Superstar 2015 reaches its half-way point today, as the Top 16's monsters are revealed, typically one of the best moments in each year's contest. Monsters are a staple of the role-playing game industry, which is why despite having hundreds and hundreds of them already published in Bestiaries and Adventure Paths and elsewhere, more are created probably every day.
I have to admit, I didn't used to be the biggest fan of this round. I tend to prefer NPCs in my game design, so I preferred when the create-an-antagonist Round 3 challenge was to design a villain. But I've grown to appreciate the monsters more as I followed the contest, and really came to enjoy looking at them as I reviewed the 40 Here Be Monsters entries.
I wrote a bit about how I review monsters for Here Be Monster in September and I'll largely follow that methodology here:
I want an exciting first line to draw me into the monster and let me really visualize it. It shouldn't assume action on the part of monster or PC, though some minimal movement (rising up, or nostrils flaring) is in my opinion OK. This should be, at heart, something I can read when the PCs first encounter the creature so they know what it looks like.
After that, I turn to the write-up. There, I'm looking for whether I'd know how to run the creature if I were to use it as a GM. What exactly that involves may depend largely on the monster and its role. If it's a mindless ooze, I probably need to know more about how it came to exist, what it does in combat, etc. etc. If it's an intelligent creature, I need to know what it wants as much as how it behaves. Does it have a society? While there's certainly a place for monsters that you encounter and immediately enter combat, I like monsters that can also have individual personalities and let you play with shades of gray in your adventures: Do you team up with the evil dragon knowing that its reason for wanting the invading army stopped is much different than yours?
For this challenge, the write-up will also need to connect the monster to Nar-Voth, the top area of Golarion's Darklands. In my experience, many of the Superstar monsters don't truly hit home as Golarion creatures
— my guttersnipe from 2014, for example, referenced the Inner Sea, but truly could have been found in any setting. The designers who really make their creature intrinsically part of the setting earn a lot of bonus points from me (I wrote last week about a few who I thought did that really well).
After reading the write-up, I finally turn to the stat block. I'm less interested in the specifics of the numbers than if they feel they're generally in the right location. If a CR 5 creature has an AC that's much higher or lower than 18, I'm going to be looking to see why and if that's compensated for elsewhere.
The special abilities are always the most exciting part of a new monster for me, so it's hard sometimes to save them for last, though I do try. This is where a designer shows off his or her chops, hopefully giving me some new exciting mechanic that plays with the rules in the same way the Round 1 magic items do. If you can manage to do that, chances are you'll have a monster I want to vote for.