Saturday, September 27, 2014

Top 5: Nightbloom by Nicholas Wasko

A massive, night-black flower sways in the still air, its five petals lined with glowing red eyes. The shadows around it buzz and whisper, alive with a hatred and hunger no mortal could match.

Nightbloom CR 15
XP 51,200
CE Huge undead (extraplanar, nightshade)
Init +6; Senses darksense, darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, detect magic; Perception +28
Aura desecrating aura (30 ft.), shadow spores (120 ft.)

DEFENSE
AC 30, touch 10, flat-footed 28 (+2 Dex, +20 natural, -2 size)
hp 230 (20d8+140)
Fort +13, Ref +12, Will +19
DR 15/good and silver; Immune cold, undead traits; SR 26
Weaknesses light aversion

OFFENSE
Speed 20 ft.
Melee 2 slams +21 (2d8+8/19-20 plus 4d6 cold)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks channel energy (8d6, DC 29, 8/day), manifest spores
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 15th; concentration +20)
Constant—detect magic, magic fang
At will—contagion (DC 19), deeper darkness, greater dispel magic, shadow evocation (DC 20), unholy blight (DC 19)
3/day—confusion (DC 19), Quickened deeper darkness, greater shadow conjuration (DC 22), haste, hold monster (DC 20), invisibility, Empowered shadow evocation (DC 20)
1/day—Empowered cone of cold (DC 20), finger of death (DC 22), plane shift (DC 22), summon (level 7, 3 greater shadows)

STATISTICS
Str 21, Dex 14, Con —, Int 20, Wis 21, Cha 21
Base Atk +15; CMB +22; CMD 34 (cannot be tripped)
Feats Combat Expertise, Command Undead, Critical Focus, Empower Spell-Like Ability (cone of cold, shadow evocation), Improved Critical (slam), Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Quicken Spell-Like Ability (deeper darkness), Staggering Critical
Skills Climb +28, Intimidate +28, Knowledge (arcana) +28, Knowledge (religion) +28, Perception +28, Sense Motive +28, Spellcraft +28, Stealth +17 (+25 in darkness), Use Magic Device +25; Racial Modifiers +8 Stealth in dim light and darkness
Languages Abyssal, Common, Infernal; telepathy 100 ft.

ECOLOGY
Environment any (Negative Energy Plane)
Organization solitary, pair, or grove (3-4)
Treasure standard

SPECIAL ABILITIES
Manifest Spores (Su) A nightbloom incorporates its shadow spores into its spell-like abilities, making them more substantial. Effects created by its shadow evocation and greater shadow conjuration spell-like abilities are 20% more “real” against disbelieving creatures. Creatures summoned by its greater shadow conjuration spell-like ability are treated as undead for the purpose of channeled energy and the nightbloom’s desecrating aura.

Shadow Spores (Su) A nightbloom fills the darkness around it with spores of ravenous shadowstuff. Any creature the comes within 120 ft. of a nightbloom must make a DC 22 Reflex save or have the spores infect its own shadow. Bright light provides a +4 bonus, dim light imposes a -4 penalty, and creatures in complete darkness receive no saving throw. A successful save means the creature is immune until the lighting condition changes. The save DC is Charisma-based.

An infected creature appears to cast two, mostly overlapping shadows while its body is gradually consumed by the spores. This functions as a disease effect, though the save frequency changes based on the surrounding light. Creatures immune to diseases are still vulnerable to the spores. Damage caused by the spores cannot recover naturally until the infection is cured. A creature killed by the shadow spores rises in 1 hour as a shadow. The spores can only be removed via remove disease or similar magic, cast in a consecrated, brightly lit area.

Shadow Spores (Su) Contact—aura; save Fort DC 22, onset 1 round, frequency 1 day (bright light)/1 hour (dim light)/1 minute (darkness)/1 round (supernatural darkness), effect 1 Con damage, cure —.

A paradoxical mix of fecund germination and undead decay, the deadly nightbloom lurks in the bowels of the jungle, where natural light cannot pierce the dense canopy. Though they lack the physical strength of other nightshades, nightblooms are masters of attrition, turning the darkness itself against their victims. Nightblooms often forego their powerful magic to watch hapless mortals succumb to their spores, reveling in their horror as the shadows devour their flesh.


Jacob W Michaels

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OK description, though does assume location somewhat (what if you run into one of these in the middle of a hurricane)? Still, nice descriptive phrases and I like that it also uses auditory elements. Writeup's short, which isn't a surprise considering the CR, but the first sentence at least is great: "A paradoxical mix of fecund germination and undead decay..." That's fantastic. And it continues just as strongly, with great imagery like "lurking in the bowels of the jungle." I think the writer makes the most of his short write-up, giving enough to get some sense of what the monster's like. I'm definitely excited to check out the stat block.

Appears to have all the nightshade requirements, though the name probably should call out that it's a nightshade, i.e. "nightshade, nightbloom." Otherwise, everything looks properly bolded and italicized and capitalized from what I could see.

Manifest spores is a nice, solid ability. Makes sense for the monster and complements its primary ability nicely. Shadow spores is nicely written -- "spores of ravenous shadowstuff" is pure fantasy gold. Definitely an interesting ability too, and I like that it plays with light levels, which usually are only good for concealment mechanics (though it seems odd to me you'd get no save in complete darkness, when you would in fact have no shadow). One little typo here -- "Damage caused by the spores cannot recover naturally" -- but not a big deal.

All in all, I think this is a good, high-level monster. Keep.



Mike Kimmel

The imagery and flavor of this monster are fantastic. The writing drew me in, which is a nice change of pace, as the writing for many other monsters was a barrier to my enjoyment. Never a good thing. The designer's attention to mechanical detail was another strong point. (The designer even included the bonus hit points from the desecrating aura ability that all nightshades have.)

At first I thought the shadow spores ability was fun but that the range seemed way too big. I also thought that Con damage was a bit of a bland effect. But the flavor was still strong. However, while the judges were narrowing down the top five, we realized that this monster can't really exist without devastating entire ecosystems, the way it's written. The shadow spores ability would likely need to be revised in order for this monster to be publishable. 

That was our primary concern with the monster and for a while it was possible that this one wouldn't make Top 5, but the flavor won us over.



Mikko Kallio

Hello Nick, I'm Mikko Kallio, one of the judges for the Here Be Monsters contest. For some background, I'm the founder of the A Sword for Hire blog and the main organizer of this contest. I was one of runners-up in RPG Superstar 2014, where one of my most successful rounds was the monster round. Lastly, I do freelance work for Paizo, some of which includes designing monsters for Adventure Path bestiaries.

Firstly, thank you for submitting this cool monster! Secondly, congratulations on making the top 5! Thirdly, good luck in the voting! Below are comments on things I liked about your monster and things that may still need some work.

Excellent concept: I think the plant-like nightshade is an excellent choice for a monster. A huge monstrosity spreading its deadly pollen to infect living things. You can run away, but the darkness will get you, sooner or later. Well done!

Terrific flavor: Both the intro line and the write-up are oozing with cool flavor. All the mechanics are very well thematically linked to the flavor. However, I don't like the "alive with hunger no mortal could match"–the intro line is basically read-aloud text, so you should focus on perceptible facts.

Keeping track of light level changes: The shadow spore disease mechanics are frankly far too complex for what it does. If an infected creature spends 10 minutes in dim light, a couple of hours in bright light, it very quickly becomes a chore to keep track of. Also, normal light is not mentioned, is it the same as bright light for the purpose of this effect?

A few little things: The creature has 20 HD but 9 feats; one feat is missing. Spells and SLAs enhanced with metamagic feats shouldn't be capitalized (though they are correctly not italicized). Attack bonus doesn't seem to include size penalty (bab –size +Str bonus +magic fang =+19). Is the channel energy DC correct? I didn't check, but it looks oddly high. (EDIT: I stand corrected--I didn't notice a few things that affect the math, see the comments!)

Inconsistent terrain: The environment line says any (Negative Energy Plane), which is a harsh place devoid of life. The write-up, on the other hand, places the creature in a jungle, a place teeming with life, which is pretty much the exact opposite of the NEP. While it's possible the creature enjoys going to the jungle when it's visiting the Material Plane, it's not mentioned anywhere in the write-up, so it's confusing.

World domination?: Anything that comes within 120 ft. of it is very likely to be infected (Reflex & Fort DC 22). I'm not talking about the PCs but everyone else–everything else. The ability has no size limit, and it seems to affect all creature types, not just humanoids. Not to mention shadows can create more shadows. Now if it's on the NEP, it'll probably have no effect whatsoever because pretty much everything there is dead already. Whereas in a jungle, there are literally thousands of creatures to infect, who'll kill thousands more after they turn. One of these things could cause the deaths of thousands, even millions, probably more than you intended. Also, I think the organization entry should reflect that there are probably a lot of shadows around. Not a big deal though.

Overall, it's a very cool concept and it has some of the best flavor text we've seen in the contest.


Sean K Reynolds

I’m gonna prefix all five of my reviews with this note: I’m not doing a detailed analysis of the stat block math to make sure the creature has exactly the right number of feats and skill ranks. There are plenty of electronic tools that check that stuff for you, and I’d rather focus my comments on game design and concepts rather than math. And thanks for participating in the Here Be Monsters contest!


I like that you’ve made a new nightshade creature. :)

Manifest spores is a neat ability, and I like that how you’ve tweaked the percentages for those illusion spells.

The problem with the “darkness means you don’t get a saving throw” is that if the target is in darkness, it never gets to make a save against the disease. Yes, there are ways around that issue, but circumstances might mean that the character has no light (say, PCs with darkvision on a negative energy plane where using light would attract attention), and just erodes away. In general, I’m not a fan of absolute effects; I’d much rather see this have a huge save penalty (like –8) than an autofail; that would put it at DC 30, which is still challenging compared to the default CR 15 high saving throw (23).

Because this creature is CR 15, you could have the shadow spores turn the victim into a greater shadow (CR 8) instead of a regular shadow (CR 3); that would justify having a packs of CR 8 greater shadows flying around the area where the nightbloom lives.

I think the biggest drawback to this creature is that it’s a nightshade, which is a high-CR, high-HD creature with a lot of default abilities, skills, and feats filling up the stat block and eating up the word count. After you add the text for describing its two new abilities, you don’t have much room left in your word count to actually describe the creature (only 72 words). This is a problem with *all* of the nightshades (there are some in Bestiary 2 that actually have less descriptive text than this one), so once you decided to do this monster you were stuck with the consequences, which in this case is that you’re limited to, “it’s a new type of nightshade creature, you already know what nightshades do, here are a couple of abilities and a quick description.” A different monster choice would have given you more options.

That said, I think this is a cool, high-CR monster and definitely fits in with the other nightshades. If I were giving out assignments for a monster book and told you, “create a CR 15 plant-like nightshade,” I’d be pleased with the result. Good job!

7 comments :

  1. HECK YEAH BROTHER!!!!

    That is all

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  2. Actually, Mikko, I think the numbers are in order: each of the Empowered SLAs has a feat, totally to 10, and the attack bonus and save DCs are augmented by the desecrating aura, no?

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    1. You're absolutely correct! I'll adjust my comments accordingly.

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  3. Nice Christopher,
    The manifest spores is an interesting ability. Metamagic SLAs? Nice, :) I like the poison stats for the spores, good call.
    good luck -Scott

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    1. This is actually Nick's monster, I'm just a cheerleader :)

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  4. Great job, Nicholas. I knew I was competing against some very creative people—the nightbloom proves it. Congratulations and good luck!

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  5. So now that the contest is over, I wanted to discuss a few of the things I'm planning to change after the contest. First, the revisions I'm planning to make as a result of the judge's comments:

    1) Include shadow spore frequency for normal light (1 hour; dim light would become 10 minutes).
    2) Make the save against spore infection be a -8 in complete darkness, and the save must be made each round, rather than when the lighting changes.
    3) Specify infection for “living creatures” to allow undead allies.
    4) Only creatures with 9+ HD who succumb to the spores become shadows, and they become greater shadows instead. Perhaps limit these shadows’ ability to create spawn.
    5) Add greater shadows to organization entry.
    6) Scrap “no mortal could match” from the intro description.
    7) Include “nightshade” in its name.

    Now, a few clarifications about some of my design choices:

    1) The descriptive text about the jungle environment is based on the idea from [i]Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Undead Revisited[/i] that each nightshade is affiliated with a preferred Material Plane ecological niche, and is specialized for conquest of that domain (land, sky, underground, ocean depths). Because of limited word count, I focused on that instead of specifying that they usually reside on on the NEP; essentially, I used the same descriptive text strategy as the Nightwave.
    2) To a certain degree, ecosystem destruction is its goal; while I certainly overlooked the scope of the shadow spawn cascade (it definitely needed to be scaled back), eating away at whole biospheres should be the result if these things make it into the Material Plane.

    Thanks again to everyone who voted for the nightbloom!

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