March 17, 2021

Vermin Lord Redux

Druid Circle
Comments from the Pinky: Another old classic creepy-crawling its way onto the redux train.

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 innumerable children.

Lord of the Low
Starting when you choose this circle at 2nd level, you can expend a use of your Wild Shape feature as an action to magically summon a swarm of rats in your space. The swarm vanishes after a number of hours equal to half your druid level (rounded down), if it drops to 0 hit points, or if you use this ability to summon a new swarm.
The summoned swarm is friendly to you and your companions. Roll initiative for the summoned swarm, which has its own turns. It obeys any verbal commands that you issue to it (no action required by you). If you don't issue any commands to it, it defends itself from hostile creatures, but otherwise takes no actions. 
While the swarm is in your space, you have a +2 bonus to AC and, when you take damage, you can choose for the swarm to take damage instead of you.
Starting at 6th level, you can summon a swarm of bats, swarm of insects, or swarm of ravens, and starting at 14th level, you can summon a swarm of poisonous snakes.

At 2nd level, insects and rodents inhabit every nook and cranny of your clothes and gear. Whenever a creature within 5 feet of you hits you with an attack, these vermin retaliate, dealing 1d6 piercing damage to the attacker. Additionally, on each subsequent attack the creature makes before the end of its turn, it must roll a d4 and subtract the number rolled from the attack roll.

By 6th level, vibrations in the ground echo through its ants and earthworms, and by extension, you can sense them. You gain tremorsense, the ability to detect and pinpoint vibrations, with a range of 10 feet. To use this sense, you and the source of the vibrations must be in contact with the same ground or substance. This sense can’t be used to detect flying or incorporeal creatures.

Plague Carrier
Beginning at 10th level, your constant close proximity to disease-carrying creatures has not only inoculated you to their diseases, but allowed you to act as a vector of plague. You are immune to diseases and being poisoned. Whenever you would normally make a Constitution saving throw to resist contracting a disease or being poisoned, you can instead become a carrier of that disease or poison. You can only be a carrier of one disease or poison at a time, and you can only carry it for up to seven days. 
As a reaction when you take damage from a creature you can see within 5 feet of you, you can transfer a disease or poison you are carrying to that creature, which must make a Constitution saving throw against your spell save DC. On a failure, the creature contracts the disease or poison, and you are no longer a carrier of it.

Swarm Master
Starting at 14th level, whenever you use your Lord of the Low feature to summon a swarm, you can summon two swarms instead of one.

3/19/21: Lord of the Low: Extended duration, explicitly makes it impossible to stack multiple swarms until 14th level


  1. I adore the idea behind this, I just have a few questions/concerns

    1. Scaling for Lord Of The Low. I love the versatility this offers, but the 6th level swarms don't feel like a super meaningful improvement. I get that scaling the summons is tricky, but it feels like this ability peaks at level 2. Maybe just adding a HD per level to capitalize on the crunch of rat-tank and the fluff of UNENDING SWARM, instead of the full Ranger companion scaling package? I also might go for the normal druid wildshape time limit instead of a flat hour, to offset the opportunity cost of not just wildshaping yourself, which already scales AND accomplishes most of the things the summon does (scouting, extra hp, damage output) without having to wrangle rat-level intelligence. Adding SIZE to swarms at milestones would be a nice feature, letting allies share the creepy crawly AC bonus and damage soak, maybe without the HD scaling.

    2. Specificity in wording. I assume you can't defer damage to the swarm when it's not sharing your space, but current wording isn't completely explicit.

    Infested is a great ability; consistent and the Bane effect stays useful.

    Plague Carrier is gorgeous.

    Swarm Master is good, but doesn't feel super exciting, for the above scaling reasons.

    Tremorsense is a great ribbon.

    Thank you for making great stuff!

    1. 1. You raise some good points, which I'll try to respond to in turn. First, let's talk scaling:

      Firstly, I want to mention that we scaled the Lord of the Low summon around Wild Shape HP, not animal companion HP, and factored in the fact that, for physical damage (magical or not), you're getting resistance.

      We count the swarm of rats (24 HP) as 48 HP, due to resistance. This is comparable against a Moon Druid's giant hyena (45 HP). At 6th, you get three flying forms, which have roughly equal HP. At 14th level, you get a swarm of poisonous snakes (36 HP), for 72 additional HP. This isn't a crazy amount, but it's equivalent to a good CR 3-4 option. At 14th, you can summon two swarms of snakes (72 HP total), for a total of 144 HP. That's on par with the strongest Circle of the Moon options!

      This scaling isn't perfect, but I basically stand by it. Most scaling options get *silly* really quickly, when you account for swarms having blanket physical resistance and usually d8 hit dice.

      I think a longer duration might be called for! I'm not sure I can do the wording for letting your allies take the AC bonus without it getting jank; I'll work on some variants.

      2. This is a *super* good point! You can only have your swarm tank for you while you're in the same space. I'll merge those sentences for clarity.

    2. I'm a total goof and didn't even think about resistance until after I posted this. Considering that, I think you're totally right about the HP scaling.

      I still like the idea of a longer duration for opportunity cost, but my initial thought of being able to put the swarm on your allies might have been a knee-jerk to not thinking through damage resistance; putting the swarm on your front-liner is a BIG buff, and flavor-wise, the special vermin bond is with *you*, so it might not make sense for your fighter to gain the benefits of bugs-bugs-bugs without getting creeped out.

      On that note, maybe a fear-save rider effect from getting covered in bugs as part of the Swarm Master capstone, or somewhere else in the mix? Seems on-brand, and gives you more options than "hello, here's my pile of HP"

    3. The hp scaling definitely makes sense, but with higher levels, you're basically just getting meatshields with vulnerability to any non-physical damage type, since the resistance is the main draw for using them. Also, if I'm playing a verminlord, I definitely want to be able to kill things with my swarm. Giving the swarms magical attacks should probably be given at 6th level, and some better scaling for attacks, damage, and dcs wouldn't hurt (especially for lower cr swarms, because despite them being the highest cr, poisonous snakes don't really invoke the theme of pestilence the rest of the subclass is aiming for)

  2. This is amazing! I always loved the flavor of the older version, but the mechanics were a bit too underwhelming for me. But, I do have a couple of things I want to bring up. Other than what has already been mentioned, I feel like Lord Of The Low should be restricted to only allow one swarm at a time (or two at 14th level), just for the fact that a level 20 archdruid could summon an absurd amount of critters given the 1 hour timeframe. Other than that, I just want to ask if plague carrier would negate taking poison damage from a creature, as the wording seems to imply that it only negates the condition. Also, this feature would allow Contagion to take effect on a creature with only one failed saving throw if the druid casts it on themselves beforehand. Is this an intended interaction?

    1. I didn't even realize that an archdruid could flood the world with rats...

    2. I guess my only counterpoint would be that 20th level druids can do some serious nonsense at that level, so near-infinite AC as you become an impossibly dense ball of wasps isn't necessarily that game breaking considering access to force field/reality altering magic.

      Spending your action vomiting up bees when you're fighting cosmic threats isn't necessarily a math problem if the cosmic threat can outpace your swarm-shield in damage, but I see the potential problem in using the ability to prepare for fights.

      My question is, how would you threaten an infinite AC wasp ball druid as a DM?

      Enchantment, illusion, imprisonment, and banishment all still work. Extreme environments can burn up, suffocate, or blow away swarms (lava, underwater, the void of space, hurricane force winds)

      There are ways to address this, but maybe not allowing infinite AC in the first place is easier

    3. ...Fireball?
      kills all the non-snake swarms (if they fail the dex save and the damage is decent). Something stronger for snakes (an average cone of cold will do the trick).

      But the rule of thumb is, if the DM has to specifically create ways to counter your build, it is OP and probably shouldn't have been allowed.

    4. I don't think the AC bonus from LotL would stack for sharing space with multiple swarms, isn't there a rule about benefitting from multiple instances of the same effect like multiple castings of Bless and whatnot.

      If anything, the issue with the number of swarms would be hectopeasant-ing something via doomstack. That said, balance generally goes out the window at level 20 anyways, and if the party manages to kill the BBEG by spending 50 minutes' worth of ritual perp to shoot the BBEG with a wasp singularity, we'd just call that a memorable end to the campaign and go roll up some new characters. Probably would be one of those stories we'd still be telling ten years from now.

    5. You're totally right that it should have a "one swarm at a time" clause in the Lord of the Low feature. Glaring omission on my part.

      Plague Carrier negates only conditions, not damage. And I didn't think about the interaction with Contagion, but I think it's a justified use. I don't know if it's too powerful, or if there's a way to work around it being too powerful. It still offers a save, so it's not breaking core game assumptions; it's just making Contagion a lot more dangerous in combat, if you prepare it in advance.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I have a question. I am about to play a Vermin Lord in a campaign and wanted to know if at 14th level, when I can summon 2 swarms, if they are both in my space, do I get a +4 bonus to my AC, or does the AC bonus only apply once?