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As far as I remember, only the Ancient metallic dragons have it listed in the Monster Manual, but could all dragons potentially learn to Change Shape?

As a note, this is a homebrew world so I'm aware I can change them to be able to do this, but I'm just wondering if the default is that they can or can't.

This question is related: How does the Dragon's "Solitary Shapeshifter" characteristic work?, but my question is a bit more concise, focusing on just the question of chromatics and potential ability.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possibly related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/82707/… \$\endgroup\$ – firedraco Jun 17 '16 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ it does seem like a duplicate and that linked question does answer this, but I'd like to think this is sufficiently different in that it focuses on one part :) thanks for your help all! \$\endgroup\$ – Jamie Brace Jun 17 '16 at 15:57
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The default is that only metallic1 dragons use Change Shape. The Monster Manual spells out this ability specifically for metallic dragons.

(MM Page 103) Solitary Shapeshifters. At some point in their long lives, metallic dragons gain the magical ability to assume the forms of humanoids and beasts.

Note that when this ability arrives varies by dragon kind: Gold, Silver, and Bronze dragons can Change Shape as Ancient or Adult; Brass and Copper dragons only if Ancient.

No mention of this ability is made for chromatic dragons. By its absence, as compared to its explicit mention for metallic dragons, the conclusion is that this ability is limited to metallic dragons.

Potentially usable by chromatic dragons? Sure, why not, you're the DM.
You can certainly homebrew Change Shape as an ability for chromatic dragons: dragons are magical creatures.

Dragons are large reptilian creatures of ancient origin and tremendous power. True dragons, including the good metallic dragons and the evil chromatic dragons, are highly intelligent and have innate magic.

What you may need to decide is whether this ability is innate or learned. For example: gray hair is innate, not learned, among men as old as me; understanding how to see things from more points of view as I got older was learned.


If you want to reach back into game related lore that went beyond game rules, for a precedent, the Dragonlance lore includes the case of a green dragon (Cyan Bloodbane) using a shape changing ability to take on the form of an elf in order to spread evil in the elven homeland.


1This distinction goes back to the original forms of the game.

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By raw rules Chromatic dragons can't change their shape.

It could be achieved with Dragons' variant rule, limited times per day with the use of magic.

VARIANT:

DRAGONS AS INNATE SPELLCASTERS

Dragons are innately magical creatures that can master a few spells as they age, using this variant. A young or older dragon can innately cast a number of spells equal to its Charisma modifier. Each spell can be cast once per day, requiring no material components, and the spell's level can be no higher than one-third the dragon's challenge rating (rounded down) . The dragon's bonus to hit with spell attacks is equal to its proficiency bonus+ its Charisma bonus. The dragon's spell save DC equals 8 +its proficiency bonus + its Charisma modifier.

SHAPE CHANGE

9th-level transmutation

Casting Time: 1 action

Range: Self

Components: V, S, M (a jade circlet worth at least 1,500 gp, which you must place on your head before you cast the spell)

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You assume the form o f a different creature for the duration. The new form can be o f any creature with a challenge rating equal to your level or lower. The creature can’t be a construct or an undead, and you must have seen the sort o f creature at least once. You transform into an average example o f that creature, one without any class levels or the Spellcasting trait.

To make it work the Dragon's CR would have to be increased to 27, by aquiring new features or getting boosted with chosen stats.

Dungeon Master's Guide introduces rules for modyfing monsters.

Consulting with the table on page 280, giving a creature a special trait of Change Shape will not increase the challenge rating of the monster.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Polymorph can only turn the Chromatic Dragon into a beast. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jun 19 '16 at 11:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 Good point, fixed it. \$\endgroup\$ – Momonga-sama Jun 19 '16 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ But the dragon would have to be CR 27 to be able to cast a 9th-level spell. Ancient Reds are CR 24. A homebrewed stronger dragon could still do it, but the ones in the Monster Manual are not able to. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jun 19 '16 at 22:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 I mentioned that it is possible. Anyway, I have emphasized that you would have to improve the dragon. Anyway, it wouldn't be homebrew as DMG presents how to improve already existing monsters and how to changes impact their CR. \$\endgroup\$ – Momonga-sama Jun 19 '16 at 23:12

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