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I'm GM'ing a game with a large, mostly mundane party where all PCs at level 2. The party is made up of a good aligned cleric (i.e. no damage spells), wizard, druid (with wolf animal companion), monk, barbarian, rogue, and ranger.

My story is centered on an Order of Monks that worship a local parasitic wasp so the type of creature is particularly relevant and kind of hard to avoid. The upcoming session is the one where I plan to introduce the wasps and I had wanted it to be a surprise.

If I take the wasp swarm right from the Pathfinder bestiary, as far as I can tell, it would destroy the party. The wizard is the only one who can damage the swarm (as the swarm is immune to weapon damage). Even if the wizard were only to prepare damage based spells he wouldn't be able to do enough damage to kill the swarm without some higher than usual rolls.

I'm considering having an NPC from a town provide the ranger with a small quiver of some kind of arrow that does fire damage and a warning about the wasps. This isn't the way that I had hoped to introduce the wasps as it ruins the surprise.

Is there any other way that I can tailor the encounter to make it something my PCs can handle or am I overlooking some of their classes abilities that can get them through it?

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@steven_p: this question is related and may be useful to you. – KRyan Mar 12 '13 at 1:20
@KRyan I'll have a re-read of the question you linked as it was a few days ago that I read it. As for homebrew -- I considered changing the immunity from weapon damage to lethal damage from weapons and allowing the swarm to recover from non-lethal damage quickly. Akin to swatting a handful of wasps to the ground where they take a few seconds to get their bearings before returning to the fray. If enough are knocked down the swarm disperses (instead of falling unconcious). – steven_p Mar 12 '13 at 1:29
What's wrong with them encountering the wasps, having to flee, then getting the proper materials to take them out? The trick, I think, would be convincing a D&D party to flee. – okeefe Mar 12 '13 at 5:27
Just in case, have a pool or river nearby they can flee into if things turn sour. This way, if they get unlucky or you make the encounter too hard, they can escape. – Dakeyras Mar 12 '13 at 16:00

11 Answers 11

What you could do is run with their inability to combat the wasps, and turn it into plot. The first time they encounter the wasps, they get severely injured and are forced to flee. You then have a followup of them looking for a way of combating them: be it fire weapons, magic bug spray, or whatever.

Just try to make it clear to the players that they're meant to be insurmountable in the first fight.

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+1. They do what anyone has to do when confronted by a swarm of wasps - run off and come back with smoke or poison or something. – mxyzplk Mar 12 '13 at 2:12
How do you run away from something that flies 40 feet per round? – Airk Jan 20 '15 at 20:55
@Airk You don't look back and run till they decide you're out of their territory. Real world insects don't attack to kill. They just want you out of their business. – Nigralbus Jan 21 '15 at 9:53
@Nigralbus: "Running is a good idea", especially when the plot calls for the PCs to lose the first attempt. – Codes with Hammer Feb 22 at 14:24

Mundane, real-world wasps do hate smoke. Objects that produce smoke in quantity shouldn't be too hard to come by, thought the surprise element certainly works against the characters in this regard. Smoke wouldn't necessarily kill the wasps, but it might disperse the swarm (and thus "defeat" the swarm encounter). I'm not sure if there is any game mechanic that mimics the smoke effect on an insect swarm, so you may have to houserule something if the encounter were to proceed in this way.

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Useful nonmagical items for fighting swarms.

Swarm Suit

DR 10/- against fine creatures, DR 5/- against fine creatures will help you live a bit longer against the swarm.

Alchemist's fire

Not a great choice, as the splash only does 1 point of fire damage.

Mundane Torches:

If a torch is used in combat, treat it as a one-handed improvised weapon that deals bludgeoning damage equal to that of a gauntlet of its size, plus 1 point of fire damage.

Granted, you'll only be doing 1 point of damage per attack per round, but that's more than zero. Although, this is better for swarms that have less HP than the wasps.

Flame Fountain Fireworks

1d8 points of fire damage, acts as a mace, and you hit with melee touch attacks. It's a weapon so it shouldn't run afoul of the swarm being able to ignore single-target spells or effects.

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A list of items doesn't seem particularly useful to a GM who is worrying about a surprise attack they're planning in the future. – Riking Mar 12 '13 at 3:45
Well the title is "How can a mundane party defeat a wasp swarm", but I'd think people that live near dangerous wasp swarms might keep some of these things lying around, which might indicate beforehand that there's a wasp problem in the area – Cthos Mar 12 '13 at 5:34
Many low level parties do have lamp oil, flasks of alchemist fire and acid. When we last fought a swarm at low level the GM ruled that Alchemist fire did full damage not splash which made things easier. – Duncan Mar 12 '13 at 17:35
-1 for misinformation about Alchemist's Fire being ineffective. "A swarm takes half again as much damage (+50%) from spells or effects that affect an area, such as splash weapons and many evocation spells." 1d6x1.5 averages 5.25 damage, plus the burning effect, which makes alchemist's fire and acid quite efficient. – MrLemon Sep 5 '14 at 7:50
@Cthos The entire point of the swarm subtype is that you can attack the whole thing as if it were one creature. That is true for all weapon attacks (for example using Swarmbane Clasp), and splash weapons are no exception. Bonus: related paizo thread. (Let's move this to chat if more discussion is needed) – MrLemon Sep 5 '14 at 15:24

Your question is "How can a mostly mundane party defeat a wasp swarm?", but I think it should be "How can I tailor an encounter, that is too powerful for the party?"

Well, you want a Wasp Swarm, give them one!

Some options I see:

  • Tailor a weaker version of it. Make the damage be 1d6 or 2d4. Get the initial HP down to 12. Done, you have your Wasp Swarm, the players can get surprised and encounter the big swarm later, after they are prepared
  • Grant them some tools in the environment, like some easy-to-burn material for help with smoke, some mood, so they can cover them with it (could grant AC bonus or DR)

Even as in the bestiary, I don't think it would destroy the party. The characters (and hopefully the players) can use some intelligence, which supposedly is far superior to wasps'. They can run, hide, etc... If it is a swamp, the characters could simply emerge in some shallow water to avoid the wasp attack. If you interpret a swarm as a swarm, insects can be frightened easily; even if the wizard's spells don't kill it, the spell can frighten the swarm.

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If they’re in a region prone to these particularly-dangerous wasp swarms (don’t have to be monstrous or fiendish or anything; perfectly mundane, real-world Hymenoptera swarms can be extremely dangerous), perhaps give the party some special equipment: special torches that let them do their normal melee damage but as fire damage that doesn’t run afoul of the Swarm immunities?

Or maybe even special armor for keeping them out, and make the swarms almost like a “time limit” – can they get through or accomplish their goal before the seals on their suit dry out and they’re left at the mercy of the swarm?

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you could also put something into the environment the party can use to kill the wasps (if they're clever enough). i'm thinking along the lines of swamp gas, gushers and so on (or - if you want to do it the boring way - the corpse & equipment of someone who tried to kill the wasps before).

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I do like the idea of showing the party the hard monster early on and then let them come up with their own solutions involving bonfires or such. Forshadow it with some dead adventurers to make them aware of the danger if you want.

If you are partial to changing stats make the wasps very large (ie Tiny creature) and then they take half damage from weapons.

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Has the mage or the priest any way to make the wind blow harder? Could the party get information from the people living in the area? “We have problems with bugs. Five years ago, locusts ate half our crop, and two years ago wasps attacked the MacDarwid farm. Their baby was stung to death.”

You could make a locust swarm into a great role-playing opportunity, and one to help the characters gain contacts with the local population.

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Problem with that is that it takes away from the surprise. – Julix Jan 18 '14 at 21:40
Suppose they find a way to survive their initial encounter; jumping into a creek should work. Then, they can investigate. – Eric Jablow Jan 20 '14 at 23:59
Let's hope these characters were smart enough to run. Most players are not reminded often enough that running isn't only an option, sometimes it's the best one! – Julix Jan 21 '14 at 5:40


If your party isn't packing this, a TPK is a good way to teach them the virtues of Black Gold. Or, you know, they could run away and jump in a stream or something. Anyways:

Alchemist's fire in Pathfinder sucks. It does only 1 point of splash damage and so isn't even useful against tight clumps of enemies, wherein it's probably supposed to be more effective than the much cheaper mundane equivalent. This is one of the very, very few times in pathfinder the magical version of an item is actually worse. Oil, not alchemist's fire, allows the following:

You can pour a pint of oil on the ground to cover an area 5 feet square, provided that the surface is smooth. If lit, the oil burns for 2 rounds and deals 1d3 points of fire damage to each creature in the area.

It will on average take a little less than 2 gallons of oil to kill a single wasp swarm.

You also forgot your druid, who may prepare applicable spells if she's lucky or insightful (Acid Maw, Alter Winds, Hydraulic Push, and Produce Flame seem particularly useful)

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I would suggest changing the nature of the enemies - don't use swarms! Instead, try this:

I had some similar issues, but with another (similar) kind of insect. I had a campaing around flesh-eating bees. However, Swarms would be too powerfull for my group to handle.

Then I saw that pokemon, Beedril. A giant bee.

Using giant insects, I could use few bugs instead of a swarm, and everything was just solved! I created several "Ranks" of bees, just reflufling other monsters - the Queen Bee was a reflufled black Dragon, complete with corrosive-honey breath.

I just handwaved the "flying" issues, and most of the time kept the bees at melee range. They could only attack in melee, anyway.

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I ran into this in my pathfinder game a few months back. As an alchemist I was the only one who could damage the swarms the first time we encountered them. After the first fight that we barely survived, an NPC just so happened to find an old amulet laying around that just so happened to be a wasp stuck in amber and after some examination we figured the highest dps should wear it. I also handed out some thrown splash weapons which helped because swarms take 1.5 (150%) damage from area of affect stuff like splash weapons. At one point the barbarian lit a wheel barrel on fire with keros oil and started swinging it around. We weren't 100% sure about how to handle the damage but the GM came up with something because the swarms were part of the story but he didn't want to end the story by murdering us with bugs.

Our GM wrote the bug arc of our adventure in such a way that there was a person controlling the swarms so if the swarms were about to end the game after the first surprise encounter the controller could always step in with bad guy obligatory, "This has been a warning. Butt out because I won't be so generous next time I see you." type lines and then walk off to do mischievous things while the group recovers, strategizes, and gears up. We ended up having to take down the dude controlling the bugs to save the town, but I am not sure how this will actually fit into your story line.

I hope you and your group have as much fun with it as we did.

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