Posts Tagged ‘Bestiary’

How Much XP is CR 1/7 Worth?

July 3, 2012

If you have a high Perception bonus, you may have noticed a new entry under my blogroll. This is for a new Pathfinder blog called CR 1/7, and you should definitely check it out.

Updated every Friday (in other words, far more consistently than me), CR 1/7 publishes a new customized monster, “customized” here meaning a standard monster altered with class levels, templates, and/or advanced natural Hit Dice. It’s a great resource if you’re looking for interesting variants to keep your players on their toes!

From all of us here at Intelligence Check (which is to say, me), congrats to CR 1/7 on their debut, and here’s hoping for many interesting new monsters for many Fridays to come!

EDIT (10/21/14): As has been evident for some time now, the CR 1/7 blog is, sadly, no longer around. As such, I’ve removed it from my blogroll. It’s a shame that it’s gone, but such transience is not unusual in the blogosphere.

The Gobblin’ Goblin

August 13, 2010

After a hiatus of far too long, I’m finally returning to the original series of articles that debuted on this blog – our spotlight on each and every monster in the Pathfinder Bestiary! Today, we begin to make our headway into the B’s. And opening that letter, we have the

BARGHEST

There’s a minor bit of the ubiquitous “it’s pronounced how?” problem with the barghest’s name, but not so much as to really be worth mentioning. I’ve always held that the “gh” is vocalized as a hard “g” sound; hence the monster is a “bar-guest.” A fitting name, given the monster’s ravenous nature.

The barghest is one of those monsters that’s been around for a while, through multiple editions, and its age is starting to show. For example, it’s described as being a possible fiendish relation to the various goblinoid races. Now, given its Lawful Evil nature, that made sense back in the day when most goblinoid races were Lawful Evil, and included things like kobolds and orcs (who were Lawful Evil back then).

Now, however, that doesn’t quite seem to hold up. There are only three goblinoid races in the Bestiary – the Chaotic Evil bugbears, the Neutral Evil goblins, and the Lawful Evil hobgoblins. So why is it that the Lawful Evil barghest can take the form of a goblin, rather than, say, a hobgoblin? For that matter, why is its other form that of a wolf? Goblins hate dogs, and I’d guess that hatred extends to wolves as well; wouldn’t a worg or goblin dog be a much better choice?

I’m all for “legacy” parts of the game – the things that are holdovers from earlier editions. I like how they represent a clear connection to the game’s history and traditions, things I think are important. However, when those don’t make sense unto themselves anymore, they go from being valuable mementos to being baggage, and baggage just weighs things down. The barghest’s nature should have gotten a makeover here – nothing too radical, but at least a few cosmetic changes to smooth over the aforementioned rough spots. Make it Neutral Evil and polymorph into a worg instead of a wolf, and you have a winner.

Of course, all of that’s really window dressing for the creature’s most central power: its ability to gain strength by devouring creatures. Wisely, Paizo limited this to non-evil creatures, otherwise these things would quickly start munching on the goblins it says they like to lord over.

Given the hands-off nature of monster advancement that Pathfinder has adopted, the barghest’s ability to grow stronger by eating creatures is handled fairly elegantly. In fact, it’s now so simple that it’s almost a different power altogether. Any non-evil humanoid that a barghest eat grants a “growth point” and when it gains 4 such points, it becomes a greater barghest. The only limit to this is that it can only gain 1 point per month.

Compare this to 3.5, where the barghest’s feeding power had no time limit, but worked on any humanoid that had a number of Hit Dice/levels equal to the barhgest’s HD. It required a total of nine such creatures to become a greater barghest – more than twice its Pathfinder counterpart – and being devoured like this made it seriously difficult for resurrection magic to bring you back.

What’s my point with all this? So glad you asked – this is the flip-side to updating monsters from earlier editions of the game. Some legacy aspects are kept when they should be removed, while others are removed when they should be kept. Adding the non-evil and once-per-month stipulations to the barghest’s feed power was a cool move on Paizo’s part, but lowering the number of people it needed to eat, making them viable targets for feeding even with low Hit Dice, and entirely removing the effect this had on trying to resurrect such a victim, were all things I’d like to have seen retained.

Like moving into a new house, moving to a new edition requires carefully checking what should be kept, what should be thrown out, and most importantly, why. Failing to do that can result in making a new game that feels so utterly divorced from its roots that it alienates longtime players, driving them away from your new creation instead of having them embrace it as early-adopters who help bring in new players.

Of course, I’m sure no company would ever do something like that.

She’s Giving You That “Come Zither” Look

July 10, 2010

At long last we come to the final entry among the A monsters of the Pathfinder Bestiary, and this curvaceous creature is one that makes sure this section ends with a bang. Let’s take a long look at the

LILLEND

What to say about the lillend? A picture is worth a thousand words, and really, they’re necessary. She’s a woman above the waist, a snake below, and she has wings to boot. The Freudian imagery is so thick here that I’m sure there must be a shrink somewhere using this picture as an aid in checking patients for psychosexual disorders.

Needless to say, we’ve come to yet another of the Bestiary’s pin-up girls. Far from the chaste aasimar or the ghaele, the lillend is the most prurient (in terms of appearance) creature we’ve seen yet.

Or is she?

Part of me (I won’t tell you which part) wonders if maybe the fact that the lillend is going around pretty much topless is her overcompensating. After all, most ordinary men are going to balk at the idea of fucking a girl who’s all scaly down there; hence, wearing nothing but pasties with the chain between them is her way of trying to make sure guys’ eyes stay up top.

The “I’m a sex object!” getup aside, the Bestiary talks about how the lillends are the artists of the azatas, giving us some fairly blase information about their love of music and protection of pastoral splendors and inspiration of artists, etc. It’s nothing to write home about, which is a shame, since I think they really could have put a more interesting spin on things.

Back in 2E, lillends were noted for all wearing masks that were heavily stylized, so much so that no two lillends’ masks were the same (this may have been specific to Planescape, I’m not sure). I think Paizo should have taken that concept and expanded upon it. Not the masks, per se, but rather the thematic idea that all lillends are artists who express and define themselves through body art.

My interpretation of the lillend is that she sees her own identity as an artistic abstraction – the idea of “who she is” is something that must be expressed rather than simply answered, and her body is the canvas on which that expression takes place. Hence, lillends spend their eternal existences looking for new ways to paint, pierce, modify, and otherwise alter their bodies in a way that defines them; a never-ending quest to find the perfect representation of who they are as art.

Of course, given that, the lillend pictured above must be uninspired at the moment. She’s not so much feeling blue as she is feeling blank, which is a shame.

Won’t someone grab his brush and apply a few coats to her?

There She Is, Miss Elysium

July 1, 2010

Continuing on with the monsters from the Bestiary, we come to the next of the azatas.

GHAELE

And immediately, we’re again struck with how-the-hell-do-you-pronounce-it-itis. Seriously, does anyone know how to properly vocalize this name? Is it “gale”? “Gha-el”? “Gay-lay”? None of the above?

You know, back during the later days of Second Edition, TSR’s home page (or maybe it was WotC’s page by then, I’m not sure) had a download that answered questions like this. For Planescape, it was a series of .wav files of people speaking various words like “tanar’ri” and “baatezu” simply so you’d what they sounded like. From what I can tell, that’s since been lost to time, but man does Paizo ever need to bring back something like this for Pathfinder.

But let’s take at look at our ghaele ghirl here.

Despite her being fairly pretty, I waffled as to whether or not this monster deserved the pin-up girl tag. After all, she really seems to be armored up pretty well, eschewing the traditional skimpy armors that a lot of women warriors wear. So really, the ghaele seemed to be trying more for practicality than enhancing beauty.

However, the more I thought about it, the less true that seemed. Yes, her armor does cover a lot of her…but there’s still a fair amount of skin on display here. Take, for example, her legs; her knee-high boots are impressive, but above that: nothing.

That by itself wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t seem to be wearing a chainmail miniskirt. I can’t believe I actually just typed that, but there it is – a chainmail miniskirt. I’m sure that it’s actually some real piece of armor that served a particular function, and had its own weird name that almost nobody remembers today, but we let’s dispense with the plausible deniability. The chainmail miniskirt is more respectable than the chainmail bikini, but not by much.

Further up, as if to truly put the issue of “which comes first: form or function?” to rest, we find that there’s a large hole in the armor covering her torso, which shows off her cleavage quite nicely. Tip for lady adventurers here: if it’s puts your chest on display, don’t use that armor. I’m just saying.

But then, we come to the cherry on this particular sundae. As if Paizo wanted to make sure that we couldn’t take this particular monster seriously no matter how hard we tried, they added the finishing touch to the ghaele’s ensemble: a tiara.

I really don’t know what to say about this. Why is she wearing a tiara? It’s not a status symbol; the book says they’re the knights of the azata race. Did she just finish the “armor & eros” part of a planar beauty pageant? Or maybe she moonlights as a runway model? It’d certainly explain the pissed-off look she’s got, since models seem to be forbidden from smiling on the job.

Between this picture and the relative dearth of descriptive text we’re given, it’s hard to know what to make of the ghaele. In all honesty, she seems to be like a contemporary superheroine – intent on fighting evil, and dressing to impress while doing so for no reason that can be determined. It’s not necessarily unwelcome, just undefined. Still, as we’ll see next time, there are much more audacious azatas…

He’s Like the Green Arrow, Except Not Green, and Doesn’t Use Arrows

June 25, 2010

Okay, it’s been too long since I’ve reviewed a creature from the Bestiary, especially since we’re almost out of the very first letter. So without further ado, let’s move on to the last group of creatures, who are also, thank the Seven Heavens, the final group of good Outsiders. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for the

AZATA

The paragons of Chaotic Goodness were formerly called the eladrin in previous editions of the game. I’m guessing that Paizo changed the name because A) they thought this name was cooler, and/or B) they wanted to avoid using the name of the teleporting elves from Fourth Edition. (And before anyone says it, I know that “eladrin” is an original name by WotC, but you know what? A mistake on their part put it into the SRD, so Paizo could have used it if they’d really wanted to).

But issues of nomenclature aside, the azata are perhaps the coolest of the “big three” good outsiders (yeah, you still don’t count for shit, you Neutral Good agathions). This is because they exemplify the spirit that a lot of PCs seem to want to cling to; a devil-may-care, go-where-I-want-and-do-what-I-want attitude. Even the flavor text for azatas, while still trying to cling to that “hang in the background and influence mortals” schtick, can’t help but admit that they’ll very often just say “screw it” and move in to kick some ass.

In fact, the major problem with the azatas isn’t with their nature as paragons of Chaos and Good; they do that quite well. The issue with them is how they end up being pseudo-fey. What that means is that the fey overtones are quite clearly there for them, but at the same time they’re still not truly fey beings. They look a lot like them, act a lot like them, and even have a similar social structure…but aren’t them.

This makes for some awkwardness when trying to figure out how they relate to each other. Are azatas as far beyond fey as fey are beyond mortals? Are they cosmological neighbors who happen to share a lot of similarities? Or is it all nothing more than a couple of coincidences, with the rest of us drawing parallels that aren’t really there? I don’t know, and nobody else seems to either.

Having said all of that, let’s look at the first of the azatas.

BRALANI

You know, despite how a lot of gamers seem to look down their nose at anime, I’ve always been a big fan of it. Moreover, I like a lot of the concepts it introduces into tabletops games.

Gigantic pointed ears are not one of them.

Seriously, pointed ears should look the way they look on Mr. Spock, not like this! Who thought it was a good idea for anyone to have ears that jutted up over his head like antenna? Do they lift up when he’s happy and droop when he’s sad?

I’m sorry, but these things just bring way too much baggage with them – when someone gets around to finally writing the Ecology of the Bralani, please make sure to put that they have the ear version of a bris for little bralani newborns, so that they don’t have to go around looking like an extra from Record of Lodoss War.

Of course, for all the earful I’m giving you about that, we haven’t really gotten to the stupid part yet. Can you tell what that is? Look very closely at the picture there, and see if you see it. No? Okay, here’s a hint: try looking at what’s not there.

If you said “his arrow,” then you’re right! He’s actually holding his bow, and pantomiming nocking an arrow! What the fuck? Why is he doing that? It’s not that he’s got some sort of power to magically create new arrows when he draws his arm back – there’s no power like that in his description. He’s just pretending to get ready to fire one, like Garth in Wayne’s World going through the motions of making a toast even though he didn’t get a glass.

I can only guess that he’s run out of arrows, and is hoping that if he acts like he’s going to fire more, he’ll somehow frighten his enemies away through sheer badassery. Can you imagine the results if he actually makes his Intimidate check here? “Oh no! He’s acting like he’s got an arrow in his bow! Even though he was using arrows before, this must mean that he has some sort of arrow-related special power! Run away!”

You can really tell that the bralani has the power to assume a wind form, because this guy is really full of hot air.

How Many People Wanna Kick Some Axe?

June 13, 2010

There’s an unspoken understanding when designing a monster for Pathfinder. While it’s rarely spoken, it’s understood that when gamers expect that new monsters will have new abilities. Usually one is sufficient, though the stronger the monster the more likely it is that they’ll need more than one new power to really satisfy the readers.

Why is that, you ask? Well, because unique powers make for unique monsters – only X monster has X power, after all, so it really sets them apart from all of the other monsters. Bear in mind that I’m not advocating this particular design philosophy; I’m simply pointing out that, for better or for worse, it exists.

Of course, this rule isn’t universal. Between a suite of standard monster abilities (see Appendix 3 of the Pathfinder Bestiary), and how weaker monsters aren’t expected to have very many powers (the inverse of what was mentioned above about stronger monsters having more), you can sometimes have weaker monsters who don’t need mechanics to differentiate them. After all, if you only look at the numbers, there’s very little difference between a goblin and a kobold…it’s the nature of how they appear in the game world that separates them.

Sometimes, however, you end up with a monster that really doesn’t seem like anything more than the sum of its parts. Oftentimes this is a high-level foe that is just a collection of universal abilities (“okay now, poison? Check. Spell-like abilities? Check. Spellcasting? Check. Regeneration? Check.” etc.), but sometimes you’ll find it among weaker creatures too.

Today’s monster examines such a low-level creature. With absolutely nothing to recommend it, coming to you straight from the Bonus Bestiary, it’s the…

AXE BEAK

Right away, the axe beak fails to live up to its name. See, it’s called what it is because of how its beak is serrated, presumably in a manner similar to an axe – though I’ve yet to see a serrated axehead; I guess the name “saw beak” didn’t work quite as well – but there’s no corresponding mechanic to really drive that point home.

Paizo, was it really so unfathomable to give this creature a heightened critical threat range and/or multiplier, along with maybe a short description noting how that was because of its serrated beak? No, instead we get a short power about how when this thing charges, it can make a trip attempt on a successful attack. Man, nothing says “axe for a beak” like making someone fall on their ass, am I right?

Personally, the way I would have written this monster would have been to treat it as an animal from prehistoric Earth. Now, I’m not sure if a creature like this ever actually existed, but given what we know about the relationship between dinosaurs and birds, I’m betting that there was some very similar creature roaming our world at some point in time. Because really, there just aren’t enough stats for dinosaurs and other prehistoric critters for Pathfinder – this thing could have been one of them, instead of just another monster with very little monstrous identity.

Ultimately, there’s very little to recommend the ostrich’s psychotic cousin here as a threat to most PCs. The one redeeming feature that the axe beak has is that it works best not as a monster, but as a mount. A fair amount of space is given to describing what it takes to train this thing, and its stats as an animal companion. And in all honesty, that’s how this creature works best – trying to act as a substitute for that one player who has chocobo-envy.

I wonder if axe beaks come in bright yellow?

I’m Feeling Just Vine

June 9, 2010

Returning to the review of all the monsters in the Pathfinder Bestiary, I’m fairly amazed that I’m still trapped in the A’s. At my current rate of progress, given how often I update and the frequency with which I post on this particular topic, it’s going to be quite a while before we finish this off.

Now, I don’t particularly mind that this project is rather monumental in scope – I’m quite happy to dig a tunnel through this particular mountain using only a needle. Why, you ask? Because I get to examine, critique, and make a mockery of some truly excellent monsters. It’s a joy to think about what I’m going to say regarding the succubus, the lich, or the tiefling, for example. And then we have guys like today’s monster, which while not Bonus Bestiary bad, isn’t the sort of thing that entire adventures revolve around. So, gentlegamers, I present to you, the…

ASSASSIN VINE

Now, I’d think that the name alone would be enough to clue you in to this monster’s schtick. It’s a carnivorous plant, attacking through stealth and strangling its prey, right? Okay, thank you, next!

Yeah, I suppose there’s a bit more to this, but not really. Yes, it has the ability to make nearby plants entangle things, but that seems weird to me…that level of tactics seems to require some sort of sentience, but this plant has none of that; hence, that means it’s using its entangle ability every single round as long as it senses something nearby. So really, your first clue that an assassin vine is near is when the dandelions at your feet start wrapping around your shoelaces.

And while the picture above may look pretty cool at a glance, I don’t recommend giving it any more than that, otherwise you’ll start to notice some disturbing aspects to it. The most obvious being that the plant seemed to have been orally raping that person when they died; clearly, this particular assassin vine must have been from Japan.

Also, what the hell is up with that skeleton’s eyes? Seriously, look at the shape of those sockets. They’re these oblong cavities arranged in such a way as to be slanted downward on the face. WTF was that thing? Based on those bones, I’m starting to be glad that this particular freak of nature, whatever it was, ended up being plant food.

In the meantime, the assassin vine remains one of the lamest plant-based monsters in the Bestiary. With no real intelligence or powers, besides wrapping you up with daisy chains, this is nothing more than another hazard dressed up as a monster. Once your PCs figure it out, they’ll almost certainly never be caught by it again, and will likely try to use it against their enemies; imagine the look on the evil vizier’s face when his salad starts to bite back!

Personally, I’d have re-branded these as “assassin grapevines”; not only does it become a serious threat to nearby living things if you want to start a vineyard, but I’d also add another power or two so that you could literally hear things through them. And after that, well…

Just imagine what their raisins would do.

Welcome to the Mushroom Kingdom

June 2, 2010

So, today’s monster is a giant puffball; for those of you who grew up in less urban environments, you’ll remember them as those little round things that you stomped on as a kid to watch them burst like a half-filled balloon. Now, imagine one of those being ten feet in diameter, and rolling around on their own, and you have today’s monster.

As you probably guessed, this is one of those rejects from the Bonus Bestiary.

ASCOMOID

Completely nonsentient, the ascomoid is one of those creatures that’s really more of a hazard than a monster. It basically rolls around trying to crush anything that it feels moving nearby, and will sometimes spray spores at someone, but otherwise it’s a non-entity. Heck, if you can find a way to defeat its tremorsense, it’s pretty much never going to realize you’re there.

Given the way it advances towards you once it senses you, though, I can’t help but picture Mario just stomping on these ugly things as they mindlessly advance. That’s right – ascomoids are the goombas of Pathfinder. Just don’t mistake them for magic mushrooms.

In the humiliating circumstance that your character is actually killed by an ascomoid, however, don’t despair. Your character now shares a similarity with President John F. Kennedy – killed by a gassy roll. *rimshot*

Yeah, that’s a bad joke, but I just had to make it. I’m a fun guy.

She Can Blow My Trumpet Any Day

May 30, 2010

Today’s entry in my critique of all the monsters in the Bestiary brings us to the last of the archons, as well as the strongest and best-looking of them. So without further ado, here’s the…

TRUMPET ARCHON

You know, I almost typed the word “trumpet” in that header with an “s” in front of it, and if you’re looking at the picture of this particular creature, I think you’ll understand why. Yes, we’ve officially come to Pin-Up Girl #2 – another monster that would make most adventurers say – to quote someone else – “man, I’d like to roll d20 to hit that.”

Leaving aside the dirty jokes that can be made about this monster – and believe me, there are many – I’m a bit disappointed that Paizo didn’t focus on the musical aspect of this particular creature more. I mean, her trumpet is a weapon that can not only play destructive music, but can also turn into a sword. Now, that’s not as cool as some other musical weapons, but still pretty badass.

And yet, the rest of her character doesn’t deal with this theme at all. There’s no powers about singing or dancing; even her spells are drawn from the cleric spell list, rather than the bard’s. Seriously, there’s no ingenuity here; given that (for reasons previously discussed), good creatures in general, and archons in particular, take a background role to help support mortals, I would have thought that they’d have made the trumpet archon fill a role like so:

You have to admit, our trumpet archon here is already dressed for this role. So I ask you Paizo, where are our Elite Beat Archons?

Lighting the Way

May 22, 2010

Man, when you come down on Heaven, it really comes back to bite you in the ass fast! Less than a day after my razzing the hound archon, I found myself cast into a place of endless suffering and despair, where the howls of the damned filled my ears and sights of pure horror assaulted my eyes. I was, dear readers, thrown into the realm of…the Dungeons & Dragons movie.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie

Gaze into the face of Fear!

It took me six days to claw my way out of that hellish realm, but now I’m back, and remain undaunted! So long as there’s an ounce of strength left in me, I’ll continue to mock and roll! So without further ado, let’s continue through the Bestiary, moving on to…

LANTERN ARCHON

You know, for all my earlier blustering, these guys are actually kinda cool. Not so much for their special powers, which I’ll deal with in a moment, but more for how they appear.

Despite the artwork for them making them look like celestial butterflies, lantern archons are small glowing balls with no physical form – while the Bestiary doesn’t say so, I always pictured them as being the disembodied souls of mortals who died and went to Heaven. These guys are that aunt who you always loved to visit when she was alive – the one who always baked cookies just for you when she knew you were coming – reborn into a form with no corporeal woes or physical desires any more.

Interestingly, the Paizo people added a new ability to the lantern archon from its 3.5 incarnation. Nine of these creatures can form a gestalt, more powerful lantern archon for 2d4 rounds. That’s pretty cool, but they note that such a creature is basically a large air elemental, with a few changes noted.

Now, I’m something of a nitpicker when it comes to stat blocks, and while I can certainly understand where Paizo is coming from by just saying “for the gestalt form, use this monster, with changes X, Y, and Z,” but that just strikes me as rather offhand. I know it saves space, and really it doesn’t make that much of a difference for a creature that’ll exist for roughly 5 rounds…but it still irks me.

But fear not, I’m not just going to complain without offering any solutions. No, I’ve gone ahead and created a stat block for the gestalt lantern archon! Of course, I took a few creative liberties with the creature where Paizo’s hand-waving proved nebulous (showcasing the problems with such an approach). For example, does this creature having “all the powers and abilities” of a Large air elemental mean that it doesn’t have the base lantern archon’s spell-like abilities? Does it speak just Auran like an air elemental? Does it have a slam attack?

These are the sort of questions that can make a DM freeze up during play as they try to decide, flipping back and forth between the pages in indecision. I may not have official answers, but I think that the stats I’ve put together here are reasonable – they’re certainly functional – and will work for a DM who needs a gestalt lantern archon in play.

Gestalt Lantern Archon                                                              CR 5

XP 1,600

N Large outsider (archon, extraplanar, good, lawful)

Init +11; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +11

Aura aura of menace (DC 16)


DEFENSE


AC 21, touch 17, flat-footed 13 (+7 Dex, +1 dodge, +4 natural, -1 size; +2 deflect vs. evil)

hp 68 (8d10+24)

Fort +9, Ref +13, Will +2; +4 vs. poison, +2 resistance vs. evil

Defensive Abilities air mastery; DR 5/evil and magic; Immune electricity, petrification; Resist electricity 10, fire 10


OFFENSE


Speed fly 100 ft. (perfect)

Melee 2 slams +14 (1d8+4)

Ranged 2 light rays +14 ranged touch (2d6)

Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.

Special Atks whirlwind (DC 18)

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 3rd) At will – aid, continual flame, detect evil, greater teleport (self plus 50 lbs. of objects only)


STATISTICS


Str 18, Dex 25, Con 16, Int 6, Wis 11, Cha 11

Base Atk +8; CMB +13; CMD 31

Feats Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Flyby Attack, Improved InitiativeB, Mobility, Weapon FinesseB

Skills Acrobatics +15, Escape Artist +15, Fly +21, Knowledge (planes) +5, Perception +11, Stealth +11

Languages Celestial, Draconic, Infernal; truespeech


ECOLOGY


Environment any (Heaven)

Organization solitary

Treasure none


SPECIAL ABILITIES


Air Mastery (Ex) Airborne creatures take a –1 penalty on attack and damage rolls against a gestalt lantern archon.