Let’s talk about swarms (but not The Swarm, which is a whole different topic.) In several of the major fantasy roleplaying games, swarms are one of those early enemies that fill players with dread. Did you remember to bring an alchemist fire or some magic that has an area of effect? Because if not, that swarm might as well be invincible. Starfinder, though, is a Sci-Fantasy TTRPG, so of course swarms are trivial to your future tech adventurers, right? Wrong.
There aren’t a lot of low CR swarms in the Alien Archives (a problem that the AP volumes seem to have well in hand) and some of that may just be that is hard to make a swarm interesting beyond its core trait – it’s a swarm of tiny creatures trying to destroy you. The other part, learned from years of development, is that low level swarms kill adventuring parties. For the uninitiated, here is how swarms work in Starfinder: a swarm is a mass of tiny creatures that is considered a creature all of it’s own, often taking up the space of a Large creature. Swarms have swarm defenses and swarm immunities. Swarms generally don’t need to make attack rolls, as they have a swarm attack that auto-hits anything that is inside the mass of the swarm. Many (most) swarms have flight or climb, or other forms of movement that make them hard to get away from. Last, but certainly not least, due to their distraction ability it requires a check to cast spells or do anything that requires concentration while in a swarm.
With just those traits, a swarm is going to chew through a level 1 party of Starfinders if they encounter it in a setting that doesn’t allow them to escape. Maybe the soldier or envoy remembered to bring a few grenades, or the technomancer has overheat, in which case the party has a way, albeit limited, to harm the thing. Otherwise their laser rifles might as well be toy guns. The lovely marwaul swarm from Horizon’s of the Vast is ready to facilitate your TPK on a moment’s notice.
Most of this is because players, as a general rule, either forget or choose not to prepare for the possibility of a swarm. With how tight your starting credits are at level 1, it’s easy to think ‘Well, grenades I can afford don’t do a lot of damage, probably I can just skip them.’ and 9 our of 10 times you’d be right. There are other options though. Solarians, with their built in Nova ability, are natural swarm killers. No need for them to prepare (unless they encounter a Fire immune swarm that is…) For the other classes, making sure to have some kind of area effect damage capability is key. That can be weapons with the line or blast property, spell gems of acidic mist or overheat, or even the popular dragon gland augment if you can afford it. If you have heavy weapon proficiency, I’d suggest a shout projector. Failing all that, weapons with the automatic property can be used to make a fully automatic cone attack (using an entire clip) which will damage a swarm.
Remember folks, in the immortal words of Hicks from Aliens, always keep a scattergun ‘handy, for close encounters.” Better to have it and not need it, than to find you are trapped in a locked room with a hungry swarm and no way to damage it.
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