Transmutation is the act of changing one thing into another. Historically transmutation has referred to alchemists’ attempts to transmute lead into gold.
In modern times, it’s been repurposed by physicists to describe how one element can become another through nuclear processes like fusion, fission, and radioactive decay.
D&D’s transmutation is less specific.
What Is Transmutation Magic in DnD 5e?
The school of transmutation is theoretically a collection of spells that all change the form, composition, or properties of something.
The Player’s Handbook describes transmutation as “spells that modify energy and matter” (page 119). That might already sound vague, but there are also transmutation spells that fall outside that description, for example, Goodberry.
How Important Is Magical School?
Magical school doesn’t generally have a massive impact on the game’s mechanics.
The only time you need to pay attention to magical school is if you’re playing a wizard, an arcane trickster rogue, or other classes whose spell selection options are affected by magical school.
That said, magical school can be a great roleplaying tool. If you want to roleplay your caster according to a specific archetype, then that may dictate the kinds of spells you use.
A transmutation-focused caster might have a wild, experimental personality to match.
The Best Transmutation Spells
Prestidigitation, Thaumaturgy, and Druidcraft
These three cantrips each allow you to perform a set of minor magical tricks. What makes these spells great is that usage is sufficiently vaguely defined to leave them open to endless possible uses.
Shillelagh is an absolutely essential cantrip for melee-focused druids at lower levels before you gain access to wild shape.
Not only does it provide increased damage, but your weapon also becomes magical. This allows you to deal damage to creatures that have immunity to nonmagical weapons – something that not all classes can do at low levels.
Goodberry is another fantastic druid spell. It creates 10 berries that last 24 hours. Each berry restores 1 hp.
This means you can give one or two berries to each member of your party, giving your whole party the ability to raise downed allies by feeding a berry to them.
Catapult is really fun. You get to fling objects around and interact with the environment while dealing reasonable damage.
Plus, if a creature successfully dodges one of your projectiles, then the object keeps moving and could hit a creature behind it.
Feather Fall has niche usage, but there are situations where you’ll be really glad of it. If find yourself falling from a great height, this is one of your best low-level options.
Plus, knowing that you have access to Feather Fall turns every window into a potential emergency exit.
Enlarge/Reduce is a fun option to help you cheese boss fights. You can enlarge your party’s tank, changing their size to Large and giving them advantage on strength checks.
This means they can grapple Huge creatures like giants, and they gain advantage on their skill checks to do that.
They also get a nice damage-bonus from being enlarged, but this alone wouldn’t be worth casting a spell that costs an action plus concentration.
Heat Metal deals mediocre up-front damage for a second-level spell, but it has several benefits that make it worthwhile to cast.
Heat Metal’s damage is guaranteed and doesn’t require an attack roll or a save.
It also has a chance to disarm enemies holding metal weapons, and in situations where you can’t be easily attacked and your concentration can’t be easily broken, the spell’s damage can reoccur every turn without costing your action.
This spell is the bane of newer DMs who might not think to attack you and break your concentration.
If you’re consistently trivializing encounters with this spell, then you should highlight its weaknesses to your DM so they can build encounters around it.
Blink is a very strong, if unreliable, defensive spell. At the end of each of your turns for a minute, you have a 50% chance of being transported to the ethereal plane until your next turn.
If this happens, you’re not physically present for all the enemies’ turns, so you’re unlikely to be targeted by any of them.
There are disadvantages to not being physically present. Casters are often relied on to cast Counterspell during enemy turns, and if you’re not there, then you can’t do that.
You also can’t benefit from any advantageous effects that your party-mates might try to grant you.
Blink is still a powerful defensive option though. Notably, it doesn’t require concentration, so you don’t have to sacrifice your concentration slot to use it.
Polymorph transforms a target creature into another creature of your choice. This is a fantastic way of removing dangerous high-hp enemies from a fight. It can also be used on willing allies for a huge range of applications.
Animate Objects is extremely powerful. You can animate objects of varying size and number that can each attack and take any actions that they’re anatomically (for want of a better word) capable of.
For example, a statue with arms could be ordered to grapple an enemy, but a cello could not. The spell lasts for a minute, subject to concentration, so your animated minions may be able to make several attacks with one spell cast.
This spell can dish out huge amounts of damage and also has a ton of utility. Animating 10 tiny objects is your best option damage-wise, although these have lower hp and can potentially be wiped out by a well-placed AoE.
You will probably always have tiny objects available to animate, whether that’s a pouch of ball bearings, a handful of coins, or a pile of silverware.
Wizard: School of Transmutation
Any wizard can cast transmutation spells, but if you’re hoping to specialize in transmutation spells, then you might be considering the School of Transmutation subclass.
There are several major benefits to the School of Transmutation if you’re intending to focus on these spells.
The Transmutation Savant ability allows School of Transmutation wizards to copy transmutation spells into their spellbook for half the expenditure of time and gold.
This would ordinarily require two hours and 50gp per spell level, but with Transmutation Savant, it requires one hour and 25gp per spell level.
This is, to put it bluntly, not especially useful for most campaigns. Gold and downtime are both usually abundant in D&D campaigns.
Unless your DM is tracking these things on a micro level in order to make this ability important, it probably won’t be.
Newer DMs may also not realize that finding spellbooks to copy from is an important part of the reward system for wizards.
If you’re a DM, you can make this ability relevant, but it requires some thought.
For example, your players might find several spells etched into the rock in a tidal cave. Your players can’t simply take the rockface with them like they would with a spellbook or a scrap of paper, and there’s a definite time limit on how long your wizard has to copy the spells.
This can allow you to present a choice to your wizard for copying two transmutation spells or one spell from another school.
Minor alchemy allows you to temporarily transmute wood, stone, iron, copper, and silver between themselves. This takes 10 minutes to perform, precluding any creative in-combat use, and the transmutation only lasts an hour.
The most obvious use for this ability is to scam shopkeepers by transmuting less valuable objects into silver.
It might also be useful for destroying structures by transmuting components into heavier or more malleable materials. There are usually going to be less time-consuming ways to do this though.
Transmuter’s Stone is the most useful ability that the School of Transmutation subclass gives you.
The Transmuter’s Stone is a physical object you can create that can grant you a whole range of bonuses. These are:
- 60 feet of darkvision
- Increased move speed by 10 feet
- Proficiency in constitution saves
- Resistance to any one of acid, cold, fire, lightning, thunder
You can switch between these bonuses every time you cast a transmutation spell of level 1 or higher so long as you have the stone. You can also give the stone to someone else to grant them its bonus instead.
The ability to gain proficiency in constitution saves is particularly useful as a wizard because it applies to concentration saves.
Shapechanger is a little lackluster. It allows you to self-cast polymorph once per long or short rest to transform yourself into a beast with a challenge rating of 1 or lower.
Any wizard can cast polymorph with much less limited usage, so this doesn’t add any additional tools to your character; it just saves you a spell slot occasionally.
Master Transmuter gives you several abilities that you can use by destroying your transmuter’s stone. You can only regain the stone after a long rest, so you can only use one of these abilities per long rest.
You can spend 10 minutes with a nonmagical object and transform it permanently into another object of similar size and mass with equal or lesser value. The object can be no larger than a 5-foot cube.
This ability is most likely to come in handy when you’re adventuring in the wilds and there’s something specific that you need. You can use this ability to create food, water, or more niche items.
Panacea heals a creature to full hp and removes all its curses, diseases, and poisons. This is incredibly useful if your party gets into trouble in combat.
Restore Life allows you to cast Raise Dead without using a spell slot or having the spell in your spellbook.
Notably, the description for Restore Life doesn’t say that you don’t need the spell’s material component. You still need a diamond worth 500gp (which is consumed by the spell).
Restore Youth reduces the apparent age of a willing creature by 3d10 years (to a minimum of 13 years). It doesn’t extend the creature’s lifespan though. This might be useful in place of a disguise.
Roleplaying Transmutation Casters
Casters who rely on transmutation spells are likely to be experimenters who tinker with and modify the world around them rather than simply existing within it.
Where other schools of magic conjure objects, illusions, or energy from nothing, your tools are the environment itself.
There are tons of ways to roleplay this.
You might want to play a hyper-observant character who’s attentive to their surroundings, but you might also prefer to play a “mad scientist” character who’s always trying new things to see what might happen.
You could also play into archetypes of historical real-world alchemists.
Playing as a character of ambiguous honesty and ambiguous magical ability whose primary interests focus around material wealth may help you to evoke real-world alchemy.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.