Dear DovahQueen – Arcane Physiology

Wherein is discussed the intricacies of physiology in matters arcane: namely the intersectional effects of polymorph, lycanthropy, and trauma on the tangible condition.

Dear DovahQueen: Say a certain caster is tired of her hand hurting. Said appendage was damaged magically and cannot be cured by any known means (short of deity magic or a Wish spell, which she cannot cast). Will Polymorph rid her of the problem? Specifically, can a Polymorph cure injuries, including amputations? On a related note, does polymorph or lycanthropy protect you from diseases? Human cannibalism is extremely dangerous from a disease standpoint, but most animals wouldn’t catch Kuru from eating a person. If a werewolf eats a human with a disease while in wolf form, will they suffer the effects as if they ate the person while in human form? Will a poison that is deadly for a human to consume affect her if she transforms into a creature immune to the poison soon before the secondary effect hits? – Lost in Transmutation

Dear LT: There aren’t a lot of RAW (rules as written) on this subject, so many GMs are going to have their own opinion on the matter. That said, if biology and physiology are already complicated in the real world, fantasy physiology and magical biology are downright ridiculous. You really can’t blame a GM who just doesn’t know.

So the thing about transmutation magic in general (including polymorph) is that it doesn’t typically heal or cure anything. Healing magic tends to be of the conjuration school, but there are some necromantic versions as well. Conceptualize it as “conjuration/healing creates new matter” and “transmutation alters existing matter”. So a cure light wounds is going to summon some new flesh to fill in wounds while polymorph will alter the muscle structure around the wound. In effect, a werewolf stabbed in the haunches would have a knife wound in the thigh when they revert back to their original form.

You’ll want to consider ruling most diseases and poisons in much the same way. Since neither polymorph nor lycanthropy protects you from poison or disease, you’ll want to handle those effects as they happen using the resistance of the form that the character is currently in. Should they be dealt an adverse effect in one form that effect should transfer to the other—even if the next form would be immune somehow. Although diseases and poisons that are more or less dangerous to certain types of fauna may be common in life, in game such ailments tend to be less discriminatory. If you want your game to more closely mirror life, you’ll want to consider assigning immunities and resistances to certain animals and animal forms as you need them. Another thing to keep in mind is that most real life diseases aren’t going to directly exist in game, but you will be able to find written diseases that fit the bill well enough. For example, Kuru is a little too specific to appear in game, but you could use Shakes when players cook up a little ally-steak because conceptually the symptoms are very similar.

In the end, go with your gut. Although the game is capable of being tedious and rules heavy, it doesn’t have to be. In the moment, make that call that *feels* right to you. Even if you decide in the long run that it wasn’t the right way to handle the situation, you’ll have more fun overall than if you had derailed the game to make a multi-tiered flow chart.



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Loren Sieg

Loren has been writing and playing in tabletop RPGs for over 15 years. As both a GM and player, she pours heart and soul into producing new content and helping shape the way tabletops are experienced. She's worked with companies including Paizo Inc., Legendary Games, Swords for Hire, and Encounter Table Publishing to publish material for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Dear DovahQueen began early in 2016, and Loren has been helping GMs and players fully realize their stories and game concepts ever since. When she's not knee-deep in characters sheets and critical hits, she can likely be found studying Biology at Indiana University and/or doing research on different types of marine life.