The True Polymorph description says:

Creature into Creature.
The transformation lasts for the duration, or until the target drops to 0 hit points or dies. If you concentrate on this spell for the full duration, the transformation lasts until it is dispelled.

Does the second sentence imply the creature won't revert to its normal form, even being killed? (providing the caster were concentrating on the spell for the full duration)

If so, isn't "until the target drops to 0 hit points" enough? Why the "...or dies" addition? A creature can't die having more that 0 hit points, can it?

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Specific Beats General - A permanently polymorphed creature will stay morphed if it dies

In 5e, you always apply a general rule unless there is a specific exception. That is exactly what is happening in this case. Generally, the target will revert after the full duration, upon the target reaching 0 hp, or upon dying. However, there is a specific exception for when the caster concentrated on the spell for the whole duration. In that case, the change lasts until dispelled, full stop. The first sentence no longer applies in this case, because the second is an exception to it. As a result even if the conditions in the first sentence are met, the creature stays transformed because of the second sentence.

"Until the target drops to 0 hit points..." isn't enough because of effects that can instantly kill a creature without affecting hit points. These effects are usually high level magic like the 9th level Power Word: Kill and the 7th level Divine Word both of which can instantly kill a creature without changing their hit points at all, as long as the creature's current hit points are within a certain threshold. In these cases, you do not drop to 0 hp; instead you just immediately die.

  • But after you die, you will have 0 hp, won't you? – enkryptor May 12 '17 at 17:51
  • 6
    @enkryptor No, because after you die you are now an object (a corpse), not a creature. You can't be healed, although resurrection magic can turn you back from an object to a creature. – GreySage May 12 '17 at 18:21
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    @enkryptor The 0 HP condition immediately precedes death, for PC's, so the equivalence is "not necessarily so." Death happens after 0 HP. Thus, if you die of old age as a polymorphed house fly, you are dead, not reduced to 0 HP. – KorvinStarmast May 12 '17 at 23:19
  • I guess high-level spells is not the only option. Any massive damage can instantly kill a character as well. – enkryptor May 13 '17 at 9:21
  • @enkryptor Massive damage does drop their HP to 0, though. – HellSaint May 19 at 17:39
  • I parse this as implying that the creature won't revert to its normal form, even if killed. The "lasts until it is dispelled" phrase is on a separate line from the other exceptions, and I see no indication that those previously listed exceptions would apply to the latter situation. Otherwise, the effect would also go away anytime say, a transformed PC dropped to 0 HP (which doesn't seem intended).

  • It is possible to die without dropping to 0 HP (via say, Exhaustion, age, or a similar death effect), and I don't see a rule indicating that remaining HP (if any) drop to zero on death.

  • But after you die, you will have 0 hp, won't you? – enkryptor May 12 '17 at 17:50
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    You don't exist anymore, so not really. Having 0 HP implies you can acquire more. If you're all the way dead, you can't. – Jesse Cassino May 12 '17 at 17:52
  • 2
    I don't see a rule indicating that remaining HP (if any) drop to zero on death. – Matt Vincent May 12 '17 at 17:56

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