I just had the best idea that I think I’m going to adopt going forward.
See, I think polymorph is neat conceptually. I love having access to it as a player. But it’s super easy to abuse, and that is problematic.
I don’t like Pathfinder’s take on fixing it — spells that are limited to one kind of creature. That’s such an ugly weld, and it’s pretty associative to boot.
I’m also not a fan of the “polymorph” subschool fix. I’m of the opinion that you should get all the (ex) abilities a creature has when you shapeshift into that creature. It doesn’t make sense for that not to be the case. And I don’t remember if there’s some kind of “your INT becomes that of the creature” restriction, but if there is then that’s asinine.
I need a solution that keeps polymorph as the “ace in the hole” spot without allowing it to moot every encounter. And I think I’ve hit upon the solution. Read on…
You, or your target, assume the form of a typical creature of the desired type. You function in all ways as an example of the creature specified, save that you retain access to your feats, skills, and class abilities. You use your own skills or those of the creature, at your discretion. If you can speak, you can cast spells. (Restrict to standard polymorph types.)
You gain access to the creature’s feats and exceptional abilities. If the creature has a “defining” supernatural ability (DM’s discretion), you gain access to that as well, though any effects created by such abilities, or any subordinate effects to those effects, end when the spell ends. You cannot gain more uses per day of such abilities than the creature would ordinarily get by repeated castings of polymorph. Under no circumstances do you gain access to a creature’s spells or spell-like abilities.
When you transform, you must make a Fortitude save against a DC of 10, modified by the table below, or die. If you succeed on this save, you heal as though you had rested a day when assuming your new form.
+1 for every HD difference between the desired form and a typical example of your true form (1 HD for most PC races)
+2 for magical beast, fae, vermin, or giant
+4 for aberration, plant, or outsider
+6 for dragon
You immediately take up the space of your new form. If this is more space than you have, you can make a caster level check in place of a Strength check to break the container you are in; otherwise, you take 1d6 points of damage per occluded square and are trapped.
You must make a successful Knowledge check (DC 15 + HD of creature) of the appropriate type (arcana, local, nature, dungeoneering, or the planes) in order to assume the desired form. If you fail this check, the spell fizzles, and you cannot check again for that particular creature until you gain a rank in the appropriate Knowledge skill.
Finally, you may assume, or cause another to assume, the form of a particular creature only once in your life. A “creature” in this context is defined as one particular entry in the Monster Manual. Advanced versions of creatures, creatures that have different stats at different times in their lives, or creatures with class levels count as their base entry. Templates of any kind are not permitted, but would count as their base creature. A half-blooded creature counts as both of its parent types.
The net result of this, I believe, would be to make polymorph even more awesome than it already is, but make it somewhat more situational. The party is effectively limited to a single use of a particular creature over the entire game, so strategy regarding when to “blow” a particular creature type comes into play. I also believe it to be perfectly reasonable to assert that you have to know a fair bit about a particular creature in order to correctly assume its form. This all requires more bookkeeping on the part of the DM and player, which is the idea’s main drawback, but I think the complexity it adds to play makes this tradeoff worthwhile.