Saturday, September 27, 2014

Top 5: Taniwha by Wendall Roy

This massive lizard is covered in green and grey scales with a spiny crest running along its back. Its wedge-shaped head has a cavernous mouth and an iridescent oval spot on its forehead.

Taniwha CR 11
XP 12,800

LN huge dragon (aquatic)
Init +4; Senses all-around vision, darkvision 60 ft., keen scent, low-light vision; Perception +22
Aura frightful presence (60 ft., DC 20)

AC 25, touch 8, flat-footed 24 (+17 natural, -2 size)
hp 149 (13d12+65)
Fort +13, Ref +8, Will +13
DR 5/magic; Immune paralysis, sleep

Speed 40 ft., burrow 20 ft., swim 60 ft.
Melee bite +19 (2d8+8/19-20 plus grab), 2 claws +19 (2d6+8), tail slap +17 (2d6+4)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks fast swallow, swallow whole (3d6 acid damage, AC 18, 14 hp), waterspite gaze (DC 20)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 13th; concentration +17)
At will—detect thoughts
3/day—aqueous orb (DC 17), cure moderate wounds (other creatures only), obscuring mist
1/day—move earth, quench

Str 27, Dex 10, Con 20, Int 14, Wis 17, Cha 18
Base Atk +13; CMB +23 (+27 grapple); CMD 33 (37 vs. trip)
Feats Improved Critical (bite), Improved Initiative, Improved Vital Strike, Iron Will, Multiattack, Power Attack, Vital Strike
Skills Diplomacy +20, Intimidate +20, Knowledge (local) +8, Knowledge (nature) +8, Knowledge (geography) +8, Perception +23, Sense Motive +18, Stealth +8 (+16 in water), Survival +16, Swim +31; Racial Modifiers +4 Perception, +8 Stealth in water, +8 Swim
Languages Aquan, Common, Draconic, Sylvan
SQ amphibious, freeze

Environment temperate aquatic
Organization solitary
Treasure double

All-Around Vision (Ex) A taniwha’s parietal eye allows it to see in all directions. This gives it a +4 racial bonus on Perception checks, and it cannot be flanked.
Freeze (Ex) A taniwha can hold itself motionless and appear to be a huge log. A taniwha that uses freeze can take 20 on its Stealth check to hide in plain sight as a log.
Waterspite Gaze (Su) Permanent curse, 30 feet, Will DC 20 negates. This curse effect causes a -2 penalty on saving throws against water spells and effects, a -10 penalty on Swim checks, and all water is considered fast-moving when the cursed creature tries to wade or swim through it. A taniwha can activate or suppress its gaze as a free action. This is a curse effect and the save DC is Charisma-based.

Taniwha are amphibious dragon-kin that lurk in swiftly-flowing rivers and claim vast swathes of nearby land as territory. They build their lairs in flooded hollows and caves set deep in the riverbank. A taniwha designs its lair both to ensure egress to the river and to guarantee at least one emergency exit accessible by burrowing.

Taniwha act as self-appointed guardians of nature and humanoid settlements within this territory, punishing or devouring those who defile the environment or violate local community traditions. Their iridescent parietal eye provides the taniwha with supernatural insight, power over their environment, and the ability to curse those who displease them.

It is common for humanoids within a taniwha’s territory to revere the creature, providing it with gifts of food and valuables. In return, the taniwha helps maintain the order of their society, manipulates the riverbed to provide water for drinking and irrigation to the settlement, and guards the humanoids from outside harm.

Taniwha prefer to spend their time sunning themselves on shore or clinging to rocks in large rivers, letting the strong currents wash over their long bodies. They are patient creatures, prying into creatures’ thoughts, observing their actions, and only springing into motion when necessary. Taniwha prefer to fight in the water where their powers are strongest and will look for opportunities in battle to herd enemies into their river. The taniwha’s waterspite gaze ensures that the river itself will turn against its foes.

Jacob W Michaels

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Yay, we finally got a dragon. (Judge's note, this was our fifth submission and the first dragon; surprisingly it was also our last).

Good solid description.

I like this one. It seems like a good takeoff on the original myth, with lots of useful information in the write-up. I like that it can be both ally and opponent.

I think waterspite gaze is a pretty innovative ability that plays with some rules that don't see a lot of use. Even the name is catchy. It's by far the best part of this creature. It feels a little odd that it has no breath weapon -- I'd have liked to see it have some sort of hydraulic push or aqueous orb there instead of as an SLA, but not a huge problem. However, it didn't really need to spell out a couple of the powers (all-around vision and freeze), but that's hardly an egregious mistake...

Mike Kimmel

I like this monster quite a bit. I was worried at first that it was going to be more animalistic/bestial, just another drake-like creature to fight off in the wilderness. But it's intelligent, neither evil nor good, and has some very well-rounded social and combat abilities. This monster could fill a variety of roles in a campaign, and that's not something you see very often. Usually monsters (and in particular dragons) are clearly friends or clearly foes, but not this one.

Waterspite gaze is one of the most creative curses I've seen.

The inclusion of the UMR abilities and a few other template issues do raise some concerns that the designer didn't do his/her homework, but the monster still feels "complete" if not "immediately publishable."


Mikko Kallio

Hello Wendall, 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.

Great choice and great write-up for the concept: I think choosing a Maori myth shows you understand an important thing about monster creation (and contests): it's good to not pick the most obvious option. I also think Maori myths deserve to be explored more.

I noticed you've taken creative liberties here and there, but I don't think any of the changes you've made make the creature any less a taniwha. They make sense and seem natural. The write-up also provides some hooks for the GM to help include the creature in an adventure. The SLAs make sense for it to have as a guardian of rivers and nature.
Multiple roles as an ally and enemy: Unlike most of the monsters we received, this one can be used in social encounters, too. It could be a wise mentor, a temporary ally, or a terrifying enemy depending on the situation.
Universal monster abilities or not?: The taniwha has the freeze ability, which is listed as one of its special abilities. However, since it's already described in the universal monster rules, it shouldn't be included in the stat block as a new ability. That's a bunch of wasted words. All-around vision, on the other hand doesn't normally give you a racial bonus to Perception. So it's a little confusing that the ability has exactly the same name as the universal monster ability but it isn't 100% the same. Actually, you don't need to specify why the creature has a +4 bonus on Perception checks. You can just include it in the Racial Modifiers entry. So, you wasted a few more words here, too.

Good use of template (but some minor mistakes): I only spotted two or three mistakes, e.g. huge should be Huge. Perception bonus is +22 in the Senses entry, +23 in Skills.

Only one unique ability: The taniwha has some interesting combat options in the form of feats and SLAs, but the only unique ability it has is the curse. That said, I do think it is thematically very appropriate and mechanically interesting enough. I also like it that it has aqueous orb, which it can use to move its opponents to the water. I really like it when there are synergies between the abilities.

A thing I'm slightly worried about is that while the curse will have little or no effect on some PCs (who are smart enough to fly, for example), anyone who gets into the water is pretty much screwed. Fast-moving water is a bit inaccurate as a game term, by the way, but I assume you mean rough water (DC 15) or stormy water (DC 20). Combined with the -10 penalty it's an auto-fail for all but the most dedicated swimmers. Personally, I prefer effects that challenge the players, make them re-think their tactics and push them out of their comfort zone, but this ability might totally shut down a PC or two.

Overall, I think it's a great entry. I can tell you're talented, but I wish you had given it a second unique ability to show off your rules-fu and mojo a bit more – had you left out the redundant text that's already in the UMR, you could have easily done that.

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!

The size “huge" should be capitalized as “Huge."

Dragons generally have element subtypes (air/earth/fire/water), not the aquatic subtype. This dragon should have the water subtype, which allows it to be active in the water as well as on land. Think of it this way: “water” gives the creature *more* options (can live on water as well as the assumed on-land option); “aquatic” gives the creature *fewer* options (it can *only* live on water); “amphibious” gives an amphibious creature *more* options (an exception to the water-only rule). By giving this dragon the water subtype, it wouldn’t need the amphibious subtype (listed in SQ).

Other Huge (or larger) dragons generally have extended reach with their bite attacks (it’s called out in the intro text for the Dragon entry where it describes a dragon’s bite attack).

It’s odd that the creature can’t use its cure moderate wounds SLA on itself; even a creature whose role is “guardian of others” might need to heal itself now and then.

For a water dragon who can curse other creatures with penalties against water magic, I’d expect it to have more water magic of its own—it only has one (aqueous orb). Hydraulic push and hydraulic torrent would be good choices, as would control water or even geyser.

I like that this dragon assigned itself the role of guardian of nature. However, it’s a little strange that they also concern themselves with humanoids who violate local community traditions (“you wore a red hat on a Tuesday when it is our custom to wear a *white" hats on Tuesday… drag him to the stocks!”).

Overall I like the theme and execution of this monster. There are a couple of technical problems, but they’re easily fixed and don’t have a large impact on the stat block.


  1. Congratulations, Wendall! Nice to see some new names emerge from the woodwork!

    The judges caught most of my concerns already, except that DR 5 for CR 11 seems a tad low to me.

    I like this monster's ambiguity and diversity for campaign role. Very flavorful and leaves lots of wiggle room for the GM.

    I'm not familiar with the original legend this creature is based on, but props for tackling a dragon, which is (in my opinion) the most difficult creature type to make interesting or original (since it's so high-profile and the standard of comparison is already a game staple).

    Overall, really solid entry. You should be very proud!

  2. Thanks for all the quality feedback and for putting me into the top 5! I'm honored to be placed here with such impressive competition.

    Just a few notes:

    I chose the term "fast-moving water" from the environment rules in the CRB, which effectively has the mechanics of rough water from the Swim skill description but also requires Swim checks when wading through water not deep enough to normally require swimming and causes damage every round on failed checks.

    I also intentionally chose the aquatic subtype instead of water because I wanted to distance the taniwha from true dragons and tie it closer to the natural world, similar to the dragon turtle (also an aquatic).

  3. Congratulations Wendall,

    How can I not vote for a dragon?! I might have made the gaze attack a breath weapon, but I suppose the gaze works with the original legend better? Even if not, it does tie in better with that third eye, which is a strong visual image well played.
    Nice work and good luck, --Scott

  4. 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

  5. Excellent submission, Wendall. I really enjoyed reading it. The taniwha is very creative and unique. Good luck in the voting.

    One of my friends who plays in PFS mentioned you're in the Twin Cities area—I live in South Minneapolis myself. I'm glad to see two locals among the finalists.

  6. Christopher - thanks for the invite, I'll definitely look into joining the Freelance Forge. :)

    Joe - I'm in south Mpls as well, and can be found at Tower Games when I have the time for PFS (occasionally at FFG in Roseville as well). I've only been able to go to a couple public games over the past year, but am hoping to get out more once summer gardening/landscaping season is done.

    1. I've been meaning to take up PFS but haven't taken the plunge yet. Tower Games is my flgs. It's where I've purchased most of my books, flip-mats and minis.


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