Swarms: how to deal with them, how to run them


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So there's apparently a lot of contention regarding these little guys. Some people seem to view them as unfun, party killing random encounters, while others say a PC should be prepared to deal with all sorts of threats, and woe to those that are not.

What do you think? How do you put swarms in your PC's road and not feel like a huge jerk? What are some ways to deal with them as a player? Is this an issue with swarms, with the rules system in general, or with setting up and running encounters?

Grand Lodge

It's partly about player mindset.

Lots want to focus on their game, but some can't find a response when some enemies/encounters/else negate them to an extent. There's a balance to reach with defending self enough to be able to play as one wants.


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I think a lot of this got mis-communicated in the previous thread. I’m hesitant to suggest a lot of straw man was going on but this definitely isn’t the point I was making.

I don inherently have a problem with swarms.

I have a problem with the philosophy that if you’re not prepared for them by some arbitrary level, then it’s more important for a GM to maintain the integrity of their random encounter generator than it is for there players to have fun. Ergo it is the job of the GM to intentionally and knowingly TPK his party regardless of if that will be fun at all. Because it is there fault for not playing the game as said GM expects them too.

I have a problem with that.


Swarms are fine and I tend to use them fairly regularly, but not 'often'. I make sure to use swarms that aren't going to simply ignore weapon damage when the party has no other way to deal with them. ("A swarm made up of Tiny creatures takes half damage from slashing and piercing weapons.")

As a GM, I know my players and their character's abilities. It is my job to challenge them and make encounters fun at the same time. Seeing them succeed is how I get my enjoyment, as well as seeing the looks that cross their face as the react to the situations. When they are sure they are going to die and then manage to turn the tables, their sense of accomplishment is my own.

As a player, I tend to prepare for as many different problems, as any adventurer worth that title should do. Otherwise they don't tend to live very long in that lifestyle. It is also the role I like to play the most in these kinds of games. Support.

Grand Lodge

Our GM recently deployed several swarms against our ill-prepared 3rd level party. Only one PC (mine) had bothered to acquire anti-swarm weapons. Fortunately my PC had several extra flasks of Alchemist Fire and distributed them as needed. So we were fine. Other PCs took note and now carry anti-swarm weapons.


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Swarms are puzzle monsters first and foremost. Fooling them or scaring them or flying over them or dealing with their summoner or whatever is the smart way to deal with them. Going into a slogging match with several hundred rats is the stupid way to deal with them.

Sovereign Court

Like Incorporeals, various DR/Resist, Flying Enemies, Invisible Enemies, Darkness, Movement (swimming/climbing/flying), social and chase mechanics its just something that I expect to have to have an answer to on pretty much every character.


What level do you expect a character to be before it has answers to

Dr/various types
Flying
Invisibility
Darkness
All terrains
Social situations
Chase mechanics
Swarms

Because I can think of several characters that I’ve made and seen made on these boards that don’t tick all those boxes. Also at a certain level lots of traditional ways round those problems stop working.

For example, alchemist fire is not going to work for ever against on CR swarms. Darkness can be made to bypass basic dark vision. There are lots of things like this that can come up.

Heck I’m pretty sure several classes can’t answer all those problems effectively without obscure archetypes being pulled in. Or indeed a case of shrodingers character, where so much of our resources are given over to being an all rounder that if we were to actually do that in game we’d end up average at a lot of stuff. Not good at much and badly behind on wealth by level.

It’s all very well saying every character should be prepared for everything, but when you are a concept in mind sometimes you don’t want to sacrifice that to be meh at a load of niche garbage. Especially when some classes have to bend over backwards to achieve all that.

Isn’t the point of a party that you don’t have to be able to deal with every situation? And if your party happens to have a deadly blind spot are we saying we must kill them with it to maintain the integrity of our world/random encounter generator?

Silver Crusade

The problem isn't swarms of creatures that can be damaged by weapons, or other low-level swarms. It's higher CR enemies like a Plague Locust Swarm. With 90 HP, things like alchemist fire probably aren't a viable solution.

Sovereign Court

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
What level do you expect a character to be before it has answers to

Dr/various types: Cold Iron Dagger (4gp), Alchemical Silver Kunai(22gp), Durable Adamantine Bolt(61gp) & Light Crossbow(35gp) gets you past most DR and are all simple weapons.

Flying: See Light Crossbow
Invisibility: Powder (1cp), eventually wands of Glitterdust/Faerie Fire
Darkness: Normal Darkness-Light cantrip or Ioun Torch, Magical Darkness-Oil of Daylight(750gp) or better yet: spellcasting service Heightened(to 4th) Continual Flame(330gp)
All terrains: Rope and Pitons (see Kunai), climbing kit, mw tools
Social situations: take a trait if its not a class skill or switch ability score, there are several mundane items that help (clothes, books, mw tools, etc).
Chase mechanics: something to add move speed(scroll of Expeditious Retreat for example), since most chase have +4 to all checks per 10' speed over 30
Swarms: Acid flask (10gp) since generally most people will be taking Alchemical Fires

You can mitigate most just by gold, and just throw it all into your handy haversack.

Hellwasp Swarm is probably a worse CR 8. Slightly lower damage, but Fire Resist 10 and DR 10/good even if you happen to have a Swarmbane Clasp.

Silver Crusade

Higher life forms shouldn't have been able to evolve on Golarion. The swarms should have wiped them all out. :)

In Pathfinder, locusts can kill elephants. In real life, not so much.


PCScipio wrote:
The problem isn't swarms of creatures that can be damaged by weapons, or other low-level swarms. It's higher CR enemies like a Plague Locust Swarm. With 90 HP, things like alchemist fire probably aren't a viable solution.

Not at all. By the time they're fighting CR 8 and expecting to win, the party really should already have some means of damaging the swarm. It's always been stuff like mosquito swarms (CR 3) that caused a lot of problems. You can run into those your first day out.

From a design standpoint, swarms are fine. Just keep in mind that the "hive mind" of most swarms doesn't act like an intelligent creature (there are exceptions). In that case, the swarm should behave more or less like a force of nature rather than a creature. A single rat is relatively smart and cunning. A rat swarm isn't cunning at all--it won't behave much differently than Int-less vermin. It'll just pick a direction (such as "toward food" or "away from big fire") and do its thing.

(edit)

That should provide ample opportunity for players to play smartly when they can't hurt the swarm directly. In one example, my 2nd level party had to retreat from a single mosquito swarm. They split up, and the PC still being followed jumped in a pond, submerged, and held their breath until the swarm lost interest and flew off. (They were about to cut a reed to breathe through but ended up not needing to.)

If you're designing dungeons/adventures/whatever, always leave more than one means to accomplish a goal. This goes for everything, not just "get past the swarm".


PCScipio wrote:
In Pathfinder, locusts can kill elephants. In real life, not so much.

That's only because of the oversimplification of combat and damage. Personally, I think a certain level of natural armor ought to protect you from insect bites.

But, locusts can kill elephants in real life, though not through biting them to death. More like suffocating it by clogging it's nasal passages through sheer numbers.


Firebug wrote:
Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
What level do you expect a character to be before it has answers to

Dr/various types: Cold Iron Dagger (4gp), Alchemical Silver Kunai(22gp), Durable Adamantine Bolt(61gp) & Light Crossbow(35gp) gets you past most DR and are all simple weapons.

Flying: See Light Crossbow
Invisibility: Powder (1cp), eventually wands of Glitterdust/Faerie Fire
Darkness: Normal Darkness-Light cantrip or Ioun Torch, Magical Darkness-Oil of Daylight(750gp) or better yet: spellcasting service Heightened(to 4th) Continual Flame(330gp)
All terrains: Rope and Pitons (see Kunai), climbing kit, mw tools
Social situations: take a trait if its not a class skill or switch ability score, there are several mundane items that help (clothes, books, mw tools, etc).
Chase mechanics: something to add move speed(scroll of Expeditious Retreat for example), since most chase have +4 to all checks per 10' speed over 30
Swarms: Acid flask (10gp) since generally most people will be taking Alchemical Fires

You can mitigate most just by gold, and just throw it all into your handy haversack.

Hellwasp Swarm is probably a worse CR 8. Slightly lower damage, but Fire Resist 10 and DR 10/good even if you happen to have a Swarmbane Clasp.

How many characters have you made that could contribute effectively to combat with a dagger, a Kunai and a crossbow? I’ve made literally none. Use em sure, do anything worth while with em? No.

For one, pulling out a crossbow or a dagger on 95% of characters is about the same as casting a cantrip damage spell at the target.

Vast swathes of characters I’ve created cannot cast heightened continual flame and prepping that spell is something I’d never even consider unless I knew for certain I’d need it. At which case that’s not being prepared for any situation that’s preparing for one in particular.

Pulling out a climbing kit in combat? Literally never seen anyone do it and don’t think it’s a good idea. What’s to stop whatever you’re climbing to killing you on the way up?

Plenty of classes don’t have any movement speed boosts and builds that incorporate feats that achieve them are rare. Let’s be real, the only reliable used mechanics hear are haste and people who got flight, which a lot of characters won’t get for several levels.

What happens when swarms start to have a decent chunk of hit points, suddenly 1d6x1.5 isn’t going to cut it and there are swathes of classes that don’t get anything better.

I’ll give you social situations, none magical darkness and Invisibility as things you can reliably circumvent with this list.

The rest of the solutions will quickly become impractical or were never practical to begin with. A party carrying round this tool kit would be s&+& out of luck pulling out light crossbows and kunai and plinking away hoping for the best against pretty much any flying target above say... cr5?

Being moderately successful to bad at everything isn’t really practical or as fun as just having different party members excel in different areas, also using all the tools in your wheel house you still fall short against any high Cr swarm unless you have a caster who is prepping multiple blasts per day.

Which is the very mob that started this thread.


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Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:

What level do you expect a character to be before it has answers to

Dr/various types
Flying
Invisibility
Darkness
All terrains
Social situations
Chase mechanics
Swarms

This is like asking who writes a character to deal with traps. Every wizard I've ever run has Burning Hands ready at first level because its a brutally effective spell at that level. Oh, and it is good against swarms.

Swarms, traps, invisibility, darkness, social situations and even chase mechanics aren't something everybody in the party needs to be able to handle. They are things that the Party as a whole needs to be able to handle. As long as at least one person can, it should be fine.

And when you notice that nobody can, you need to talk to your party members and see what you can do to cover it.

At first level you can end up facing enemies you can't fight in melee. Swarms, flying creatures, or just guys standing on top of a cliff or on the other side of a chasm. The answer to all of that is as easy as carrying a bow. As long as you are proficient with it you aren't helpless. Dealing with situations you're character isn't prepared to handle is very, very common in adventuring. If you aren't use to that sort of thing, your GM hasn't been challenging your group. A large portion of the enjoyment gained from adventuring has to do with devising a strategy to overcome obstacles. Not just picking from the 3 things your character is built to do or rolling high enough on a d20.

Anyways, to address OP's concerns: swarms make for poor random encounters. To keep swarms from becoming TPW you need to give the swarm 'goals' and 'behaviors'. If the players do the things that trigger the swarm, it comes. If the players decide to run, have the swarm follow the behaviors you set up. There shouldn't really be a reason that most swarms would follow a group of fleeing adventurers. But sometimes there will be reasons.

If the swarm lives in a certain area, it attacks when disturbed and the attacks end when the party retreats. If the swarm is attracted to an object, they swarm around that object. If the swarm is controlled then killing the controller should disburse the swarm as well. Don't just plop a problematic encounter into a random hallway, create a situation where the monster makes sense to you.


Enemies with flat immunities or ridiculous resistances are annoying but that's not what bothers me about swarms. It's that they, as Durgon has said, often just don't matter and yet are still the source of the nightmare story that so many groups have.

I have played a blaster- an admixture wizard, no less- and I still hated swarms. I saw them as a nuisance that my fellow party members couldn't deal with or combat in any meaningful way, because that's what they are. So much fun to stand around while the elf combusts a barn from 100 feet away. And if I hadn't built a blaster, which most people try not to do? We would have been out of luck for the most part, because ain't no swarmbane clasps lying around in the Stolen Lands, and ain't no towns within 100 miles to buy one at- and that 1d6x1.5 from alchemist's fire isn't going to do much to 6 rat swarms (an actual encounter in Varnhold).

They're not impossible to deal with, they're not impossible to circumvent. They're just annoying, and I dun like em'. As a GM, removing an unfair or annoying encounter won't lessen my fun of the game. I have no obligation to kill my players and I have no obligation to include an enemy that I believe is unfair.

As a player, they're not fun to fight. As a GM, they're not fun to run. Move and automatically damage. Yipee.

Sovereign Court

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
How many characters have you made that could contribute effectively to combat with a dagger, a Kunai and a crossbow?

Dagger, probably 2ish. I have a startoss/flying blade/far strike 'V for Vendetta' style dagger fighter, and my level 1 Medium 'pregen' used daggers for PFS until I found Chosen of Iomedae and Adoptive Parentage(Tengu) for a free MW Longsword and Weapon Focus to push GM credulity on the numbers. That is out of 21 characters for PFS. I have probably 6-7 characters that started out with a Cold Iron or Alchemical Silver Kunai. Never really did the crossbow thing on my characters, usually they had cantrips or a composite longbow. Maybe 8 that took some durable arrows of various special metal types.

However, the point wasn't that it was your main weapon, just a backup if you needed to bypass DR or if you get grappled. What do you expect the 2h barbarian to do once he's grappled? All three of those weapons are simple proficiency and relatively cheap. And Kunai counts as a Crowbar and a Piton. Spring loaded Wrist Sheathes(Dagger and Kunai) and you don't even need to worry about losing an action to switch. You can always upgrade to the best you are able to use, like an adaptive composite longbow for strength characters. Might have a harder time hitting, but strength characters tend to be full BAB anyway.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Vast swathes of characters I’ve created cannot cast heightened continual flame and prepping that spell is something I’d never even consider unless I knew for certain I’d need it.

Spellcasting Services, you must have missed that. Its where you pay someone(NPC) to cast a spell for you at the cost of spell level x caster level x 10 gp (+material component costs), right out of the core rulebook. Hence the 330 gp. Not legal for PFS since I don't believe you can add metamagic to spellcasting services, but taking out the primary tactic of several groups of enemies (drow, shadow demons, divs, devils, etc) for such a low cost is decent.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Pulling out a climbing kit in combat?

Who said climbing in combat? That said, I have had a few characters who needed to make climb checks in combat. One particularly notable instance occurred when the party HP battery... um, life oracle was tossed into lava off a bridge and couldn't pull himself out for at least 3 turns because he had a negative on the check. Granted, his str was like 6 anyway so carrying gear around would have been trouble. A cheap ioun stone might have helped a little though.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
The rest of the solutions will quickly become impractical or were never practical to begin with. A party carrying round this tool kit would be s+*& out of luck pulling out light crossbows and kunai and plinking away hoping for the best against pretty much any flying target above say... cr5?

Tangleshot Arrows vs touch AC are a thing. At least you would be contributing instead of standing there waiting to die taking full defense. Most low level things are flying via wings, and even a point of damage forces a flying check or fall.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
What happens when swarms start to have a decent chunk of hit points, suddenly 1d6x1.5 isn’t going to cut it and there are swathes of classes that don’t get anything better.

I mean... I have at least 4 characters who ended up getting +int to splash weapons (underground chemist or alchemist), and at least 2 of those took at least 1 level of medium(and spirit focus) for another +4 to damage... and they took Hybridization Funnel to double up splash weapons. So 1d6+10 X 1.5 X 2 ends up being fairly effective... considering it can come online by level 2.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Being moderately successful to bad at everything isn’t really practical or as fun as just having different party members excel in different areas, also using all the tools in your wheel house you still fall short against any high Cr swarm unless you have a caster who is prepping multiple blasts per day.

I suppose I am coming at it from the PFS perspective where you can't rely on the same party every session and need a few tricks to keep the party alive.

In my mind, it comes down to: Are you a professional adventurer who prepares for the unknown, or a one trick pony just wanting to do their one trick.


Meirril wrote:


This is like asking who writes a character to deal with traps. Every wizard I've ever run has Burning Hands ready at first level because its a brutally effective spell at that level. Oh, and it is good against swarms.

But the problem isn’t first level swarms, alchemist fire is fine for a fire level swarm, the problem is when we randomly encounter a hellfire swarm or a plague of locust.

Plenty of parties won’t have a dedicated blaster at all and I’d be surprised to see a wizard prep more than one fireball at that level unless he was a dedicated blaster. Or what if your Arcane caster is a witch and there’s not much blasting at all?

Or do we now think every party needs someone running big blasts because I’ve never seen that consensus before.

Suddenly your party of alchemist fire could be doing literally nothing and unless the wizard, you might not have, preps loads of Blast spells, which is rare in my experience, you’re screwed.

Quote:


Swarms, traps, invisibility, darkness, social situations and even chase mechanics aren't something everybody in the party needs to be able to handle. They are things that the Party as a whole needs to be able to handle. As long as at least one person can, it should be fine.

And when you notice that nobody can, you need to talk to your party members and see what you can do to cover it.

That’s exactly my point, but what I’m saying is if you happen to know as a GM that your random encounter generator has spat something out that’s so niche you know it will kill your party, is it still your duty to honour the generator and kill them?

Like say hellfire wasps against any party without a dedicated blaster.

The odd burning hands and a fireball won’t cut it
Alchemist fire does basically nothing

Quote:


At first level you can end up facing enemies you can't fight in melee. Swarms, flying creatures, or just guys standing on top of a cliff or on the other side of a chasm. The answer to all of that is as easy as carrying a bow. As long as you are proficient with it you aren't helpless. Dealing with situations you're character isn't prepared to handle is very, very common in adventuring. If you aren't use to that sort of thing, your GM hasn't been challenging your group. A large portion of the enjoyment gained from adventuring has to do with devising a strategy to overcome obstacles. Not just picking from the 3 things your character is built to do or rolling high enough on a d20.

Why are we fixating on first level when it’s not where the problems are.

Plinking away with a bow at first level is fine even if you’re not built for it.
At level 10 it’s completely pointless.
Pulling out alchemist fire at first level will work, but not forever.

I love this idea that because I advocate not TPK’ing with high CR swarms you all act like I’ve never been challenged in game. It’s such a massive leap that seems only to be taken to discredit me.

@firebug

Firstly I’ll say where I live pathfinder society is not a thing and I have no experience of it so wee are probably coming at this from different perspectives.

But first you highlight that those solutions are about as good as a cantrip, which is my point. Past the very earliest levels they’re worthless, none solutions.

I’d rather the 2handed barb try and brake free than spend the entire fight doing 1D4+7 or whatever he happens to be wasting his time doing.

Paying for it is still prepping for a very specific scenario, not being ready for anything. You’re not always gonna have that NPC on hand to grab a super weird niche spell from.

Heck why are they preparing it or are they just a magical vending machine that can produce whatever you need. My GMs would not in any normal town have an NPC on hand with that weird and almost always pointless spell prepped. And I wouldn’t as a GM either.

Climbing kit out of combat is fine, my problem is when you need to get up there in combat. You probably have characters that can’t and characters that can. Hence I find this “every character must do everything” felicity frustrating.

The DC on that arrow is literally 10, so again I say, where are the solutions for character higher than the lowest possible levels?

I try not to do the same thing twice on my characters and I’ve never heard of that build. Nor do I like the idea of dedicating so much resources to being really good at splash weapons at low levels, but then still being irrelevantly weak at high levels.

Not being prepared for every situation =/= one trick pony.


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Swarms can be fun if players and their characters are aware of them. If PCs are taken by surprise by, say, some CR-appropriate humanoids, said humanoids might get off a couple shots at the PCs' Flat Footed AC, or the villains might be able to lob a spell.

A swarm is like being hit by a million tiny terminator robots. They can't be bargained with, or reasoned with, and they absolutely will not stop... EVER... until you are dead. The swarm deals auto damage, inflicts a condition, maybe 2, and can even obscure the terrain in certain situations. Add in that, if the PLAYERS are taken by surprise, i.e. don't know how to deal with the critters, this feels like an insta-kill and you as the GM are the one mashing that red button.

I like to give my players fair warning.

In one instance, in a tomb, I left clues of a "cloud of bones" that consumes trespassers. The locale was decorated by elaborate ossuary motifs. Once in the deepest crypts of the complex, the ossuary designs also contained skulls. As the party entered, the skulls released to be a flying skull swarm. The PCs had prepped with flasks of holy water that they used to great effect but only after taking significant damage themselves.

In another instance I had a group of elite Mites with PC levels commanding hordes of insects throughout underground caves. 3 of the buggers got together, somewhere in the darkness ahead of the party and the PCs could hear a sonorous humming. As the PCs advanced, a few normal centipedes could be seen in the cracks of the cavern walls; after another round there were dozens more, oozing out of the walls. By round three a centipede swarm had formed up in front of the party, but by then the players had been smart enough to use Knowledge checks and their own PCs' common sense knowing that the mites could command bugs, and they guessed that a swarm was coming. Several Acid Flasks and a Fire Breath spell later and the centipedes were finito.

My players in the last encounter liked the cinematic use of the swarm forming together so I've used that one in the past. I made a "chase scene" out of stopping a mass of Tiny sized fire elementals from forming a fire elemental swarm. I think this stems from the fact that, during the "formation" period I allow my players the chance to either get ready to encounter the inevitable swarm or take actions to try and prevent the encounter from happening, the swarm from coming together. They feel a sense of control maybe.

Mechanically swarms are just one more unique type of monster to deal with. Encounter a Demon type you're unprepared for, and with all it's DRs and immunities, along with lots of HP, it might be laughing off your spellcasters while happily shredding a martial on the front lines. Swarms are the same deal.


Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Quote:


Swarms, traps, invisibility, darkness, social situations and even chase mechanics aren't something everybody in the party needs to be able to handle. They are things that the Party as a whole needs to be able to handle. As long as at least one person can, it should be fine.

And when you notice that nobody can, you need to talk to your party members and see what you can do to cover it.

That’s exactly my point, but what I’m saying is if you happen to know as a GM that your random encounter generator has spat something out that’s so niche you know it will kill your party, is it still your duty to honour the generator and kill them?

Like say hellfire wasps against any party without a dedicated blaster.

The odd burning hands and a fireball won’t cut it
Alchemist fire does basically nothing

To this point I think you make an excellent one C to the Durg. Not every party, even at high level, will have all the resources needed to deal with every niche encounter. However allow me humbly to submit that PCs have resources to tap into.

A CR8 Hellwasp Swarm has a Stealth of +24, pretty decent, but an 8th level PC with Wis as a primary attribute and Perception as a Class skill could easily be rocking a +16 Perception with only 1 rank/level and a 20 Wis - doable at this level. In my own home game there's an 8th level druid with a +20 Perception who routinely casts a level 1 spell on herself that puts that at +24. Add in that often times PCs can see in the dark by this level and we can reasonably assume that there is at least SOME chance that the PCs might be able to spot the swarm before it is physically encountered.

Based on the limits of Low Light vision, many encounters begin at an encounter distance of 80'. While the swarm is surprisingly hard to detect it has only a +4 Perception itself and is constrained by the 60' limits of Darkvision. A stealthy level 8 PC has the chance of spotting IT before they themselves are seen.

But let's say that, worse case scenario: at 80' the PCs fail to notice the swarm. The party's stealthy PC moves 20' in Stealth (ignoring an Invisibility spell/consumable magic item/ability which I'd figure would be kind of a standard thing by this level for a stealth-based PC) and is somehow detected by the Perception +4 swarm.

On a Surprise round a foe can either Move OR take a Standard, not both. If the swarm with it's 6 Int decides to lie in wait for the PC to move another 20', they certainly can but the PC gets another chance to notice the threat in front of them. Otherwise if the swarm acts while the PC is at 60' and it has no Ranged attacks, it's 40' Fly speed isn't enough to get it around the PC.

Now we move to Round 1. The swarm has a +10 Initiative, which is impressive. However this is not a guarantee that it goes first. From this round 1 the only way that a Hellwasp Swarm random encounter is a TPK for the party this would have to mean that:

1. the PCs failed to detect the swarm until they were within it's Move speed range

2. the entire party was caught unawares and bunched together within 10' of one another

3. any spellcaster within the area of the auto-damage of 3d6/round failed a DC 18 Fort save and became Nauseated

4. the majority of the PCs failed their DC 20 Fort saves against the swarm's poison

5. no one in the party had a Move speed greater than 40'

The swarm is DR 10/Good and Resist Fire 10, along with its immunity to weapon damage, so Martial type PCs are predictably at a disadvantage, certainly. Your arguments above also suggest I shouldn't assume that said Martial types haven't got a 10 GP flask of Acid on them either, so let's rule that out. This means that the weapon-wielders of the party are useless.

However if ANYONE in the party had area of effect Acid damage, they need to deal 90 HP. So far, in a straight up fight, the Durg's argument is understandable.

With careful respect and deference to the Chromantic one however, I would point out that even a spellcaster by level 8, based on WBL, probably has a +4 on their Fort save, and more than likely higher. Difficult, but not impossible for said spellcaster to make their save vs Distraction. At this point a spellcaster PC could get outside the 10' area of the swarm and successfully cast...

take your pick.

If they're a blaster, they've got an AoE spell to deal damage. If they're a utility caster like the druid I mentioned above, they've got a scroll of Gust of Wind hanging around. Heck, Obscuring Mist could potentially buy the rest of the party a round to begin running away since the swarm has no special senses other than Darkvision.

There are MANY things that would have to go wrong for a single Hellwasp Swarm to spell doom for an APL 8 group of heroes.

What I quoted here though is that its on the GM to know the difficulty of the random encounter relative to the party though, and I agree with you there. That's why in my first post I suggest warning signs.

If I'm the GM and I know I've rolled up a random encounter: Hellwasp Swarm and the party on the board consists of 2 martial weapon specialists, a witch with no AoE or utility type spells and a weak Fort save, and an Inquisitor focused on single-foe spells and using a crossbow... well, honestly, I'd re-roll. However if I REALLY wanted to challenge my players with this encounter I'd:

1. litter the area with dead bodies; meandering in and out of the corpses are lone hellwasps

2. scatter the area with broken glass flasks and... what's this? Some of the corpses still have some Acid Flasks on them, still usable!

These give clever PCs at least SOME indication of what's coming next, if they're paying attention.

Remember that I as the GM am counting on my players to have experienced my world or the game's mechanics up through 8th level, so they should know to use things like Perception to scan the area, Knowledge checks to understand what they're seeing, and some level of resource management and planning to shore up areas that they know their characters can't easily handle.


Meirril wrote:
swarms make for poor random encounters

I'd take that a step further:

Random encounters are a terrible mechanic.

Swarms clearly require a better understanding of opponent motivation and behavior and encounter building/running than your average monster.

I would also agree that they do not make a dynamic encounter on their own. But then, I don't think an encounter should ever be just one type of obstacle.

I've always thought your average swarm was more of an environmental hazard than a monster. Something that should be able to be avoided or circumvented fairly easily (though at a cost).
The fact that tactical retreats just aren't supported by the rules is an unfortunate shortcoming, but it's not nearly as big of a problem if people know when to end an encounter (when the question the encounter asked has been answered, not when every single enemy is dead).

Swarms are not unstoppable TPK machines. There are ways around them and it isn't wrong to expect players to be prepared for a wide variety of situations.
With that said, however, a swarm needs quite a bit more finesse than other encounter elements, specifically because swarms have no finesse themselves. By themselves, they're so straightforward as to be dull, and so all-or-nothing as to be frustrating.

Sovereign Court

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Firstly I’ll say where I live pathfinder society is not a thing and I have no experience of it so wee are probably coming at this from different perspectives.

Yeah, I moved last year and the only PFS groups in the new area I can find don't work with my schedule.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
But first you highlight that those solutions are about as good as a cantrip, which is my point. Past the very earliest levels they’re worthless, none solutions.

I mean, I've posted about one of my characters using a cantrip for 30 damage per cast with a slightly lenient GM (false focus:power component + extend, frozen caress referencing touch attack not touch range) so that's not quite the insult you think it is.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
I’d rather the 2handed barb try and brake free than spend the entire fight doing 1D4+7 or whatever he happens to be wasting his time doing.

When your choices are rolling 2 20s back to back to escape a swallow whole or pulling out a dagger and cutting your way out by doing 10% of the creatures HP? You can only wield 1h weapons while grappled, but you can still hold a 2h weapon in 1 hand (not wielded). So as soon as you aren't grappled anymore you reset back to being a 2h fighter by dropping the dagger. So its more like trying to get double 20s vs using a dagger for 2 rounds. Lets look at a Dire Crocodile, its CR 9 so similar to the other creatures posted already. An APL+3 is supposed to be a hard encounter, so you could see one of these at level 6. CMD of 36, so the 2h barbarian would have 6 BAB and maybe +5 Str base, and say another 2-3 points from rage and various things. So unless they are built for it, they still need 20s. Or 1-2 rounds of daggering the stomach.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
Paying for it is still prepping for a very specific scenario, not being ready for anything. You’re not always gonna have that NPC on hand to grab a super weird niche spell from.

Continual Flame is niche? Ok...maybe heightened, but I suppose it depends on your campaign world. I mean, its like the epitome of 'this town is well off'. And permanent unless dispelled so you only need to buy it once.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:
The DC on that arrow is literally 10, so again I say, where are the solutions for character higher than the lowest possible levels?

Tanglefoot bags (and by extension tangleshot arrows) automatically entangle the target if it hits. The DC is just to break out or escape the entangle. I mean, my alchemist routinely used the arrow version (along with explosive missile and ghast retch flask via alchemical weapon) as his ranged option throughout his entire career (once I found it). Mostly because it added an effect and was a touch attack so explosive missile stayed as a touch attack.

As far as splash weapons being a specific build, I mean, it just takes a level and feat dip on a standard bomb alchemist along with a 200 gp item and is in fact the backup option for when you run out of bombs.


@Mark

I pretty much agree with you, it should be something your either skip or warn them about prior to it happening.

My whole argument in this debate is that, to just kill an otherwise reasonably balanced party for not being prepared for super niche swarms because of a random encounter generator is not great GMing.

I think the only thing I’ll point out is that running away works, so long as you don’t have players with heavy armour small and/or size who end up being too slow to effectively run away.

@firebug

The fact that one can optimise a cantrip doesn’t really change that fact that doing basic cantrip damage at higher levels isn’t really worthwhile.
That’s again not being prepared for anything, but in fact being built to do a certain thing.

This is the first I’ve heard about being swallowed whole, before we were talking about simply being grappled. Wear doing 10% is not gonna cut the mustard.

The barbarians main defence against the crocodile is probably escaping on the intervening turn before it’s swallowed. And it just dying between T1 grappling, t2 swallowing and t3 he finally gets to try and brake free. The rest of the party should probably have killed it but then. But yes against being swallowed a dagger is good

EDIT: pressed enter to early

Still editing

Regarding the entangling bag. Youre right that is a good use for a turn, but you’re again describing a particular character build, not something any old character is just gonna be prepared to pull out.

I would call taking a multiclass is a pretty significant and expensive expense to pay mechanically. Not to mention thematically it could be a massive sacrifice.

Silver Crusade

DeathlessOne wrote:
But, locusts can kill elephants in real life, though not through biting them to death. More like suffocating it by clogging it's nasal passages through sheer numbers.

Can you point me towards a documented case? Or is this an urban myth?


PCScipio wrote:
DeathlessOne wrote:
But, locusts can kill elephants in real life, though not through biting them to death. More like suffocating it by clogging it's nasal passages through sheer numbers.
Can you point me towards a documented case? Or is this an urban myth?

Oh, I certainly never meant to claim it has actually happened. I was engaging in a thought exercise in which I could imagine a method for locusts to actually kill an elephant.


Locusts would kill the elephant by eating everything green in a 20 mile radius.

This is not just about random encounters; it's also about published scenarios which just happen to have the wrong type of swarm.

Firebug wrote:
Are you a professional adventurer who prepares for the unknown...

Well, possibly not, no. My PCs tend to be normal folk who end up in situations they weren't expecting, such as having to go and deal with the consequences when the town is destroyed. Or breaking off from the baron's banquet to pursue duergar kidnappers through the sewers to rescue his daughter. Left the alchemist's fire and so on at home that time. And given the methane down there, fire was contraindicated. Luckily it was only a swarm of rats.


PCScipio wrote:

Higher life forms shouldn't have been able to evolve on Golarion. The swarms should have wiped them all out. :)

In Pathfinder, locusts can kill elephants. In real life, not so much.

In Pathfinder elephants deal trample damage, which is AoE.

It affects all creatures moved over.


Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:


Quote:


Swarms, traps, invisibility, darkness, social situations and even chase mechanics aren't something everybody in the party needs to be able to handle. They are things that the Party as a whole needs to be able to handle. As long as at least one person can, it should be fine.

And when you notice that nobody can, you need to talk to your party members and see what you can do to cover it.

That’s exactly my point, but what I’m saying is if you happen to know as a GM that your random encounter generator has spat something out that’s so niche you know it will kill your party, is it still your duty to honour the generator and kill them?

Like say hellfire wasps against any party without a dedicated blaster.

The odd burning hands and a fireball won’t cut it
Alchemist fire does basically nothing

You know, if you read down further you see how I think swarms should be handled. Like the part where I say swarms make poor random encounters.

But even if you insist on using them as random encounters you should be 'fair' about it. If the PCs try something cleaver to distract the swarm, have it buy them a round or two. If someone decides to draw the swarm away or buy time for the rest to escape, let it work. If they teleport away, they get away.

Just like traps, parties won't be ready when they first run into a really off beat monster. Having them withdraw and prepare themselves is a valid tactic. There is a long tradition of including the occasional monster the party can't possibly beat in a lot of modules. Hopefully your party can recognize when they can't win and use their heads to come up with a strategy instead of insisting the GM isn't trying to kill them and they attempt to swim up a waterfall.

Of course swarms are never unbeatable. Tons of spells that don't even do damage wreck them. Like just about every Wind spell. Summon your own swarm for some hot swarm on swarm action. Or not. That kind of creeps me out. /regret

And maybe your big martial beat stick researches and finds a Swarmbane Clasp. Stranger things have happened. Like a GM including one in their treasure before they encounter their first swarm encounter. It is almost like the GM controls things and could prep the party for what they are going to encounter.


Meirril wrote:


And maybe your big martial beat stick researches and finds a Swarmbane Clasp. Stranger things have happened. Like a GM including one in their treasure before they encounter their first swarm encounter. It is almost like the GM controls things and could prep the party for what they are going to encounter.

You realise the point I’m making is that GMs should be doing exactly this and the objection I’m making is to them not doing this... right?


TheGreatWot wrote:
Jeff Morse wrote:
swarms

I don't budge on this and I never will:

Swarms are the worst and they should never, ever be used unless your PCs have some method of dealing damage to them. There's nothing more annoying than getting your martials shut down because they can't deal damage, and your casters shut down because they don't have any AoE spells prepared/known.

As a boss encounter, I can see an intelligent swarm of some kind being fun and suitably difficult. But most swarms are just mindless creatures with no connection to the plot that just happened to be where the PCs are, and they still pose one of the largest threats to parties at low levels. They're not really a challenge in the traditional sense of the word- they're either impossible to deal with or far too easy to deal with.

Rant over. I hate swarms.

I love swarms. Okay, my players hate them... but I love swarms!

Of course, like with any other creature, if you are gonna present your PCs with a threat that has really strong defenses, you might want to make sure that either 1) they have the means to overcome these, or 2) foreshadow it enough so that they make sure to have them. Sending a ton of trolls at your party that lacks fire/acid damage is no less cheap than sending high powered swarms that are immune to attacks.

Not all swarms are immune to attacks, though. IIRC, only diminutive and smaller swarms are. Swarms composed of tiny or larger creatures are not. Since my games are typically low-powered, when I send swarms against my party, they will typically either have really really low HPs, so that torches can kill them (10HP or less, depending on how many swarms there are and how much damage they deal), or they'll be made of large enough creatures so that martials can still do their part, even if not optimally.

An encounter also doesn't need to be purely swarms. And the GM can add terrain features to help. Maybe there's a bunch of steam vents that deal AoE damage every 2nd turn? Players might want to lure the swarm over them to deal with them.

But as with any other creature that has immunities, care must be taken. Ideally, you need to make sure the characters challenged by the immunities still have something to do, a way to contribute.

Grand Lodge

There's a big percentage of users there who think it is bad to pit opponents who are specifically tunes to neuter the party's abilities. This stance is bad because anti-games always happen and are a way to challenge the players like simply pitting contests of brute force/magic/skills/else. Opponents to swarms have badly overreacted there.

The base template isn't the worst to face by any stretch. Alchemist's fire, burning hands, bombs, etc. solutions are aplenty. If players aren't using them and then complaining, then they display bad form. It's a mix of everything. Party should encounter a mix of easy, hard and tricky encounters. Swarms are into that last category. Not impossible but there's the need to think more.

I often play where they're part of a Player 101 textbook. (I should face a advanced fiendish invincible hellwasp swarm. Maybe if I play Wrath of the Righteous ?)


DeathlessOne wrote:
PCScipio wrote:
DeathlessOne wrote:
But, locusts can kill elephants in real life, though not through biting them to death. More like suffocating it by clogging it's nasal passages through sheer numbers.
Can you point me towards a documented case? Or is this an urban myth?
Oh, I certainly never meant to claim it has actually happened. I was engaging in a thought exercise in which I could imagine a method for locusts to actually kill an elephant.

IIRC, most swarms in the textbook are not described as being compromised of normal insects and animals, but of some more vicious variant that wouldn't necessarily exist IRL.

Spiders "possessing blade-like mandibles capable of lacerating flesh with sickening ease", for example. Or stating "Locusts in these swarms are larger and more aggressive than common ones, making the swarm a true danger to everything edible in their path and even to inedible objects as well". Or "rats driven to uncharacteristic heights of aggression by fantastic and overwhelming hunger".

These swarms are not meant to be stuff we see in real life. They are unnaturally lethal.

So while real life might have swarms of bees (in the literal sense of the word "swarm"), or spiders, or rats, or locusts, these aren't the kinds of things you see statted in the monster manual.


Philippe Lam wrote:

There's a big percentage of users there who think it is bad to pit opponents who are specifically tunes to neuter the party's abilities. This stance is bad because anti-games always happen and are a way to challenge the players like simply pitting contests of brute force/magic/skills/else. Opponents to swarms have badly overreacted there.

The base template isn't the worst to face by any stretch. Alchemist's fire, burning hands, bombs, etc. solutions are aplenty. If players aren't using them and then complaining, then they display bad form. It's a mix of everything. Party should encounter a mix of easy, hard and tricky encounters. Swarms are into that last category. Not impossible but there's the need to think more.

I often play where they're part of a Player 101 textbook. (I should face a advanced fiendish invincible hellwasp swarm. Maybe if I play Wrath of the Righteous ?)

Encounters are a balancing act, and I think there's a strong pendulum effect regarding swarms. Completely negating the party's abilities, or some of its components, is not fun for the players concerned. Like pointing someone and saying "you, roll a will save against Hold Person, DC 95, duration the whole fight". Not fun for that guy. The dice might have similar effects, though, such as a character constantly failing a will save to a low DC Hold Person, but at least the player /has a chance/.

A common GM mistake is tailoring encounters to negate "overly powerful" PCs, punishing their success, and overall just going way too far. Immunities are generally the means to this. These don't challenge the "problem" characters so much as they totally shut them down, and then the fight is unfun, and often players will bicker over it. Swarms, being typically full of immunities and able to bypass the main defence (AC) with auto hit, tend to both negate offensive investments and defensive investments, and can end up very frustrating. If the level 10 party faces a ton of swarms, and nothing but swarms, the fighter might find it aggravating.

But then, to "fix" this issue, people tend to just go way too far back the other way, and not want to touch swarms and similar concepts with a 10 foot pole. But that's just foregoing very useful tools.

GMs need to remember that the inclusion of creatures that can overcome certain characters' offensive or defensive capabilities or otherwise shut them down does not mean that the whole encounter needs to have these characters useless. And that making some characters less useful for one or few fights is not the same as making them so for a whole story arc.

An encounter with nothing but swarms will shut down many martials, just as an encounter with many golems can shut down many casters. An encounter with both swarms and golems, though, is likely to give each party member a very crucial task, on the other hand (just be sure the party isn't totally screwed if one crucial party member gets incapacitated too early, another risk with such encounters to think about).


Philippe Lam wrote:
There's a big percentage of users there who think it is bad to pit opponents who are specifically tunes to neuter the party's abilities. This stance is bad because anti-games always happen and are a way to challenge the players like simply pitting contests of brute force/magic/skills/else. Opponents to swarms have badly overreacted there.

As a DM I take the exact opposite stance.

I don't tune encounters specifically to the party, but that also means I don't tune encounters down to account for party resources, or lack of.

I throw ALL types of encounters at my party and it is their job to find a solution. Yes, 90% of the time that means the barbarian has minimal contribution against swarms. It also means the two casters in the party have spent their fair amount of time sucking against golems when they did not have the appropriate spells prepared.

Silver Crusade

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Suggested variant: consider sometimes using non-harmful swarms. Let the players see this phenomenon.

Example: I'm an amateur bee-keeper. I've managed several hives for several years. Home-made honey is awesome.

Bees swarm when a populous hive splits in two. Half the population stays with the old queen and half the population swarms after the new queen. Bees are far less aggressive when they swarm.

I learned that beekeeping was a thing I wanted to do after capturing a bunch of swarms [photo of swarm catching process]. Neighbors would invite me to catch and domesticate swarms.

Once I dealt with a particularly large and mobile swarm. Even with protective gear (a swarm suit) it got really intense. I found myself in the center of a large flying swarm that formed a cylinder about 10 meters in diameter . The swarm was so thick the sun was blocked. It was like standing in thick smoke. Thousands of flying bees bumped into me - that's dozens or hundreds of collisions every second. I had to make a single DC 8 Will Check against fear, which succeeded. Everything was fine and I eventually caught and domesticated this swarm.

Perhaps occasionally expose your players to non-harmful swarms that don't merit extermination.

P.s. My father-in-law, Norm, was a Bee Whisperer. I once saw him do the following:

One warm and sunny Spring evening Norm sat down to dinner at the outside patio of his country home. We all noticed the flying bee swarm settle in a nearby tree. Norm got up, walked over to his hives, and prepared an empty hive to receive new bees. This took perhaps ten seconds.

Norm then walked over to the resting bee swarm. He wore shorts and a tee shirt. He did not put on his swarm suit. He carefully observed the resting swarm for a good ten seconds. Norm then slowly reached his bare left arm into the heart of the swarm. He must have closed his fingers around the queen. Norm then slowly pulled his arm out of the swarm and the mass of bees clung to his arm. His arm was hidden in the swarm up to the elbow. Norm strode over to his empty hive and flicked his left arm into the empty hive. Most of the swarm went into the empty hive and the rest soon followed. Norm covered the hive and returned to dinner.

The entire process took no more than two minutes.


Throwing Hellwasp Swarms randomly is probably poor form in many cases.

But I agree with the idea of sending non-damaging or low-threat swarms as obstacles or otherwise as an environmental hazard that doesn't pursue (or might even flee when damaged).


I don't even view swarms as any more or less difficult than any other enemy in this game. I agree with the statement that swarms are almost more of an environmental hazard than a monster encounter.

In Varnhold, with a barn full of rat swarms, the party just blew up the barn... they used the fine grain dust to turn the entire barn into a thermobaric bomb (and a necklace of fireballs to ignite it). The party ended up taking fire and piercing damage from the ensuing blast and flying splintered wood, as they underestimated the severity of the explosion it would cause... but, they did manage to save Dragon, the Cat (I think that is the Cat's name), and that's what's important.

I don't know anyone that doesn't always have a few Alchemist Fire/Acid Flasks stashed in their gear. That is literally starting equipment for every character I have ever made. The people that I play with are always similarly equipped. The people I GM for are always similarly equipped. It's almost as if it's not hard at all to be prepared, even at level one.

Yeah, that wand of Burning Hands with 9 charges left on it seems like a waste of treasure at later levels, but you stick it in your boot because you know swarms exist.

Jump up, grab the chandelier, and let the swarm swarm its way right past you.

Scoop them up in a portable hole or bag of holding, let them suffocate, dump out dead bugs or rats or whatever.

Open a window and let a gust of wind disperse them.

I may be ever-so-slightly underplaying the actual danger swarms are capable of presenting, but honestly, swarms are NOWHERE near as scary as people are making them out to be.

Common things that work against swarms:
1. CREATIVITY! Take a gulp of lamp oil, hold a torch in front of your face, and breath fire!
2. Alchemist Fire/Acid/oil/etc...
3. Splintercloud arrows
4. Caltrop beads


VoodistMonk wrote:

I don't even view swarms as any more or less difficult than any other enemy in this game. I agree with the statement that swarms are almost more of an environmental hazard than a monster encounter.

In Varnhold, with a barn full of rat swarms, the party just blew up the barn... they used the fine grain dust to turn the entire barn into a thermobaric bomb (and a necklace of fireballs to ignite it). The party ended up taking fire and piercing damage from the ensuing blast and flying splintered wood, as they underestimated the severity of the explosion it would cause... but, they did manage to save Dragon, the Cat (I think that is the Cat's name), and that's what's important.

I don't know anyone that doesn't always have a few Alchemist Fire/Acid Flasks stashed in their gear. That is literally starting equipment for every character I have ever made. The people that I play with are always similarly equipped. The people I GM for are always similarly equipped. It's almost as if it's not hard at all to be prepared, even at level one.

Yeah, that wand of Burning Hands with 9 charges left on it seems like a waste of treasure at later levels, but you stick it in your boot because you know swarms exist.

Jump up, grab the chandelier, and let the swarm swarm its way right past you.

Scoop them up in a portable hole or bag of holding, let them suffocate, dump out dead bugs or rats or whatever.

Open a window and let a gust of wind disperse them.

I may be ever-so-slightly underplaying the actual danger swarms are capable of presenting, but honestly, swarms are NOWHERE near as scary as people are making them out to be.

Common things that work against swarms:
1. CREATIVITY! Take a gulp of lamp oil, hold a torch in front of your face, and breath fire!
2. Alchemist Fire/Acid/oil/etc...
3. Splintercloud arrows
4. Caltrop beads

Fireball explicitly states that it does not catch things on fire. I also don't think grain dust has a high "explosive" potential. It can readily catch fire, yes, and potentially cause a nominal explosion/pressure wave, but I suspect the strength of this pressure wave (and from the few videos I saw looking it up), we are nowhere near a grenade or demolition-force explosion. If the building was very large and very weak/rotted, it /might/ collapse, but I don't think the odds are in favor of that outcome. Most likely only windows would break (if any), doors would burst open, and everyone and everything inside would take some level of fire damage. If the building did fail, it would just be falling on itself, there would not be shrapnel of wood splinters.

I mean, sure, rule of cool, and I'm being a killjoy. But you are using a somewhat relatively expensive item with charges, to then do something it explicitly says it cannot do (ignite things on fire), to then trigger an environmental hazard that is implausible (strong explosion), to then cause further improbable damage (shrapnel). Stunning visuals without logic or plausibility, worthy of a JJ Abrams movie, just make sure not to forget the lens flares.

Not saying it's badwrongfun, again, the (imagined) visuals of it are badass. It's just that you are basically defeating the swarm for the party, and then telling everyone "see, swarms aren't a threat!" Well, by RAW, or even with some flex in that regard none of that works.

The issue with swarms isn't so much the absence of any means for non-casters to do AoE, but the absence of means to do reliable AoE. Alchemist fire is 20gp a pop, which is burdensome at very low levels where it /will/ be effective, and where martials aren't specialized enough to be relatively bad with them. By the time people don't mind throwing 100gp of alchemist's fire in a battle, financially, doing so will represent a huge loss of effectiveness. The barbarian hitting for an average of, say, 20 damage per turn, would suddenly be dealing around 7. And as you progress, some swarms will be immune to fire, suddenly negating almost all forms of AoE non-casters have (leaving only acid damage, as far as I remember). At which point, he'd be averaging even higher damage normally on a full round attack, and suddenly be stuck with nothing but throwing acid vials at a beefy swarm that's possibly chewing up someone important or causing agonizing poison damage, on top of its distraction.

I agree there's lots of means to deal with swarms, but I also agree that swarms can easily get swingy in certain circumstances, and pose a threat much higher than their CR would suggest, if the PCs aren't adequately ready for them, or if they've already faced attrition, or just roll poorly.


Random encounters can create some of the best emergent storytelling in gaming. Its not the tables fault that certain game runners hold their rolls sacrosanct. Same is for encounters, sometimes you need to just end an encounter, even if it is sort of a damp squib.

Last game, I had the PCs fight a Triton and Sea Witch. They were getting chased around in the water and it was a fun fight... up until the point where the PCs tried to get close to them and they just swam further away or teleport around.

They adapted and counters, but couldn't really deal with the mobility of the situation. It was essentially a boring stalemate that the PCs would have won on a long enough time table, but it would have been boring to resolve.

So I just RPd the final blow of one of them saving the other and getting away.

Yeah the encounter was kind of anticlimactic but at least we got to do some other things.


Swarms are uniquely b u l l s h i t because they shine a light on a fundamental flaw of the game - the fact that martials don't have any AoE capabilities. Barring a specific magical item (in a specific slot) a martial character cannot meaningfully damage a swarm.

This isn't too bad with tiny or higher sized swarms that only take half damage from weapons. And Incorporeals aren't as bad because all you need to deal half damage is a +1 or higher weapon, which will always be useful, and has use beyond just hitting incorporeals. But Diminutive and Fine sized swarms that have blanket immunity to weapon attacks with no counterplay is just stupid.

To put this in perspective, a wizard or any other caster has more counterplay to Antimagic Field than a martial has to a swarm. Instantaneous conjurations still work in an AMF. Called creatures don't poof when in an AMF. Telekinesis can still be used to attack targets in an AMF. At high levels, Aroden's Spellbane lets you straight up ignore an AMF. And all of these counters have general use outside of countering an AMF!

If you're a martial, you don't have any options. You either buy the Swarmbane Clasp and forget about ever using your Neck slot, or you lose. That's it.

The annoying thing is, that this would be super easy to fix without even changing swarms. Just give martials some decent AoE options, already! Imagine how much more useful Cleave would be, if it turned your attack into a 5 (10 w/ Greater) ft. radius AoE? What if Whirlwind Attack was a burst effect centered on you with radius equal to your reach? Would certainly make Whips useful, I presume!

But no. Martials aren't allowed to have nice things.


KujakuDM wrote:
Random encounters can create some of the best emergent storytelling in gaming. Its not the tables fault that certain game runners hold their rolls sacrosanct. Same is for encounters, sometimes you need to just end an encounter, even if it is sort of a damp squib.

I'm always on the side of GMs making judgement calls. I don't like the official random encounter tables, I feel they make the world feel, well, random, more often than not. Making them CR appropriate just makes this even more egregious. "The party leaves town, and, uhm, wolves attack them multiple times along the way! They eventually clear that remote dungeon, and level up. They now return and, uhm, TIGERS attack them now! Yea!"

Same path, and suddenly, the fauna just got completely switched up. Which requires a handwave to make any sense of.

Adding randomness to the table can both increase or decrease verisimilitude, depending on the parameters of the randomness. The more rigid one is in taking pre-made material, in my opinion, is detrimental, while adding GM judgement into the calculation can make it positive.

For example, when my party was crossing into orcish territory for a rescue mission, I made myself a random encounter table. Most of it were for orcish combatants, of various nature and random size (a slave escort, a patrol, supplies or logistics, a small detachment, a batallion, etc.). Sometimes there were animals, sometimes there weren't. Often, there was a small chance of something "random", in the unexpected sense the word is often used for. Maybe they'd encounter a gang of hobgoblins, for example. But if they had rolled for those, it wouldn't have just been "okay, dice say you fight hobgoblins now, because, well, dice say so". There would have been a reason for them to be there, and large ramifications for it. Were they friendly or hostile to the orcs? Were they acting on their own, or on behalf of the hobgoblin empire? Was their focus to just get their mission done, or did they want to leave no witnesses? Maybe I'd roll some of that randomly as well, but I knew I could always just plug it into the lore I've been weaving, because I already had considered answers before the roll was made. Maybe the hobgoblin squad was on a rescue mission for an important asset (possibly even a rival that they wanted to interrogate themselves), and they wanted to nab the asset from the orcs. Maybe one of them is an important figure in his homeland. If the PCs kill them, it may result with the orcs finding out secrets they otherwise wouldn't have, or with the hobgoblins then launching a pre-emptive attack on the humans due to bad intelligence. If they instead rolled randomly for animals, then odds are that this would tie into the lore of how the orcs feed themselves, which could later have implications into how to wage war against them.

Which, I guess, means I kind of split my encounters into two categories (with obviously large overlap): the world building encounters, and the party challenge encounters. The first are largely rolled randomly, but they give substance to the game world. They give the players an idea of what populates the world, and what the average person's life on it would be. These are not scaled to party level or wealth, for the most part. PCs displaying great wealth may attract more bandits, for example, but packs of angry wolves will largely no care whether the party is level 1 or level 6. They also serve to help give the players a sense of progress (especially in a low-powered setting). While just moving around was challenging at the beginning, at the end, when facing the same obstacles, they can clearly see how better equipped they are to handle them. They see the world isn't just arbitrarily scaling up for them and blessing them purely with "level appropriate encounters". The party encounters, on the other hand, I do tailor for the party. I try to make it challenging, but not lethal. I try to make them vary, so that no two fights are the same. And I try to give every character chances to shine. Maybe the big strong guy will need to break something to take care of a huge inconvenience or obstacle. Maybe the agile guy will need to slip through hazardous terrain. Maybe the skill monkey will need to sabotage a war engine. Maybe the blaster will need to disperse a swarm. Maybe many of the above. I don't always think things through properly and not all of my custom encounters end up being quality encounters, but that's the guiding philosophy I try to follow, and obviously I try to make random encounter tables that will still be somehow fresh and challenge the players appropriately.

But just rolling a table and going like "uh, okay, roll twice, uh, okay, a hellfire wasp swarm and a greater barghest, great!" is far from what I'd consider ideal encounter management. And this is the kind of thing where swarms can screw players the most, because they'll almost certainly have no warning and by then they might have expended their necessary resources.

Grand Lodge

Goblin_Priest wrote:
And this is the kind of thing where swarms can screw players the most, because they'll almost certainly have no warning and by then they might have expended their necessary resources.

It's on the players to correctly manage their resources, the encounter might not be as bad that if they spend things too quickly, bad for them and the blame would be on them, not the GM.


Would the Gloves of Arcane Striking work against a swarm?

Relevant text:
When the wearer makes an attack using Arcane Strike and hits, enemies adjacent to the target take damage equal to the wearer’s Arcane Strike damage bonus. This damage is of the same type as the weapon’s damage (bludgeoning, piercing, and so on).


Philippe Lam wrote:
Goblin_Priest wrote:
And this is the kind of thing where swarms can screw players the most, because they'll almost certainly have no warning and by then they might have expended their necessary resources.
It's on the players to correctly manage their resources, the encounter might not be as bad that if they spend things too quickly, bad for them and the blame would be on them, not the GM.

Players aren't prescient, they typically don't have very reliable information on how many encounters they'll face in the day, and how tough each will be. And even if they had info on these things, they still must account for randomness, and can't be expected to make perfect judgement calls every time. Besides, every challenging encounter is draining regardless of player decisions: if they decide to go all in on offense, they'll take little damage, suffer fewer debuffs, while trying to save resources for later will mean they'll take in more hits, more spells, more effects, which in turn may drag combat on further than just the reduced damage output, and which in the end will require more spell slots and consumables to counter and reset the party to fresh.

I rarely consider the PCs are to blame for running out of resources. And even when they make bad calls, it's still typically an impromptu team effort with limited time to analyse situations and potential solutions. And often the more in-character courses of action are unoptimal, and I don't really think that always favoring the most efficient meta approach is desirable either. "The players should expect to fight X because they are now at level Y" is a meta mentality that we don't really strive for at our table.


Goblin_Priest wrote:
Fireball explicitly states that it does not catch things on fire.
fireball wrote:
The fireball sets fire to combustibles and damages objects in the area. It can melt metals with low melting points, such as lead, gold, copper, silver, and bronze. If the damage caused to an interposing barrier shatters or breaks through it, the fireball may continue beyond the barrier if the area permits; otherwise it stops at the barrier just as any other spell effect does.

Fireball is the go-to spell for when you actually do want to burn the room and everything in it instead of just your enemies. I use it sparingly precisely because one often doesn't want to burn down the building just to take out a burglar.


VoodistMonk wrote:

Would the Gloves of Arcane Striking work against a swarm?

Relevant text:
When the wearer makes an attack using Arcane Strike and hits, enemies adjacent to the target take damage equal to the wearer’s Arcane Strike damage bonus. This damage is of the same type as the weapon’s damage (bludgeoning, piercing, and so on).

Sure, you can just attack the ground adjacent to the swarm. X D It's a pretty slow process, though, since it only does the Arcane Strike damage.


Personally, I think any group should have an answer for swarms at level 1. Spider swarms are CR1, bats and rats are CR2, wasps are CR3, tick swarms are CR9, etc. You never know what you're going to run into.

And honestly, if the group feels unprepared, running is a perfectly acceptable answer to a swarm. People die irl to swarms of Siafu (big 25mm-long ants) because they don't move out of their path in time. Swarms are scary business, so run back to town and grab some Alch Fire and press on.


If there is a town to run back to, of course. } : D


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I throw EVERYTHING at my players at one time or another. I usually pick adventures with varied encounters, but I do my part to mix them up a bit more when needed. If people want to complain about it, it's a simple fix. Find your new GM thataway. I expect my players to be adaptable or at the very least not b%~+% about their lack of adaptability.


Fire works well! Burn them to ash!

Lantern oil prerigged for throwing is always on my starting character list.

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