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Ontario Pathfinder Society | Asmodean’s Advice – Alter Self
Asmodean’s Advice – Alter Self

Asmodean’s Advice – Alter Self

In the last couple of weeks, a few of you have asked me to write about Alter Self.  I’ve seen a couple of people using the spell at Dueling Grounds and a question was asked on the forums.  I hope I can give you some extra material to think about so you can use the spell a little more dynamically.  The information here applies equally to both the sorcerer/wizard spell and the Aasimar SLA.

Alter Self is part of the Polymorph Subschool.  This is a complicated Subschool as the rules for it are scattered haphazardly throughout the Core Rules (and in some cases the bestiary).  So I’ll try and summarize it here and then give suggestions as to a few good humanoid shapes to use.  The full description of the Polymorph Subschool starts on page 211 of the Core Rules.

What you get from Alter Self:
You get a +20 untyped bonus on your disguise check to imitate the race you changed into.  This does not let you imitate a specific person.  So you can change into an elf and have a good chance to pass yourself off as a random elf, but you don’t get any bonus to pass yourself off as Caladrel, captain of the elf home guard.  This is part of the polymorph subschool benefits.
* You get the base speed of the creature you change into (this could slow you down if you’re a medium creature changing into something that has a 20 ft movement speed).  This is part of the polymorph subschool benefits.
* You get all of the creature’s natural attacks.  These attacks use your BAB and strength score to calculate your attack modifier (unless you have Weapon Finesse, in which case it’s BAB plus dexterity).  Your damage becomes the die listed and you add your strength modifier to the damage.  This is part of the polymorph subschool benefits.
* You become virtually immune to (hostile) polymorph effects.  From page 212 of the core rulebook:  “You can only be affected by one polymorph spell at a time.  If a new polymorph spell is cast on you (or you activate a polymorph effect, such as wild shape), you can decide whether or not to allow it to affect you, taking the place of the old spell.”  Yes, that’s right, you get to choose if you want to be affected by Pup Shape, Baleful Polymorph, or any other polymorph spell if you’re already under the effect of one.  This is part of the polymorph subschool benefits.
* Your equipment changes size to match your new form.  Your armour and shield grow or shrink with you.  Any weapons you are carrying change size as well, changing the base damage it does.  This is part of the polymorph subschool benefits.
* You get Darkvision 60 feet, Low-light vision, Scent, and Swim 30 feet.  These benefits only apply if the form you choose has them.  If it has a similar ability, but a lesser version, you get the lesser version (i.e. if you change into something that has swim 20 feet, you only get swim 20 feet).  If it has a greater ability, it is capped by this spell (i.e. if you change into something that has Darkvision 90 feet, you only get Darkvision 60 feet).  This is from the Alter Self spell itself.
* If you change into something with a swim speed, you get a +8 racial bonus to your swim checks and the ability to take 10 on swim checks under any circumstances.  You can also use the run action while swimming.  This is from the swim description in the core rulebook (p108).
* A +2 Size bonus to Strength or Dexterity (depending on the size of the creature you change into).  This stacks with any existing enhancement bonuses you have going (such as a belt, Bull’s Strength, or Cat’s Grace).  This is from the Alter Self spell itself.

What you don’t get:
* You don’t get to assume the form of a specific creature.  You are average Joe of whatever race you change into.  This is part of the polymorph subschool restrictions.
* You don’t get the creature’s natural armour bonus.  Each polymorph subschool spell tells you what natural armour bonus you get and Alter Self doesn’t list a natural armour bonus.
* You don’t get your current extraordinary or supernatural abilities, unless the new form has the same ability.  This is part of the polymorph subschool restrictions.  So if you’re an Aasimar and change into a human for some reason, you lose your darkvision.  You do get to keep your spell like abilities though.
* You aren’t affected by any other spells that change your size (such as Alter Self or Righteous Might).  This is part of the polymorph subschool restrictions.

So, after showing you what you do and don’t get from Alter Self, here are a few choice candidates for Alter Self from the Bestiary:
Boggard – Medium creature with Darkvision, Low-light vision, a 20 foot movement speed and 20 foot swim speed.  It also has a tongue natural attack, but it’s useless with this spell as it does no damage and you don’t get its sticky tongue extraordinary ability.  The benefit of this form is the swim speed.
Bugbear – Medium creature with Darkvision and Scent.  It’s one of the few creatures in the Bestiary with scent.
Goblin /Kobold – Small creature with Darkvision.  They’re notable because they keep a 30 foot movement speed as a small creature.
Lizardfolk – Medium creature with a 15 foot swim speed.  They also get a claw and bite attack.
Merfolk – Medium creature with Low-light vision, a reduction to 5 foot movement speed, but a 30 foot swim speed.
Svirfneblin – Small creature with Darkvision and Low-light vision.
Troglodyte – Medium creature with Darkvision.  If you’re looking for natural attacks, this form is it.  It gets 2 claws and a bite.  I see Aasimars changing into this form all the time so that they don’t lose their darkvision.

I did a quick glance through the Bestiary 2 and didn’t find anything of note that wasn’t comparable to something that’s already in the Bestiary 1.  If you see something that I missed, please feel free to post.

From the Bestiary 3:
Adlet – Medium creature with Low-light vision and Scent.  It also has a bite attack.  What makes this creature stand out is its 40 foot movement speed.
Sasquatch – Medium creature with Darkvision, Low-light Vision and Scent.  It has a slam attack and a base movement of 40 feet.

The last thing I’ll touch on is share spells when using Alter Self on a Familiar.  If your familiar is Tiny or Diminutive it gains bonuses to Strength and penalties to Dexterity when you cast Alter Self on it.  If your familiar is Tiny it gets +4 to Strength and -2 to Dexterity, then you add the +2 to Strength (if changing it into a medium creature) or +2 Dexterity (if changing it into a small creature).  Similarly, a Diminutive creature gets +6 to Strength and –4 to Dexterity.  For example, if you use Alter Self to change your Compsognathus familiar into a Troglodyte, it gets +6 Strength and -2 Dexterity.  You can find the modifiers for other sized creatures on page 212 of the Core Rulebook in the Polymorph Subschool section.

Thanks for reading.  See you next time.


  1. Paul Jackson

    Paul Jackson - November 4, 2013, 2:37 pm

    Great article. A few nits and additions.

    You only get a +10 to disguise checks though not a +20.

    And you don’t lose all your extraordinary abilities. You lose ones that depend on your form ( I think that is slightly different from the way you expressed it). Expect a little GM variation on some edge cases ( e.g,, does an Ifrits fire resistance depend on its form?)

    You cannot use alter self to gain templates. So no turning into a child.

    I’d like to point out that the Animal Aspect spell covers a similar design space. Especially useful for those without access to alter self 🙂

    • David R

      David R - November 4, 2013, 6:05 pm

      in the Core Rule Book, page 211, it says you gain a +20. I do remember somewhere where it said you gain +10 but i don’t know if that was a specific spell or where I saw it.

      • David R

        David R - November 4, 2013, 6:10 pm

        Found it, the disguise skill says polymorph gives you +10, but the polymorph school says you get +20. It was changed to a +10 bonus in the Errata.

    • Brian - November 4, 2013, 10:41 pm

      Yep. I was reading from my 4th printing Core Rulebook. It’s only a +10 to disguise now as of the 5th printing errata.

      You only keep extraordinary (Ex) and supernatural (Su) abilities granted by your class. An Ifrit does lose its fire resistance since its an (Ex) ability granted by race, not class.

      • Paul Jackson

        Paul Jackson - November 4, 2013, 10:52 pm

        Do you have a quote for the Ex and Su thing. The rules seem less clear to me but there may well be a FAQ that clarifies things.

        • Brian - November 10, 2013, 6:47 pm

          Sorry for the delay. Life gets in the way sometimes.
          The CRB page 212 says the following:
          “While under the effects of a polymorph spell, you lose all extraordinary and supernatural abilities that depend on your original form (such as keen senses, scent, and darkvision), as well as any natural attacks and movement types possessed by your original form. You also lose any class features that depend upon form, but those that allow you to add features (such as sorcerers that can grow claws) still function.”

  2. Paul Jackson

    Paul Jackson - November 10, 2013, 10:55 pm

    So we disagree on the interpretation then. I think an Ifrits fire resistance is an excellent example of an ability which is up to GM interpretation as to whether or not it depends on the Ifrits original form.

  3. sulaco

    sulaco - November 12, 2013, 11:55 am

    One suggestion from Bestiary 2 is the Quickling. A movement speed of 120 and a +50 to jumps check means you can effectively teleport around an average battlemap.

    • Adam

      Adam - November 12, 2013, 11:59 am

      Quicklings are fey, not humanoids. As cool as that would be, it’s not a legal option.

  4. sulaco

    sulaco - November 12, 2013, 12:24 pm

    Derp! Of course. 🙁

  5. Gar G.

    Gar G. - November 19, 2013, 12:24 am

    I always thought of the impossibility of imitating anyone specific meant that the spell alters yourself into, say, an elven or kobold version of yourself. It’s still useful if you don’t want people to know who you really are but don’t care about looking like someone else. Though it can help with regular Disguise checks, especially if you want to disguise yourself as another race.

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