Alter Self 5e complete guide for DnD

Navigating the realm of magic in Dungeons and Dragons can often prove challenging. The aim of this guide is to provide assistance in crafting a spell loadout that remains effective and adaptable across a range of scenarios.

Specifically, we will delve into the details of Alter Self in 5e Dnd, exploring its uses and benefits.

Alter Self

  • 2nd level transmutation
  • Casting Time: 1 action 
  • Range: Self
  • Components: Verbal Somatic
  • Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour
  • Source: Player’s Handbook page 211-212.

You assume a different form

When you cast the spell, choose one of the following options, the effects of which last for the duration of the spell. While the spell lasts, you can end one option as an action to gain the benefits of a different one.

Aquatic Adaptation

You adapt your body to an aquatic environment, sprouting gills and growing webbing between your fingers. You can breathe underwater and gain a swimming speed equal to your walking speed.

alter self 5e

Change Appearance

You transform your appearance. You decide what you look like, including your height, weight, facial features, sound of your voice, hair length, coloration, and distinguishing characteristics, if any. You can make yourself appear as a member of another race, though none of your statistics change. 

You also can’t appear as a creature of a different size than you, and your basic shape stays the same; if you’re bipedal, you can’t use this spell to become quadrupedal, for instance. At any time during the duration of the spell, you can use your action to change your appearance in this way again.

Natural Weapons

You grow claws, fangs, spines, horns, or a different natural weapon of your choice. Your unarmed strikes deal 1d6 bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage, as appropriate to the natural weapon you chose, and you are proficient with your unarmed strikes.

Finally, the natural weapon is magical, and you have a +1 bonus to the attack and damage rolls you make using it.

Who can use Alter Self and what level?

  • At level 3, the Wizard and the Sorcerer gain access to Alter Self.
  • At level 6, a Bard from the College of Lore can learn Alter Self.
  • At level 8, an Arcane Trickster can learn Alter Self. Although the chart on page 98 of the Player’s Handbook shows that level 2 spell slots are available at level 7, the trickster is initially limited to having access only to enchantment or illusion spells.
  • At level 8, an Eldritch Knight can learn Alter Self. The knight is also under similar spell constraints as the Arcane Trickster, but with access to abjuration and evocation spells.
  • At level 15, the Warlock can learn to cast Alter Self at will with the Eldritch Invocation of Master of Myriad Forms.

What class features work well with it?

Sorcerer Metamagic

  • Empowered Spell: For 1 sorcery point, the caster can reroll any damage die equal to their Charisma modifier (minimum of one). This is helpful for trying to achieve higher damage rolls. If you’ve rolled the lowest damage, the possibility of higher damage is pretty good.
  • Extended Spell: A Sorcerer can use metamagic on the spell to double its duration to 2 hours for 1 sorcery point. This effect cannot stack or compound, as the rule for metamagic states that each spell can only be under the effect of one type of metamagic unless otherwise stated.
  • Quickened Spell: For 2 sorcery points, a caster can reduce the casting time of Alter Self to a bonus action. This can be an interesting combination as the bonus action leaves the user with an action to be able to attack with the spell or use another cantrip spell.
  • Subtle Spell: For 1 sorcery point, Alter Self can be cast without somatic or verbal components. This is a very useful spell in case the Sorcerer has their hands bound and their mouth gagged. (see Use Section)


War Caster is a feat that can be taken instead of taking an ability score improvement. At the earliest, this feat is available at level 4 for most classes. With the War Caster feat, the caster has advantage on Constitution saving throws to maintain concentration on a spell when they have taken damage.

This is incredibly useful because it doubles the chance to keep a spell like Alter Self in combat. Losing the aquatic adaptation would be quite problematic for a caster in the water because almost all spells have a verbal component. No air means no spoken word, and no spoken word means no casting of spells.

alter self 5e dnd

How do I use Alter Self?


Alter Self has a fairly straightforward combat effect, allowing the caster to choose an altered version of themselves with natural weapons that deal 1d6 damage, added proficiency, and +1 damage and +1 attack rolls. The damage type will be reflected by the altered shapes: bludgeoning for flat armor plating, piercing for spines, and slashing for blades. With this effect, the caster could also exploit any weaknesses by shifting forms between attacks.

Note that it takes an action to change shape and then another action to attack. The classification of magic weapons can be useful against enemies that are resistant or immune to regular weapons, such as elementals or ghosts.

The 1d6 damage is also a bonus, as a regular unarmed strike normally deals just 1 damage + Strength modifier. In general, this type of melee combat is a last resort because casters tend to prefer keeping their distance when dealing damage. Additionally, Alter Self requires concentration, which has the possibility of being broken when taking any incoming damage.

Alternatively, the caster could use the water breathing adaptation for combat by dragging opponents into the water. In deep water combat, fighters would have to worry about managing their air supply and face disadvantages in weapons damage. Without a swimming speed, attack rolls with slashing or bludgeoning weapons have disadvantage to hit.

Piercing weapons have normal advantage because the mechanism of injury is not affected by the viscosity of water. Ranged attacks also have shortened effective ranges and disadvantage, except for the crossbow, net, or thrown piercing weapons like javelins or darts.


Alter Self really excels in the adventure aspect of the game. It is the earliest spell to learn that provides a source of water breathing. The quick cast time is useful anytime the caster is thrown out from a ship and into the water, preventing drowning. There are also traps that can fill an enclosed room with water. While this doesn’t solve the problem of being trapped, it does provide a longer buffer time to find a means of escape.

Keep in mind that Alter Self is limited to the caster, so the other party members will be left to hold their breath. In emergency situations, Alter Self can also be useful for a hasty escape into a large body of water. It might be better to risk a cliff dive into the ocean instead of facing certain death on the cliff. While not capable of flight, the caster could grow wings to at least have some control over the descent. Alternative uses are covered in the following section.

Alter Self is excellent for escaping capture. The spell lacks a material component, so as long as she is bound and gagged, the spell can be executed. Once the spell is cast, the sorcerer can alter their form into a physical form that can loosen the bindings or slip out entirely. This tactic works well for any low-level or physical means of binding a character.

If the bindings are particularly tight, I recommend repeatedly expanding and shrinking the bound appendages to loosen the binding, and then take a form that is slender enough to pull out completely. Beware that there are bindings specifically made to restrict magical abilities and have inherent disenchanting properties to prevent any spellcasting.

Role Play


In the role-playing aspect of the game, Alter Self was built for impersonation. The standard use is for infiltration and information gathering. The wizard poses as the target, takes on the target’s appearance, and makes their way through the front door and into the stronghold. To gather information, the wizard could pose as the recipient of information at a secret and discreet location.

Make sure to note to your DM that you are tracking a target’s mannerisms and tone of voice to maximize the utility of Alter Self in becoming another person. This is especially important if the target is of a different exotic race or possesses a strong accent or inflection in their voice. It is also important to note, in these types of exchanges, any codes or passwords that are often used before or during the meeting.

Frame a target

Alternatively, Alter Self can be used to frame the target and remove them from the picture. Ruin that noble’s reputation by letting them be seen in the seedier parts of town. Blatantly steal something from a shop and lead the guards to your target’s home, then alter yourself after turning the corner. 

Assuming the caster’s attention to detail is exact, they could even leave the target’s fingerprints all over the scene of the crime. My personal favorite is to stalk within earshot of the target while altering myself to look like a regular commoner. If the target is familiar with your face, change it into one they don’t know or don’t care about.


Additionally, Alter Self can be used for fun role-playing shenanigans. Use it to perform underwater as a merfolk. A wizard could be a distraction and do a comedy routine where they impersonate different audience members, altering their vocal chords between each impersonation. Take bets at the local bar on who can hold their breath the longest in the water. With a one-hour concentration time, the sorcerer would be quite difficult to beat at that.


My favorite was an infiltration of the thieves’ hideout. The front of the shop was a barber’s, so I used Alter Self to grow out my hair into a tangled web of fluff. As the barber cut the hair, I slowly grew it back every time he looked away. All of this happened while the rest of the party snuck in. I’ve also used Alter Self as a horror distraction to simulate a poisoning gone wrong, becoming a shifting mass of body parts, skin, and hair, all while groaning in pain.

Alternative Uses

While the spell description clearly states the effects of the spell, consult with your DM about alternative creative uses of the spell. For combat, I asked the DM about the permanence of the spell. My DM ruled that salvaged altered body parts could remain tangible as long as I retained concentration on the spell AND did not switch to the other aspects of the Alter Self spell.

In one case, my party had been captured, and our supplies were taken away. I used Alter Self to create spines and claws that could be broken off. The rogue used these spines as makeshift lock picks to free the rest of the party from chains. The party members used the spines as makeshift weapons and ammo until we retrieved our gear. I then used Alter Self to pose as a guard and lead my imprisoned team out of the compound.

For adventuring, I specified to my DM that my Wizard was to practice with Alter Self before every long rest. During that practice time, my wizard would experiment and become familiar with exotic races, gaining experience in having extra appendages.

I wanted to focus on races with camouflaged skin, horns, tails, and wings. With the tail, I would have an extra appendage to grapple or attack with. Changing skin could enhance my ability to hide and sneak. I had purchased custom clothing to accommodate the new body parts. With the wings, I hoped for flight, but I would settle for controlled gliding.

I aimed for an alternative use of the aquatic adaptation, merely adapting for quality of life alterations that would ease the adventure. My argument was that with the aquatic adaptation, the alteration to the body was not a small feat. For example, in the desert, I used Alter Self to grow clear eyelids to see through the sand blowing in my face. I also grew horns around and over my eyes to shield them from the sun.

What are some comparable spells to Alter Self?

For Damage

Alter Self” is quite poor both in range and in damage potential, especially for a level 2 spell. This is why I reiterate that the combat aspect of the spell is typically a last resort. In one turn, the maximum damage “Alter Self” can do is 7 damage of magical piercing, bludgeoning, or slashing to a single enemy. If damage is the goal, then there are other spells that are better at achieving that goal.

  • Shatter” is a comparable level 2 spell that does 3d6 thunder damage to all entities occupying a 10-foot sphere.
  • “Cloud of Daggers” creates spinning daggers in a 5-foot cube and deals 4d4 slashing damage to each enemy in the cube. This spell also lasts for up to 1 minute.
  • “Scorching Ray” creates 3 attacks that can be directed at multiple targets or a single target, with each dealing 2d6 damage on a hit, so up to 6d6 fire damage on one creature.
  • Alternatively, most level 1 spells that deal damage can be cast at level 2 for increased damage or duration, such as “Witch Bolt” or “Magic Missile”.
  • At 0 spell slot cost, most cantrips can also outdamage “Alter Self” and require no concentration. The close-range cantrip “Shocking Grasp” also makes a melee attack and has the potential to do a maximum of 8 lightning damage. Additionally, “Shocking Grasp” has advantage to hit enemies wearing metal armor.

For Adventure

For infiltration, “Invisibility” would be a comparable spell. The caster touches a creature to become invisible for 1 hour. The invisibility will drop if the creature attacks or casts spells. The bonus of this spell is that it can be cast by another magic user. So, the infiltrator can be invisible on another party member’s concentration, and if he is caught, he can alter himself into the form of a typical guardsman before losing the invisibility.

For travel in water, the spell “Water Breathing” grants 10 creatures the caster can see the ability to breathe in water for 24 hours. However, it is a level 3 spell. “Fly” would also be a comparable spell for adventuring travel utility. There may be no need to traverse the dangerous water if one can simply fly over the hazards. However, “fly” is also a level 3 spell and has a 10-minute concentration.

For Role Play

For role play, a comparable spell would be “Disguise Self.” This is essentially a comparison between an illusion, looking like someone, versus a transmutation, actually becoming that person and sounding like them. “Disguise Self” is a cheaper cost of a level 1 spell slot, does not require concentration, and does not require a change of clothes. However, once “Disguise Self” is cast, the image cannot be changed.

“Alter Self” can be changed roughly every 6 seconds except for the clothing. Because it is an illusion, others can try to spot the illusion of “Disguise Self” with an Intelligence check, while “Alter Self” will typically depend on the caster’s own skill of deception.

Alternatively, these two spells can be used in conjunction with each other: using “Alter Self” to become the target while using “Disguise Self” to don the target’s typical clothing while keeping the caster’s armaments.

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