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Can an imp speak while shape-changed? Another question on the same topic: is a shape-changed imp a beast?

The Imp has the following ability:

Shapechanger: The imp can use its action to polymorph into a beast form that resembles a rat (speed 20 ft.), a raven (20 ft., fly 60 ft.), or a spider (20 ft., climb 20 ft.), or back into its true form. Its statistics are the same in each form, except for the speed changes noted.

The spell Polymorph states:

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.

So the obvious answer is that it counts as a beast and can't talk. However, it keeps all statistics (is languages and type included here?) and that it only polymorphs into a form resembling a beast, not that it polymorphs into a beast. Furthermore, is the shape-changing even using the same rules as the spell Polymorph?

Is there any consensus on what RAW should be? Any argument for what RAI is?

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It can talk

There's a difference between

The imp can use its action to polymorph into a beast form [...]

And:

The imp can use its action to cast the spell Polymorph on itself to morph into a beast form [...]

The imp is not casting the spell Polymorph, it's simply changing its form into a beast. Since the description doesn't say it loses the ability to speak, there is no rule stopping it from talking.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In addition, it is polymorphing into something that RESEMBLES those beasts. That is definitely not like the polymorph spell which would actually BE those beasts. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 24 '17 at 16:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ The imp's shapechange ability also has this helpful text which I think supports your answer: "Its statistics are the same in each form, except for the speed changes noted." This clearly does not work in the same way was polymorph the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Mar 24 '17 at 16:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @THiebert That is a strange objection. Outside relevant context, you're right. But you must be aware that the imps have the ability to speak, and so there is a rule that allows it to speak. It's right there in the stat block. You said so in your answer yourself, "specific beats general". Well, we have a general rule in the form of the stat block containing the imp's languages. There's no specific rule contradicting this. Hence, "there is no rule stopping it from talking" \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Mar 24 '17 at 16:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @THiebert In a system of exceptions, it is the case. The imp can speak. The shapechange ability doesn't alter it's ability to speak, therefore it can still speak because there is no exception to its ability to speak. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Mar 24 '17 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, the fact that all other cases take the time to mention that you can't talk, and this one doesn't include that passage is a stronger argument that this one can talk while shaped like a beast. If it were missed in error, then the MM Errata would have added the line back in as an omission; since it doesn't it is clear that the RAI are that it can talk. \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Mar 24 '17 at 18:22
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It's a DM call

This is a case of rules vs rulings. Let's start by defining a few terms that don't have game definitions.

Polymorph: To transform; to change into another form.

Resemble: to be like or similar to.

Now when we look at the Imp's Shapechange ability, we can substitute these definitions:

The imp can use its action to transform into a beast form that is similar to a rat, crow, or spider [...]

The extent of the transformation and the similarity between the forms is not defined, nor is the form's ability to speak, either magically or anatomically.

A DM could assume the form is an exact match for the beast, then easily look at the spell polymorph and other similar abilities like Wild Shape, and determine that the imp's ability to speak is prevented by it's new form. On the converse, a DM could assume the form simply grows the necessary limbs and appendages to replicate the new form's movement options, leaving it's mouth and ability to speak entirely intact. Furthermore, some DM's might call for a total transformation into a beast, but due to an explicit lack of rule that says the new form can't speak, allow it to anyways, regardless of any anatomical inability.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that the Imp is casting a polymorph spell because the word "polymorph" is not in italics. If you look at the monster next to it in the Monster Manual, the Lemure, you'll notice that the bless spell is typed in italics and that the word "spell" is used to describe it. \$\endgroup\$ – eyecosahedron Mar 29 '17 at 0:20

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