Swan maiden

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The Children of Lir (1914) by John Duncan (1866-1945)

The Children of Lir (1914) by John Duncan (1866-1945)

The Swan Maiden is a mythical creature who shapeshifts from human form to swan form. Despite the name, males are found in a small number of legends. The key to the transformation is usually a swan skin, or a garment with swan feathers attached.

Typical legend

The folktales usually adhere to the following basic plot. A young, unmarried man steals a magic robe made of swan feathers from a swan maiden so that she will not fly away, and winds up marrying her. Usually she bears his children. When the children are older they sing a song about where their father has hidden their mother's robe, or one asks why the mother always weeps, and finds the cloak for her, or they otherwise betray the secret. The swan maiden immediately gets her robe and disappears to where she came from. Although leaving the children may grieve her, she does not take them with her.

If the husband is able to find her again, it is an arduous quest, and often the impossibility is clear enough that he does not even try.

Originally written by

Russell Linton the land of Eyru.

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HD Best of the character or animal
Initiative Same as the character or animal (depending on form)
Speed Same as the character or animal
AC +4 to natural armor when in animal form, character armor when in human form
Attacks Same as the character or animal
Damage Same as the character or animal
Face/Reach Same as the character or animal
Special Attacks Same as the character or animal plus Charm Person as a 9th lvl sorcerer, Song of Repose
Special Qualities Fast Healing (3), Timeless Body, Countersong
Saves Best of the character or animal, with a +2 to reflex and fortitude saves.
Abilities Same as the character for Wisdom, Intelligence, Chr with a +2 bonus to Charisma. Character or animal for Strength, Constitution, Dexterity depending on current form.
Skills +4 racial bonus to Perform (sing), Spot, Hide, Sense Motive checks, Control Shape (see Monster Manual p.218)
Feats Same as the character or animal plus Alertness
Climate/Terrain Cursed to a specific location
Organization Solitary or Troupe
Challenge Rating Same as animal +2
Treasure Usually none
Alignment Any
Advancement As per character class


The Swanmay is actually only one form that can be bestowed by the dreaded covetous curse. Several myths of note report jealous lovers or parents wielding Otherworldly power to unleash this curse upon the object of their hatred. It is actually a derivative of the Druidical shape changing powers, but twisted for this vengeful curse. Usually the curse is delivered through a properly enchanted rowan wand, and forces the victim to assume a pre-chosen form. The form must be that of a small animal or insect and non-predatory in nature. The most famous example is that of the Children of Lir who were turned into swans by their jealous stepmother, Aoife . Other examples include a similar curse placed upon the legendary beauty, Etain who was transformed into a fly by a suspicious wife.

Most times, the ill-fated Swanmays are cursed to a particular location as well. Leaving has consequences (described below). This location is set by the issuer of the curse. It may even be variable with specific time intervals defining how long the cursed must reside there. (For instance, being cursed to a specific lake for 300 years and then cursed to roam a specific wood for the next 300.)

The transformation is forced such as a polymorph other, however, being a derivative of the druid wildform, it is not complete. The victim may assume their normal form for some part of the year. Ritual days are most common. At other times, they may attempt to assume their own form using the Wisdom based skill "Control Shape". It works very much like that for Lycanthorpes however the conditions vary. Swanmays are forced into an involuntary change when they willingly or unwillingly leave the location which they are cursed to reside in. Every day spent away from the locale prompts a new skill check and adds one to the DC. Unlike a lycanthrope, the animal form becomes the default natural state.

Control Shape DCs
Resist Involuntary Change 25
Return to Human Form (Away from location) 30
Return to Human Form (At location) 20
Voluntary change to animal (Away from location) Automatic
Voluntary change to animal (At location) Automatic

Swanmays retain their human Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma (+2) when in their animal forms. They may also communicate normally with their own voice. All special qualities and attacks listed above as part of the template description will function in either form. They retain any human abilities though reason limits what they can accomplish in their animal form. Spell casting with only verbal components is possible, though somatic gestures can't be replicated by an animal or insect and material components would be difficult if not impossible to utilize. Other feats/abilities may still function properly at the DM's discretion. When it states above same as the character or animal in the data, this means that information is dependent on the current form. A Swanmay who as a human is a 10th level fighter, will have a swan's AB when in the form of a swan, not that of a 10th level fighter. Yep, that stinks, but it is a curse after all. When it states best of, then at all times, the swanmay benefits from the best of the animal or humanoid form.


Most Swanmays avoid interaction or combat, living out a lonely existence in their cursed state. Occasionally, one will venture from its cursed locale and explore the world but they never get far before they have to return. As small non-predatory animals, they have an instinct to survive through concealment and flight. This also helps them develop a sort of second sense regarding the motives of others. Often, they will use their ability to Charm Person to avoid confrontation.

When forced into combat in animal form, they will fight with whatever natural weapons they have available or the rare ability which can be carried over from their humanoid form. In humanoid form, they will of course use all powers at their disposal though a hint of the "prey" animal they spend most of their life as sort of bleeds into their tactics. They tend to fight defensively.

There are few bright sides to the curse though becoming a Swanmay does grant the victim some unique abilities:

Spell-like abilities

Charm Person (Sp) as a 9th level sorcerer, once per day.

Countersong (Ex): As per a Bard

Song of Repose (Sp): Once per day, the Swanmay, in animal form only, may produce a melodic noise or song which is soothing to all those within 30 feet. The song cures all disease, poison and grants 2d4 hitpoints. It also removes any effects of magic fear and hopelessness.


Timeless Body (Ex): Swanmays are doomed to near immortality as part of the curse. They will not die of natural causes so that their suffering is prolonged.

Fast Healing (Ex): Swanmays gain 3 hit points per round. As part of their curse, they are hard to kill (and thus suffer their time on earth longer than they normally would.)

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