Monday, October 9, 2017

HBM4 Top 5: Gravestone Dryad by Kim Frandsen

With flesh consisting of dead wood and hair entwined with twigs and leaves, this clawed once-beautiful female reeks of rot and earth.
Gravestone Dryad CR 7
XP 3,200
NE Medium undead
Init +8; Senses darkvision 60 ft., lifesense, low-light vision,; Perception +11
----- Defense -----
AC 19, touch 14, flat-footed 15 (+4 Dex, +5 natural)
hp 85 (10d8+40);
Fort +7, Ref +7, Will +10
DR 5/silver; Immune undead traits;
----- Offense -----
Speed 30 ft.
Melee claw +11 (1d4 plus 1d2 Con drain)
Special Attacks entomb
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 10th, concentration +14)
Constant – speak with dead
At will—entangle, stone shape
3/day—charm person, deep slumber, inflict light wounds
1/day—animate dead, suggestion
----- Statistics -----
Str 10, Dex 19, Con --, Int 14, Wis 16, Cha 18
Base Atk +7; CMB +7; CMD 19
Feats Alertness, Deceitful, Improved Initiative, Stealthy, Weapon Finesse, +2
Skills Bluff +10, Climb +9, Craft (sculpture) +11, Disguise +14, Escape Artist +15, Knowledge (nature) +8, Perception +13, Sense Motive +12, Stealth +19, Survival +8;
Languages Common, Elven, Sylvan; speak with dead
SQ entomb, grave meld, grave swap
----- Ecology -----
Environment any graveyard
Organization solitary
Treasure standard
----- Special Abilities -----
Entomb (Su) Three times per day as a standard action, a gravestone dryad can entomb a living being within 100 ft. in a dirt coffin, causing them to rapidly suffocate as per the suffocation spell, Reflex DC 18 negates. However, unlike the spell, the target can escape the dirt coffin with a DC 30 Escape Artist check or by destroying the dirt coffin (treat as stone, Hardness 8, 30 hp, break DC 25).
Anyone killed in this manner automatically rises as a zombie, under the gravestone dryad's control at the end of the next round, automatically breaking free of the dirt coffin. (This does not use up the grave stone dryad’s daily use of animate dead).
Grave Meld (Su) A gravestone dryad can meld with a grave, similar to how the spell meld into stone functions, though the grave need only be half the size of the gravestone dryad. She can remain melded with a grave as long as she wishes.
Grave Swap(Su) Three times per day as a standard action, a gravestone dryad can swap physical location with any corpse within 100 ft. The corpse and gravestone dryad will then swap physical locations and the corpse will for the next hour assume the physical appearance of the gravestone dryad, similar to disguise self.

Gravestone dryads are twisted versions of their former selves, created when a dryad's tree is felled near a cemetery. The combined loss of the dryad's death, tree and the collective sorrow of the mourners at the cemetery calls to the dryad's soul and reunites it with its former body, immediately setting out for the graveyard. Once there, it merges with the graves and awaits its first prey, craving the life that it once had. First seen near large battlefields, reports of gravestone dryads have now been received from all corners of the world.

The gravestone dryad craves life (though doesn't need it for sustenance) and despises the living, knowing that they experience what it desires. And what it can't have, it destroys. To this end, the gravestone dryad lurks, listens and watches during the day, sending out zombie minions by night to lure or force back victims, though it is not above an opportunistic kill during the day. The gravestone dryad is patient however and can go weeks before taking its next victim to avoid discovery. She will try to kill at least once per month.

Much as the gravestone dryad wants to destroy life, however, there is nothing they hate more than the “normal” fey, and they go out of their way, even if it means exposing themselves, to destroy any fey they can find and have been known to move to areas that contain portals to the fey worlds, simply to destroy them as they’re passing from one world to the other. In return, the fey seek out the gravestone dryads, trying to destroy them permanently, though often the fey fall prey to their own self-assurance and wind up being animated under the gravestone dryads control. They fear that one day gravestone dryads and corrupted treants might work together to destroy the fey realms, but so far these fears have been unfounded.

Jacob W. Michaels:

Hey, Kim. First of all, welcome to the Top 5 of Here Be Monsters. Let's look at what you've given us:

We start off with a nice description, with good use of other senses. I think the write-up's solid in terms of I know what these creatures are and how to use that. That said, it could perhaps flow a little more smoothly; it seems to jump a bit from thought to thought. Being a newspaper editor in my full-time job, I like one-sentence paragraphs, but that's not seen as often in game-writing and grouping some of these ideas together a little more might have helped.
Looking at the stat block, I see a couple punctuation errors (comma after low-light vision, semicolon after undead traits, hyphen and spaces instead of an em-dash after the first SLA). Also has four even attributes (it should have three even and three odd), and a +2 after the feats (it looks like it has the right number of feats, however, so I'm assuming that was a marker you forgot to delete—I like using the highlight feature of my word processor when I make those sort of notations for myself so it's easier to notice to make sure I don't leave them in). None of those are major problems, of course, but would cause more work for your designer.
I like the idea of entomb a lot (though wasn't quite sure whether the target was buried underground in a shallow grave or entombed in a standing dirt coffin that appeared around him), but I think I wouldn't have done it with suffocation, which might be a bit tough for the CR. It's a 5th-level spell (normally requiring a 9th-level caster), while it could well be fighting 4th-level characters at CR 7. I think simply having the target have no air and having to hold its breath as it claws its way out would have been sufficient. That said, that's a super creepy, evocative power, which is good, as the other two feel slightly more pro forma, things I might expect a creature like this to have but which won't come into quite as much effect. Entomb is the main one and I think it's one people would remember.
All in all, good job, and I'm curious to see what the voters will have to say.
Mike Welham: 
Welcome to the top 5, Kim! I like this mirror, undead version of the dryad and its association with gravesites rather than trees. The write up gives a good idea about the gravestone dryad’s motivations and how to use it. They are anti-fey in personality, and it makes sense why they would be. The selection of spell-like abilities is appropriate for the dryad (with the exception of charm person, which doesn’t really support the dryad’s theme). Its premier special attack, entomb, is frightening, and grave swap is an interestingly deceptive ability. The Con drain is also pretty scary for characters, but 7th-level or higher characters have access to restoration, so it’s not overkill.

I will say that entomb is too scary, though, since it replicates suffocation and requires an initial save DC above the upper range for a CR 7 monster. The ability’s description wasn’t entirely clear on the location of the dirt coffin (is it aboveground, is it xx feet underground?), but if it truly does entomb a character, the normal suffocation rules would suffice.

Overall, I found this to be a cool anti-dryad. Good luck in the voting!

Joe Kondrak:
Congratulations on making into the finals! Getting picked by Mikko, Jacob, and Mike tells me you’ve done a good job, even before I read your monster. I’ll do my best to provide constructive feedback and commentary regarding various aspects of your design such as the descriptive text, formatting, rules-language, and anything else that comes to mind. Regarding stats, I’ll weigh in on their adherence to the monster statistics by CR table, but I won’t get as detailed as checking math or counting skill points and feats and such.

The descriptive text includes enough details to envision the creature, and it touches on another sense (scent) too, which is good. I do like the visuals and its appearance, but I find the phrasing a little awkward. It’s hard to fully explain, but as an example, I’ll cite this clawed once-beautiful female. I don’t think of “a female” as something clawed, but rather her fingers. Also, once-beautiful refers to the past, and I think it’s better to stick with simply describing how it looks now. Or, perhaps explain a little more, like, if it weren’t for X, it would be beautiful.        

Regarding stats, I think they’re appropriate for the monster’s CR, with most of the stats matching the monster statistics by CR table very closely. One exception is average damage, which is very low, but that is offset by Con drain and a relatively high DC on the entomb ability. 

There are a fair number of small mistakes in the stat block. In the senses line, there’s an extraneous comma after low-light vision. There are unnecessary semicolons at the end of several lines (hp, immune, skills). The feats line includes a +2 that seems out of place. Some of the spell-like abilities are missing DCs (but I do like the selection of SLAs, and think they’re apt). Entomb appears in both the SQ and special attacks line—I don’t think it’s warranted in the SQ line. Finally, there’s only 1 odd ability score, but customarily there should be 3 odd and 3 even. I’m not sure if that’s codified, so I understand the oversight—just something to keep in mind for future designs.

The concepts and underlying ideas of the special abilities are quite imaginative and good, but the writing and rules-language could use some polish. The entomb ability is a cool idea/concept, but I’m not quite sold on a “dirt coffin.” Maybe the target could be buried in a grave, or maybe the coffin is simply wood or stone. The ability text needs some editing and cleanup, too. For example, “100 ft.” should be “100 feet” (the ft. abbreviation typically appears in short parentheticals or the crunchier parts of stat blocks, but not in long-form text passages). Also, when presenting a saving throw using “negates,” that almost always appears in parentheses, rather than after a comma. The sentence about rising as a zombie could be made more concise, too. Grave meld is solid, and fits the creature’s theme nicely. Grave swap is interesting, but it too needs some cleanup. Things that need attention include the missing space before (Su) and the ft. abbreviation. Also, it’s generally a good idea to avoid using will (future tense) in rules-text, unless there’s no way around it. Using the last sentence as an example, removing will might lead to something like, “…the corpse assumes the appearance of the gravestone dryad for 1 hour.” 

The flavor text includes lots of information, all of it interesting and useful. I like the underlying concepts, but this section requires some editing and polish for it to really shine. I’ll try to provide an example or two. The sentence starting with, “She will try to kill…” is kind of abrupt and just hangs there. Combining it with the previous line, using comma(s) as necessary, might smooth out the passage. Another example would be the first sentence in the last paragraph. It qualifies as extremely long—breaking it up into 2 or more sentences would really help. Also, remember to include a line about the creature’s size and weight. 

I particularly like the concept and idea behind this entry. On that count, it’s quite strong, and it really fits the theme. On the other hand, it needs a fair amount of editing and polish. This may be one where you’ll learn which aspect is most important to the voters. Good job, and good luck!

Adam Daigle:

I have to admit, as soon as I saw the name of this creature I could have sworn I’ve seen it (or something like it) before. I even tried looking it up to see if this was a case of parallel development or just my brain making weird associations. Turns out it was the latter.

This is certainly an interesting idea and I feel like the execution is pretty good. These creatures would certainly be rare considering that a dryad’s tree growing near a graveyard would already be a rare event and that extra requirement of being cut down, seemingly within a timeframe of a funeral, would make this origin rare indeed.

I like the idea of an undead dryad. The special abilities for this creature are neat, but I have a few small issues. First, I would have loved to see something that mimicked the dryad’s tree dependence ability, which to me is an essential part of the dryad. I’m curious why the damage reduction is keyed to silver. Its attack bonus is pretty much where it should be, and while the damage output is low for a creature of this challenge rating, that Con drain is pretty strong. I might even be convinced to say that it should be ability damage instead (since PCs typically don’t get access to restoration until 7th level), but it’s probably fine.

The entomb ability is neat, but the use of the phrase “dirt coffin” confused me. I get what you’re going for with this ability, and it does its job, but I’d describe this effect a bit differently. Grave swap is interesting, but I’m having trouble figuring out how best to use this ability, so it seems unnecessary.

The writing for this monster was mostly fine. The language could be punched up a bit and there were numerous small errors that could probably be cleaned up with another edit pass before submission. (What’s up with that “+2” on the feats line?)

Good effort on this one and best of luck in voting!


  1. Gah /doh.

    The +2 was a reminder to myself when I orginally created the dryad to add 2 feats. I did... And then promptly forgot to remove the +2.


    Thank you all though for your feedback, and I'm glad you liked my monster. :D

    Kim Frandsen

  2. This is a really cool monster. I concur with the judges regarding the entomb ability. It has great flavor, but could use some work mechanically to really make it rock. Also, I think the grave swap ability would be better served as an immediate action. That way it could be used by the creature as an escape route during combat. It gets hit, enacts grave swap, and the swapped corpse, disguised as the grave dryad, falls to the ground at the attacker's feet.


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