In a session with a witch, a wizard and me, a rogue with a knife and crossbow, I found my character to be astonishingly useless against swarms. There was a swarm of Hellwasps and I quite literally just hid behind the magic users. The mages were rather absurdly effective (my contribution to the session was nil), and after looking up the general mechanics for swarms, it appears you have three options:

  • Area affect magic (I don't even have Minor Magic and don't plan on acquiring it)
  • A torch/fire swung as an improvised weapon
  • A lantern/fire source as an improvised thrown weapon

My character is a halfling who of course travels light, and I try not to carry anything that emits visible auras or significant magic auras, so I really do just have my crossbow, knife and armor for the most part. I have 4 pathfinder pouches to hide small magic items though so I'm not opposed to carrying anything that can fit in those pouches; I just don't want to be caught with a giant glowing quarterstaff; my character often has to pass as an innocent little (human) girl.

Is there any option for dealing with swarms like that? Are there items I could use or preferably tactics I could use to actually damage a swarm (or cause damage to them)? Or is running my only option when faced with a swarm when alone?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What level are you? Is not carrying magical items a character aspect, or just because you haven't acquired any good shininess yet? Tbh, to hear of a Rouge that isn't loaded to the gills with options is a bit strange to me. I suggest carrying lots of wands around, with various different spells in them. Wands are light, limited in spell level ( i.e. no significant magic auras ), and can give a Rouge a lot of options. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phill.Zitt
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 15:10
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Some swarms will take damage, it will depend on the size of the creatures in them; "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." \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Phill.Zitt level 12 (we started at 10 though and have only played 3 sessions). I honestly hadn't thought of wands; I've played 4 tabletop campaigns in 8 years, and this is my first in a few years, so I don't always consider all the options. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 15:25
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Not really an answer, but that is why you have team-mates. You are good at sneaky back-stabbing, they are good at putting swarms on the ground. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pulsehead
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 15:02

5 Answers 5


You’ve pretty much summed it up. As a Rogue, you should max Use Magic Device (it’s the best skill in the game), and thus you could be a kind of mini-caster of your own by using wands, but damage-dealing wands are usually a bad choice so doing that probably wouldn’t have helped you. Ultimately, Swarms are a weird case where you need things that aren’t usually very good. If you expect to be fighting a lot of swarms (as in several per day because the campaign revolves around them), there may be options for you, but if they’re only coming up occasionally then those options are too niche and costly to be worth it.

The long and short of it is, you’ve just learned (at least a small portion of) why spellcasters own 3.x. There are so many different types of monsters, and so many different sorts of defenses, that you need to be incredibly flexible and versatile to handle them all. Spellcasters are; mundanes are not.

It’s not just swarms; they’re just a great example. Swarms, incorporeal or ethereal creatures, creatures with lots of AC, DR, and/or HP, creatures with ways to become undetectable, creatures with ways to prevent you from moving, and so on: every one of them needs a different answer. A spellcaster, thanks to the fact that he can know and prepare many spells of each level, can actually start the day with all different kinds of answers. Got a problem? There’s a spell for that.

Mundanes, on the other hand, typically get class features and feats that cannot be changed once gotten. They also get them in much lower quantity than spellcasters get spells. They’re unlimited use, but as you’ve seen, that doesn’t do you very much good when you cannot use them. By level 12, spellcasters have a lot of spells: it’s a rare day for a smart spellcaster of that level where they go to sleep without quite a few left over. Mundanes can be good for encounters that play to their strengths (typically much higher damage than spellcasters), but in any sort of unusual case, like weird defenses or difficult terrain or whatever, they can be useless.

Unfortunately, this is just a reality of 3.x. It’s reflected in JaronK’s Tier List: the highest-tier classes include Cleric, Druid, and Wizard; the lowest tier classes (aside from NPC classes) include Monk and Paladin. The list is for 3.5, but while Pathfinder helped, for example, the Paladin quite a bit, it did not do nearly enough to eliminate this disparity. Ultimately, Pathfinder is a series of small changes here and there, whose net effect is very little change in the overall balance or feel of the system.

I’d direct you to Why each class is in its tier for more information. What it ultimately comes down to is how flexible you are: how often you have the perfect answer, and how often you have no answer at all.

Given a day’s preparation, a Cleric, Druid, or Wizard can always have the perfect answer, and even caught unawares they almost never have no answer: that’s tier 1.

A Rogue can have a good answer, though by no means a “perfect” answer, to some things, but what those things are cannot be changed once chosen and cannot possibly cover all of the different situations you could get into. That’s Tier 4.

I really wish I could tell you more. But this is just kind of a reality of the 3.x system that is hard to get around. You kind of just have to accept, as a mundane, that you’re not going to keep up very well if the spellcasters are smart.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This session sort of made me realize that; my completely ridiculous sneak bonus, crossbow and sneak attack damage were immediately eclipsed when people started using higher level spells. It's a bit annoying, but this was the first session where it's been a problem. Probably a fluke, our DM's pretty good at suiting the situation to the characters. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 15:31
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Though I disagree on the notion that damage-deal spells are 'bad', I agree that they are generally not the optimal way of doing things. I do agree, however, that Rouges should max UMD - not only is it a good skill, Rouges should always have options - wands give lots of options. Magic Items give similar options. Investing in a few items that have 3/day or 5/day on a spell or two each is usually a mix of cheap and effective, and you don't have to wear them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phill.Zitt
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Phill.Zitt: I said damage-dealing wands are bad. They rely on Caster Level, which is very expensive in a wand. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 16:13
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ reads post again. Well, uh... yes, yes you did. My apologies. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phill.Zitt
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 16:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ The expanse of magic item selection available in Pathfinder now closes the gaps between the tiers to an extent (the Rogue could have a Swarmbane Clasp, Ring of Freedom of Movement, Ghost Touch weapon, etc to prepare for a number of encounters) but it is true that trying to be useful in a party with a Wizard (and Witch for that matter) will definitely be a combination of working with the GM and other players. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 19:00

Buy a Swarmbane Clasp

This item costs 3,000 gp and makes all of your unarmed strikes, natural weapons, and (in your case) melee weapons deal full damage to a swarm. If you can somehow deny it of its Dexterity bonus, you can even sneak attack it -- though swarms cannot be flanked.

If someone in your party has Craft Wondrous Item as a feat, they can craft the item for 1,500 gp.


So I think there are some issues with the way you're playing a rogue, especially at level 10 or 12. You definitely need to carry at least some magic items.

I can understand a desire to not be radiating magic. But there should be a way to get a bag of holding / handy haversack that does not radiate obvious auras.

At high levels rogues really want a reasonable "Use Magic Device" score along with some array of basic tools. There are lots of things that could be purchased with starting money, especially at 10th level.

Things to consider Wands, Scrolls and Rings. Scrolls may be the most cost-effective.

For the swarms, you can hook these up with any of the basics: flaming sphere, fireball, black tentacles, firebreathing, defensive shock.

In general, there are lots of "one-shot" scrolls that are very useful. Things like invisibility are probably common enough to want on a ring (if you can), but things like Spider Climb, firebreathing, or fly are very useful to have handy.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You pay through the nose for a decent Caster Level on magic items. Better to focus on magic items/spells that don't improve a lot with Caster Level; no damaging spell fits that bill. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 4:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ If a rogue wants to add "area of effect" to their arsenal, they're going to have to pay for some type of damage. I agree that this is expensive, but not necessarily ridiculous. A 12th-level fireball scroll costs 900gp, 450gp with a Wizard in the party. And it's not like Rogues really spend big dollars on "other stuff". They have light armor and cheap weapons, so dropping some gold on a fireball scroll is far from ridiculous. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gates VP
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 7:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Their weapons should not be cheap; usually they have two of them which means they have to pay twice as much for the same stuff. And 900 gp or even 450 gp per shot is very expensive. Unless you're fighting swarms every day, you do not need area-affecting damage that badly. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 13:56

In my campaigns, I find that putting the tent from your adventurer gear over the swarm will cause it to clump into a hittable target. We usually found small or medium sized swarms and a tent should cover it. All you need are 3 more people to put it over the swarm, then next round all 4 smash the clump.

You could bait the swarm into a bag of holding or portable hole or some sort of a thing like that, then exit and close the magical container.

The swarm will suffocate to death ^_^ We killed a wartroll once this way.


For a low-level character without access to magic, the easiest/best tools for dealing with swarms are flasks of alchemists fire or acid. While they don't do the most damage in the game, they'll do 1.5x damage to swarms as area weapons, and also give an option for dealing with DR as well. At 10 gp for acid or 20 for alchemist's fire, they're cheap enough to use as a backup option anywhere past 1st level. Unfortunately, they have no real way to scale into higher levels.


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