D&D 5e: Swarmkeeper Ranger Guide

D&D 5e: Swarmkeeper Ranger Guide

Intro/Role in Party

The Swarmkeeper Ranger is assisted by an intangible swarm of nature spirits: these can be bees, pixies, flies, rats, or anything else you want. Even before we get to mechanics, this is already an excellent subclass; you don’t just have a pet rat, you have a horde of spirit rats.

Mechanically, you specialize in moving yourself and your enemies and restricting enemy movement through spells; you can expect to be fairly good at both of these things. You also fill normal ranger roles and are likely to be a ranged damage dealer with proficiency in survival-related skills.

I have played a Swarmkeeper and it was a blast: his name was Glumbo Ratman and he’s an utterly deranged forced movement build using some of the options listed later in the guide.





Swarmkeeper Ranger Features

Gathered Swarm

At 3rd level, a swarm of intangible nature spirits has bonded itself to you and can assist you in battle. Until you die, the swarm remains in your space, crawling on you or flying and skittering around you within your space. You determine its appearance, or you generate its appearance by rolling on the Swarm Appearance table.

Once on each of your turns, you can cause the swarm to assist you in one of the following ways, immediately after you hit a creature with an attack:

The attack’s target takes 1d6 piercing damage from the swarm.

The attack’s target must succeed on a Strength saving throw against your spell save DC or be moved by the swarm up to 15 feet horizontally in a direction of your choice.

You are moved by the swarm 5 feet horizontally in a direction of your choice.

You could use this for 1d6 free (ambiguously magical to overcome resistance and immunity) piercing damage, or you could use it as a superior form of the iconic Battle Master’s pushing attack maneuver. And it’s unlimited use and not limited by size, and it doesn’t have to be away from you!

There are tons of uses for moving enemies, from knocking them off cliffs to getting them away from vulnerable party members to the good ol’ Spike Growth combo. If your Spike Growth spell is up, you can deal 6d4 damage if the enemy fails their strength saving throw, and possibly move them into a position where they’ll need to walk through the spike growth to attack anyone.

You can also move 5 feet, which can let you escape from all kinds of nasty effects or move away from an enemy without provoking an opportunity attack. Just make sure you know how big the enemy’s reach is, otherwise you might use it to get 10 feet away from an enemy with a 15-foot reach and eat an opportunity attack while you try to run the rest of the distance.

There are cases where this isn’t useful though; what if you, your enemies, and your allies are where you want them to be, and everyone (including you) is too occupied with other things to cast a spell you can push people into? Then this is just a d6 you can add to one attack a round, and most ranger subclasses can do about that much. Still, this is an exceptionally solid 3rd level feature.

Swarmkeeper Magic

Also at 3rd level, you learn the Mage Hand cantrip if you don’t already know it. When you cast it, the hand takes the form of your swarming nature spirits.

You also learn an additional spell of 1st level or higher when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown in the Swarmkeeper Spells table. Each spell counts as a ranger spell for you, but it doesn’t count against the number of ranger spells you know.

3rd: Faerie Fire is a solid spell that gives you and your allies advantage against enemies who fail the save. Mage Hand is a fun and useful utility cantrip.

5th: Web is an incredibly powerful battlefield control spell that can utterly screw over enemies who fail their saving throw since they need to use their action to have a chance to escape. Remember that you can use this against flying enemies too, and they’ll either get stuck in the web and be suspended mid-air or they’ll fall out of the sky and take fall damage depending on how your DM runs it.

9th: Gaseous Form is a circumstantial but okay utility spell. Existing flight and teleportation options out there can probably already do most of what you would use this spell to do.

13th: Arcane Eye is a great scouting spell: if you don’t have a full caster who has this, you can scout out all kinds of locations without risking your life, and you can take it places that not even a familiar can stealthily go into.

17th: Insect Plague doesn’t do enough damage to justify the spell slot, but there is some synergy with your forced movement since it might be hard for enemies to escape if you can keep pushing them into the area. But by this point, you can just use Spike Growth and it’ll do the same thing for only a 2nd level spell slot instead of a 5th level one.

Writhing Tide

Beginning at 7th level, you can condense part of your swarm into a focused mass that lifts you up. As a bonus action, you gain a flying speed of 10 feet and can hover. This effect lasts for 1 minute or until you are incapacitated.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Concentration-free flight with hover is amazing. The 10-foot speed is kind of mediocre. In the end, it evens out to be good: you can use this in combat to escape some melee enemies and out of combat for a lot of utility, but you can’t expect to catch up to real flying creatures. Note that it ends if you’re incapacitated, so don’t get paralyzed 200 feet above the ground or you’ll fall to your death.

Mighty Swarm

At 11th level, your Gathered Swarm grows mightier in the following ways:

The damage of Gathered Swarm increases to 1d8.

If a creature fails its saving throw against being moved by the Gathered Swarm, you can also cause the swarm to knock the creature prone.

When you are moved by Gathered Swarm, it gives you half cover until the start of your next turn.

This is somewhat of a meh feature: knocking enemies prone is nice for your melee allies, but it’s not nice for anyone who wanted to make ranged attacks. Going from 1d6 to 1d8 damage is an average of one more point, and +2 to AC is decent but not extremely good.

Swarming Dispersal

When you reach 15th level, you can discorporate into your swarm, avoiding danger. When you take damage, you can use your reaction to give yourself resistance to that damage. You vanish into your swarm and then teleport to an unoccupied space that you can see within 30 feet of you, where you reappear with the swarm.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

You take damage, and then you use a reaction to take less damage and teleport. If an enemy ran up to you and used its multiattack, this could take you far enough away to keep it from catching up with you. If you’re hit with a gargantuan amount of damage from a spell, a dragon’s breath weapon, a fall, or anything, you can cut it in half. Excellent. Sometimes Absorb Elements does the same thing, and sometimes the ongoing resistance is more useful, but this has much more broad use. Remember that it’s mutually exclusive with the Shield spell if you ever have access to it.


Fight a lot of melee-only enemies? Your forced movement options, Web, Spike Growth, and concentration-free flight will make short work of them. You also pair well with other spellcasters since you can push enemies into their dangerous effects, and you’ll be extremely happy to see environmental hazards on a battlefield.


You’re less effective against enemies who use spells and ranged attacks, since restraining people with Web or moving them around is likely not going to be as big of a help. You also can’t use the Spike Growth/forced movement funny combo against an enemy who can just teleport so that they’re 50 feet away from the edge of the Spike Growth. Your forced movement also has a saving throw, so if you fight a lot of jacked enemies or enemies with legendary resistance, you will not be as effective.

Best Race Options

The Githzerai come with a free Shield spell and Detect Thoughts, as well as resistance to psychic damage, an invisible mage hand (you can still use your swarm-based mage hand), and advantage against the charmed and frightened conditions. Read minds, avoid horrible conditions, and boost your defense by spending your extra low level spell slots.

If you want to make a strength based Swarmkeeper Ranger who focuses on moving enemies, the Minotaur may be your best option. If you hit someone on your turn as part of the Attack action, you can immediately use your bonus action to force them to make a strength save or be pushed. Push someone 15 feet, then push them another 10 feet, and then do it all over again the next round, and this is all at level 3 with no multiclassing or feats. Variant Human or Custom Lineage with the Crusher feat can also accomplish something similar.

The Tabaxi synergize well with the Gathered Swarm option that moves you 5 feet: if you have your Feline agility available, you can then walk another 60 feet without using an action or bonus action. Free stealth and perception proficiency and darkvision are also handy, and the climbing speed is a lovely treat too.

Choosing the Right Skills

You are a standard ranger and will be called upon to make Survival checks. You can also be the party’s best or second best Perception expert; either of these skills are where I recommend putting your Canny expertise if you’re using the Tasha’s optional class features.

Not every ranger needs Nature proficiency, but if your ranger is particularly well-traveled, you’ll want it to reflect their life experience. Arcana proficiency is also handy.

Athletics and/or Acrobatics proficiency are appropriate for any rugged outdoorsman sort of ranger. They’re less mechanically powerful on you since you can already escape grapples with Gathered Swarm, but they’re still nice to have.

Animal Handling is optional, and you can talk to animals with Primal Awareness starting at level 3; some dungeon masters may let you use Persuasion if you can talk to them, or ask you to use Animal Handling since it’s an animal. Proficiency in one of these is helpful if you’re looking for other places to put proficiencies.

Stealth is a solid pick on any character, and Sleight of Hand is stellar if you’re looking to fill a more rogue-like role. 

Fitting Feats

You specialize in forced movement and might be casting Spike Growth often: why not take Crusher so you can move enemies another 5 feet with no save? You need a bludgeoning weapon, so the sling is a solid choice for ranged dexterity (or wisdom if you pair it with Magic Stone) rangers and the maul is a solid choice for melee strength rangers. I have personally used Crusher with a sling and it’s very fun to move people every round, and there’s a crit effect and it’s a half feat that lets you boost constitution or strength.

Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Master are solid choices, but remember that a lower chance to hit means a lower chance to apply your Gathered Swarm. You may not always want to use the +10/-5 from these feats. But if your bonus action is available, Polearm Master and Crossbow Expert give you more chances to hit an enemy, boosting damage and making your Gathered Swarm more consistent.

Half casters don’t usually take concentration-boosting feats, but War Caster may be particularly helpful for you. You’re a ranger and have a ton of concentration spells, like Spike Growth and Conjure Animals, and you do not want to lose concentration and have to re-cast them and waste another slot.

Optimal Backgrounds

For a ranger with negative intelligence and no Nature proficiency, the Urchin background is an amazing choice. Pick rats as your swarm and roleplay like a rogue, and then radically overturn everyone else’s idea of what a ranger can or should be.

Outlander is a standard background for any ranger, and it lets you feed your whole party automatically. It’s solid for a ranger who has spent much more time in the wilderness and makes sure to grab both Survival and Nature proficiency.

You have a lot of 1st level spell slots and not much to use them for at higher levels: if these backgrounds are allowed, Prismari Student will give you a free feat that you can use for the Shield spell, and then you can grab Prestidigitation and Fire Bolt in case you need to set something on fire.

Multiclassing Options

There are a few excellent mid to high level Swarmkeeper features, and there are numerous amazing multiclass options. Unfortunately, you have to pick between them.

Two levels of Fighter open up some funny opportunities: you probably have Archery fighting style already if you’re a ranged ranger, but Superior Technique gives you Pushing attack for more forced movement comedy. Action Surge lets you make two attack actions or cast a spell like Spike Growth and then attack, giving you massive burst damage. Finally, going three levels into fighter will give you the almighty Rune Knight subclass, so you can activate Giant’s Might for various benefits and use the Fire Rune to restrain people after you’ve moved them. Cloud Rune is also hilarious since you can make enemies crit their allies.

If you want to specialize in summoning at high levels, Shepherd Druid is your best option. You gain a 1/rest bonus action totem that can provide various benefits to you and your allies, then at 6th level, your Conjure Animals damage becomes magical and your summons are slightly more durable. Your spell slot progression also speeds up after taking druid levels, letting you summon more creatures more often. Talk to your dungeon master before casting Conjure Animals since it’s a complicated spell.

One level of Twilight Cleric will boost your initiative, grant new spells, give you 300 feet of darkvision, and provide a few more minor benefits. Two levels give you their extremely powerful Channel Divinity, but you’re less able to make use of it than some other characters.

Would I recommend playing a Swarmkeeper Ranger?

I have played a Swarmkeeper Ranger and it was one of the most versatile and powerful characters I’ve played. You have amazing out-of-combat opportunities, you have numerous options in combat, you can make countless build decisions, and you will cackle with glee the first time you push an enemy around inside your Spike Growth for 6d4 or more extra damage. 

Remember to work with your allies; you have forced movement, and they have horrible concentration spell effects. Just because you have Web doesn’t mean you have to be the one who supplies it instead of the Wizard.

You are not as strong as the infamous Gloom Stalker, but you might have a more fun character overall and can contribute to nearly any party.

Sage Gamers

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