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The question comes from the following situation. There were two monsters present on the battlefield: a ghost with Horrific Appearance special attack and a silthilar (Lords of Madness, p. 168) in the form of a swarm. They weren't allies, so...

What would happen if the silthilar fails his save from first visual contact with a manifested ghost? If Horrific Appearance works, would all particles of a swarm be lying helpless on the ground? If so, could silthilar at least take an action to assume its alternate form (for its Strength to go up and become more than ability damage dealt)?

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1. The Silthilar is affected normally by the Horrific Appearance.

Reading from the d20SRD's rules on swarms:

Swarms are dense masses of Fine, Diminutive, or Tiny creatures that would not be particularly dangerous in small groups, but can be terrible foes when gathered in sufficient numbers. For game purposes a swarm is defined as a single creature with a space of 10 feet—gigantic hordes are actually composed of dozens of swarms in close proximity. A swarm has a single pool of Hit Dice and hit points, a single initiative modifier, a single speed, and a single Armor Class. It makes saving throws as a single creature.

Since the swarm is considered a single creature mechanically, it either entirely passes or entirely fails any saving throws. As a result, if the Silthilar fails its saving throw, all parts of the swarm take the Strength damage. Since the Silthilar in swarm form has 1 Strength, this would necessarily reduce the swarm to 0 Strength, and cause it to fall helpless.

2. No.

Once the Silthilar is reduced to 0 Strength from the ghost, it is considered helpless. Being helpless also counts as being paralyzed at Dexterity 0. Lords of Madness gives us this:

Coalesced Form (Su): As a standard action that provokes attacks of opportunity, a silthilar can switch from its swarm form to its solid form.

Paralysis:

... Paralyzed creatures cannot move, speak, or take any physical actions. The creature is rooted to the spot, frozen and helpless. Not even friends can move his limbs. He may take purely mental actions, such as casting a spell with no components. ...

Being paralyzed prevents actions from being taken, so the Silthilar could not coalesce to restore itself to above 0 Strength. However, since the swarm is composed of Fine creatures, and therefore immune to weapon damage and single target spells, the ghost would be unable to kill the Silthilar without the use of area of effect spells or Draining Touch to force the Silthilar down to 0 Constitution.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this. The only point i would make is that a swarm is not targettable by single target spells as each subcreature is a single one. The only counter for it is mind-affecting spells since this swarm is hivemind. (All are Silthilar's mind) Defeating a swarm requires area/splash damage, and even so, reducing a swarm to 0 hp only disperses it, until it gathers back. There is no "kill" a swarm, meaning Silthilar would then regenerate to 1hp, then form back into the staff, slowly. Refer to swarm characteristics from official content: dandwiki.com/wiki/SRD:Swarm_Subtype \$\endgroup\$ – Elindor Jan 4 '18 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Correct. I neglected to mention that it must be area affecting spells, ala Fireball to damage a swarm. Edited. Draining touch would still kill the Silthilar normally via Constitution damage, however. \$\endgroup\$ – Bagahnoodles Jan 4 '18 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that paralysis doesn't prevent taking 'purely mental actions', whatever that means. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jan 5 '18 at 8:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @the dark wanderer That is true, but by virtue of having to move together to actually coalesce, being paralyzed would seem to preclude doing so. Definitely a case of "Ask your GM" \$\endgroup\$ – Bagahnoodles Jan 5 '18 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ While it seems thoughts in this answer are mostly correct, there are some points I disagree with, so I'm lost in thought for at least a while. First, I don't think you could attack a swarm of fine creatures even if it's a ghost touch attack. While it is probably irrelevant to the question it bothers me. Maybee I should ask another question? Second, the question is more about, isn't Horrific Appearance effectively an ability targetting a single creature for purposes of a swarm? Purely mental actions being third point. I agree with your reasoning in comments, care to embed it into your answer? \$\endgroup\$ – annoying imp Jan 7 '18 at 17:29

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