Dealing with swarms, scrolls, wands and potions

Rules Questions

How would one go about dealing with a swarm? I rarely DM and will be DMing gallows of madness tomorrow and there will a few swarms. I know splash weapons are extremely useful but the touch AC of a spider swarm is 17. Throwing a splash weapon at a grid intersection would only deal splash damage to the surrounding squares (which if I'm correct, is only 1 point of damage). Are there other methods aside from splash weapons in case the players finish out their splash weapons?

If a swarm envelopes a character, would throwing a splash damage weapon on yourself also affect the swarm?

In gallows of madness, there are also wands, scrolls and potions. How would 1st level players (without access to special scrolls or wands) identify what each of these does?

Sovereign Court

Swarm touch ACs are rough, but, barring area magic, there just aren't any better options available for starting PCs. Also, no one but the intended target of a splash weapon will ever take full damage from it; if a creature is engulfed in a swarm which is hit by a splash weapon, the swarm will take full damage and the creature it's engulfing takes splash damage.

PCs will mainly identify magic items via Spellcraft plus detect magic at a DC of 15 + item's caster level. Read magic can also be used to identify scrolls, and Perception can be used to identify potions.

A splash weapon effects the entire swarm and does 150% of the full damage on swarms so if you roll 1d6, and get a 6, then you would do 9 points of damage.

It does not do just 1 point of damage when you aim specifically for the creature and hit it. You only deal splash damage if you miss the intended target.

If you throw a splash weapon on your self you would take full damage, and the swarm would take 1 point. It would be better to throw it at the swarm, and you would then take 1 point of splash damage if you're enveloped.

Scrolls can be identified with spellcraft or the "read magic" spell.

Potions can be identified with the spellcraft skill.

Thanks guys, one of my players is going with the level 1 pregen Valeros as his character and will have a +4 attack roll with the splash weapon. The players are fresh to pathfinder, so I'll give them some advice and maybe recommend that they seriously think about using the aid another action to help him here (there will be three players most likely. The module says it's for four players but the fourth is indisposed indefinitely), maybe against the swarm I'll recommend they seriously think about having the other two players aid another whoever is going to throw the splash weapon for the highest possible attack bonus.

None of these guys have played PF before (they play 5e), so for any possibly tricky fights (like against the swarm) I'll give some advice about preparing ahead (maybe a heads up that they're in the last area of the adventure and what they ought to stock up on).

Against veteran Pathfinders? Let the swarms roll as written.

Against brand new Pathfinders? Swarms at level 1 will be a "feature" to turn them away rather than to get them into the system.

Unless this is for PFS, you could tweak the swarms to be tiny spiders. That means that they will take half damage from weapons.

Other options to tweak the encounter:
- lower the touch AC of the swarm to something more enjoyable
- have the spiders scurry away or around flaming lantern oil
- have flaming torch damage (1d3 +1 fire) work, but without STR bonus
- have the swarm not move fast or at all strategically
- have the swarm not move to attack someone further away than 10 feet
- have the swarm disperse itself after 2 to 4 rounds

Torches and flaming weapons already do do damage to swarms. Links in this rules thread

On Swarms:
* I mostly agree with Rory on either nerfing the swarm, having it harass the players and leave when they do damage to it, slowing it way down, etc.

I've used this to success to introduce parties of Two to swarms and Incorporeal creatures at Lvl 2 very recently. I populated the area with a few items that work against them, gave the swarm a slow move speed so it was avoidable, etc..

It's worth mentioning that Swarms (like all creatures) should have a goal that makes sense, and that goal may be something that isn't "Kill the party grr!" For instance, maybe the swarm only attacks if you enter a nesting area that is clearly crawling with things; defending itself against the invader.

Cattleman wrote:


Torches and flaming weapons already do do damage to swarms. Links in this rules thread

The tweak meant was to bump the damage from 1 point of fire damage that normally works to 1d3+1 fire damage. 1d3+1 is a three-fold increase for torch damage. Still small, but it makes the 1st level players feel like they are doing good!

Scarab Sages

Cattleman wrote:


Torches and flaming weapons already do do damage to swarms. Links in this rules thread

That's not definitively true in Pathfinder. The rule that made it true in 3.5 was not reprinted in Pathfinder. The thread you linked to (on an external site) is also not definitive.

The quotes from James Jacobs do lend credit to the idea, but he has stated many times that he's not a rules source. So it's reasonable to read his posts and rule that way, but it is not clearly how things work in the game, and despite the claim made in the post you linked, there is no consensus or majority opinion. It's something that could really use an FAQ.

All that said, for new players, it's reasonable to allow a torch to work, to keep the party from getting killed. It's just not a guarantee if the go play at a different GM's table that it's going to be ruled in their favor. However, there are issues with that idea in Gallows of Madness that make whether or not a torch can deal damage a moot point.

Some thoughts and spoilers for Gallows...

Gallows of Madness, Part 1:
I'm assuming that you are starting with Part 1?
The issue with using a torch in Gallows is that one of the swarms has the Fiendish template. That makes an already annoying creature even more so, and could make it nearly impossible for a party to win if they don't have the right mix of abilities available. The Fiendish template provides 5 fire resistance, so even if a torch does 1 point of damage, it's not going to get through.

It can also be a problem for a first level party in general, even if they have a wizard or sorcerer casing Burning Hands, because again, 1d4, even if you do time and a half before the energy resistance, can only do 1 point of damage on a max roll.

And, since Alchemist's Fires are the most common splash weapon purchased to combat swarms, you're going to run into a similar issue. You'll need to roll a 4 or better on the damage to do anything, and even on max damage (roll a 6 for 9 points), only 4 is getting through.

So, to break down the different parts of the module...

Part 1 has (potentially) three swarms. The first is a Fiendish Spider Swarm with 9 hit points. If this is a group of completely new characters starting at level 1, and this is not a PFS game, I would remove that encounter. It's just going to make them feel useless.

The second swarm is a Hook Fly Swarm. You only add that if the average party level is 2 or higher, so it's optional. It is not Fiendish (thankfully!), so if they do have splash weapons or burning hands, they might be able to beat it. Still, don't include it for a majority of new players, and definitely not if they are starting at first level.

The third potential swarm is a Hook Fly Swarm that is created when the Hook Fly drains someone of enough Con to trigger their ability. I'm unclear whether it's supposed to be Fiendish or not, since the parent Hook Fly is Fiendish, but I would be kind and say no. It's unlikely to get to that point, unless the group just gets unlucky in the final fight. Removing the spider swarm earlier will help make sure that if it does come to this, the group still has whatever resources they purchased or prepared available to deal with the swarm.

Also, don't forget that there are 2 Acid flasks and 2 Alchemist's Fires in Gellion's room at his house (along with potions to help heal the party). If you do leave the Fiendish Spider Swarm in, those Acid Flasks will be crucial in defeating it.

And, finally Gellion himself has 2 Acid Flasks and 3 Alchemist's Fires, so if they defeat him quickly, and they end up with a swarm, maybe drop a hint that he may not have used all of his splash weapons up yet so that someone goes to get them.

Level 1 dealing with Swarms:

1. Oil and Burning Hands - this has gotten used once in my games; PC wizard has an owl familiar that flies over a square and drops a flask of oil there, then the wizard cast Burning Hands as swarm passed through that square; I added +1 to the Fire damage dealt by the spell and the swarm burned for 1 round afterwards

2. Create Water - this was actually used at a PFS event where I was a player. The PC cleric was desperate for something to do against a Spider Swarm and we were outside so they cast Create Water to try and wash the critters back. The GM actually let him make a weak CMB +1 roll and he succeeded in a "Bull Rush" to hold the swarm back 5' for 1 round

3. Color Spray: nuff said

4. Run away: never underestimate the power of fleeing

5. True Strike: cast before using an Alchemical Splash weapon

I'm sure there's other spells/effects I'm forgetting here. Bottom line, resourceful PCs should be able to deal with these threats. New folks or inexperienced players might need some nudging.

Scarab Sages

Color spray is mind-affecting. Most swarms are mindless and immune to mind-affecting.

The create water tactic is interesting, but falls firmly into table variation and whether the GM allows it.

Thanks for the suggestions guys (adventure is tomorrow though I highly doubt we'll get as far as the first swarm as it's so late game), I think I'll both nerf the swarm and increase possible ways of fighting it (revealing FAR after I get them hooked on PF how a fight with a swarm is supposed to go). The final fight looks harrowing enough to give them their challenge.

They're first time PF players (except for one of them, although he doesn't like PF because of the many numbers, although at level 1 that's almost a non-existent issue, and as they level up they'll hopefully get the hang of the system) and I don't want to scare them off, especially by putting them in a situation where they're low on options.

The flaming torch idea DID sound awesome.....but then Ferious thankfully brought up the resistance issue. I actually looked up several gallows of madness threads and was surprised to discover one thread that actually had a funny insect repellent item they were using.

But yeah, they're definitely not PFS players and I seriously, SERIOUSLY want to get them hooked on PF. I'll nerf that encounter by reducing touch AC, they already deal an automatic 1d6 damage plus poison, that's harrowing enough.

What about

Glue Seal: make 1 5' square sticky; creatures in the square at the time of casting get to make a Ref save; otherwise creatures that fail the Ref save or subsequently move through the square are Entangled unless they make a Combat Maneuver check or Escape Artist check (DC = DC of the spell)


Snapdragon Fireworks: it's only 1d4 Fire but it targets a square and everything in it; it also Dazzles

For that matter, speaking of Dazzled

Flare Burst: everything in a 10' burst is Dazzled; Will negates

Now that's just Sorcerer/Wizard spells. There's also Entangle for Druid or Hunter.

Basically I'm seeing lots of ways to slow a swarm down but not many ways to actually damage them at level 1 unless using Alchemical Splash weapons or Burning Hands.

There WERE crates in the area....I think I'll allow them a strength check to topple one over and smush them. Swarms may be immune to weapon damage, but a giant crate ought to be a different matter.

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