Saturday, September 27, 2014

Top 5: Splintercat by Mike Welham

This tawny wildcat, slightly larger than the average cougar, boasts a ridged, bony forehead that looks like it could shatter bone. Seemingly useless wings protrude from its back.
Splintercat      CR 4
XP 1,200
N Medium animal
Init +3; Senses low-light vision, scent; Perception +10

AC 15, touch 13, flat-footed 12 (+3 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 42 (5d8+20)
Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +3

Speed 40 ft.
Melee 2 claws +7 (1d4+4), head butt +8 (2d6+4)
Special Attacks hardheaded charge, rain of debris, treekiller

Str 19, Dex 17, Con 19, Int 2, Wis 14, Cha 8
Base Atk +3; CMB +7 (+9 bull rush); CMD 20 (22 vs. bull rush, 24 vs. trip)
Feats Improved Bull Rush, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (head butt)
Skills Acrobatics +8 (+20 when jumping), Climb +8, Perception +10, Stealth +7 (+15 in forests); Racial Modifiers +8 Acrobatics when jumping, +4 Perception, +8 Stealth in forests
SQ vestigial wings

Environment temperate forests
Organization solitary or pair
Treasure none

Hardheaded Charge (Ex) When a splintercat charges and hits with its head butt attack, it makes a free bull rush attempt on its opponent with an additional +2 racial bonus.
Rain of Debris (Ex) If a splintercat launches itself into the upper part of a tree, it scatters branches and splinters on all creatures in a 10-foot-radius column adjacent to the tree. This debris deals 2d6 bludgeoning and piercing damage to creatures caught in the column and dazzles them for 1d4 rounds. A successful DC 16 Reflex save halves the damage and negates the dazzled condition. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Treekiller (Ex) A splintercat's head butt attack ignores 5 points of hardness when it attacks wooden objects or plants.
Vestigial Wings (Ex) A splintercat has tiny wings sprouting from its back. While these wings do not allow the cat to fly, they do help with its prodigious leaping ability in the form of a +8 bonus to Acrobatics checks when it jumps.

Aggressive and territorial felines, splintercats spend most of their time in tree boughs from which they hunt. Their favorite meal is honey fresh from broken beehives, but they supplement that with birds, squirrels, and other tree-dwelling animals. Lone splintercats rarely attack larger animals, unless they encroach on the cats' hunting grounds, in which case the cats viciously smash these interlopers to a pulp. Depending on how aggressive splintercats get in defense of the several acres they call home, they attack humanoid creatures as well.
            Splintercats mate for life and the pair tackle larger prey, with one of the creatures making a lot of noise to distract their target, while the other sneaks around to unleash an injurious head butt on the unsuspecting prey. It is not all domestic bliss for the cranky animals, though, as they sometimes turn their headache-induced anger on each other and charge at one another until one falls unconscious.
            Superstitious folk attribute the withering of trees to magical power possessed by splintercats, but the truth is that the force of their blows partially or completely uproots the trees they smash, causing those trees to die from lack of water. Druids have conflicting opinions regarding splintercats: the animals are valuable for clearing dead material from tree boughs, which is beneficial for the trees' health, but hungry cats inflict considerable damage on a forest. Those druids who decide to allow splintercats to prowl their groves ensure the animals have plenty of game in order to minimize their negative impact. Rangers value splintercats as hunting partners, so far more rangers than druids take these cats as animal companions.

Splintercat Companions
Starting Statistics: Size Small; Speed 40 ft.; AC +1 natural armor; Attack head butt (1d6), 2 claws (1d3); Ability Scores Str 13, Dex 19, Con 15, Int 2, Wis 14, Cha 8; Special Attacks hardheaded charge; Special Qualities low-light vision, scent, vestigial wings.
7th-Level Advancement: Size Medium; AC +2 natural armor; Attack head butt (2d4), 2 claws (1d4); Ability Scores Str +6, Dex –2, Con +4; Special Attacks rain of debris (2d4, 1 round of dazzle), treekiller.

Jacob W Michaels
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Good description. Write-up is generally good -- I really like the favorite meal information, and the note about mating for life -- though a couple bits seem ... not quite contradictory, but a little odd. Do they wander out of their hunting grounds to encounter larger animals? The line about depending on how aggressive splintercats get seems to leave matters up to the GM a little too much -- just tell me if they'll attack humanoids or not.

Good job giving the animal companion stats; that's going the extra yard for a contest like this, I think.
Stat block seems good. Hardheaded charge makes sense and I like treekiller too. Rain of debris is fun, and I can see that being a good surprise for PCs. (I'm not sure dazzled really makes sense, but I guess that simulates getting debris in your eyes?) Vestigial Wings is a nice way to give it a bit more Acrobatics instead of just giving it some sort of flight.

I don't think this is the most exciting creature, but it's really solid. I think this probably could be put into a Bestiary pretty much as is. Keep.

Mike Kimmel

At first I wasn't very excited to read another basic animal, thinking that it would have few abilities (or boring abilities). But I did my duty and read the monster... and it proved me wrong.

The splintercat seems like a ton of fun and it makes a good "animal monster" in that it serves the dual purpose of "memorable foe" and "badass animal companion." It's balanced, the abilities are mechanically solid and fun, and the writing flows well. My primary concern is that it's too cool to be "just an animal," but being "too cool" isn't exactly a bad thing.


Mikko Kallio

Hello Mike, 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.

Fun abilities that make for fun encounters: Tree splinter involves the terrain mechanically, that's great thinking. Abilities like this reward players for tactical thinking ”if I move here, it can't use that ability”. A minor quibble, I'd prefer cone to column (so the spray of splinters is directed away from it rather than upwards/downwards) and as Jacob pointed out, dazzled as a condition doesn't necessarily quite fit. Hardheaded charge is also a fun ability with tactical uses if you combine it with interesting terrain.

Excellent write-up: This is a very good description of a creature's habitat, behavior, and so on. There are a lot of things GMs can use to include them in an encounter or adventure. Not to mention there's also a stat block for an animal companion version. I'm very impressed by your ability to include so many cool abilities, a very good write-up, and an animal companion stat block, all within the word count.

Non-standard natural melee attack: A while back I wrote about the unwritten rules of monster design on my blog, and natural melee attacks were one of the topics of discussion. In short, while custom melee attack names like head butt are technically allowed, very few monsters published by Paizo have them. It's not explained what type of damage a head butt does (ok, not terribly difficult to guess it's bludgeoning damage, but someone might argue the ridges may also be sharp), but if you had made it a slam attack, there would be no need to explain anything. (EDIT: Having read Sean's comments now, I agree that it should be a gore attack.)

Cartoonish creature: The idea of a headbutting cat is a bit silly (I can almost see a halo of birds or stars orbiting its head after a particularly vicious headbutt). I think the origin of the creature is similar to that of the drop bear (a joke to made to confuse and frighten outsiders). In places, the style of writing (in particular the bit about ”domestic bliss”, or lack thereof) also reinforces the idea that this isn't an entirely serious monster entry. Not all players are opposed to such thing, but it's a risky choice.

Oddly ”convenient” vestigial wings: As far as I can tell, no version of the myth includes wings of any kind. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) While it's ok to take some creative liberties, I'm not sure I like it that it has them. Do they make sense in the evolutionary sense? Did this creature evolve from a flying creature (vestigial = remnant of something greater)? None of this is explained. Animals, with their Int 1 or 2, get woefully few skill points, so I'm guessing the cat got its wings just because it was convenient for it to have them. A lot of things can be hand-waved in a magical world, but doing so looks lazy. A second thing, a land speed higher or lower than 30 feet gives you a racial bonus. If you gain a racial bonus from another source, the racial modifier entry should include the total modifier.

I have to admit, initially I didn't expect much (my first thought was "what the heck is a splintercat") but I ended up liking this one a lot. It's a really creative 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!

Its wings are described as “seemingly useless,” which means they “give the appearance of" being useless… which implies that they aren’t useless, and players who hear the flavor text description will think it’s wings are actually quite effective at something. Better to say something like, “feeble wings” or “too-small wings.” Of course, in the case of this creature, its wings are mostly-useless (used to justify the jump racial bonus), so the whole mislead is a bit of a red herring.
  • A leopard is a CR 2 Medium feline animal with 3 HD and 19 hp.
  • A splintercat is a CR 4 Medium feline animal with 5 HD and 42 hp.
  • A lion is a CR 3 Large feline animal with 5 HD and 32 hp.
That seems a little weird to me—the splintercat is the same size as the leopard and smaller than the lion, but much tougher than the lion. If it were a magical creature I’d be more likely to accept that, but this is an animal, and therefore does not have magical abilities—it’s a creature of natural flesh and bone, like an actual leopard or lion, and I’d stat it out somewhere in the middle between its smaller and larger counterparts.

By giving this a “head butt” natural attack (which isn’t one of the attacks on the Natural Attacks table), that means it’s technically in the “other” category of natural attacks), which means the head butt would be a secondary attack. In PF, a creature that attacks using a hard part of its head is using a gore attack (see ram), so this creature’s head attack should be a gore. Even if for some reason you wanted this to be a secondary attack and keep it a “head butt,” the word “headbutt” has been a valid word for in dictionaries since the 1960, as has “head-butt."

Hardheaded charge: This should just trigger the push ability, like “When a splintercat charges with its gore at attack, it can use the push ability (10 feet) as a free action.” Note that the charge bonus of +2 already would add to the combat maneuver bonus for the bull rush, so you wouldn’t have to create a special +2 bonus for this ability. Unless you actually wanted the total to be +4, in which case definitely include it (and I’d probably mention the +2 from the charge as well, so the reader knows they’re supposed to include it).

Rain of Debris: It’s unclear why this only works if the creature jumps into the upper part of a tree, and doesn’t clearly define what the “upper” part of the tree (the top third? top half?). Even assuming the most generous interpretation of upper (meaning “upper half”), this limitation means that if there’s a 60-foot-tall tree with branches at 10 feet above the ground and higher, jumping into the tree at the 10-foot or 20-foot elevation level doesn’t trigger this ability, but jumping into the 30-foot elevation (even from the foliage at the 20-foot elevation) works just fine.

Dazzling is a weird condition for this ability to impose because that’s described as an "overstimulation of the eyes.” Is this material getting into the opponent’s eyes? If so, it should use a different mechanic, because there are a few things in the game that help against light-stimulation effects, and they shouldn’t have any effect on this creature.

It’s interesting to note that giving this animal an AOE attack means it’s one of the few animals in the game that is effective against swarms.

There’s no need to call out the vestigial wings as its own ability; the creature can have a racial bonus to Acrobatics/jump checks without any justification.

I like that you created an ecological role for the creature’s behavior (clearing dead wood from trees) and mention that druids have mixed feelings about them.

Good due diligence on creating the animal companion stats for these creatures, which is something Paizo does for animals presented in a Bestiary.

I think this is an acceptable monster. It needs a little work to get the mechanics right (as most new monsters do), but there’s nothing bad about it.


  1. Looks like we have a repeat offender, Mr. RPG Superstar 2012 ;P Congratulations!

    Judges caught most of my initial thoughts, no point in repeating them here. Really like the detail and ecological description.

    Would treekiller apply to plant creatures' DR?

    A cat with wings seems odd to me...

    Best of luck!

  2. Nice work Mike,

    Definitely an interesting 'animal' type with some great visuals.

  3. When I read about the splintercat, I found this account mentioning wings:

  4. (Not sure why my comment formatted that way. Yikes.)

  5. Congratulations on making the final 5, Mike. Your entry is a well-executed take on an interesting critter, a hard-headed ramming cat. I Iike that you included details about its niche in the ecology. Best of luck to you!


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