Thursday, February 25, 2016

Top 6: Hellforge Slag by Steven Hanis

Intense, glowing red eyes are the only visible contrast on this humanoid, walking heap of crumbling metal and filthy black dross. The pungent smell of burning coal and sulfur along with the grating screech of grinding metal give this denizen of hell away long before its unsettling stare can be seen.

Hellforge Slag CR 4
XP 1200
LE Small Outsider (evil, extraplanar, lawful)
Init +0; Senses darkvision 60ft; Perception +8

AC 21, touch 10, flat-footed 21 (+10 natural, +1 size)
hp 32 (5d10+5)
Fort +5, Ref +1, Will +4
Defensive Abilities case hardening; Immune fire, cold

Speed 20 ft.
Melee 2 slams +8 (1d6+4)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks pig iron (every 1d4 rounds, 15-ft line, 4d4 fire damage, Reflex half DC 15)

Str 18, Dex 10, Con 12, Int 2, Wis 10, Cha 6
Base Atk +4; CMB +8; CMD 17
Feats Power Attack, Pack Attack (teamwork feat)
Skills Climb +6, Perception +8, Stealth +5
SQ case hardening, slag heap

Environment any (hell)
Organization pair, pack (3-5), or heap (6-10)
Treasure standard

Case Hardening (Su) Though the hellforge slag is immune to cold, any time it would take damage from a spell with the cold descriptor, its metallic exterior becomes hardened and stiff, yet brittle. The hellforge slag gains DR 10/bludgeoning. The hardening of its dross and forge scrap exterior also slows the creature’s movement considerably. As long as the hellforge slag has the case hardened condition, it is slowed, as per the spell. Case hardening lasts for 1d4 hours, or until it is subject to intense heat. Mundane sources of fire halve the duration. The condition is negated anytime it is subject to a spell with the fire descriptor, or alternatively the heat from another hellforge slag’s pig iron ability reverses case hardening.
Pig Iron (Su) As a standard action, the hellforge slag vomits a gout of molten metal in a 15-ft line, dealing 4d4 points of fire damage to anything caught in the line of effect. A DC 15 reflex save halves this damage. The brittle, low quality iron quickly cools, covering the area with hundreds of sharp metal shards. Treat the area containing the pig iron as being covered in caltrops.
Slag Heap (Su) When a hellforge slag dies it explodes in a burst of ash, dross and metal shards as the unholy energy that powers its molten core dissipates. The cloud of debris coats all adjacent creatures as it washes over them, causing thousands of tiny cuts and burning scrapes. All adjacent creatures gain vulnerability to fire for 1d4 rounds. If an adjacent creature is immune to fire, it loses its immunity for 1d4 rounds instead. Hellforge slag are immune to this effect.

Bodies forged from the dross and slag that litters the forge rooms of Hell, these screeching metal creatures are the unholy prison for some of its tortured souls. Aside from its two glowing eyes, which reveal the molten nature inside its mottled, filthy exterior, the hellforge slag has no visibly defining features in its squat, humanoid form, save the texture of spoiled forge metal that gives the creature its name. Due to their dense nature, they often weigh nearly 200 pounds, despite only being about 2 feet tall.

Reduced to base intellect, hellforge slag are completely subservient to their devil forge masters, following orders without fail. They delight in battle, rushing to swarm and surround their foes while spraying their pig iron liberally. Hellforge slag make use of their pack attack feat to quickly spread out and flank their enemies, hoping to catch them in a burning crossfire of molten iron.

Jacob W. Michaels

Congratulations to the Top 6 monster designers; we had a lot of great entries, but these rose to the top. For my comments, I'm including what were, for the most part, my stream of conscious thoughts as I read each monster (edited slightly for public consumption).

I understand what it looks like from the description, but assumes action (walking), and calls it a denizen of Hell, which should require a Knowledge check to know. I like that the writer included other senses, even if he/she maybe went on a little too long here. (I was surprised to see it's Small as I was expecting something larger from the description — I think it's the word "heap," which invokes some size to me. Not really a big deal, just an observation.)

Write-up's solid. Decent origin for these creatures and I know how to use them in combat, though they seem to have little use outside of that. Pack Attack should have been capitalized in the description.

Stat block looks OK: Outsider should be lowercase (and I wonder if this would be better as a construct, though outsider's fine, I guess); missing space in the darkvision range; no need for the space/reach line; all even attributes; no need to call out Pack Attack as a teamwork feat. It has a high AC, but low HP, so those balance out. I love the organization name (though it also uses heap as a SQ).

Case hardening is interesting. I think it probably should go under weakness, not defensive ability — though I guess it does give DR. Thinking about it, it probably actually belongs under SQ.

Pig Iron — I like this, though I kind of think it should do half fire/half bludgeoning damage (and the Reflex save needs to be capitalized). I like the caltrops kicker on it a lot; a great example of using core rules to make an ability feel new. It probably should have been done as a breath weapon, and it needs to say what determines the save DC.

Similarly, slag heap is a neat power, though I don't think that name works for it at all. For creatures that lose their immunity, should they still have some resistance? I think other similar abilities I've seen would take from immunity to fire resistance 30. Good attention to detail in calling out other slag heaps don't lose their immunity.

I think a lot of the mistakes here can be fixed pretty easily. The powers are solid (while still making use of basic rules) and some of the writing is really nice -- even in the powers, things like "vomits a gout of molten metal" and "explodes in a burst of ash, dross and metal shards" make this fun to read.

Mike Welham

Congratulations on making the Top 6! I'm just going to jump into the monster and give my feedback.

The description manages to hit all four reasonably expected senses, which is a rare accomplishment. The last sentence could be tightened up a bit ("denizen of hell" is a detail a character would pick up with a knowledge check, for example).

The stat block looks fairly clean. I would suggest that the pig iron special attack change to breath weapon, since it is a breath weapon in all aspects. The special ability description could then replace "molten metal" with "molten pig iron" to get the description across. You also wouldn't have to repeat a lot of information in the special ability description. The AC is high for its CR, but its low hp offset the high AC. Still, I would suggest reducing its natural armor bonus to +8. Its attacks, damage, and save DCs are in line with its DC, though. You also don't need to indicate Pack Attack is a teamwork feat.

The name for the largest grouping of hellforge slag is perfect, but it calls attention to the slag heap special ability, which deserves a better name.

The special abilities themselves are wonderful and go beyond what I expected for this monster. Case hardening fittingly describes a side effect of a cold damaging effect. Despite my quibble about pig iron being a breath weapon in all but name, I like its evocative effect of the cooling iron creating caltrops. Slag heap (other than the name) is a nasty Pyrrhic victory" that works very well for groups of hellforge slag.

The write up provides a frightening visual of discarded metal used as a prison for souls.This actually addressed my concern about the monster not being a construct.

Overall, this is a fun monster that will challenge PCs, especially when encountered in groups.

Mikko Kallio

Thanks for submitting a monster, and congratulations on making the Top 6! Below are some comments on your entry.

The description is certainly evocative and combines facts observable with three different senses. Very good! The description is probably a bit too long, and "denizen of hell" is not an observable fact, however. Lastly, "give away" and "can be seen" kind of imply there is an observer, but the description shouldn't assume any interaction between an observer and the monster.

There are a few small mistakes in the stat block, here's a summary: XP line is missing a comma (1,200); "Outsider" should not be capitalized; darkvision 60ft should have a space before "ft" and a period after it; immunities should be in the alphabetical order; space and reach should be removed because 5 ft. is the default; the feats are in the wrong order (always alphabetize), and Pack Attack doesn't need to be called out as a teamwork feat; it should, however, include the source (UC) in superscript; in environment, Hell should be capitalized because it's the name of a plane; all its ability scores are even: three should be odd.

Heap is a great word to describe a large number of these creatures!

All the three abilities are very evocative, they're consistent with the creature's theme, and there are interesting synergies and interactions between them. The mechanics are interesting, elegant, and straightforward to use. Very well done!

"The hardening of its dross and forge scrap exterior also slows the creature’s movement considerably." is probably not needed; the previous sentence already establishes that the exterior becomes stiff, so the slowed condition seems appropriate even without that extra sentence. Always look for ways to make your special ability descriptions tighter.

I'd probably also try to save a few words by combining the various effects that different sources of heat do. Why should a spell with the fire descriptor have a different effect than a different type of heat source?

The pig iron ability should probably be a breath weapon. In the stat block, breath weapon details should be in a slightly different order (and a period seems to be missing after ft). As per the universal monster rules, the order should be:

breath weapon (60-ft. cone, 8d6 fire damage, Reflex DC 20 for half, usable every 1d4 rounds)

Though, to be fair, a lot of monsters in the various bestiaries also have them in a different order. (I ran a quick search.)

In my opinion, slag heap's flavor text doesn't really justify the vulnerability / immunity loss effect.

The creature's name describes the creature really well, and "hellforge" sounds pretty evocative to me. I'd hesitate to call a monster "slag", though, because in some varieties of English it has approximately the same meaning as "slut". Moreover, at first I thought "hellforge slag are" was a grammatical error, but then realized it's meant to have the same plural and singular form. Not recommended as it's often confusing for the readers.

The concept is very consistent with itself: what we know about the monster makes sense considering its special abilities and environment.

However, there's a lot we don't know about the monster. The ecology section is by far the weakest part of the entry. Its height and weight is probably the only piece of information I wouldn't be able to deduce just by looking at its read-aloud description and stat block. Don't repeat information, it's not useful for GMs to read the same things twice. For ideas on what to write about, have a look at some advice I wrote after the first HBM. Those are just examples; it really depends on the type monster what sort of things make sense to write about.

Lastly, its role in an encounter, adventure, or campaign is very limited. It's really only usable in combat encounters. I do think it would be interesting to write a combat encounter that includes a number of hellforge slag + a spellcaster boss with both cold and fire spells, so it's possible to give the creatures DR when needed.

Despite the monster's minor flaws and limited utility, the evocative flavor text and creative use of abilities made this one of my favorite monsters in Here Be Monsters 2!

Adam Daigle

Congratulations on being selected for the top six monsters! Monster contests are a blast, so I hope you had fun coming up with this cool critter. When judging, I’m not going to focus too much on the mechanics and making sure it hits all the numbers on Table 1–1 in the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary (because I’m sure one of the other judges will cover that). Instead, I’m just giving my gut opinions on the monster and focusing on the style and formatting. With that said, on to the comments!

First, I like that these are Small-sized. I didn’t pay attention to it when I first started reading through and when I saw the last sentence of the first descriptive paragraph I realized that they were Small. I think that’s an interesting route to take that isn’t necessarily expected.

Your descriptive text before the statblock is a bit long, but if it’s TOO long is up to the eventual publisher. At Paizo we tend to keep it down to two lines of text in hardcover Bestiaries, and we relax that rule in the Adventure Path bestiaries (though we still try to keep it brief). This isn’t a strike against your monster in the slightest, just something to keep in mind in the future.

While I don’t like the name of the case hardening ability, it’s certainly clear what’s going on. The ability is cool, but I wish you were a bit more clear on what and how the different types of heat get rid of it. You mention that they are stuck in this mode, if you will, until subjected to intense heat, but there’s not really a game term for “intense heat.” You go on to say that mundane fire halves the duration, but what if it is subjected to mundane fire more than once? What if the hellforge slag is just sitting in a normal forge or in a bonfire? It seems like that should continue to reduce the duration of the condition. Thankfully, these creatures can help each other out with this condition. It’s also kind of weird that it’s immune to cold, yet affected by cold spells for the purpose of this ability. I probably would have dropped the immunity or changed it into a resistance.

I adore the pig iron ability. I probably would change the name in development to something more action-oriented instead of just a noun if I was developing it, though. I like that it has the caltrops effect in addition to causing damage.

I also like the slag heap ability, because I’m a fan of death throes abilities. I’d also probably change the name of this ability too, because it suffers from the same “it’s a noun” ability that pig iron does.

One design problem with this (that’d be pretty easy to fix) is that you gave it all even ability scores. Monsters should have three even ability scores and three odd ones.

There were a few stylistic and editing errors in this, but things like that are easy to fix. For example, you capitalized “outsider,” didn’t put a space between 60 and ft., didn’t put the period behind the abbreviation for feet (same thing in the pig iron special attack line), didn’t capitalize Hell, and used hyphens instead of en dashes in the range of numbers in the organization line.


  1. Scott 'Curaigh' JankeFebruary 25, 2016 at 11:28 PM

    Congratulations Steven!
    BW caltrops FTW!
    I am also a fan of magic having various effects on critters like case hardening, well done.

  2. Just wanted to take a quick moment to say thanks! I am humbled an honored!

    Thanks for all the kind words and critiques!


A Sword for Hire