Tactics and Tips10/25/2005

Surviving Swallow Whole

In our continued look at what player characters can do to enhance their odds of defeating specific foes, we'll focus on creatures with big mouths, such as behirs and purple worms, that can swallow whole.

Swallow Whole

Big monsters with big mouths sometimes have the swallow whole special attack. The Monster Manual description (and the glossary entry for swallow whole) talks about the basics of what happens. However, from a player's perspective, the swallow whole ability needs substantially more thought and cunning to defeat. For general information about grappling, see Skip William's Rules of the Game article or the Gamestoppers article on grappling.

So, one of the party has been grabbed and is about to be swallowed. What can you do?

Benign Transposition

An arcane caster with this 1st-level spell (Miniatures Handbook, page 34)can substitute another party member or ally in place of the character about to go down the gullet. Ideally, the substitution would be well-prepared for a grapple or eminently expendable, such as a summoned monster.


If you take a look at the definition of stun, you'll find that a stunned creature drops everything it holds. Stunning something is admittedly difficult to do, but worth trying. A monk's Stunning Fist attack and some spells or psionic abilities might stun. The optimal options have no save or a Will save.

Stunning Fist (Player's Handbook, page 101): Most commonly taken by monks as one of their bonus feats, Stunning Fist has the potential to make the grappling creature drop its victim. It's not an optimal choice, however, because most monsters with great grappling abilities have good Fortitude saves.

Color Spray (Player's Handbook, page 210): This is absolutely the best option. As a mere 1st-level spell, it gives you roughly a 50% chance of stunning a typical swallow whole creature. Consider the behir. It has a Will save of only +5. It's CR 8. It's reasonable to think that an 8th-level spellcaster has an 18 in her primary attribute, making the save DC 15: 45% odds for this lowly spell to free your companion. Even a wand of the spell is worth considering. The save DC from a wand ofcolor spray is 11, a 25% chance. Unless you have access to some of the higher-power options, keep this one in your repertoire.

Sound Burst (Player's Handbook, page 281): Often taken as a bard or cleric spell, this might stun the creature, but again, it is a Fortitude-based save.

Shout, Greater (Player's Handbook, page 279): This high-level, bard 6, sorcerer/wizard 8 spell also carries a stun negated by a Fortitude save.

Power Word Stun (Player's Handbook, page 263): A fantastic spell, though 8th level. You'll want to have your fighters and rogues whittle down the creature's hit points before speaking it.

Other Player's Handbook spells that might stun include symbol of stunning, which has too long a casting time for combat use, and scintillating pattern or word of chaos, which have unpredictable results.


Monster Manual Creatures with Swallow Whole

  • Behir
  • Dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus
  • Dire Shark
  • Nightshade, Nightcrawler
  • Purple Worm
  • Remorhaz
  • Tarrasque
  • Tendriculos

Monster Manual III Creatures with Swallow Whole

  • Dinosaur, Battletitan
  • Dragon Eel
  • Mivilorn
  • Odopi

Energy Stun (Expanded Psionics Handbook, page 104): This 2nd-level psion/wilder power is best used against whatever the creature's poorer save is, generally Reflex. Any creature that fails its save for half damage must succeed on a Will save or be stunned for 1 round. Most creatures with the swallow whole ability are big bruisers with poor Will saves. This power proves to be incredibly helpful.

Psionic Blast (Expanded Psionics Handbook, page 125): You already knew this ability rocked. Odds are good, given the prodigious size of most swallowing creatures, that you can position the cone to get the monster and not your ally.

Once the character is swallowed, kill the creature as quickly as possible. Those outside don't really know how well or poorly the swallowed character is faring, so assume he's in dire peril and that you need to be quick.

From inside the creature, the swallowed character has a few options.

  • A light slashing or piercing weapon is the best option for melee-focused characters. Keep a dagger handy.

  • Wands are a great option for spellcasters. You can use them while grappled. They're verbal-only.

  • Of course, you do have the option to just try to escape the grapple. Any creature that has swallow whole is certain to be optimized for grappling. Its size bonus alone makes it formidable. Even if you win the grapple from inside the gullet, it just returns you to the creature's mouth where you probably don't want to be.

Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Expanded Psionics Handbook, Miniatures Handbook, Monster Manual, Monster Manual III, Player's Handbook.

About the Author

Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel works full-time as a game designer for Wizards of the Coast. Recent and upcoming books include d20 Past, Races of Eberron, and Planar Handbook. She simultaneously leads the lives of an avid gamer, Ph.D. student, trio of birds of prey, and a hedonistic cat.

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