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).

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.


3 Answers 3


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

As written, the conjure animals spell summons a specified number of beasts, and a swarm is a collection of an indeterminate number of creatures. As the Monster Manual specifies (p. 337-339), each of the swarms listed there 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.

Furthermore, the "The Nature of Swarms" sidebar in Appendix A (MM, p. 337) clarifies what swarms really represent:

The swarms presented here aren’t ordinary or benign assemblies of little creatures. They form as a result of some sinister or unwholesome influence. A vampire can summon swarms of bats and rats from the darkest corners of the night, while the very presence of a mummy lord can cause scarab beetles to boil up from the sand-filled depths of its tomb. A hag might have the power to turn swarms of ravens against her enemies, while a yuan-ti abomination might have swarms of poisonous snakes slithering in its wake. Even druids can’t charm these swarms, and their aggressiveness is borderline unnatural.

It's clear from the rules that swarms aren't designed to be treated like mundane animals, and that they don't simply congregate naturally or for benign reasons. Rather, they're a result of some malevolent influence, disturbing the natural order of things in some way.

The designers have been remarkably consistent in their interpretations of the rules regarding swarms: they are not a single beast.

As of October 2020, this question is explicitly addressed by an official ruling in the Sage Advice Compendium:

Can conjure animals summon a swarm?

No. Conjure animals summons individual creatures, and swarms are groups of creatures.

This official ruling is simple and straightforward, and matches the rules referenced above.

It also lines up with a number of unofficial rulings on Twitter about using Wild Shape to turn into a swarm - by Jeremy Crawford in January 2016 and again in November 2016, and by Chris Perkins in June 2015 - as well as an unofficial ruling on Twitter by Crawford in January 2015 about whether a swarm of quippers counts as one fish for the purpose of the trident of fish command (which can be used to cast dominate beast on "a beast that has an innate swimming speed").

As you can see, the rules themselves, the official ruling in the Sage Advice Compendium, and a number of unofficial rulings on Twitter all 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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This question is now explicitly addressed in the latest Sage Advice Compendium: "Can conjure animals summon a swarm? No. Conjure animals summons individual creatures, and swarms are groups of creatures." You may want to update your answer accordingly. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Oct 6, 2020 at 6:55

Sage Advice says no, but RAW this is a mess

Now previous answers already linked to the Sage Advice answering this question with a big no, but I wanted to add a bit of context to this matter, that I feel is necessary in order to understand, why this question needs to be asked in the first place.

The core Ruleset of DnD 5e is based on keywords. This is something most people don't consciously think about, but if you actually look at it, certain words like action, creature, humanoid, etc. are all over the place. Whenever there is a rule that deviates from this underlying design choice, those rules become really hard to interpret, especially when they interact with other parts of the game (like a creature that doesn't interact well with an existing spell).

Most players already know this subconsciously, which is exactly why so many of us are good at spotting bad Homebrew. We just know it's not well written. But sometimes even WotC forgets this and just screws up.

This being said, let's look at “Conjure Animals”. The spell summons a specific number of beasts, meaning creatures of the beast type (keyword -> meaning). Let's assume we choose the one beast of CR 2 option, just as an example. We now summon a creature of type beast.

Does a "Swarm of X" creature qualify? Firstly, on the battlefield it's treated as one creature. So there's no real reason for us to believe that this is anything other than a creature when talking in a different context. This does qualify as a single creature. However, when we look at its creature type and size, it says something along the line of “Medium Swarm of Tiny Beasts”.

Now, this is a problem, because there's no ruling on what the primary creature type of the creature is. WotC forgot to give us a keyword to use. Is this primarily a Swarm or primarily a beast? There is no definite answer to this, but there is a reasonable argument to be made in favor of Swarm, because it's also attached to its primary size, Medium.

As a last note, the “Swarm of X” creatures are balanced around the fact, that they are indeed single creatures. There is no balancing issues when you allow these creatures to be summoned with “Conjure Animals”. The real issue with these creatures being beast comes from wild shape and polymorph, because this is often used as utility outside of combat. In combat, you can just hand wave away the fact that these swarms are unable to separate, but outside of combat it becomes much harder to explain. It is just hard to wrap your head around a person transforming into a swarm of creatures.

I hope this could help people.

(Btw English is not my first language, so sorry if this was hard to read)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I may be misremembering something, but I'm pretty sure one of the design principles of 5e was to somewhat move away from having the system built on keywords the way it was in 4e. I'm not sure the claim "The core Ruleset of DnD 5e is based on keywords" is true. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 9 at 18:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Replace keyword with "game term" \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 9 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I completely agree, but as an answer this would be stronger if you could give more examples of when "RAW this is a mess". You list that the swarm occupies a single space in combat, which is a good start. You might add that swarms are immune to grapple, but can they be pushed or pulled? Do spells that target one creature damage only one of the swarm, or does the damage carry over to the other members? Why? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 9 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ And note that on the second of the links above, the accepted and highly upvoted answer says "The rules aren't explicit, but they heavily imply that a swarm is considered one creature" Also, welcome to the stack! Take the tour when you have a chance and check out the help center. I found your post perfectly understandable but @GroodytheHobgoblin (user:75095) is an active poster and also from Germany, so you may be able to chat with him for language support. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 9 at 20:03

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