Swarm Shift
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Basic Information

Swarm shifting is a supernatural power which allows the user to convert himself into a swarm of much smaller creatures - perhaps a form of shape shifting with conservation of mass.

The swarm may then remain coherent and directly controlled by the core mind - even to the extent of forming a humanoid mass of (creatures) and fighting on, or may still be coherent but behave more like a swarm of creatures under loose direction (as to whether they fight, flee or whatever).

Alternatively the core consciousness may be fragmented and rendered temporarily dormant until the original body is re-assembled - which may take some time if the users control over the swarm is weak.

This power is commonly found amongst unpleasant creatures - necromancers, undead (especially mummies) and the like and some (such as the Worm that Walks) are more or less made of it. These sort of entities usually transform into swarms of something unpleasant - flies, rats, beetles, worms or maggots are favourites. For added squick the subcreatures themselves may be undead. In some interpretations a vampire may transform into a bat-swarm rather than a single bat.
If the creature transforms into a cloud of butterflies, doves or hummingbirds1 then it may be one of the few non-evil examples … but on the other hand, that's the sort of thing The Fair Folk might do, and the less you have to do with them the better.

In swarm form a shifter can often bypass obstacles that would impede their normal form (some subcreatures being better for this than others) and are typically more or less immune to normal weapons - which can only kill a few subcreatures at a time. As against that, the swarm will usually lack manipulative ability and be unable to carry anything. For a really worrying variation the core mind may be aware, however dimly, of anything perceived by the sub creatures - and disperse its swarm over a wide area to keep watch, concentrating where it finds a good place to act. Arguably worse would be the swarmshifter that can heal itself by recruiting mundane versions of its subcreature into the swarm.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Good for drama as the PC runs his sword through the villain only to see him to burst into a swarm of rats and vanish up a series of nearby drainpipes. As long as every villain doesn't do that, or it just becomes annoying.
    • every villain of one type though… "Fulgin Veil necromancers tend to learn to swarm shift - we went up against a whole chapter of them and every single one burst into a swarm of something disgusting when you landed a good hit on them. 'Course that trick only works so many times … singed a few pairs of boots I can tell you."
  • The appropriate subcreature thing can be played a variety of ways roach-swarm man is liable to be durable (especially if able to heal by recruitment), but not likely to garner much respect, whereas the guy that turns into a swarm of flesh eating beetles will have your PCs running for the showers.
  • Opponents like these will tend to make people reconsider the obsolesence of flamethrowers.
  • Could make an interesting characteristic for a non-villain. The swarm of butterflies is likely just to be colour, but a dead ally able to partially manifest in a swarm of his beloved bees or a genius loci that manifests as a swarm of local birds might be interesting.
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