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ShadowFinder Bestiary Teaser: Soul Lamprey

As work on ShadowFinder continues, I will occasionally preview things that will be in its Bestiary section. Many of these will be creatures from the ShadowBlast, but others will fill in the “normal” niches a typical modern adventure/scifi/fantasy/surreal/horror game might need.

For each of these, I plan to show some art, talk a bit about why I’m putting it in the ShadowFinder Core Book, and enough info a GM could create a version of the monster at any CR, using the standard Starfinder creature creation rules. In the final entries for these in the Core Book there will be at least one full stat block, but I do also want to give enough info on special abilities and role in an adventure that a GM can reliably make versions at different CRs as they need them.

So, let’s start with the soul lamprey.

(Art by Kalifer)

Soul lampreys are creatures apparently native to the Shadowblast (though like anything in the Shadowblast, they might originally be from somewhere else and just trapped in that dim demiplane). They are driven by an insatiable hunger to consume the determination and drive of sapient beings, as well as the flesh of any sentient creature they can eat while it still lives.

The idea behind the soul lamprey is to get some of the player-dread that creatures that inflicted level drains and negative levels did in older ttRPGs… without the bookkeeping, refiguring, and literal inability to keep playing the character usefully in the same adventure that those rules often inflicted on players. Instead, soul lampreys eat Resolve Points.

To build a soul lamprey, you use a combatant stat array, a single bite melee attack that deals piercing damage, and give it these special abilities and adjustments:

Slow But Tough: A soul lamprey has EAC and KAC 2 lower than normal for the combatant array at its level, but also has 25% more Hit Points.

Devour Determination (Su): When a soul lamprey damages a target with tis bite, the target must make both a Fortitude and Will save. If it makes both saves, there is no additional affect. If the target fails 1 save, it loses 1 Resolve Point. If it fails both saves, is drained of 1d4 Resolve Points (+1d4 for every 4 full levels of the lamprey’s CR). Drained RP do not recover normally. Instead, each time the character regains their daily abilities, they reroll the Fort and Will saves, regaining 1 RP for each save they succeed at each day. If they make both saves, they regain an addition 1d4 RP (+1d4 for ever 4 character levels they have).

The soul lampry gains these Resolve Points, and can use them normally and to fuel its special abilities. While a soul lamprey has RP, any creature missing RP from a soul lamprey drain is flat-footed and off-target to the soul lamprey.

Digest Determination (Su): When a wounded soul lamprey devours determination, it can choose to expend any number of the RP it absorbs to heal itself as part of the attack. For each RP expended, it regains 1d8 HP + 1/2 its CR. It may only do this when it absorbs new RP.

Target Sense (Su): As part of any action it takes, a soul lamprey can expend 1 RP to gain blindsight (telepathy) with a range of 5 feet per CR of the lamprey. This only detects creatures missing RP drained by a soul lamprey. The ability lasts for 10 minutes per CR of the soul lamprey.

Trap Blind (Ex): A soul lamprey is vulnerable to attacks from things that lack their own determination. This includes traps, mindless creatures, and mechanic’s drones. Such attacks gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls and save DCs, and deal double damage, against soul lampreys.

Shudder Step (Su): When a creature damages a soul lamprey with a ranged attack, the soul lamprey can follow the trace of psychic energy carried by the decision to attack it back to its point of origin, teleporting to be adjacent to the attacker (or as close as possible if there is no safe space adjacent to the attacker). This does not take an action, but does expend 1 Resolve Point.

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“Fodder” foes for Pathfinder 1st-edition

I’ve been considering running a Pathfinder 1st-edition game sometime in the not-too-distant future, as a change of pace for when my current Really Wild West campaign wraps up its current story arc. I’ve been especially considering running a variant of the “E6” concept, where regular character progress ends at level 6, and after that characters get a feat (with some new feats to allow ability score progress, access to new spells, access to higher-level abilities as rituals and such).

One of the nice things about running an E6 style game is that lots of classic monsters remain relevant. You have a range from about CR 4 to CR8, and later even CR 9, where its easy to challenge but not overwhelm characters. That means bulletes, dire animals, tougher mundane animals, centaurs, chimeras, cockatrices, cyclops, dinosaurs, drakes, Medium and Large elementals, giant bugs, gorgons, hell hounds, hill giants et al, howlers, hydras, leucrotta, manticores, medusa, ogres, phase spiders, rust monsters, trolls, unicorns and most typical undead (just to name a few) are all easily introduced into encounters. For many people this power level is the “sweet spot” of the game, so E6 just makes that the default, with power increases increasing breadth of options more than raw power numbers.

But it can also mean it’s tough to have challenging encounters with 8-20 foes, which while needn’t be common can certainly be fun. One of the things that can feel good as a hero is to be able to kill foes in a single blow, take out small gangs that jump you in an ally, and hold the bridge against small armies. Doing that without huge numerical bonuses of being 5 levels higher than your foe is tricky, because being outnumbered gives PCs a massive action economy disadvantage.

Lots of games have solved this issue with “minion” or “thug” rules, creating a class of adversary who has enough offensive values to be a threat, but are easily killed. I’ve enjoyed using “rowdies” in my Really Wild West game, and a similar mechanism seems like it might be useful for the specific feel I want for my E6 Pathfinder 1st ed game. This is just a first stab at such rules, off the top of my head, using the template concept and referring to such quickly-defeated adversaries as “fodder.”

I specifically want to make fodder dangerous enough you can’t ignore them, but weak enough their big advantage in extra actions doesn’t allow them to overwhelm PCs. I also want to make sure they are debuffed both in combatant terms, and when thinking about spells and special ablities.

Fodder Template

Six creatures with the fodder template are equal to a single creatre of the same CR. Thus, six CR 2 fodder worgs have a CR of 2. This also means you can have one CR 2 worg pack leader, and six fodder worgs, for a total of a CR 4 encounter.

Fodder have a -4 penalty to Initiative checks, AC, CMB, and CMD.
Fodder have a -4 penalty to saving throws against effects that do not deal hp damage, and if such effects have a duration of 1 round or more, the duration is doubled on a failed save.
Fodder have hp equal to the CR of the base creature. (Thus a CR 2 fodder worg has 2 hp).
Fodder do half damage with all abilities. The save DCs of their spells and abilities are reduced by 2, and on a successful save targets take no effect.
Any successful Knowledge check to identify a creature also identifies if it is fodder.

That’s just one change I am considering making to the rules–I have ideas about cantrips automatically scaling, feats gained from some classes have additional benefits (such as combat feats fighters gain from the class bonus feats automatically granting the combat stamina advantages if the fighter wishes, without needing to expend stamina points), and allowing PCs to gain abilities from other classes as feats.

But those are posts for another day. 🙂

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Holiday-Themed Constructs

Look, maybe you want to run a fantasy ttRPG with giant animated fruitcake warriors… and maybe you’ll just get a giggle out of my actually taking this topic seriously. But if you want to reskin some class iron, clay, and stone constructs (or any construct-type creature) into holiday-themed materials, here are some options for powers to add based on the holiday material used.

Figgy Pudding/Fruitcake: Take half damage from bludgeoning attacks. Are sticky, so they gain a climb speed.

Gingerbread: As almost 2-d, flexible creatures, they can get through spaces a creature 2 size classes smaller could, without taking any penalties. Any fire damage sets them on fire, both damaging them and causing their attacks to do fire damage.

Holly: Anyone hit by the construct, or adjacent to it for a full round, must make a mental save or move towards the person present they would be most interested in kissing (though once they take that move, all compulsion stops).

Hot Cocoa: Gains all the powers of both a fire elemental and a water elemental of the same threat level. takes double damage from bite attacks.

Peppermint: These constructs are “curiously strong.” Tracking them by scent is easy, but they cover all other scents, and after being in an enclosed space for a minute, scent can no longer pinpoint their exact location with that space.

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Chimera Generator

Yeah, it’s silly, but sometimes you want to throw players for a loop.

Roll 1d6 three times, and that puts together your chimera’s appearance. Depending on the game you are playing, you may or may not want to change any statistics from a base chimera.

Central Head and Front Body

1. Bear

2. Hippopotamus

3. Lion

4. Tiger

5. Wolf

6. Wolverine

Right Head and Rear Body

1. Boar

2. Bull

3. Goat

4. Gorgon

5. Stag

6. Unicorn

Left Head and Wings and Maybe Tail

1. Cockatrice

2. Dragon

3. Eagle

4. Phoenix

5. Wasp

6. Wyvern

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Slenderman, for ShadowFinder (Starfinder-Compatible)

So, if I DO a ShadowFinder rpg, or campaign book, or Starfinder hack, or whatever, obviously it’s going to involve adventures that include fighting things (because if it didn’t, I’d pick a different game system). While part of the point of doing something compatible with an existing game system is to make all the existing options available for use as a GM pleases, we’d obviously need some other, new things.

So, what will PCs oppose in a ShadowFinder campaign?

Creepy things. Like a SlenderMan.

(Slenderman art (c) Jacob Blackmon, and used with permission. Check out his Patreon here!)

Apóleipa, Innocence-Eater (Slenderman) (Combatant)
CR 7
XP 3,200
CE Medium fey (Extraplanar)
Init +6; Senses blindsight (emotion) 30 ft., low-light vision; Perception +14
Defense HP 98
EAC 19; KAC 20
Defensive Abilities Only the Fearless (DR/Resist all energy 10 vs attacks from frightened foes), Tilted Away
Fort +6; Ref +8; Will +10;
Offense
Speed 40 ft.
Melee touch +13 (2d4+7 B), critical: staggered 1d4 rounds, 15-foot reach
Ranged warped world +15 (2d4+7 A)
Statistics
STR +4; DEX +2; CON +0; INT +2; WIS +1; CHA +5
Skills Bluff +19, Culture +14, Diplomacy +19, Intimidate +19, Sense Motive +19, Stealth +19
Languages alltongue
Other Abilities alltongue, feats (Improved Demoralize), isolation (DC 19), warped world
Ecology
Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or infestation (3–6)
Special Abilities
Alltongue (Su): The Slenderman can speak and understand all spoken or signed languages, and is always able to be heard, even in areas of deafening sound and by creatures without a sense of hearing.
Isolation (Su): The Slenderman is a creature of isolation, and this extends to efforts to communicate with people far away by magical or technological means, or even just shouting. Anytime a creature within 300 feet of the Slenderman attempts to send or receive communication with anyone or anything not in their line-of-sight, they must succeed at a DC 19 Will save. On a failed save their radio turns to static, magic spell returns just whispered howls of pain, or their scream seems to die as soon as it leaves their throat. Once a creature fails this save, the condition prevents any communication beyond line-of-sight until it gets more than 300 feet from the Slenderman.
Any effort to record or preserve any image or sound of the Slenderman also requires a successful DC 19 Will save, with failure resulting in just a vague blur or feint whisper, or a picture of what appears to be a tall, thin, but mortal man in a suit, with a blurred face.
Only the Fearless (Su): Those who know fear find themselves nearly unable to damage the Slenderman. When a creature is suffering a fear effect (including the Slenderman’s own Intimidate check with Improved Demoralize), the Slenderman reduces damage from any attack they make by 10 points, regardless of damage type.
Tilted Away (Su): The space the Slenderman is in seems to ripple and roll away to make it difficult to make ranged attacks against it. Any ranged attack made against the Slenderman at a range greater than 2 feet grants the Slenderman concealment.
Warped World (Su): The Slenderman can reach out a long, crooked finger and cause someone to have a sense the world is spinning and twisting, wrenching their organs and insides as if they were being wrung out like a rag. This is a ranged acid attack against EAC, has a range increment of 50 feet, and has Knockdown as a critical hit effect.

Apóleipa are a form of fey native to the Plane of Shadow that represent the unformed fears of spaient creatures. As cultures form specific fears or hatreds, various apóleipa form to both try to stoke these negative feelings of natives to the mortal world, and to feed on them. Among the most recent form of apóleipa are innocence-eaters, also known as Slendermen, who feed of a sense of loss of innocence and self-loathing at having done horrid things. They operate mostly in places already suffering from great tragedy or resentment, often on the fringes of society, and seek to convince the most vulnerable members of these places to take actions that will deepen the fear and despair of the population.

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Building New Things That Feel Iconic

I love making new fantastic things. Not just “fantasy” things, but amazing and otherworldly things you could find in supers stories, or ancient mythology, or scifi, or weird west tall tales, or all of the above.

I especially love to make new things that feel like they have a long, established, iconic niche even if they are brand new. Obviously that’s a great *goal*, but it’s extremely difficult to do without making something that’s just a pastiche. It’s also extremely difficult to know when you have succeeded.

I do have some tricks I try to apply. Firstly, I often find if I can’t explain a thing within the number of characters allowed by a Tweet, I don’t have a firm enough grasp of what the core of that thing is. Second, I try to think about what the base of a thing is, and what the expansion is.

For example, today I had an idea leap into my head (likely due to insomnia-induced fatigue toxions) which I described thusly:

Ghortal are 7-8 foot tall unguligrade bipeds with roughly bull-like heads featuring tusks and 2-7 curling horns. Immune to undeath, if infected their faces take on skeletal features as their aging slows and they gain occult power.
They have a strong clan structure.

The base of ghortal is clearly that they are a kind of minotaur-kin, though with tusks and more horns. But then the idea is expanded to give them a special immunity to undeath, and a reaction to undead exposure that’s unique to them.

Minoaturs are clearly iconic, and there are a lot of similar beast + biped creatures in myth and fiction. Bovine skulls being used as masks and symbols is also extremely common, so I wanted to find a neat way to combine those into my minotaurs-with-extra-pointy-bits concept to make ghortal new and more interesting.

As for how I know when I have succeeded — it’s always a matter of how other people take to the idea.

But it’s sure a good sign when a professional cartoonist is so taken by the idea, they do art for it. Relatedly, here’s art the amazing Stan! did after reading my ghortal post earlier today. 🙂

Image

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Fighting Fire (Elementals) with Fire (Damage)

Heya folks! Gaming veteran and cartooning luminary Stan! wrote a response-with-counterproposals to my blog from last Friday, which I am delighted to present to you here as another Guest Blog!

If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at owen.stephens@gmail.com.

On Friday, Owen wrote an interesting and provocative post suggesting that Fire Elementals Shouldn’t Be Immune to Fire. As so often is the case, I was gobsmacked by the brilliance of this simple game design heresy. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like the idea would be improved with a little tweak. When I brought it up to Owen he said, “Fine … write it up!”

Damn it, Owen!

Demons and Devils

Owen’s first suggestion was that since demons and devils were placed in Hell as punishment for their evil natures, it makes sense for they themselves to share the eternal torment that the souls they tend suffer. His suggestion was that these creatures are merely immune from being DESTROYED by hellfire because they are immortal spirits. While that made some sense to me, it also made me wonder why in that case they wouldn’t be eternally on the EDGE of death, burned to near cinders but unable to succumb.

My counterproposal: In addition to being unable to be killed by fire damage, demons, devils, and other similar creatures get a new trait so that at the start of their turn, they heal all fire damage they have suffered. That way they are fresh at the start of each turn, and then get burned all over again. And if you target them with spells or other sources of fire damage, they have to take that too … they just can’t die from it, and they’ll heal it all back when their turn comes along.

In Their Element

The second half of Owen’s pitch was that Fire Elementals not be immune to fire in the same way that we creatures of flesh are not immune to fists, suggesting instead that they are adapted to their natural habitat and “see routes through the flames” so as to avoid taking damage. I suppose partly this comes down to how one envisions the Plane of Fire, but for me there are no routes “through the flames,” they are omnipresent. And my interpretation of creatures native to that plane is that they are cozy and comfortable when in the presence of natural occurrences of their element (sitting in a campfire is like a soothing bath for a Fire Elemental, likewise a Water Elemental is total at home in any amount of water).

My counterproposal: While elementals are sanguine when faced with their natural substance, they are still vulnerable to magical, chemical, and alchemical variations of it. So a fire elemental could be fine fighting in the middle of a burning house, but it’d take damage just like anyone else might from a <ital>fire bolt, fireball,</ital> or burning oil. It would be impossible, of course, to set a fire elemental on fire for ongoing damage … but the initial blast or splash sure hurts.

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Fire Elementals Shouldn’t Be Immune to Fire

In a lot of ttRPGs, a whole slew of creatures are immune to fire damage. Most commonly, demons/devils, and things from the elemental plane of fire.

The logic goes, demons and devils live in some kind of fiery hell. But most fantasy mythologies have them put there as punishment. Why put them someplace they are immune to?

Similarly, a fire elemental is said to be immune to fire because is it made of fire. But I’m made of flesh and bone, and a leather-wrapped femur slapped upside my head damages me just fine. Slap me with a side of beef and I show no sign of being immune to it.

Now, you DO want these creatures to be able to exist in their environments, but that need not make them immune to a common form of damage, and classically one of the things you CAN use against monsters in fantasy fiction. Demons and devil may be immune to being destroyed in Hell because they are immortal spirits, but they can still burn and suffer, making their existence damnation, Fire elementals can be given an ability to see the routes through the plane of fire, escaping burning not because they are made of fire, but because they are adapted to their environment.

So, since people aren’t immune to damage from being hit by the things they are made of:

Fire elementals should not be immune to fire.

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Ablative for Pathfinder 1st edition

Ablative is a creature ability you can add to monsters to make them shrink as they take damage. It’s designed for use with elementals, constructs, and slimes, but could apply to other creatures as well. If applies to creatures that primarily do weapons or natural weapon damage, it’s reduced damage output heavily counters its increased AC and accuracy. For creatures that use offenses not modified by the reduced size, it generally becomes more dangerous as it’s injured.

When an ablative creature has lost 1/3 or more of its HP, it becomes one size smaller until its HP total is healed to be over that threshold. This otherwise functions as reduce person.

When an ablative creature has lost 2/3 or more of its HP, it becomes one size smaller until its HP total is healed to be over that threshold. This also otherwise functions as reduce person, with the modifiers stacking with the first application.

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Koufrawraiths – A simple d20 monster template

This is designed as a simple template for monsters in a wide range of d20 games. It has a horror/mystery theme, and the GM should consider its use carefully. Certainly it’s going to be as dangerous as a creature 1 level or CR higher, and if PCs do not yet know how to deal with it, it may be much more dangerous. On the other hand, a group could walk right past one and never know it, so it needs to be used in an intentional way with forethought, rather than as a random encounter.

Koufrawraith

(Sleepless art by likozor)

A koufrawraith is a creature that exists in the dim fog between the waking world and the Plane of Dreams. They cannot be encountered by anyone fully in either realm, but do cross into any other reality where creatures able to sleep exist. Despite the name koufrawraiths are not necessarily undead, though undead koufrawraiths do exist. Many are hags, fey, monstrous beasts,and rarer examples exist as constructs, dragons, and oozes.

A koufrawraith’s existence can only be experienced by those who are fatigued or exhausted, but conscious. For any other creature, they cannot be perceived or effected, and the koufrawraith similarly cannot directly effect those who are ineligible to perceive it. It does perceive waking and sleeping creatures, but no action it takes (including things like casting spells that leave lasting effects, such as a wall of stone) can be perceived by, effect, or be effected by such creatures. Secondary effects can be–if a koufrawraith damages an exhausted person, the damage is visible and can be healed, but there is no evidence of how it was caused. Any effort to identify a koufrawriath from secondary observation or description suffers a -10 penalty.

Also known as sleepgaunts, koufrawraiths often prey upon lone insomniacs and those suffering great loss or toil. If feeds on the suffering of the tired, and prefers to hurt and frighten its food source, rather than kill them.

The ancient order of the Wearied Guard once drove koufrawraiths to near extinction, but once they were no longer a common threat, societies stopped supporting, or even believing, those who claimed their crucial work had to be done in the still of night, while bleary-eyed and staggering from fatigue.

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