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Say a level 20 human wizard named Dumbledore would like to become an elf. When casting either Polymorph or True Polymorph, can Dumbledore specify how the elf will look? For example:

  1. "I want to be a female elf" (pervy Dumbledore)
  2. "I want to be a tall elf" (specific physical characteristics)
  3. "I want to be as muscular as any elf could be" (raising his strength score)
  4. "I want to be so ugly no one will even believe I'm an elf" (changing the "norm" of the chosen race)
  5. "I want to be a drow elf" (specifying sub-race)
  6. "I want to look and sound exactly like Drizzt" (oh the ramifications this could have)

Possibly similar to this question. The consensus there is that yes, you can specify certain attributes. This question then seeks to define exactly what limit the spell enforces on the change.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Historical note: Earlier editions explicitly stated that the caster could "freely designate the new form’s minor physical qualities (such as hair color, hair texture, and skin color) within the normal ranges for a creature of that kind," but also that you couldn't use the spell to disguise yourself as a specific individual. Honestly, I've always found it easier to understand the limitations of D&D's shape-changing spells if I think in terms of Plato's Theory of Forms. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jul 13 '16 at 0:05
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For True Polymorph:

You control the magic, and thus you control the outcome. Consider that your statement in point 6 is actually something that was done in the series with the use of a mask, and you can see how easily shapeshifting can be used to mimic other players completely. The doppleganger that assaulted Deudermont is another indication of this.

So yes, if you had enough experience dealing with the target you want to True Polymorph into, you could shape into them. Obviously if all you knew of the target was seeing him a couple of times, you would make mistakes in your polymorph that would make you LOOK identical, but not actually be identical. Consider that the purple in his eyes might be off, or you miss a scar that he has on his chest because he was bundled up due to the weather. Things like that would be harder to truly duplicate, but you would be able to get really, really, really close to being an exact copy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answers all the stated examples except #3. Do you have thoughts on that? \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang Sep 28 '15 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but I would also respect that racially, elves are not powerfully built. Even the strongest elf relies on dexterity rather than brute force. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Sep 29 '15 at 0:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ If that is meant as an answer to the question, you need to edit the actual answer to put it in. \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang Sep 30 '15 at 13:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli are there any RAW/RAI/wizards twitter quotation to support this claim? Otherwise it's just a guess. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Dec 29 '16 at 12:04
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Not much.

Let's go to the text!

True Polymorph (PHB p. 283):

If you turn a creature into another kind of creature, the new form can be any kind you choose whose challenge rating is equal to or less than the target’s (or its level, if the target doesn’t have a challenge rating).

The word "kind" seems to be pretty important here, so let's see if any other spells or other rules use it in this way:

Antipathy/Sympathy (PHB p. 214):

Then specify a kind of intelligent creature, such as red dragons, goblins, or vampires.

Locate Creature (PHB p. 256):

The spell can ... the nearest creature of a specific kind (such as a human or a unicorn) ..

Special Purpose (sentient magic items) (DMG p. 216):

Protector: The item seeks to defend a particular race or kind of creature, such as elves or druids.

Wand of Orcus (DMG p. 227):

While attuned to the wand, Orcus can summon any kind of undead, not just skeletons and zombies.

Examples we have of "kinds of creatures" are: red dragons, goblins, vampires, humans, unicorns, elves, druids, skeletons, zombies. So, that implies that that is the level of choice a spellcaster has when casting True Polymorph.

To address your examples, it seems like "elf" and "drow" are viable choices, but nothing more specific than that.

As far as physical sex goes, some kinds of creatures (marilith demons, androsphinxes and gynosphinxes, hags) are inherently constrained to specific forms, but in other cases, it's not specific to the kind of creature selected, so it's not something the caster chooses. As a DM I would generally either have the post-polymorph character be of no particular physical sex, or be of the physical sex most nearly equivalent to that of the character before the transformation.

Any other aspects of appearance are up to the DM. They might declare that polymorphed creatures bear some resemblance to their previous forms, or they might declare it to be completely random.

Also, consider this sentence from the related spell shapechange (PHB, p. 275):

You transform into an average example of that creature, one without any class levels or the Spellcasting trait.

So shapechange doesn't allow the caster to specify specifics of appearance, restricting them to an "average example" of the kind of creature they have chosen. It seems reasonable to infer the same kinds of limitation apply to the polymorph spells as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure the shapechange comparison is valid. The spell has significant differences: it requires an expensive material component, cannot produce a spellcaster, and can only target the caster, while even the weaker polymorph can target anyone and TP can even manipulate objects. The results of the spells seem similar, but the execution and "nature" of them seems quite different. Neither polymorph have the "average example" wording, so it is likely not applicable. \$\endgroup\$ – Taejang Feb 15 '16 at 14:37
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The Feb'16 answer by Marq highlights the fact that the text of True Polymorph contains the phrase "kind of creature", which seems to bar the possibility of most kinds of specification.

Yet here is an interesting possibility. The answers to the question "Can True Polymorph be used to transform someone into a shapechanger creature?" seem to leave open the possibility of True Polymorphing into a doppelganger. (A strict reading of RAW might prevent this, but almost all responses seem to give a green light in spirit.) Then you could use the doppelganger's Shapechanger trait to look and sound like anyone you have seen before (or perhaps like anyone you see in your new doppelganger form).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I know this answer could be considered on the borderline as some sort of speculation at rpg.se. Yet it is in accordance with other rpg.se questions, so before you downvote, I kindly request that you think twice about whether it is relevant and well-sourced. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Aug 12 at 17:33
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Hate to burst your bubble, but you can't use polymorph to change into a sentient creature.

It's clearly stated in the rules for the spell:

The new form can be any beast whose challenge rating is equal to our less than the target's (or the target's level if the target doesn't have a challenge rating). The target's game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of the chosen beast. It retains alignment and personality. [p. 266 PHB]

Ergo, you cannot use polymorph to change into a sentient creature.

I would suggest "Alter Self". I believe that would fit more along the lines of what you are looking for.

Edit: In regards to "True Polymorph" the rules state such:

If you turn a creature into another kind of creature, the new form can be any kind you choose whose challenge rating is equal to our less than the target's (or the target's level if the target doesn't have a challenge rating). The target's game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of the chosen beast. It retains alignment and personality. [p. 283 PHB]

So unless you have a very cooperative GM, it's likely your GM will pick the stats for you, though perhaps they might allow you choose the appearance, as long as it's within reason, and doesn't break or render any other spells that achieve the same result useless. E.g. "Disguise Self" or "Alter Self".

No good GM is going to let you roll the abilities of other spells into another one, so chances are you will have very minimal say on what your new appearance looks like.

If you want to change very specific things about your appearance, I'd go with using spells designed for such use, i.e. the ones I just mentioned above.

Polymorph/True Polymorph are just simply not designed for the kind of specificity you're looking for. Not for sentient creatures.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm sorry, I just don't see how that first quote block "clearly" says you can't be a sentient creature. Could you elaborate? \$\endgroup\$ – Blue Footed Booby Jul 13 '16 at 18:52
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Outside of the spicific rules I would answer this way for my players. Tru poly because poly can't do non beasts. 1. Sure... but don't be creepy. 2. Ok but well away from the top limt for elves. If i made a 9 foot elf its not an elf then. What would keep the player from saying I want to be a dragon with flaming pork pine quills covering my body. Hmm a Porkugon. I'll have to write that into an adventure somtime. 3.max starting strength for an elf is 15. I would allow any combo of 15 14 13 12 10 8. If they let me know ahead of time they could 27 point buy him. 4.Sure but why? 5. Sure. 6. Yes but you would have to use desguise or some other skill to correctly remember what drizzt looked like.By word only or brief encounter anyone who had more exposure to him would likely figure it out.

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