Swarms can be a big problem. In both Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and in Pathfinder they are either immune to weapon damage or take less damage than normal from many weapons (see here and here, respectively). Sure, the PCs could use torches, but that's really inefficient against a swarm with lots of Hit Dice.

I am aware that wands and scrolls of spells can be used by some mundane characters, and expensive magic items can defeat swarms, but I am more interested in methods that are available to all characters—including those who can't cast spells—and in methods that don't cost a few thousand gp.

What efficient, inexpensive methods exist for mundane characters to deal with swarms?

  • \$\begingroup\$ The type of swarm is also important so we can answer this. A swarm of rats have different vulnerabilities than a swarm of cockroaches. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 19:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras yes, it's especially important to know whether it's a flying swarm. \$\endgroup\$
    – barbecue
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 21:25

4 Answers 4


Run away

Most swarms have a speed of 20 ft, meaning that the standard humanoid character may run away from them with ease considering they have a 30 ft base movement speed.

Keep in mind that swarms are hundreds, if not thousands, of very small creatures. That is not something that even remotely sounds like something simple to handle for a mundane character. They are not used to creating explosions by snapping their fingers. As such, their most common reaction should be to get away from it and as fast as possible.

Mundane Weapons

Depending on the size of the individual creature that form the swarm, they may take half damage from slashing and piercing weapons, and full damage from bludgeoning weapons:

A swarm made up of Tiny creatures takes half damage from slashing and piercing weapons. A swarm composed of Fine or Diminutive creatures is immune to all weapon damage.

So, a swarm of ravens (a Tiny creature) could be killed with swords and spears normally, with some difficulty. While you couldn't harm a swarm of spiders (a Diminutive creature) using such weapons.

Makeshift explosives

You may improvise an explosive using lamp oil (1 sp) and fire:

You can also use a flask of lamp oil as a splash weapon. Use the rules for alchemist’s fire, except that it takes a full-round action to prepare a flask with a fuse. Once it is thrown, there is a 50% chance of the flask igniting successfully.

And you may also pour it on the ground and ignite:

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.

Real explosives

Nearly all alchemical splash weapons are effective against swarms, as they deal damage in an area, and are especially effective against swarms:

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.

So, this would include acid flasks, alchemist fires, grenades and more. See the Alchemical Creations for a full list of them.

Try some repellent

If we are talking about a swarm of small insects, the Vermin Repellent (5 gp) may keep them off you:

This vile-smelling white paste keeps vermin at bay if spread on the skin. Normal-sized (Fine) vermin avoid you. Swarms of vermin must make a DC 15 Fortitude saving throw in order to enter your square. Once applied, vermin repellent remains effective for 4 hours or until you spend 1 round washing it off.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @annoyingimp I know the wording on swarms are confusing, but if they were immune to all "direct hits", they couldnt be hit by torches or mundane weapons either. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 11:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding swarms of Tiny creatures, I was under the impression that while slashing/piercing does half, nothing mentions Bludgeoning, which would deal full damage? Using a hammer to bash a swarm of rats? \$\endgroup\$
    – Frezak
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Frezak that is correct. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 16:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ While creating my question about the issue, I stumbled upon already existing question on a similar topic. Lone answer there perfectly describes my point about initial attack with alchemical weaponry against swarm. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 15, 2019 at 13:26

How about the Swarmbane Clasp? I'm not entirely sure it fits your definition of 'efficient', since it costs 3000gp. However, it is a permanent and reusable item, rather than a one-shot, and is specifically designed for 'mundane' characters (i.e. non-spellcasters). It's a neck slot item, so characters will likely not wear it constantly, but after a round to prepare, your weapons now deal full damage to swarms. Not only is it permanent, but it effectively scales with you, since it just uses your normal weapon attack stats.

Alternatively, there are many Alchemical splash weapons available, all of which will do 150% damage to swarms on either a direct hit or a splash due to being an area effect item. These are all single use items, but even the most expensive is only about 150gp (the Adamantine Pellet Grenade), and can effect most targets, not just swarms.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As per the rules quoted in ShadowKras's post, any area effect weapon, splash included, do 150% damage to swarms, either on direct hit or splash. I'd excluded that before, but I'll add it in now. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Targeting an AC is not necesarily the same as single target. The weapon itself is still an area effect, in my opinion, even if using the creature's AC to hit it. And swarms still have an AC. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 0:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ While creating my question about the issue, I stumbled upon already existing question on a similar topic. Lone answer there perfectly describes my point about initial attack with alchemical weaponry against swarm. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 15, 2019 at 13:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @annoyingimp Nice find. Not entirely sure I agree with the conclusions, myself, although the reasons might be convention rather than rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 20:06

Sometimes you might have a recourse. Sometimes a swarm is made up of things large enough (Tiny) to attack. Sometimes vermin repellant will deal with the problem, if you happen to have some. Sometimes you can go around or avoid swarms. Sometimes you have enough alchemical splash weapons to deal with them.

But sometimes, none of those apply. The swarm might be too small to attack with regular weapons at all. And maybe it’s not something vermin repellent has any effect, even if you actually have some. You might not have real alchemical weapons (they aren’t very useful above the very lowest levels, so you might not bother restocking; of course, you regret it if you run into a swarm immune to everything else). Maybe you have things for makeshift explosives, but they’re terribly inefficient. And sometimes, you really do have to get through the swarm, and swarms can be seriously dangerous threats, so just dashing through is a bad idea. Plus there might be other enemies around you also have to worry about, who aren’t going to let you carefully take your time dealing with the swarm. For that matter, they may well be creating more swarms for you to deal with.

Sometimes, a swarm is literally immune to everything a mundane character might want to do to them and they don’t happen to have the specialized tools you need to deal with them. And in that instance, a mundane character has just about zero effective recourse. They simply cannot succeed at dealing with the problem: they are totally hosed. The reality is, Pathfinder, as well as the D&D 3.5 edition it’s based on, completely hose mundane characters in a wide variety of ways, and swarms are one of the most blatant cases of that (second, probably, only to incorporeal foes). So there are some things you might be able to use some of the time, if you’re lucky, but sometimes there just isn’t.

Hopefully you have a GM who recognizes these systemic flaws, and tunes their encounters accordingly.


Go jump in a lake! (And lure the swarm with you...)

Most swarms are not immune to suffocation, and some can't swim. Do NOT try this against a rat swarm!

Many swarms might lose track of you, so you can always try the classic reed in the water ninja trick.

Start a fire

Many mundane swarms will be deterred by flame. Unfortunately, your mundane character may also be deterred.

Find a tornado

Hey, it worked in Heroic Legend of Arslan!

Avoid rather than check...

The preferred method for dealing with force....


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .