February 22, 2016

Vermin Lord

Druid Circle
Comments from the Finger: Requested a few times, and I do love an evil druid.

Circle of Vermin

Druids of the Circle of Vermin, sometimes known as Vermin Lords, find their source of power in the lowliest of creatures: insects, rats, spiders, and other pests. Unmistakably, your coming is signaled by the scrambling of little claws and the cawing of the crows. You hold legions of these creatures at your command, ready to swarm, bite, and claw, and you can become one of them, to walk among your children.

Lord of the Low
Starting at 2nd level, you can Wild Shape into a Swarm of Rats, Bats, or Ravens as a bonus action. At 6th level, you can also Wild Shape into a Swarm of Insects (including all Variant Insect Swarms), and at 10th level, into a Swarm of Snakes.
     Also, you are a friend of the lower creatures. Before making an attack against you, a tiny beast or swarm of tiny beasts must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the beast loses the attack. If a beast's saving throw is successful, it is immune to this feature for the next 24 hours.

Amass Vermin
At 2nd level, as you walk, vermin congregate at your side, and you are never to be found without a rat or spider making its nest in your robes. When you take as short or long rest, you can call a companion swarm to your aid, summoning a new swarm that you can Wild Shape into or restoring your current swarm to full hit points.
     Add your proficiency bonus to the swarm’s AC and attack rolls, as well as to any saving throws and skills it is proficient in. Its hit point maximum equals its normal maximum or four times your druid level, whichever is higher.
     The swarm obeys your commands as best as it can. It takes its turn on your initiative, though it doesn’t take an action unless you command it to. On your turn, you can verbally command the swarm where to move (no action required by you). You can use your bonus action to verbally command it to take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, or Dodge action.

Earth Sense 
By 6th level, vibrations in the ground echo through its ants and earthworms, and by extension, you can sense them. You gain tremorsense with a range of 10 feet.

Body of Plague 
By 10th level, you have been in such close proximity to vectors of plague that you are immune to disease and being poisoned.

We Swarm
Beginning at 14th level, if you Wild Shape into the same form as your companion swarm, you can merge into a single Great Swarm as a bonus action on your turn. This new form is one size category larger than the normal swarm. While merged, your companion swarm does not act other than as part of the Great Swarm.
     You have advantage on attack rolls against creatures caught in the swarm and you deal 10d10 piercing damage on a hit. If a creature attacks the Great Swarm, it has a 50% of targeting you and a 50% chance of targeting your companion swarm. If the Great Swarm takes damage from a source other than an attack, both you and your companion each take half damage. You can dissipate into two swarms as a bonus action.

Changelog: 2/23/16: Earth Sense: Changed from blindsight to tremorsense.
Empathy of the Low: Renamed Lord of the Low: Added wildshape options early.
Amass Vermin: You can summon any swarm that you can wildshape into. Don't add your proficiency bonus to the swarm's damage rolls. HP is higher of 4X druid level or swarm's original HP. Bonus action to command it to act.
We Swarm: No longer grants wildshape (now granted by Lord of the Low). Great Swarm damage set at 10d10 piercing.
2/24/16: Lord of the Low: You can assume Insect Swarm Variant forms, as provided in the sidebar on MM338.
2/27/16: Lord of the Low: Wildshape to vermin is a bonus action


  1. I really do love me some Swarm druids, but I fear that requiring an action to attack with the Companion Swarm will end up in the same sort of weird space as the Beastmaster's pet. Would it not give the archetype a little more mileage if the Companion Swarm's actions were a Bonus Action to use?

    All that said, I do like the look of this. A bit of a pity it requires level 14 in order to Swarm Form, but I quite like the way you handled it. Though I would be concerned about simply utility, given 5E's pretty scarce number of Swarms.

    For instance, you can only fly with Bats and Ravens, and even then Great Swarm would only be dealing 4d4 damage. Given that Swarms are relatively simple in terms of design, what would be your thoughts on allowing players to more or less 'build a swarm,' with a scaling base that could then be customized for Flying, Swimming, Climbing in terms of movement, and perhaps even customized attacks. Either poison for something like serpents or spiders, or a draining attack for leeches and bats. Or simply improved damage if you just want to rock out locusts.

    1. Yeah, the Swarm Companion borrows its mechanics from the Beastmaster's pet almost directly, because I'm always cautious about breaking the action economy using minions. A bonus action makes sense, but I'm going to have to look into it to make sure that won't make this outright better than other major features at this level and doesn't break the game in some other way.

      My original draft called for Swarm Form at level 2, but it ended up being too much too early, and the only other appropriate slot for a druid was at the capstone, so I merged it with We Swarm. I'm open to switching this up if I can find the right way to do it. Like, do I move it back to 6th level? 10th level? What do I remove?

      On your last point, "Build-A-Swarm" (besides sounding like the most awesome competitor to Build-a-Bear ever) sounds a lot like a job for templates. Writing a template is easy, but making sure that it doesn't create a hazardous exploit with any combination of monsters is super hard, and it introduces a sort of running problem where this class can be broken by an exploitable monster released after it, which is bad. That said, I think I'll be avoiding that approach.

      I'm open to improving We Swarm, but I'm interested in it being simple. An entire create-a-monster system for 1 feature is a little cumbersome, and might turn people off from using it.

      Thanks for the comment, by the way. Really hits on some things I can improve here

    2. Well, I'd argue that borrowing from the Beastmaster isn't the best way to get something that sits at the same level of power as other classes, as atleast among everyone I talk to and play with, Beastmaster is regarded as one of the worst archetypes in the game, particularly for the reason of the action economy.

      And I wasn't thinking that in-depth of the Build-A-Swarm which would work for both We Swarm and Swarm Companion. Rather just a slowly progressing form that gets a choice of upgrades at 6th and 10th levels.

      For example: Default Swarm form at level 2 deals 2d4 damage. At 6th, this increases to 3d4 damage, and the druid gets a choice of Swimming or Flying. At 10th, this increase to 4d4 damage, and the druid gets a choice of Poison ala Swarm of Snakes, a Drain that returns half damage as healing, and swapping damage dice from d4's to d6's.

      Doesn't seem overly complicated and it allows the druid to customize their swarm a little bit to the type of animals they thematically might want to stick with, and it means that if the druid wants to fly in its Swarm Form at level 14, he isn't stuck dealing kittens of damage in Bats or Ravens.

    3. I think we can get this to work simply by swapping features around. What if we swap We Swarm with Earth Sense, and gave Earth Sense a bit more power? If that seems OP, maybe unlock merging at 14th level?

    4. I feel like Earth Sense is at a pretty good level where it is. The issue is in my eyes is simply the fact that if I want to play a flying swarm, when I get to 14th and get my druid capstone, I just get access to either 2d4 damage if I want the senses of a bat, or 2d6 damage if I just want damage. And having to wait until 14th level to do the effective damage of a greatsword is a little underwhelming, even if it gets a boost to 4d4 or 4d6 by We Swarm's merging.

      The only real issue I have is the fact that it ultimately forces the Swarm Druid to potentially abandon its own desire in forms of swarms due to the limited nature of swarm forms. If I want to be a druid that more or less has exclusive connections with carrion birds or locusts, I end up more or less forced to use serpents instead simply because it's the stronger swarm.

    5. Quick responses because I need to be off in a moment:

      @Build-a-Swarm: You're probably over-simplifying the process here a little. I can go into detail why this is a little later, but it's really not something I'm interested in doing here. The trade-off boils down to complexity versus need: if the design system isn't complicated enough, it really isn't worth it, and if it's too complicated, it stops having any real meaning. Like I said, more detail later.

    6. Okay, so I think this subclass needs some work, but I'm going to keep using the published swarm forms, rather than using a new type of stat block for them. The reason for this is that I don't think that I could offer enough customization to make this type of system more attractive than selecting from the current list of swarms. There's only so much I can do with this type of creature, after all. Swarms need to be replaceable, because they can't regain hit points, so it needs to make sense that you are selecting from a list of creatures that might be easy to find. 'Upgrading' these creatures starts getting tenuous if I make a system that provides a reasonable amount of customization, because I'll open up the possibility that the companion swarm won't be a normal creature at all. If it's flying, poisonous, and can spin webs, it doesn't sound like a normal creature.

      - - -

      So, the current plan is to open up the wildshape list by including swarm options as wildshape options when they become available to your swarm companion. Then, I'm going to give the Great Swarm some additional benefits to better incentivize its use. I'm also going to try to rewrite the Amass Vermin section to do its own thing with regards to the companion swarm, so that it's a little more interesting to play.

  2. Love it, just one note:
    The way the 6th level feature is worded, wouldn't it be tremor-sense rather than blind-sight?

    1. I looked in the PHB and it didn't detail Tremor Sense as something a player could use. Twas quite the change from 3.5. Is this detailed in the Monster Manual, I wonder?

    2. Yeah, Tremorsense is detailed in the Monster Manual.

    3. I plan to get down to editing this tonight, and I'll almost certainly swap this out for proper tremorsense. (I was under the impression that it wasn't very well detailed anywhere)

  3. In 4e I played a Primal Swarm druid, and reskinning spells to be all swarm-y was super fun! Glad to see this - I haven't played a Druid much in my DND career, but I've been recently hankering to play one, and I wish they had a few more archetypes to choose from. Too bad the SCAG didn't add one (mechanically), but at least there's homebrew!

  4. So, I have to ask - is it impossible to get a sidebar about fluffing the swarms differently at least? I for one, would want to use wasps for all the different stat blocks.

    Also, spiders are called out in the swarm companion description and yet they aren't a swarm option.

    As-written, this archetype is really just a very specialized vampire. I like making themed characters and this is almost enough to make me want to play a wasp themed character but not possible if I have to upgrade to snakes at the end no matter what.

    1. Oh, it did not occur to me that I didn't mention that you can use the Variant Insect Swarms (including wasps, spiders, and beetles.) Let me edit that in -- it was totally my intention that you can use them

    2. Yeah, that was sort of my biggest issue at first, Shardin. Between allowing for Variant Insect Swarms and the separate damage pool for We Swarm, think it should do you quite nicely now.

  5. Now seems to be in a much better design-space, though I would need to playtest it a bit to see if that We Swarm damage is too much. With near guaranteed advantage, 10d10 is a helluvah swing. Somewhat moderated by the single attack you'd be getting out of it, but that's certainly a major boost from the previous cap of We Swarm at 4d6 or 8d4. Just curious what led you to set it at that damage pool.

    Another question in rewards to We Swarm: Does that damage pool completely replace the attack your Swarm Form would have otherwise dealt? For instance, in the case of a swarm of snakes, do you still get a poison or no? I'm assuming the Great Swarm likewise keeps the movement and senses of your regular Swarm Form, as well?

    Hate to be a nag, as I really do love what I'm seeing , and swarm druids have always been one of my favorites.

    1. I wanted the damage of a great swarm to be preferable to 8d4, but I kinda ballparked the number. What I'll probably do is reduce this to 1/short (or 1/long) and maybe reduce the damage a little. I need to do some comparisons to other Druid damages at this level before I lock in the value for good.

      The great swarm only gets that damage - this is to keep snakes from being the best, bar-none - and it retains all the other stats of your regular swarm.

      It's not nagging at all. This one was something I wanted to release ages ago, and it's been requested maybe half a dozen times, but I was having trouble getting it to work. It's good having people like you in the comments keeping me at my best.

  6. One swarm from the monster manual is missing.How about a swarm of quippers. Would it be possible to have a piranha druid for an aquatic campaign or something like that.

    1. I'll have to put that in a sidebar. It probably would come up so rarely, I didn't think it needed an up-front inclusion (otherwise, I would need to include a bunch of stipulations about summoning them.)

  7. Awesome class, excited to play it. The lack of features like Primal Strike and Combat Wild Shape are very rough since I feel like I'm losing effectiveness. I feel like swarms and swarm features are extremely fun but don't make up for what we're losing. I would like to see some extra features that could be added to the swarms, similar to the Abberant Druid that I really enjoyed playing. Very cool class and I'm excited that you guys went for it.

    1. Well, I tried my best to get it in the right power bracket on this one (you can only do so much with Wild Shape.) However, I did give it Wild Shape into swarms as a bonus action, so this might mitigate your concerns a little bit.

  8. I think he's right on action economy; The Wizards themselves have said that the Beastmaster archtype doesn't work as effectively as they'd like, so it seems a little amiss to bass a druid archtype on an already failed archtype feature.

    Further, I think Derek is spot-on. Custimizing your swarm makes a lot of sense. You could add different abilities to the swarm as you level, similar to Warlock invocations. But the idea isn't to create new creatures. Rather, the swarm would be an amalgamation of different creatures moving together. So, if you have, say, spiders in your swarm, you could command it to build webs; you could limit that ability to the ground, or you could say that the spiders stick themselves to the bats / ravens. I think the limiting certain functions to their respective terrains is simpler, but the basic idea doesn't seem that difficult or game breaking. Instead of a swarm of just ravens, it's a swarm of spiders, snakes, rats, roaches, bats, ravens and random other animals. I actually think this is much better, an amalgamation of animals in your swarm, because you don't have to define what those animals are, and it can be left up to the PC and the imagination of the group; it could be a swarm of woodland critters, or it could be random bugs including centipedes, spiders, scorpions, millipedes, and a hundred other random indistinct bugs and beetles, varying by geography, probably. To fly, insect swarms could contain all sorts of beetles, mosquitos, locusts, crickets, mantises, or other flavor bugs. HP regen could be gained from bats or mosquitos or ticks or any other blood-sucking animals. They shouldn't necessarily be restricted to "what's there" in the rulebook, because that's lame. As a swarm druid, if I want a swarm of birds, I shouldn't be restricted to just ravens and crows, but might have access to a few bigger birds for increased damage, or mix it in with snakes and spiders on the ground; the birds distract in the air of a space while the crawlers attack below. I mean, you see his point, right? His damage output shouldn't be squandered just because he wants his niche to be ravens and crows, or bats, over locusts or whatever does greater damage.

    And, to be fair, in a D&D campaign centered on magical fantasy, swarms could include creatures foreign to "us" by default; whose to say there doesn't exist a web-spinning fly in the world? or poisonous bats? or aquatic rats? If you collect these animals as a swarm companion, I feel like part of that flair is collecting rare or uncommon species and adding them to your repertoire of creepy crawlies, and breeding them indefinitely. Really hoping you change your mind and work on a nice evolving template for this... It's something I would definitely consider playing as under those circumstances. But being constrained to a solid bloc of a single animal just doesn't feel right for a swarm druid; I feel like you'd sort of like add your collection of assorted vermin to whatever happens to be in the area that you can attract.

    As a personal anecdote, my DM let me create a druid sort of like this once. As a roleplaying thing, I was a desert druid, sort of focused on decomposition and blight, that sort of summoned rats and worms and bugs to myself to decompose the corpses of those I'd slain (just as a fluff thing; my poison spray cantrip conjured poisonous bugs from my sleeve). It was fun, and I could interact with the different vermin around. This sort of class would augment that roleplay by a ton.

    But I do like your content very much. Hopefully you receive this well.