Seriously, am I the only one? Swarms suck in 4e, and 3e, and Pathfinder. I remember my first try with a swarm in 3e, I was the one that summoned it, then I got knocked out, and the swarm proceded to kill me and two other members of the party. Yeah, I am not as evil a GM as some would think. Anyway summon swarm is just a spell, that ended up being no fun unless you could get away fast. A friend cast it in a den of orcs, and dimension doored away, to let it munch up the orcs while we waited patiently for the screams to stop. That’s what you do if you are on the team that casts the swarm. But when you are the GM, and the game says in the next room are three swarms… What do you do? Run it as written? Well if you have spell casters with major damage spells, or your group is good at team action, one guy can toss an alchemist fire while another swings at it with sword or staff, this is a good technique for arial swarms, bats and such. Some groups can take on a swarm, but some can’t. Does the game end, or the adventure stop? I say no. Swarms suck, but you can tweak the module to get the most fun out of them.
I am more balanced in my approach to swarms, and prefer to use them more judiciously. First off, screw the mod, if the author has more than three swarms, after the third, the party will just hate you as a GM, and the “but that is how it is written” excuse will not fix table morale. In most cases with swarm encounters that the party can’t beat, I will invoke my hurry up to skip ahead method. That method is perfect for convention play. It will also work in a home game. I would ask permission before initiating the rule, then summarize the carnage, and pick some random lackey/player at the table as the hero of the battle and move on; every encounter needs a hero, even “hurried up” ones. With that simple trick you are done and back on track. I personally don’t like being at a game table where the judge will not divert from the mod, and the swarms endure, and the party grumbles, and morale breaks. it happened a Mega con this year, everyone scattered, my PC nearly died, two others ran off, and two hid and laughed at everyone else’s predicament, and the GM continued to torture us with endless bat swarms in a 40foot shaft for 3/4 of the game… We nearly didn’t complet the module. Swarms suck.
If you don’t like the hurry up method, just roll a couple die sixes for the swarm in secret and that number equals the number of rounds it stays together as a threat. I had a party nearly dead, and all of the sudden the swarm scattered, they all thought some “balrog” scarred them off, but it was just me tracking the time the swarms attacked for. Typically it is 1d6+2 rounds in my home game, but don’t tell my players.
As GM you can really screw with a party with swarms since you can make them up of little magic resistent beasties from hell or wherever, but is it worth it for the story to go forward? Vampires and Mummies need swarms for clues, that is just classic, but not ten in every other encounter. Hint at the swarms presence, warn preceptive players, have a bottle of raid in the room next door, just don’t be that GM that TPK’ed the party with a swarm. Swarms suck and your players will never forgive you. No more than three swarms in a dungeon…
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