Saturday, September 27, 2014

Top 5: Sianach by Joe Kondrak

The eyes and hooves of this hideous giant stag cast an eerie green glow. Skulls and grim talismans hang upon the beast's towering rack of antlers.

Sianach CR 8
XP 4,800
NE Large magical beast
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +15

AC 21, touch 13, flat-footed 17 (+3 Dex, +1 dodge, +8 natural, -1 size)
hp 95 (10d10+40);
Fort +11, Ref +10, Will +5
DR 5/magic; Immune charm, compulsion, fear effects, sleep; SR 19

Speed 50 ft.
Melee bite +14 (1d8+5), gore +14 (2d6+5), 2 hooves +9 (1d6+2)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft. (5 ft. with hooves)
Special Attacks bone-shaking rattle, feral scream, frightful gaze, powerful charge (gore, 4d6+10)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 10th; concentration +11)
Constant—pass without trace
1/day—air walk

Str 21, Dex 16, Con 19, Int 5, Wis 14, Cha 12
Base Atk +10; CMB +16; CMD 30 (34 vs. trip)
Feats Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Run
Skills Acrobatics +9 (+13 when jumping), Perception +15, Swim +9; Racial Modifiers +4 Acrobatics when jumping, +4 Perception
Languages Common, Giant (can't speak)
SQ antler talismans, hag rapport 

Environment any land
Organization solitary, pair, or gang (3-6)
Treasure incidental

Antler Talismans (Ex) A sianach can wear up to three continually functioning neck slot magic items simultaneously when a hag fastens the items to its antlers.
Bone-Shaking Rattle (Su) Once per day, by rattling the skulls on its antlers as a standard action, a sianach can cause the bones of creatures within 30 feet to violently shake and quiver. Affected creatures take 5d6 points of damage and become exhausted for 1d4+1 rounds. Creatures that succeed on a DC 16 Fortitude save take half damage and become fatigued rather than exhausted. This is a sonic effect that does not work against hags or other sianachs. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Feral Scream (Su) As a standard action, a sianach can let out a terrifying feral scream. All creatures within 60 feet must succeed on a DC 19 Will save or be shaken for 2d4 rounds. This is a sonic mind-affecting fear effect. Whether or not the save is successful, an affected creature is immune to the same sianach's scream for 24 hours. The save DC is Constitution-based. A sianach's feral scream has no effect on hags or other sianachs.
Frightful Gaze (Su) Creatures within 30 feet that meet a sianach's gaze must succeed on a DC 16 Will save or stand paralyzed in fear for 1 round. This is a mind-affecting fear paralysis effect. A creature that successfully saves cannot be affected again by the frightful gaze of that sianach for 24 hours. The save DC is Charisma-based. Hags and sianachs are unaffected by this ability.
Hag Rapport (Ex) Sianachs have a starting attitude of helpful toward hags, and are often ridden by hags as mounts. When ridden by a hag, a sianach is considered to be combat trained. 

Sianachs are malign and carnivorous giant stags with jagged teeth and a taste for humanoid flesh. They typically stand over 6 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. Aside from their green glowing eyes and hooves, a sianach's most notable feature is its gigantic rack of antlers adorned with skulls and gruesome fetishes.

When it detects potential prey, a sianach lets loose an unnerving feral scream before moving in to attack. The site of a sianach's kill is often a mystery to those who stumble upon the grisly scene, for the beasts leave behind no discernible hoofprints.

Sianachs have a strong rapport with hags. They willingly serve the wicked crones as steeds or guardians, hoping that the hags will place skulls and other items upon their antlers. On rare occasions, powerful hags will ride and lead a gang of sianachs on a terrible nightlong hunt.

Jacob W Michaels

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Prime Ability -
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Excellent description. Doesn't assume location or action and visual enough that I can picture it. Solid enough write-up. Not the best I've read, but I've got some basic ideas about the creature's actions and motivations.

Stat block looks perfect to me: SR's calculated correctly, everything seems properly italicized and bolded...

Antler talismans: Oh, that's clever. Not a huge power or something we see a lot, but a nice, simple touch. I wonder if it also functions when the magic items are attached by something other than a hag? I'd want the creator to clarify if I were looking to publish, since considering the affinity, that might NOT be true. (If it is only the hag's items, I don't know if that might need to be called out more specifically so it's clear that's intentional or if I'm really nitpicking.)

Bone-shaking rattle: Nice, though the DC's a little off (low for a primary ability or high for a secondary, which I kind of consider this), but considering it's a pretty tough attack, maybe having a slightly lower DC is a good choice. I also wonder if there's some way to remove the skulls from the antlers to prevent this type of attack.

Feral scream's a nice opening attack. It's not ground-breaking certainly, but fits the myth nicely. The frightful gaze could be a killer. Gaze attacks are tough and being paralyzed is a tough status. That said, lots of boosts to saves vs. fear, which off-sets this. Like the antler talismans, hag rapport isn't a huge design innovation, but I think it's really nice in its simplicity. Definitely could be fun throwing one (or three) of these in with a coven to really change an encounter. Heck, if you're really evil, give each of the hags a level or two in cavalier and you'll have some REALLY surprised PCs. That's fantastically evil.

I approve and like this a lot. Keep.

Mike Kimmel

I love it.

This monster has a great description, flavorful abilities, and the mechanics seem solid. I'd put this monster in my game in a heartbeat. The only thing I don't like is that it has two fear abilities (scream and gaze). This seems redundant. It seems like it should have some sort of curse or hex type ability instead, to replace one of the fear abilities.


Mikko Kallio 

Hello Joe, 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. 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.

Very good intro line: Your intro line focuses on what makes the creature different from all other stags. It doesn't assume location, action or such, which makes it usable as read-aloud text (more than 90% of the entries we received failed this test). It's informative, it's effective. Well done!

Thinking outside the box: This creature can wear three neck slot items? That's imaginative. I love the antler talisman ability. It's a fun way to customize the creature. It encourages the GM to give the PCs some sweet loot (neck slot items are very often useful to at least one PC, some are useful to everyone, such as an amulet of natural armor.

Abilities have excellent flavor, solid mechanics: The three new special attacks are well written, and the mechanics are solid. I like the bone-shaking rattle in particular. Hell, just reading it made my bones rattle. You should probably have mentioned though that it doesn't affect some creatures (Elementals? Oozes? Vermins?) because they don't have bones.

Redundant special attacks: The sianach has quite many special attacks, and as Mike pointed out, some of them are a bit redundant. Feral scream, while thematically appropriate for stag-like creatures, is probably the least exciting of its special abilities – it's basically just a -2 penalty if you fail your save. It has another sound-based attack and another fear-based attack, so I think the words spent on describing the ability could have been used in a better way. Such as describing its ecology or habitat.

A few small things: Your attention to detail is nearly perfect, but there are a few things I'd like to mention. With a speed of 50 ft., the racial bonus to jumping should be +8. As a Large (long) creature, its natural reach should probably be 5 ft., in which case the reach entry should read: Reach 5 ft. (10 ft. with bite and gore). Lastly, I think the bone-shaking rattle ability should mention the damage type. It's a sonic effect but as written, the damage is typeless, so sonic resistance (or any resistance, for that matter) doesn't apply.

Write-up doesn't give a lot of new info: The write-up is probably the weakest part of the entry. It's pretty short to begin with (should have saved some words by leaving out one of the abilities), and I think there would have been a lot of interesting things to write about: lair, territory, reproduction, origin, behavior, motivations, its magical anatomy (why the glow?), and so on, and so on. Instead, you mostly just repeated what you had already said.

The first paragraph mostly only repeats what has already been said in the intro line. The second paragraph expands a little upon its abilities, but the new info is just conclusions based on what we already know. The third paragraph similarly expands a little upon the hag rapport ability. The last sentence, though, conjured a very evocative image in my mind.

Don't get me wrong–it's usually a good idea to create links between its abilities and the write-up, my point is only that you didn't go very far beyond just referring back to the stat block.

Overall, though, this is a very, very good entry.

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’m concerned about blanket immunity to charm, compulsion, fear, and sleep; that shuts down much of what an enchanter or bard can do with magic in an encounter. I’m generally not in favor of absolutes, and I’d rather see this as a bonus (perhaps +4) against these effects instead of immunity. The game does this with undead, of course, and PCs might think this is an undead because of the green glow and the skulls, but a PC who tries to charm or fear this creature is gonna get a sad surprise. This is not to say that players shouldn’t have to ever change their tactics, but it’s still a surprise. That said, if you’re a spellcaster who only prepares spells from one school, you’re setting yourself up for a problem like that.

This creature is already fast, so I’m not sure if it really needs the Run feat. It might be cooler if it had Mobility instead, so it could zig and zag around enemies to get to a specific target (perhaps with a hag rider).

You left a colon at the end of your hp line… always gotta be on the lookout for little formatting bugs like that.

Why is a group of sianach called a gang and not a herd? It doesn’t really matter, of course, except for the feel of the creature.

Antler talismans is a neat ability and I see a lot of potential for a hag adorning the creature with multiple items that work well together.

Bone-shaking rattle is pretty cool, too. The default action for using a (Su) ability is a standrd action, so you don’t need to specifically call it out as one. I think the usual terminology for the “doesn’t affect X” part is “hags and other sianachs are immune to this ability.”

For feral scream I have the same comments about action cost and immunity as I do for bone-shaking rattle.

For frightful gaze, I have the same comment about action cost.

Between the fatigued/exhausted penalties, the fear penalty, and the fear gaze, there’s a lot of area effects going on with this creature. It might a lot for a GM to handle at once.

Hag rapport doesn’t need to be an ability at all. For one, we don’t care about the starting attitudes of two monsters, the GM can just associate them together if it suits the encounter. Two, a hag riding a sianach is not a game mechanic and doesn’t need to be in the stat block (it’s flavor, and can be in the description below the stat block). Three, the sianach doesn’t need to be combat trained, because it is an intelligent creature (Int 5) and understands languages, therefore the rider can just give it verbal commands and it’ll know what to do, without having to make a Handle Animal check (which is where the combat trained quality comes from). Even if this were in place for a PC trying to use Handle Animal to influence the creature, it wouldn’t apply unless the PC is a hag (or has the coven hex and counts as a hag), and even so the Handle Animal skill wouldn’t work because it only applies to magical beasts with Int 1 or 2.

Overall I think this is a pretty good execution of an interesting monster. Its special abilities are solid, its descriptive text is good, and its CR is about in the middle of all the hag CRs so it’s a suitable ally for most standard hags. Well done! :)


  1. WOW! This is a killer monster, nicely done!!

    I agree about the redundancy of the fear effects, especially since that makes this critter extra useless against paladins. I also agree about the coolness of antler talismans, very visual, effective, and a nice boost to PC loot following an encounter.

    For hag rapport, why not give it some kind of bonus when in the company of hags? That way it has a real mechanical benefit, instead of just a flavor aspect that is already in the description.

    Overall, super job! Strong feeling this one will get my vote...

    1. I helped Joe playtest this monster. Let's just say having a Paladin in the party made all the difference for us. If i remember right ,our APL was around 5 or 6 to make it a real challenge.

  2. Great work Joe,
    The abilities are tightly themed and do offer the creepy feel one expects from 'Hag' creatures. Though I see the judges concerns, on first read through they were engaging.
    Good luck --Scott

  3. Regardless of how this turns out, you should consider joining the Freelance Forge if you're serious about design work. I'm sure I speak for the whole forum when I say we'd love to have a creative mind like yours onboard

    1. Fun fact: Joe actually joined FF shortly before this contest (mid-September, I believe)! He's the newest member of the forum.

    2. Oh yeah!! Sorry, Joe—welcome to the family!

  4. I'm happy to be a part of this great contest and I'm thrilled to see my entry here on a sword for hire. I hope visitors and voters enjoy the sianach as much as I enjoyed working on it.

    Good luck to Douglas, Mike, Nicholas, and Wendall, who all submitted great creative monsters!


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