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My gut feeling is that wildshaping into a swarm is not RAI, but I've had such feelings at times and been wrong, so it feels worth asking.

When it comes to RAW, so far I cannot find anything that says you could not.

At 4th level, a druid gains the ability to turn herself into any Small or Medium animal and back again once per day. Her options for new forms include all creatures with the animal type.

Wild Shape includes any and all creatures of the Animal type, and while swarms are their own subtype, they are a subtype of Animal, which should be inclusive of the "parent type", right? Or is my programmer's thinking messing this up?

One could say that a swarm is many creatures, but...

Swarm Subtype: A swarm is a collection of Fine, Diminutive, or Tiny creatures that acts as a single creature.

The best I can come up with to counter this is that it says "acts as" and not "is a".

Finally, there's the issue of size for lower level druids, but my question is not restricted to early levels. So, if the druid can turn into fine or tiny creatures, are swarms okay?

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    \$\begingroup\$ KRyan posted a pretty nice-looking homebrew Swarm Druid variant class for 3.5e, complete with a "Swarm Shape" ability, in a related thread; maybe it could be adapted for Pathfinder. \$\endgroup\$ – Ilmari Karonen May 13 '14 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ To editors: "subtype" partly bolded was not an error but my, possibly mistaken, way of putting emphasis on the "sub" part. Oh well! \$\endgroup\$ – leokhorn May 14 '14 at 18:34
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No, they can't.

Emphasis mine:

Swarm Subtype: A swarm is a collection of Fine, Diminutive, or Tiny creatures that acts as a single creature.

First, while a swarm may act as a single creature, it isn't one. Second, you wouldn't Wild Shape into either a Small or Medium creature.

So, per , you cannot Wild Shape into a swarm.

However, like you said, it can be a bit open to interpretation. You should consult your GM to see if they'd allow this. I probably would, depending on what kind of swarm.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, most swarms are not composed of animals but of vermin. You can't change into a Medium ant either, it's not an animal. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 13 '14 at 22:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ "At 6th level, a druid can also use wild shape to change into a Large or Tiny animal", so size shouldn't be the counter-argument, unless I'm missing something? I otherwise agree with the other bit (acts as / is), as shown in my question. \$\endgroup\$ – leokhorn May 14 '14 at 18:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk: Still leaves a few fun ones, like monkey swarm ;) \$\endgroup\$ – leokhorn May 14 '14 at 18:48
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No.

A swarm is either a monster subtype or a template of creature. The template is from advanced bestiary, a third-party product. But for the sake of the rules as written, only the subtype is available.

To quote the Polymorph subschool of the Transmutation school:

Polymorph spells cannot be used to assume the form of a creature with a template or an advanced version of a creature.

Swarms are not a single creature, but a collection of creatures of the same type. The polymorph spells allow you to assume the form of a single creature of that type, not a collection of creatures of that type.

A swarm is a collection of Fine, Diminutive, or Tiny creatures that acts as a single creature.

In other words, if you want to assume the form of a rat (tiny animal) from a rat swarm, you can. You simply cannot assume the form of about 300 rats from a rat swarm, as those spells do not state you can turn into multiple creatures, but one creature.

Also, none of the currently published polymorph spells allow you to pick a creature's subtype. The spells are precise on what you can obtain from them, and it is known that you do not gain the creature's type with polymorph spells.

Swarm Monger druid archetype

Swarm Monger is a druid archetype released with the Blood of the Beast Player Companion, that changes Wild Shape to allow the character to assume the form of a swarm of vermins, functioning like the Swarm Skin spell (see bellow).

At 12th level, a swarm monger can use wild shape to transform into a swarm of vermin, functioning as swarm skin, but not allowing her to split into more than one contiguous swarm.

Swarm Skin spell

Swarm Skin is a 6th level druid transmutation spell that turns your character into a swarm of insects and other creatures. It has a list of types of swarms you can turn into, instead of using your own stats with adjustments (as those wouldn't work for swarms anyway).

This spell exists since the Advanced Player Guide, and druids were allowed to wild shape into vermins, it should be mentioned as a reference to such ability.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer implies that I can't use alter self to become an elf because 'elf' is a subtype and you don't get subtype abilities. Also because the 3PP 'manimal' template changes a creature's type to monstrous humanoid, all monstrous humanoids RAW must be templated creatures with that template, and thus are not valid forms for polymorph. Also that not gaining the swarm subtype means you can't pick a swarm as the creature to turn into. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Apr 17 '17 at 21:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did exclude the template from my answer if you read it carefully. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Apr 17 '17 at 21:29
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Druids can shape into swarms, but only a couple

The wild shape ability states, in part:

At 4th level, a druid gains the ability to turn herself into any small or Medium animal and back again once per day. Her options for new forms include all creatures with the animal type. This ability functions like the beast shape I spell, except as noted here. The effect lasts for 1 hour per druid level, or until she changes back. Changing form (to animal or back) is a standard action and doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity. The form chosen must be that of an animal the druid is familiar with.

(emphasis added)

Swarm is a subtype, not a type, and there are a number of animal-type creatures with the swarm subtype, such as the rat swarm and bat swarm. Since an [animal] swarm is a creature with the animal type, a druid familiar with a given [animal] swarm can wild shape into one starting at 4th level assuming they meet the rest of the requirements. In actuality, however, they will not be able to shape into any swarms until they can shape into tiny animals (6th level), since no published animal swarms are bigger than tiny.

Remember, also, that the ability functions like the beast shape line when an animal is chosen, and that beast shape I states:

When you cast this spell, you can assume the form of any Small or Medium creature of the animal type.

and beast shape II increases this to:

This spell functions as beast shape I, except that it also allows you to assume the form of a Tiny or Large creature of the animal type.

Which includes swarms. However, turning into a swarm, much like turning into anything in pathfinder (short of PaO) doesn't actually grant you the important parts of what you are turning into, most of the time. Remember that when you wild shape, most things stay the same.


"But aren't swarms lots of creatures, rather than one?"

Nope.

Each creature has one type, which broadly defines its abilities. Some creatures also have one or more subtypes.

Which makes it clear that creatures are what have types. Furthermore, from the Swarm subtype:

creatures with the swarm subtype don’t make standard melee attacks.

which makes it clear that creatures with the swarm subtype are, in fact, creatures in their own right (in addition to being a collection of creatures).

If you do houserule that a swarm is not a creature, be aware that the consequences will be far-reaching and strange. Since everything permanent in the rules is either a creature or an object, many rules won't apply to swarms. For example, the swarm subtype provides rules that protect swarms against creature-targeting spells, which is made irrelevant if swarms are not creatures. For example, a non-creature swarm with a hive mind is immune to creature-targeting mind-affecting abilities because it is not a creature. And, while 'A swarm can occupy the same space as a creature of any size, since it crawls all over its prey' a swarm can't necessarily occupy the same space as another swarm, since they are not creatures. This means, for example, that a cat swarm may be unable to attack a rat swarm because it must enter its opponent's space to attack and is unable to do so. Also, this means that swarms count as unarmed opponents, since they are not a creature with an innate attack form. And furthermore, while "If your target is two size categories larger than the friendly characters it is engaged with, [the shooting into melee] penalty is reduced to –2", "There is no penalty for firing at a creature that is three size categories larger than the friendly characters it is engaged with". And so on.

Basically, everything physical in Pathfinder is either a creature or an object, and while there are edge cases swarms are not one of them. Swarms are creatures by the RAW and changing that will break huge portions of system. It makes far more sense to just houserule wild shape and beast shape if that's what you don't like.


"Oh, but swarms are creatures (or, rather, groups of creatures), they just aren't a creature"

This doesn't actually fix anything. A collection is not its parts, and so swarms being a 'group' doesn't actually fix any of the problems caused by them not being creatures. A group of creatures still doesn't count as a creature for the purpose of targeting rules, combat rules, templating rules, etc. If this seems confusing to you, I recommend you read up on intensive v.s. extensive object properties.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The swarm is a collection of creatures that acts as one. It doesn't even say 'effectively' one creature, but merely acts as one. It's still many creatures with but one action. (I didn't down vote) \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus Apr 17 '17 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chemus In what way do you feel my answer fails to show that spurious reasoning to be false? I tried to dedicate my last two paragraphs+extra to that. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Apr 19 '17 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your reasoning suggests that a swarm is only one creature and anything that changes that breaks many other creature systems in the game. The rules regarding swarms are that they are creatures, but in the plural rather than singular; that's why there are rules saying that they cannot be targeted by anything that would target an individual creature. One swarm is not 'an animal' (or vermin) one swarm is 'many animals'. \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus Apr 19 '17 at 17:57

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