Attack of the 5E D&D Swarmkeeper Ranger from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
The ranger class really catches a lot of flak in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons over the vastness of internet discourse. Every Ranger Archetype since the 5E D&D Player’s Handbook like the ones in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything have attempted to fix these shortcomings. Essentially every Ranger Archetype since the PHB has done two things to greatly help the class. First they gain one additional known spell of 1st through 5th levels. The second thing is a way to deal more damage — typically an additional die per round. The Swarmkeeper is one of two new 5E D&D Ranger Archetypes introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
5E D&D Swarmkeeper rangers are the bee’s knees
“I love insects — organized, relentless, specialized little champions. And aligning their single-minded will with your own: beautiful. Just keep them out of my lab.”— Tasha, as noted in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything gives us two new 5E D&D Ranger Archetypes and today I am examining the Swarmkeeper more closely. This 5E D&D ranger shares a magical connection with nature spirits. One of the first things players who choose this Ranger Archetype do is to roll, pick or make up the appearance of their character’s swarm. The Swarm Appearance suggestions are swarming insects, miniature twig blights, fluttering birds and playful pixies. This Ranger Archetype adds quite a bit of utility in combat.
Gathered Swarm. Starting when this Ranger Archetype is chosen at 3rd level a character bonds with the swarm and it’ shares their space until they die. The swarm provides three key features right from the beginning — extra damage, crowd control and mobility. This changes from round to round depending on what option the player chooses for each round. Each option can only be used once per round.
Something important to note is this feature works with melee, ranged and spell attacks. There could be interesting combinations with forced movement, feat choices and weapon selection. I wonder about the extra movement when a Swarmkeeper hits a creature and their swarm moves them 5 feet horizontally in any direction. I believe since the character is moved by the swarm rather than using their own movement this should ignore attacks of opportunity.
Swarmkeeper Magic. Like other post-PHB Ranger Archetypes the Swarmkeeper learns additional spells as they gain access to new spell levels. Unlike other rangers they also learn a cantrip — mage hand, which takes on the appearance of the swarm.
- 3rd level (1st level spell). faerie fire
- 5th level (2nd level spell). web
- 9th level (3rd level spell). gaseous form
- 13th level (4th level spell). arcane eye
- 17th level (5th level spell). insect plague
There is also a great sidebar about customizing these spells to represent a swarm’s flavor.
Writhing Tide. At 7th level a Swarmkeeper gets even more utility with this feature. This ranger gains a flying speed and can hover by directing their swarm to pick them up and move them around. The effect lasts for one minute and can be used a number of times a equal to the character’s proficiency bonus, which are regained after a long rest
Mighty Swarm. This 11th level Swarmkeeper feature increases the swarm’s might through greater damage output, greater crowd control and adding terrific defense to the added mobility.
Swarming Dispersal. It’s capstone ability time for the Swarmkeeper at 15th level. With this feature a ranger can vanish into their swarm, move and then reappear. Basically they get a 30 foot teleport as a reaction when they’re hit by an attack. They also get resistance to the damage from the triggering attack. This feature can be used a number of times equal to the character’s proficiency bonus and refreshes after a long rest.
Swiss Army Knife 5E D&D ranger
I love both the flavor and utility of the Swarmkeeper Ranger Archetype from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Every round in combat they can choose to increase damage, use a crowd control ability or increase their mobility. Extra spells like mage hand, gaseous form, and arcane eye give out of combat utility. All of the features combine into a Ranger Archetype that plays differently in combat than other subclasses. The Swarmkeeper also has flexibility to shift tactics from round to round depending on the circumstances.
Beyond Swarmkeeper Ranger mechanics
While the sweet of features is nice I love the flavor even more. I’ve wanted a swarm subclass in 5E D&D for awhile. I thought druids would be the one to explore this concept and I’d still like to see this but I am really digging the ranger version. Because of the option to make the swarm whatever a player envisions a character could be creepy or lighthearted and whimsical based on the kinds of creatures comprising the swarm.
Whenever we add elements to our 5E D&D games I like to think about how it might effect the wider world. Are there any organizations a Swarmkeeper might belong to? If so do they all have the same type of swarms? If your ranger’s swarm consists of bees perhaps there is a order your character belongs to all about beekeeping, honey harvesting and the benefits of pollination bees bring. Let’s call it the Amber Order. All of these Swarmkeepers summon bees to them. These rangers might go from settlement to settlement educating farmers on the virtues of bees and the benefits they bring to their farms. This could be a fun NPC to introduce into game if perhaps a bit creepy. To make this NPC even more eccentric we could give them a giant bee mount to help them get around even faster. As a matter of fact I like the idea this Amber Order has a knighthood attached to it with all the knights trained to ride and fight on giant bee mounts.
*Featured image — A gnome Swarmkeeper ranger as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]