Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Students of change, who bend the very laws of the physical universe to their will — eventually even setting themselves on the road to godhood — wizards who study magic from the School of Transmutation are experts at turning one thing into another.
From simple alchemical tricks, like turning base metals into silver, to raising the dead, transforming into animals, and reversing the aging process, transmuters are a wholly unique subclass of wizards.
With a spell list rich in options from Levitate, Flight, and Water Walking to powerful spells like True Polymorph, Time Stop, and Shapechanger, few classes have as many interesting options when it comes to making an impact on the world around them.
Like each of the main wizard subclasses (putting aside newer additions like the elven Bladedancer and the Order of Scribes wizard), the School of Transmutation wizard is tied to its particular school of magic.
That’s not to say that transmutation wizards can’t choose to learn spells from any and all of the other schools of magic, like evocation, abjuration, or necromancy.
But, if feats of alchemy, raising the dead, transforming yourself and others into animals, and eventually making the immutable laws of physics your plaything sounds like a good time, then maybe the transmutation wizard is for you.
In this guide we’re going to break down this wizard subclass’s defining features, its strengths, and its weaknesses.
We’re going to teach you how to build a transmutation wizard from the ground up, including how to choose your character’s race, background, feats, and proficiencies.
Lastly, we’re going to put it all together and show you how to build a transmutation wizard (as well as which spells to pick) from 1st to 20th level.
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color-rating scheme:
Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful and might make for an interesting narrative choice but are largely less effective than other tiers.
Green – B Tier. A solid choice but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or it can be very good but only situationally.
Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your character.
Our goal here is to provide scannable but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.
What Is a Transmutation Wizard?
At 2nd level, each wizard gets to choose one of the eight schools of magic to which they devote themselves.
As a result, wizards become better at learning spells from their chosen school and usually get a few useful, evocative abilities that make them more effective at casting spells from that school.
Necromancers summon larger numbers of stronger undead, evokers learn to shape their spells to keep their allies safe from AoE damage, and divination wizards start to glimpse (and change) the future.
Transmutation wizards probably get one of the strangest (and most thematically cool) arrays of unique abilities, which range from simple alchemical tricks, like turning a base materials into other simple materials and back again, to crafting magical rocks (philosopher’s stones) that let them impart great power upon themselves and their allies, change form, raise the dead, and all manner of other miraculous things related to the process of change.
The Transmutation Wizard’s Strengths
- Free pocket change
- Transmuter’s stone provides a wide variety of buffs
- Shapechanger is great for scouting, escaping, and damage soaking
The transmutation wizard is kind of an odd bird (sometimes literally after 10th level) with a mixture of abilities that feel like they’ve either been borrowed from other classes (Shapechanger makes you feel a bit like a druid, and the Transmuter’s stone turns you into an insanely effective healer at higher levels) or are completely unique (like the Minor Alchemy feature).
I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing at all as transmutation wizards feel (more than other, more focused wizard subclasses) like they are a walking collection of magical ephemera.
A mixture of alchemy, shapeshifting, and glowing magic rocks is exactly the sort of energy I want my wizard PCs to project.
Also, this slightly chaotic approach to the magical arts is typified in the transmutation wizard’s 2nd-level feature, Minor Alchemy, which lets you transform one object composed entirely of wood, stone (but not a gemstone), iron, copper, or silver into another of these materials.
Obviously, turning chunks of stone or wood into silver ingots is a great way to scam your way to a free meal here and there (bribing city guards has never been this easy), but there are even ways you can turn this ability toward making an honest living.
Transform a piece of stone or metal into wood, which is much easier to manipulate, and create interesting sculptures in no time when it reverts to its original material.
In a situation with slightly higher stakes, turning a door’s internal mechanisms from metal to stone could be a useful way of locking it, or turning something as innocuous as a sharpened stick into an improvised dagger could be advantageous.
As with most good 2nd-level wizard features, Minor Alchemy is as good as your imagination.
Of course, an eclectic skillset doesn’t have to mean a suboptimal one.
Depending on your party composition and the adventure you’re on, the transmutation wizard can be a hugely versatile support caster once they reach 6th level and have access to stones that can provide a range of incremental buffs.
For example, the ability to give the bearer of a stone resistance to acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage is a hugely useful way to equip your party’s fighter in preparation for a dangerous encounter.
On the other hand, if you’re a party of elves and other non humans preparing for a stealthy infiltration, giving darkvision to the one human in the group is going to be invaluable.
Your Shapechanger ability is also highly versatile and effective as it allows you to regularly cast the Polymorph spell on yourself (as long as you only become a beast of CR 1 or lower), suddenly making you a fairly competent melee combatant, an amazing infiltrator and scout, and a good deal more survivable.
Picking an animal with a decent HP pool right before you’re about to take a bunch of damage basically negates it.
Later on, a transmuter’s stones become even more powerful.
You become the only wizard with access to healing magic (as well as being able to cure disease and curses) as well as the raise dead spell and the ability to transform one item into another of similar size and weight — perfect if you need keys, musical instruments, or sets of tools.
The Transmutation Wizard’s Weaknesses
- Lack of focus
- Lack of damage
- General wizardly squishiness
In addition to the usual array of survivability problems that wizard experience throughout most of their careers (but especially at lower levels), spellcasters who focus mostly on the transmutation school of spellcasting may find themselves lacking in damage and defense options as this school of magic focuses more on utility, buffing allies, controlling the battlefield, and applications outside of combat.
Of course, there are some solid damage-dealing options on the transmutation spell list — like Flame Arrows and Magic Weapon — and there’s nothing to stop you from dipping into other schools of magic for a few hard-hitting options, but your own school of magic is largely utility focused.
Other than that, the sheer variety and (compared to a more straightforward wizard subclass like the evoker) lack of focus between the transmuter’s various subclass features can make it feel a little difficult to get a handle on.
Progression: Subclass Features
Let’s go through the unique subclass features that define the transmutation wizard as you level up.
Note that this section won’t go into the different elements of the wizard class in general, which you can find in our full guide to wizards here.
You can also see the rate at which wizards accumulate spell slots below.
You also get to add two new spells to your spellbook each time you level up — in addition to those that you copy over from scrolls and spellbooks taken from arcane libraries or defeated rival wizards.
Transmutation Savant: You become an expert at decoding the mysteries of transmutation magic, halving the time and gold cost (in components and rare inks) to copy new transmutation spells into your spellbook.
The transmutation version of the ability all wizards get. I think this would be more valuable in an older edition of the game when copying spells cost more than 50gp and 1 hour per spell level.
Still, it’s a nice way to make sure some extra spells you enter into your spellbook don’t break the bank.
Minor Alchemy: You learn to temporarily alter the physical properties of a nonmagical object, transmuting it from one substance to another for an hour (or less if your concentration is broken).
For every 10 minutes you spend on this process, you can convert an additional cubic foot of material from wood, stone (but not a gemstone), iron, copper, or silver, transforming it into a different one of those materials.
The effect lasts for one hour, after which the material reverts to its original substance.
A really fun, creative ability that is ripe for shenanigan-heavy play centered around crafting and trickery, but it can also be put to more serious use as a way to bypass traps, solve puzzles, and generally navigate dungeons.
Transmuter’s Stone: Over the course of eight hours, you create a transmuter’s stone that acts as a repository for small amounts of transmutation magic.
Once created, you can either use the stone yourself or give it to another creature, where it confers its gift as long as the stone is in its possession.
A transmuter’s stone can be made to grant one of the following properties…
- Darkvision out to a range of 60 feet
- An increase to speed of 10 feet while the creature is unencumbered
- Proficiency in Constitution saving throws
- Resistance to acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage (your choice whenever you choose this benefit)
Then, whenever you cast a transmutation spell of 1st level or higher (note that this doesn’t mean you need to expend a spell slot; innate spellcasting or quite possibly casting via an item should work as well) and the stone is in your possession, you can switch your stone to confer a different benefit.
If you ever create a new transmuter’s stone, the previous one ceases to function.
This is a deceptively powerful buff when combined with effective scouting and research.
Knowing that you’re about to encounter a good deal of enemies that deal fire (or acid, cold, etc.) damage means you can make the necessary preparations.
Likewise, if you prepare a spell list with a lot of concentration spells on it, then choosing to give yourself advantage on saving throws can be hugely helpful.
The ability to pass the stone around the party makes it a fantastic, versatile buff for whoever needs it most.
Shapechanger: If you do not already have it written down, add the polymorph spell to your spellbook. From then on, you can cast the polymorph spell with a few limitations.
When doing so, you can target only yourself and transform into a beast whose challenge rating is 1 or lower. However, doing so doesn’t cause you to expend a spell slot.
Once you cast polymorph in this way, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest, though you can still cast it normally using an available spell slot.
While this ability comes a little late in your progression to make you into an especially effective combatant (although turning into a Brown Bear, a Dire Wolf, or a Tiger really can’t hurt), its true power lies in the ability to gain an hour of flight, underwater breathing, or any of the other mobility bonuses that animals can get.
Note that this isn’t the druid’s Wild Shape ability; you’re not restricted to land animals only. You can become a hawk and soar over your enemy’s camp for a scouting mission, or just turn into something completely innocuous and go sit in the corner.
Great stuff, with a whole lot of applications in addition to the animal form basically functioning like a pool of temporary hit points.
Master Transmuter: You learn to unleash all the power within your transmuter’s stone at once to create an enhanced effect.
As an action, you consume the magic within your transmuter’s stone in a single burst. This destroys the stone, which cannot be remade until you have completed a long rest.
When you consume the stone, you choose one of the following effects…
- Major Transformation. You can transmute one nonmagical object—no larger than a 5-foot cube—into another nonmagical object of similar size and mass and of equal or lesser value. You must spend 10 minutes handling the object to transform it.
- Panacea. You remove all curses, diseases, and poisons affecting a creature that you touch with the transmuter’s stone. The creature also regains all its hit points.
- Restore Life. You cast the Raise Dead spell on a creature you touch with the transmuter’s stone without expending a spell slot or needing to have the spell in your spellbook.
- Restore Youth. You touch the transmuter’s stone to a willing creature, and that creature’s apparent age is reduced by 3d10 years to a minimum of 13 years. This effect doesn’t extend the creature’s lifespan.
Okay, so Restore Youth is basically useless and Major Transformation is like a sort of better (sort of worse since you can’t increase the value of the item you transmute) Minor Transmutation and pretty situational.
However, both Panacea and Restore Life are insanely powerful. Panacea is basically a better version of the Greater Restoration spell (no choosing one effect, just a blanket fix) with an unlimited heal on top of it.
Granted, you only get to use this once per day at most, which means you won’t be taking over for the party’s healer any time soon, but that’s still enough to give your party’s tankiest member a whole new lease on life — even better if you’ve polymorphed them into something like a dragon with a bunch of hit points.
Honestly, the amount of staying power that transmutation wizards can give their party is mind boggling. And then, if you fail, you also get access to Raise Dead — something no other wizard can do.
The rationale behind multiclassing — aside from just doing stuff you think is cool, which is definitely the most valid reason to do anything in D&D — is that you want to either compensate for a deficiency in your existing class or complement and build on top of something your class can already do well.
Unfortunately for people who want to build on something that wizards do well, wizards do exactly one thing well (magic), and they do it better than anyone else.
Also, it’s important to note that any multiclass that goes past 3rd level in a non-wizard class means you’re going to miss out on 9th-level spells.
Therefore, I think any “successful” wizard multiclass build is going to largely focus on compensating for the things that the wizard does badly, like surviving and being more useful than a wet sock full of cold spaghetti once their spells run out — hopefully in a fun and interesting way.
If you want to just compensate for a lack of survivability in a much more effective, less interesting way, just go stand behind that big rock over there.
Battle Smith Artificer 3 / Transmutation Wizard X
The Battle Smith allows us to sacrifice a little bit of spellcasting power for some serious melee-combat prowess that’s reliant on our wizard’s Intelligence score rather than Strength or Dexterity.
You also get heavy armor and a robot dog that bites people trying to attack you.
Character Creation: Building a Transmutation Wizard
Let’s take a look at some of the key decisions and things to prioritize when building a transmutation wizard from 1st level.
- Primary: Intelligence
- Tier II: Dexterity, Constitution
- Tier III: Charisma, Wisdom
- Absolute Dump Tier: Strength
Regardless of how you generate your ability scores, when creating a transmutation wizard, Intelligence is going to be far and away your most important stat.
Not only does your Intelligence modifier determine your Spell Attack Bonus and Spell Save DC, but it also denotes how many spells you can hold in your head simultaneously (you can memorize spells equal to your Intelligence modifier + your wizard level — which makes a solid modifier really important at lower levels).
Intelligence also aligns nicely with some very wizard-y skill proficiencies like Arcana and History.
After that, Constitution is essential to make up for the inherent squishiness that wizards suffer from as a result of their puny hit dice (not to mention it’ll help you maintain your concentration) and Dexterity to compensate for your inability to wear armor or carry shields.
Dexterity also allows wizards to be slightly less than useless with simple ranged and finesse weapons, like light crossbows, slings, daggers and darts — although this isn’t as useful as grabbing a good damage cantrip like fire bolt.
You can put points into Wisdom for better results when rolling information gathering skills like Perception and Insight, helping you get your facts straight before you go charging in, wand drawn.
Charisma can be a useful stat in social situations, but your ability scores are probably better used elsewhere since it’s pretty likely someone else in your party is going to be playing a class that naturally leans toward diplomacy.
Lastly, Strength has absolutely zero place on a wizard. None at all. Put your lowest score into Strength and leave it alone.
Unless you’re using a custom lineage from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, you’re going to want to pick a race that boosts one or more of your key ability score modifiers at 1st level (Dexterity, Constitution, and most importantly Intelligence).
Anything that gives a +2 bonus to Intelligence is pretty much immediately a top-tier choice.
Beyond that, unique features, like innate spellcasting and other special abilities, are never a bad thing.
Rock Gnome: A great thematic and mechanical candidate for the transmutation wizard, Rock Gnomes give a powerful +2 Intelligence bonus with +1 to our Constitution as well, not to mention advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma Saving Throws against magical effects.
Rock Gnomes also have something akin to Expertise when it comes to checks involving machinery and tinkering as well as the ability to make small miraculous inventions, which fits quite nicely with the transmutation wizard’s eccentric alchemist schtick.
High Elf: A +2 Dexterity and +1 Intelligence bonus are a solid base for a more survivable wizard. High Elves also get an additional free cantrip from the wizard spell list and the elven resistance to charm and sleep effects.
Perhaps not the absolute perfect fit for a wizard build but still pretty close; it’s an iconic archetype for a reason.
Custom Lineage: The new-ish rules for creating custom characters from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are a solid foundation for just about any class that can get away with being single-ability dependent, especially if that class can benefit from a feat at 1st level.
For the transmutation wizard, a +2 Intelligence bonus and ready access to something with a lot of immediate utility, like Eldritch Adept or Keen Mind.
Backgrounds are both a great way to help flesh out your character’s personal history and your primary source of skills.
Each background also has its own special feature – something which I maintain remains a woefully underused aspect of D&D.
For example, the Criminal’s natural ability to draw upon a network of contacts for information, leads, and jobs or the fact that the Sage’s Researcher feature means that, even if they can’t recall a piece of lore, they know exactly where to go to get it.
Background features are a fantastic way to make your character feel like a part of the world in which they live as well as gain access to useful things in that world — whether that means lore, quests, assistance from factions, or even some free retainers.
Some options that fit neatly into the wizard’s mechanical and thematic needs include the Sage, which gives you proficiency in Arcana and History.
Also, when you attempt to learn or recall a piece of lore, if you do not know that information, you often know where and from whom you can obtain it.
This can be a hugely helpful way to avoid your party spending whole sessions blundering around in the dark — assuming your DM is okay with you all heading “off to the library” yet again.
Aside from the Sage, other solid contenders for wizard backgrounds include the Cloistered Scholar, the Courtier, or the Noble.
The wizard class is given the ability to choose two skills: Arcana, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, and Religion.
- Arcana (INT) – Arcana lets you analyze magical artifacts, read arcane runes, and generally be a big know-it-all when it comes to the mystical arts. This is basically the wizard skill.
- History (INT): Works like Arcana for mundane affairs. A great way to gather new information about the world from the DM.
- Insight (WIS): A useful way to read someone’s intentions and intuitively understand the world around you but perhaps best left to less-cerebral party members.
- Investigation (INT): Analyze the world around you for new information. Another great way to get valuable stuff out of the DM.
- Medicine (WIS): Actually kind of thematically on brand for a transmutation wizard, even though magical healing isn’t something you’ll be doing until way, way later.
- Religion (INT): Worth picking up if it fits with your backstory, but otherwise History will do you fine.
Feats are an optional rule that allows you to forgo an ability-score increase in favor of a special ability or bonus that can (in some cases radically) alter the way your character works.
Here are some solid options for a transmutation wizard.
Eldritch Adept: A really useful option that gives you access to an Eldritch Invocation from the warlock spell list. The strongest, most versatile choice here (that solves the big humanoid-shaped gap in your Shapechanger ability) is being able to cast Disguise Self at will.
Keen Mind: An interesting feat with lots of applications for exploration and mystery-heavy games.
In addition to always knowing which way is north and how many hours are left until sunset, you also gain a photographic memory that lasts a month. Basically free license to ask the DM to repeat important details you, the player, forgot.
Telekinetic (Intelligence): You gain a soft ASI in one mental stat of your choice, an invisible version of Mage Hand that you can cast without components, and you can use your bonus action to shove people with the hand.
Wizards rarely have stuff to do with their bonus action, and the shove can do a lot to get enemies out of Opportunity Attack range.
You can read our full guide to the best wizard feats here.
Example Transmutation Wizard Build From 1st to 20th level
For this build, we’re looking for a classic transmutation wizard who focuses heavily on supporting allies, getting under their enemies’ feet, and controlling the environment.
Its influence is more subtle than a fireball-slinging evoker, but this subclass is no less effective.
We’re applying ability scores generated in Standard Array from the PHB (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8).
If you’re using 4d6 drop-one, Point Buy, or another method, just make sure to prioritize Intelligence, followed by Dexterity and Constitution, with your lowest value in Strength.
The only levels mentioned for the purpose of these builds are those when you reach a decision point.
- Race: Rock Gnome
- Size: Small
- Speed: 25 feet
- Background: Sage
- Ability Scores: STR 8, DEX 14, CON 14, INT 17, WIS 12, CHA 10
- Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Insight, Investigation, History
- Language Proficiencies: Common, Gnomish
- Darkvision: 60feet
- Tool Proficiencies: None
- Equipment: A quarterstaff, arcane focus, a scholar’s pack, a spellbook, a bottle of ink, a quill, a small knife, a letter from a dead colleague posing a question you have not yet been able to answer, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 10gp
You gain access to 1st-level spell slots (you can copy six into your book to start and learn two more each time you level up, as well as copy spells you find into your book) and learn three cantrips.
Aside from perennial favorite cantrips like Mage Hand, Fire Bolt, and Minor Illusion or 1st-level spells like Magic Missile and Burning Hands, try these strong options from the Transmutation Spell list.
- Feather Fall
You gain access to 2nd-level spell slots. In addition to non-transmutation spells like Scorching Ray, good transmutation spells of this level to prepare include:
- Alter Self
- Dragon’s Breath
- Skywrite (Okay, this is technically a really bad spell, but if you’ve ever wanted to trash talk the BBEG from three miles away where everyone can see it, this is how.)
ASI: We’re going to take the Telekinetic feat and choose Intelligence (which now becomes 18).
You gain access to 3rd-level spell slots. In addition to other stuff like fireball, spells of this level to prepare are as follows:
You gain access to 4th-level spell slots.
ASI: +2 Intelligence (20)
You gain access to 5th-level spell slots.
Honestly, this isn’t a great level for transmutation spells, and you might be better off looking at a different school of magic or upcasting a lower-level transmutation spell like Fire Arrows.
- Animate Objects
You gain access to 6th-level spell slots, including these great options:
- Flesh to Stone
- Investiture of Flame/Ice/Stone/Wind
ASI: +2 Constitution (16)
You gain access to 7th-level spell slots with the following great transmutation options:
- Reverse Gravity
You gain access to 8th-level spell slots.
- Mass Polymorph
ASI: +2 Dexterity (16)
You gain access to 9th-level spell slots.
- Time Stop
- True Polymorph: Turn the Tarrasque into a chicken and hit it with a big rock. Congratulations! You win D&D.
ASI: +2 Constitution (18)
Beginner’s Guide to Transmutation Wizards: Making Mages Weird
Transmutation wizards are honestly quite weird. Their spell list is strange and suboptimal — with stuff like Skywriting and Animate Objects instead of good, solid, useful wizard spells like fireball — and their subclass features are kind of all over the place. And I love them.
For me, transmutation wizards really embody the weirdness and whimsy of wizards in classic fantasy — stuff like Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series and the Earthsea books by Ursula Le Guin or even the fantastic Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence from Disney’s Fantasia, set to music of the same name by Dukas.
They have a dash of the wild-eyed, mercury-poisoned alchemists mixing gunpowder and magnets in the hope of turning lead into gold.
They have a touch of the mad scientist about them but also the mystic — the glowering, Rasputin-esque miracle worker who dazzles and disturbs in equal measure.
I think it’s very easy to get hung up on the services that a transmutation wizard can perform for an adventuring party as they gad about in dungeons and fight hordes of goblins.
If that’s all you want, there are better subclasses out there for you.
However, if you want to play a real freaking weirdo who shuffles around in a cloud of foul-smelling fumes, clothes reduced to rags by acid burns, mumbling about “eternal resonances” and “lunar frequency modulations within acceptable tolerances for methulasan drift” or some such excellent arcano-babble, this is the subclass for you.
It’s great for playing people with impish senses of humor, who’ll catapult rocks, spoons and forks at their enemies just as readily as they’ll turn them to stone with a glance.
Transmutation wizards can make terrifying, unhinged, mad, magical scientists, or they can be cryptic little folk full of wisdom and high-pitched giggles.
However you want to play your transmutation wizard, just remember to embrace the mechanical weirdness and mystical (slightly mismatched, sideways) power of this unique subclass and maybe try to express that weirdness in how you roleplay your wizard.
Get real weird with it and, as always, happy adventuring.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.