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Swarms of animated objects

BlivetWidget

Villager
I think it's generally recognized that tiny objects are the optimal target for the Animate Objects spell (beating out small objects for their higher AC and Dex, plus the wizard's ability of simply upend a pouch of coins / ball bearings / caltrops and have instant access to a bunch of tiny objects). The gameplay downside is that adding 10 creatures to the combat, each with its own initiative and position and attack... can bog things down a lot. There are unfortunately no rules for creating swarms in the DMG, but could we extrapolate some ideas?


Code:
Tiny construct per Animated Objects
HP:    20
Speed:   fly 30
Str:    4
Dex:    18
Con:    10
Int:    3
Wis:    3
Cha:    1
Senses:    blindsight 30 ft, passive perception 6
Damage Resistances:    None
Condition Immunities:    None
Bonus to hit:    8
Damage:    1d4 + 4
1/2 health damage:    
Other:    None
Being constructs, I think they should probably have some condition immunities, but it's not specified so I left them out.

Now for swarms, it looks like they generally use the same stat block as the original creature, with the following changes:
Increase HP (by how much is hard to say, the number of creatures is ambiguous) - let's say multiply by number of creatures.
Str x 4.
Increase to-hit bonus (looks like +2 is fairly common. Rat swarm is +2, poisonous snake swarm is +2, bat swarm is +4, raven swarm is +0).
Increase damage (let's say by 75%. They will do less damage at 100% health and more damage at 51% health than they would as individuals).
Add resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, slashing.
Add condition immunities to charmed, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned (fitting for constructs anyway).
They also lose 1/2 their damage output at 1/2 health.

So that leads to:

Code:
    Idea: Animated Swarm of 10 Tiny Objects
size:    medium
AC:    18
HP:    200
Speed:    fly 30
Str:    16
Dex:    18
Con:    10
Int:    3
Wis:    3
Cha:    1
Senses:    
Damage Resistances:    bludgeoning, piercing, slashing
Condition Immunities:    charmed, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned
Bonus to hit:    10
Damage:    8d4 + 28
1/2 health damage:    4d4 + 14
Other:    Swarm. The swarm can occupy another creature's space and vice versa, and the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a Tiny object. The swarm can't regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.
Thoughts? Do you think the swarm is better or worse than 10 of the original creatures? If you don't like it, what would you change with the formula? Remember, the goal here so to create a single creature with the same effectiveness as 10 of the original creatures while being less cumbersome. I recognize that the cumbersome nature is one of their heavy tactical advantages, given the nature of action economy. So I feel like the swarm is underpowered but fairish and I'm interested to hear your thoughts.
 
Last edited:

Esker

Explorer
It's a good goal, since creating so many creatures really bogs down the game if you don't have a good way to deal with it.

Ways in which the swarm is stronger than the individuals: they're way less susceptible to AoEs. A single fireball can completely annihilate ten animated objects, but does very little to the swarm.

Ways in which it's weaker: (1) Can't spread out for positioning control / increased chance of AoOs (as you mentioned). (2) By collapsing to a single attack roll, the damage output becomes much swingier. The chance that the ten individuals all miss is close to nil against most ACs, whereas the swarm has a fair chance of that happening. Conversely, the chance that ten individuals all hit is also close to nil against many ACs, whereas the swarm has a fair chance of that happening. Both of these outcomes are bad in general: the first is obvious, but the second means that the average damage output is factoring in a lot more potential overkill damage, which isn't real damage.

You could compensate for this swinginess by increasing the to-hit bonus further and decreasing the damage output further (and/or moving more of the damage output into the constant modifier and less in the dice). I'd have to do some math to figure out where to put these numbers, but it's definitely doable (the opposite extreme is auto-hit and always do average damage, so the sweet spot is probably somewhere in between this and that).
 

iserith

Explorer
You can resolve by applying the mob rules in the DMG (pg. 250) which foregoes any attack rolls, saving time. Then use average damage.
 

BlivetWidget

Villager
It's a good goal, since creating so many creatures really bogs down the game if you don't have a good way to deal with it.

(and other good thoughts)
Yes, I definitely agree with most of your thoughts! I would expect it to take 2 fireballs to destroy the tiny objects entirely though, since they are quite dexterous (many will probably pass their save). And there would be collateral damage, since some of the objects might be in amongst foes by the time someone can drop a fireball on them, and all would definitely be by the time a second fireball can be used. The fireball would need to be cast at level 5 to be statistically likely to drop them in one go (which isn't a terribly good use of a spell slot).

As for strengths, the resistance to AoE seems to just come with the territory of swarm creatures. Not sure if there's a solution to this, or if there even needs to be one.

As for weaknesses, the loss of action economy in compressing them into a single creature is sort of in the same boat. But I think we could solve the damage swing issue by splitting the attack into a multiattack. In my experience, attacks resolve much more quickly than the rest of the actions. We could go with any number, but since there are already creatures with 4 multiattacks, how about something like this (I also fixed a typo, most swarms are 4x stronger than baseline):

Code:
Idea: Animated Swarm of 10 Tiny Objectssize:    medium
AC:    18
HP:    200
Speed:    fly 30
Str:    16
Dex:    18
Con:    10
Int:    3
Wis:    3
Cha:    1
Senses:    blindsight 30 ft, passive perception 6
Damage Resistances:    bludgeoning, piercing, slashing
Condition Immunities:    charmed, frightened, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned
Challenge:    
Bonus to hit:    10
Damage:    multiattack, 4 x (2d4 + 7)
1/2 health damage:    multiattack, 2 x (2d4 + 7)
Other:    Swarm. The swarm can occupy another creature's space and vice versa, and the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a Tiny object. The swarm can't regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.
You can resolve by applying the mob rules in the DMG (pg. 250) which foregoes any attack rolls, saving time. Then use average damage.
Thanks, I did look at those. How well has this rule worked for you, in your experience? For me, it solves the wrong part of the problem: attack rolls are the fastest, easiest part of the round, especially if they are all against the same target. The time consuming part is task switching between way more creatures, controlling movement, checking for and/or resolving attacks of opportunity for an extra 10 creatures and any creatures they move past/away from or that moves past/away from them, accounting for LOS to and from them, determining to-hit for every target, etc. A swarm type creature compresses all this into one, much more manageable nugget.
 

iserith

Explorer
Thanks, I did look at those. How well has this rule worked for you, in your experience? For me, it solves the wrong part of the problem: attack rolls are the fastest, easiest part of the round, especially if they are all against the same target. The time consuming part is task switching between way more creatures, controlling movement, checking for and/or resolving attacks of opportunity for an extra 10 creatures and any creatures they move past/away from or that moves past/away from them, accounting for LOS to and from them, determining to-hit for every target, etc. A swarm type creature compresses all this into one, much more manageable nugget.
The mob rules worked fine, but also working in my favor is that the table rule is that if you're the sort of player who can't manage this sort of spell without bogging down the turn, you simply don't cast it. The player has a responsibility here in my view. (Same for summons, pets, etc.)
 

BlivetWidget

Villager
The mob rules worked fine, but also working in my favor is that the table rule is that if you're the sort of player who can't manage this sort of spell without bogging down the turn, you simply don't cast it. The player has a responsibility here in my view. (Same for summons, pets, etc.)
Indeed, that's exactly what I want to avoid - banning spells based on inconvenience. And let's face it, nobody can manage an extra 10 creatures without it bogging down the turn. Their very existence on the battlefield will slow everyone down, in fact, no matter how good of a job they do (all the LOS and AoO complications). That's why I'm looking to swarms. I do like your idea of just using the average damage, though.

As an alternative idea, we could let groups of tiny objects share initiative and move together. Up to 8 tiny creatures can fit in a 5x5 medium-creature cube. So 10 tiny creatures could easily be treated as two medium "creatures" with multiattack (one per tiny creature). Using average damage (round down to 6), this would be pretty manageable. Do you see any issue with letting groups move and attack together? Obviously it's not the same as individual initiative, but I don't think it breaks anything.
 

Shiroiken

Explorer
In my first campaign our dragon sorceress figured this one out as well. Her solution was fairly simple, because we were using Roll20 where you can make macros to automatically make fairly complicated rolls quickly. She always had them move in a swarm pattern, usually giving the command "kill this guy," and letting them go Cuisinart (she used a bandoleer of daggers). She'd roll all her attacks to determine the number of hits, which would then roll damage. She never really considered spreading the out, because she felt their combined power was better for cutting down boss monsters (and giants, who have craploads of HP, but seldom great AC).

I think the idea of using the Mob Rules in the DMG is probably the simplest solution for a non-VTT game.
 

iserith

Explorer
In my first campaign our dragon sorceress figured this one out as well. Her solution was fairly simple, because we were using Roll20 where you can make macros to automatically make fairly complicated rolls quickly. She always had them move in a swarm pattern, usually giving the command "kill this guy," and letting them go Cuisinart (she used a bandoleer of daggers). She'd roll all her attacks to determine the number of hits, which would then roll damage. She never really considered spreading the out, because she felt their combined power was better for cutting down boss monsters (and giants, who have craploads of HP, but seldom great AC).
That's basically what my players do. They police themselves for speed and that includes just keeping them on a single target.

It's not really about banning the spell [MENTION=6912801]BlivetWidget[/MENTION]. It's just players realizing that it can slow down play and taking reasonable steps to mitigate that.
 

BlivetWidget

Villager
It's not really about banning the spell
I'd never consider it. But it doesn't take much looking around these forums to see that's a common response to rules and often spells people don't like at their table. I have a strong inclination towards RAW, but if letting the objects share initiative seems to work for people, I think that may be the best solution. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.
 

iserith

Explorer
I'd never consider it. But it doesn't take much looking around these forums to see that's a common response to rules and often spells people don't like at their table. I have a strong inclination towards RAW, but if letting the objects share initiative seems to work for people, I think that may be the best solution. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.
The RAW is that like creatures share initiative anyway. It's still 10 creatures on one initiative count, but it's not like you're rolling 10 different initiatives for them, if that's a concern. As for your swarm, it seems a sound idea, but someone better at math than me will have to say if it has parity with the spell as written.

But anyway, players have an obligation to pursue the goals of play, that is, everyone having a good time and contributing to the creation of an exciting, memorable story. If adding this spell to their repertoire and then spending 10 minutes longer than usual (or some noticeable amount of time) resolving it impacts achieving the goals of play because everyone else at the table is getting impatient and annoyed or bored (impacting the goal of fun), then the player is obliged to either not cast that spell or get good at resolving it faster. And if they don't realize this is one of their obligations, the DM and other players are well-advised to remind them of it in my view.
 

BlivetWidget

Villager
The RAW is that like creatures share initiative anyway.
I forgot this, and thought it was an optional rule because it's not how everyone plays. PHB189 says you are very much correct. Solution to my problem was sitting in the core rulebooks the whole time... thanks for the reminder!
 

iserith

Explorer
I forgot this, and thought it was an optional rule because it's not how everyone plays.
You're right and it drives me crazy when I turn up in a game where a DM rolls individual initiative for monsters. Though it's still the same amount of actions to resolve, it really does slow things down because the initiative rolling takes longer and then, if those monsters are interspersed with PCs or other monsters, there's a "gear-changing" that eats up additional time. It really adds up!
 

mortwatcher

Explorer
Huh, I never even though of it as a 10 separate creatures that have their own initiative and can each take a different action.
How I played it and how I would rule it as well is that they all move as one swarm and all attack one creature only. And you better stock up on some D20s. I pre-rolled all of their attacks and damage on a turn of the player before. Did not bog down the combat that way.
 

Esker

Explorer
RAW, even if you wanted to have them attack different targets it'd take a bonus action from you per directive.

You're right about the fireball; it's unlikely that all of them would fail a DEX save.

I like the idea of 4 attacks at 2d4+7 that scale down as it loses HP; may as well just have thresholds at 150 HP, 100 HP and 50 HP where it goes from 4 to 3 to 2 to 1. With nice round numbers like that it's not really any harder than keeping track of whether it's above half or not.

I got around to doing the math, and I think you could get pretty close to the statistical properties of the individual objects by using a swarm that autohits and does 10d6 damage (with no modifier). The variance of that is now well below variance of 10 separate attacks, but not zero, as it would be if they always did average damage, which is a consolation prize for giving up the positioning and AoO ability of the individuals, and the average damage is the same as the individuals against an enemy AC of 18. Then at HP thresholds of 160, 120, 80, and 40, reduce the damage to 8d6, 6d6, 4d6, and 2d6.

If you really wanted to get fancy, you could add a constant modifier (which can be negative) of c * (18 - AC), where c = 3 at full HP, which will keep the average damage tracking roughly. At 120 HP c goes down to 2, and at 80 it goes down to 1.
 

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