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On MM 103, the following characteristic can be found:

Solitary Shapeshifters. At some point in their long lives, metallic dragons gain the magical ability to assume the forms of humanoids and beasts...

The text seems really ambiguous, and there are a few things I'd like to understand about it:

  • How does one determine the stats of its alternate form?
  • Can it have more than one alternative form?
  • How long does the transformation take? Can it do this in combat?
  • Can chromatic dragons do this as well?

In the interest of not making this look like distinctly different questions, I want this to be interpreted as more of a "How does this work?" question, and I'd appreciate any resource with further details on the matter.

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For metallic dragons, the shapeshifting is detailed under the Actions section of their stat block.

Note that the age at which a dragon can shapeshift depends on their type: brass and copper dragons can only shapeshift once they reach the ancient category (801+ years), while bronze, gold, and silver dragons can shapeshift starting from adulthood (101+ years).

The stat block entry for this ability is the same for all dragons that possess it:

Change Shape

The dragon magically polymorphs into a humanoid or beast that has a challenge rating no higher than its own, or back into its true form. It reverts to its true form if it dies. Any equipment it is wearing or carrying is absorbed or borne by the new form (the dragon's choice).

In a new form, the dragon retains its alignment, hit points, Hit Dice, ability to speak, proficiencies, Legendary Resistance, lair actions, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores, as well as this action. Its statistics and capabilities are otherwise replaced by those of the new form, except any class features or legendary actions of that form.

So, with that in mind, to answer your questions:

1. How does one determine the stats of its alternate form?

This is explicitly detailed in the second paragraph of the Change Shape ability.

2. Can it have more than one alternative form?

Yes, it can polymorph into any humanoid or beast with a challange rating no higher than its own (mind that the CR depends on the dragon's age!).

3. How long does the transformation take? Can it do this in combat?

The transformation is a full action, and it can be taken in combat.

4. Can chromatic dragons do this as well?

No, nowhere in the Monster Manual is it indicated that chromatic dragons can do this, neither in flavor text nor in stat blocks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to note that the Krynn setting has precedent for chromatics being able to shape change. Cyan Bloodbane (a green dragon) assumes an elven guise for an extended period in order to work death from within the borders of Silvanesti. If you would like to add that feel free, it demonstrates that there is lore that supports it, just not in the MM and the asker did ask for any source. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jun 15 '16 at 0:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olorin You could add to the last point, that it is possible to achieve with creating and modyfing rules from Dungeon Master's Guide. \$\endgroup\$ – Momonga-sama Jun 19 '16 at 23:15

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