Inspired by the swan maidens of various real-world folklores, swanmays are a race/order of holy-aligned nature-protecting female humanoids from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, deriving their name from similar beings who appeared in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961).
First appearing in the original Monster Manual II, Swanmays are an order of human females who have devoted themselves to protecting nature and all the goodly creatures associated with it. As a result, they have gained the craft enchanted talismans, in the form of feather tokens, feather garments, and signet rings, which allow members of their order to transform themselves into swans. This effectively makes them a form of lesser therianthrope, and thus in AD&D, they gain some of the powers of such creatures as a result. Most notably, they are impervious to damage that doesn't come from magic or enchanted weapons, requiring a +1 or better weapon to be harmed. Of course, because the power comes from the token, if you can steal it, you trap the swanmay in whichever of her two forms - human or swan - she's in at the time.
This depiction of the swanmay didn't change much in the edition switchover; first appearing in the Monstrous Compendium Volume Two, they were then reprinted in the Monstrous Manual, a collection of many of the different compendiums. They were presented as a mysterious race who did good things, but mostly were left to stoke the imagination.
But... AD&D couldn't leave them in the dark forever. Swanmays were part of the many different races included in the Complete Book of Humanoids, which was essentially AD&D's first big "nonstandard races" splatbook. Admittedly, there wasn't much of an upgrade in terms of information known, but still, it was something. This information would later be reprinted in Player's Option: Skills and Powers.
As a player character, the swanmay, also known as the White Swanmay, is a female human who gains +1 Dexterity and Wisdom and who is restricted to the Ranger and Druid classes, in which she can attain 14th level. Her natural armor class is 7 and she possess a magical token that she can use to switch between human and swan forms; its enchanted status is obvious to anyone using Detect Magic, and if it gets stolen or destroyed, she's stuck in her current form. In swan form, a swanmay can fly (speed 19, maneuverability D), has Magic Resistance 2% per hit die, and can only be harmed by +1 or better weapons. Swanmays have their ability scores all max out at 18, save for Wisdom, which maxes out at 19 instead. Swanmay rangers have minimum ability scores of 13 Str & Dex, 14 Con, 9 Int & Cha, and 14 Wisdom. Swanmay druids instead have minimum ability scores of 9s in Str and Dex, 12s in Con, Int and Wis, and 15 in Cha. They have access to the weapon proficiencies of Broad sword, dagger, long bow, long sword, short bow, and short sword, and the following Nonweapon Proficiencies: Alertness, animal handling, animal lore, animal noise, bowyer/fletcher, danger sense, direction sense, firebuilding, fishing, hiding, hunting, set snares, survival (forests, wetlands), and swimming. Finally, they receive one bonus proficiency depending on their class; tracking for Rangers, and weather sense for Druids.
Whilst the Swanmay is more associated with Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms, they have a cousin native to Zakhara. These "Bird Maidens" are a form of travelling, shapeshifting cleric who can transform into many different birds, particularly becoming giant eagles at 8th level. They can't turn undead like most clerics, but are adept spellcasters, with major access to the All, Animal, Divination, Elemental, Healing, Plant and Weather spheres and minor access to the Creation, Protection, and Sun spheres. They are fairly pacifist; they can only use spears, darts and slings and only hide or lighter forms of armor. They can't even use shields. Bird Maidens had their own "Ecology Of" article in Dragon Magazine #218.
Which wasn't the last time that bird-women appeared in its pages. Dragon #266 introduced four new societies of magical bird-shifter; Laridians, Red Falcons, Thebestyns and, most relevant to this article, Black Swanmays.
The Black Swanmay is a more militant and goodly-aligned version of the common "White" Swanmay, restricted to the cleric, paladin and crusader classes (Crusaders having been introduced in Faiths & Avatars). Black swanmays have the same special abilities and limitations as ordinary swanmays, but differ in the minutia. For example, classes (Paladin 14, Cleric 12 or Crusader 12), ability score adjustments (+1 Charisma, -1 Constitution) and ability score minimums (10 Str, 9 Dex & Con, and 12 Int/Wis/Cha for Clerics & Crusaders, 12 Str/Con/Int, 10 Dex, 13 Wis and 17 Cha for Paladins) and ability score maximums (18s in everything bar Con and Cha, which are 17 and 19 respectively). They're restricted to the Lawful Good alignment, and must therefore atone like Paladins if they ever commit evil or chaotic acts, their natural armor class is 10 for human form and 6 for swan form, and their swan form has a fly speed of 21 (compared to the white swanmay's fly 19).
Swanmays made their last appearance in D&D to date in the pages of The Book of Exalted Deeds, where they finally found their true place as a prestige class. In this form, they required the would-be swanmay to be female, have a Good alignment, have the Wild Empathy class feature, be able to cast Speak With Animals, have 8 ranks in Knowledge (Nature) and Survival, the ability to speak Sylvan, and the feats Sacred Vow & Vow of Purity. It mostly focuses on bolstering their ranger/druid abilities, with new spells per day at every level bar the first, the ability to shapeshift into a swan, spell resistance, wild empathy, favored enemy, spell-like abilities to Charm Person, Speak With Animals, Speak With Plants, and Charm Monster, and finally, at the 10th level, changing their racial type to Fey and granting Damage Reduction 10/Cold Iron.
Being that all kinds of swanmays are literally magical women with shapeshifting powers, it's accurate to consider them to be "technical monstergirls", although most monstergirl fans would probably mock you for considering them to fit the category on the basis that they don't even look as inhuman as elves, gnomes, dwarves or halflings do.
|Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Races|
|Core:||Dwarf - Elf - Gnome - Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human|
|Dark Sun:||Aarakocra - Half-Giant - Mul - Pterran - Thri-kreen|
|Dragonlance:||Draconian - Irda - Kender - Minotaur|
|Mystara:|| Aranea - Ee'ar - Enduk - Lizardfolk (Cayma - Gurrash - Shazak) |
Lupin - Manscorpion - Phanaton - Rakasta - Tortle - Wallara
|Oriental Adventures:||Korobokuru - Hengeyokai - Spirit Folk|
|Planescape:||Aasimar - Bariaur - Genasi - Githyanki - Githzerai - Modron - Tiefling|
|Spelljammer:||Dracon - Giff - Grommam - Hadozee - Hurwaeti - Rastipede - Scro - Xixchil|
|Ravenloft:||Broken One - Flesh Golem - Half-Vistani - Therianthrope|
Book of X:
| Alaghi - Beastman - Bugbear - Bullywug - Centaur - Duergar |
Fremlin - Firbolg - Flind - Gnoll - Goblin - Half-Ogre - Hobgoblin
Kobold - Mongrelfolk - Ogre - Ogre Mage - Orc - Pixie
Satyr - Saurial - Svirfneblin - Swanmay - Voadkyn - Wemic
|Dragon Magazine:||Half-Dryad - Half-Satyr - Uldra - Xvart|