answer to more directly answer the question based on the rules. Otherwise it may be removed. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Nov 26, 2019 at 2:03

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