The spell conjure animals (PHB, pg. 225) says:

You summon fey spirits that take the form of beasts and appear in unoccupied spaces that you can see within range. Choose one of the following options for what appears:

  • One beast of challenge rating 2 or lower

  • Two beasts of challenge rating 1 or lower

  • Four beasts of challenge rating 1/2 or lower

  • Eight beasts of challenge rating 1/4 or lower

Is it possible for conjure animals to summon a "swarm of X" creature, such as a swarm of rats or a swarm of insects?

On the one hand, I can see how the answer could be yes, simply because technically it is of type beast and is within the correct CR range, so RAW it should be possible to summon, say, four swarms of insects.

But on the other hand I can also see how the answer could be no, since it goes against the idea that you are summoning a specific number of beasts, and swarms are considered a "medium swarm of tiny creatures", meaning many creatures, many more than conjure animals says it can summon (i.e. the number of individual beasts in four swarms of insects is MANY more than "four beasts").

Which interpretation is correct (or is there a third interpretation)?

Note that D&DBeyond is not quite in sync with the books on this; in the description of the conjure animals spell, it lists example beasts, which include the swarms, but no such listing appears in the PHB's spell description, implying that these suggestions are the opinions of D&DBeyond's staff, not the designers (more likely it's just a listing of every monster of type "beast" for each CR).

Also, the monster entries for the swarms, say for example, swarm of rats, calls it a "Medium beast", whereas the MM (pg. 339) calls them a "Medium swarm of Tiny beasts", and all of the swarms from the Monster Manual use this wording.

However, as pointed out by V2Blast, the Monster Manual compendium page does correctly list swarms as being a "Medium swarm of Tiny beasts".

Hence I would prefer for answers to be derived from the books rather than D&DBeyond where they differ. Also note that, although I mentioned the designers above, this is not a designer-reasons question; this is a RAW question. If there happens to be a Jeremy tweet clarifying this, great! But a RAW answer is what I'm looking for if such a tweet does not exist.

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    Oddly enough, the versions of the "swarm" statblocks in the Monster Manual compendium page on DNDBeyond (i.e. here) currently list them as "Medium swarm of Tiny beasts", but the direct statblocks themselves (e.g. Swarm of Bats) incorrectly list them as "Medium beast". – V2Blast Aug 10 at 11:42
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    @V2Blast Ah, I don't have access to the former, so I couldn't check that. But thanks for that; it is odd that they are inconsistent with themselves as well as the MM. But at least for those with access to that former link, they can use that now instead of having to dig out their books. – NathanS Aug 10 at 11:46
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up vote 12 down vote accepted

No; conjure animals summons a specified number of beasts of a certain CR, not a swarm of them

As written, conjure animals summons a specified number of beasts, and a swarm is a collection of an indeterminate number of creatures. As the Monster Manual specifies, a swarm is a "Medium swarm of Tiny beasts"; a swarm is not a single "beast". The creatures within a swarm are not treated as distinct entities when treating the collective group as a swarm.

Thus, a swarm of any sort of animal would not qualify for any of the four options listed in the conjure animals spell.

The designers have been consistent in their rulings regarding swarms: they are not a single beast. They have not addressed this exact question in the Sage Advice Compendium or on Twitter, but they have addressed similar questions about swarms.

Jeremy Crawford, official rules designer for 5e, responds to a question about using Wild Shape to turn into a swarm here:

Druid Wild Shape: 1) Can only be used to take the form of "beast" type? 2) Can be used to become a Swarm of Bats?

Wild Shape lets you transform into a single beast. A swarm is a collection of beasts, not one.

Crawford answers the same question again here:

can druids wild shape into swarms?

Wild Shape isn't intended to turn you into a swarm. It turns you into one beast.

Chris Perkins, another designer for 5e, addresses the same question (asked by a different person) here:

Can Druids use Wild Shape to turn into swarms of animals?

A swarm isn't a single creature, so no.

And Mike Mearls, co-creator and designer for 5e, weighs in here:

Can druids Wild Shape into swarms?

do not believe so

And on a non-Wild Shape-related note, Crawford replies here to a question about the Trident of Fish Command (which can be used to cast dominate beast on "a beast that has an innate swimming speed") and whether a swarm counts as one fish for the purpose of that targeting:

Would a swarm of quippers count as one or multiple fish when it comes to things like the trident of fish command?

A swarm is a collection of creatures, so a swarm of quippers counts as multiple fish.

As you can see, both the RAW and RAI indicate that a swarm is not "one beast", but rather a collection of beasts.

RAI Seems no.*

Wild Shape lets you transform into a single beast. A swarm is a collection of beasts, not one.

While talking about the wildshape originally, same quote can be used in this topic. That means "One beast of challenge rating 2 or lower" can't be a swarm of X kind of beast.

You could still try to use the "8 beasts of 1/4 or lower" to get 8 rats and say each 4 is a swarm. That would be completely up to the DM to decide though.

*: Taken from this question. Thanks to V2Blast

I would still rule yes. You can summon swarm of X as a creature.

I came up with two points that support this.

  • Action economy
  • Encounter building XP

So first point arguing a swarm of X is a single creature because they get 1 action no matter how many tiny Xs it is told to contain. If they were indeed... let's say 12, tiny creatures each would have a seperate action/movement etc.

Second point looks at the encounter building with swarms. Each swarm is considered to be a single creature with single CR rating. They also count as a single creature when determining the XP modifier for having multiple monsters in an encounter.

Unfortunately this is still ambiguous because of the wording of the spell and swarm creatures. However I insist if they are contained in a single stat block, they are a single creature for all mechanical purposes.

I don't have any personal experience regarding summoning swarms, obviously, plus we usually go with "caster chooses CR, DM decides what you get". If DMs not sure they simply won't get any swarms involved.

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