Saturday, September 27, 2014

Top 5: Warpstar by Douglas Schaub

A sphere of swirling debris hovers in the air, bits of the ground below slowly floating up to meet it.

Warpstar CR 7
XP 3,200

N Large ooze
Init +0; Senses blindsight 60 ft.; Perception -5
Aura distortion field (10 ft., DC 20)

AC 9, touch 9, flat-footed 9 (-1 size)
hp 104 (11d8+55)
Fort +8, Ref +3, Will -2
DR 5/--; Immune ooze traits

Speed fly 30 ft. (perfect)
Melee slam +13 (1d8+9)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks engulf (DC 21, 1d6 bludgeoning)

Str 22, Dex 11, Con 20, Int --, Wis 1, Cha 1
Base Atk +8; CMB +15; CMD 25
Skills Fly +8
SQ no breath, nova, warp reality

Environment any
Organization solitary
Treasure standard

Distortion Field (Su) A warpstar is surrounded by an aura which slowly disintegrates nearby objects and creatures. Creatures within 10 feet of a warpstar take 2d6 damage at the start of their turn unless they make a DC 20 Fortitude save. Any creature reduced to 0 or fewer hit points by this effect is entirely disintegrated, as if by the disintegrate spell. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Nova (Su) When killed, a warpstar collapses in on itself, forming a brightly glowing sphere about six inches across. One round later, it explodes, dealing 4d6 points of fire damage plus medium radiation to all creatures within 30 feet (DC 20 halves). The save DC is Constitution-based.
Warp Reality (Su) A warpstar is constantly manipulating reality in its surroundings. At the start of the warpstar’s turn as a free action, the warpstar activates one of the following abilities, chosen at random.
Gravity Well: The warpstar makes a combat maneuver check against all creatures within 30 feet. If it beats the CMD of a creature with this check, that creature is pulled 10 feet closer to the warpstar. If this causes the creature to move into a square occupied by the warpstar, the warpstar can attempt to engulf that creature as a free action. Unattended objects of size Medium or smaller are automatically pulled towards the warpstar.
Radiation Burst: The warpstar releases a burst of harmful energy, exposing all creatures within 30 feet to low radiation.
Repulsion: The warpstar is surrounded by unpredictable gravitational fluctuations. It receives a +8 deflection bonus to AC for 1 round.
Temporal Anomaly: The warpstar creates a 30-foot-diameter sphere of accelerated time centered at its current location. The temporal anomaly lasts for 1 round of apparent time, ending immediately before the warpstar’s next turn. Creatures inside the sphere cannot affect those outside (as time stop), but can interact with other creatures inside the sphere normally. Creatures affected by the anomaly cannot leave the sphere for the duration of the effect.

Warpstars are anomalies in the fabric of the universe, the mere presence of which plays havoc with matter, gravity, and time in the vicinity. They exert a constant gentle pull on the surrounding area, which coupled with their distortion aura allows them to passively consume nearby matter. Warpstars do not discriminate among targets, as they are capable of digesting nearly anything in their high-pressure core.

If attacked, warpstars will usually attempt to engulf the aggressors, only using their slam attack if a particular creature proves difficult.

Matter trapped in a warpstar is slowly crushed and drawn towards its core, where it is gradually converted into energy for the warpstar’s use. A few rare materials such as adamantine and diamond can withstand this process, and it is not uncommon for a warpstar gorged on organic matter to actually produce small diamonds in the course of digesting its meal. Such materials are not consumed in the warpstar’s destruction, making them a tempting target for treasure hunters.

A typical warpstar is about 8 feet across and can weigh thousands of pounds, dependent on how much matter it has consumed. If left unchecked, the warpstar can grow to larger sizes, with a corresponding increase to its influence on its surroundings. This process can be rapidly accelerated on the rare occasion that two warpstars encounter each other, as they will usually merge to form a single massive specimen.

Jacob W Michaels

hp +
AC ---
Atk =
Dmg -
Prime Ability +
Saves -/-

I'm not sure I love the name -- it feels more like a spaceship name to me -- but that's a pretty subjective thing. If I were playing a more sci-fi type game, it probably wouldn't bother me. Good description; it assumes a bit of location, but generally you have some sort of ground below you in games. Write-up is solid; doesn't seem like something that has many role-playing applications, but I get enough idea how to use the creature. And it drops a hint about an advanced, larger version, which I think is a good way to get a GM excited about different uses.

Stats are a bit off, though distortion field balances out the damage somewhat (even so, though, it's low). My biggest concern is the low AC -- even with more hp than usual at this CR and DR, a martial character is going to hit 95 percent of the time. I think I'd have added that repulsion ability later (which would bring its AC up to the CR standard) in every round instead of making that one of a few choices.

Other than the AC, though, I think it's fun. I really like that the creator brought in radiation -- I have to admit I'd have to look those rules up since I've only glanced at them, but I think it's smart to take advantage of one of the new Paizo products. Shows some Superstar design chops. I do wonder if the monster advances whether that could hurt it in voting -- I haven't really paid attention to how controversial the Technology Guide is. Still, it gets kudos from me (and I say that as someone who probably tends to shy away from sci-fi in my fantasy gaming, though I am excited about Iron Gods).
I think my other big disappointment is that warp reality allows only one of those options. I think they all seem like fun, even if having all of them might make it a little too complex to run.

Anyway, though I wasn't really expecting to like this one based on the name, I'd call myself pleasantly surprised. This gets a keep from me.

Mike Kimmel

I might be slightly biased because I'm reading The Fabric of the Cosmos right now, but this monster is cool. It's like a flying chaos beast! And who doesn't love chaos beasts? Some of the writing in the monster description seems a bit clumsy, and there are some awkward instances of passive voice ("Matter trapped in a warpstar is slowly crushed..."), but I particularly enjoyed the part about warpstars growing larger and larger and merging with one another. I want to put one of these in a containment chamber in Iron Gods or something. A nasty surprise for greedy PCs. 

There are a lot of things going on with the mechanics, but the individual mechanics are straightforward enough that it doesn't seem like it would be overwhelming to run the encounter. It would be a lot of fun to fight one (or two!) of these, though.

I agree that the name doesn't quite fit.


Mikko Kallio

Hi Douglas, 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.

Lovecraftian but not too Lovecraftian; scientific but not too scientific: I love me some Lovecraft flavor. A Superstar judge once said, it should be used like spice... and I think you did just that! The monster would feel very much at home in a Lovecraftian setting without being too obviously Lovecraftian. Also, I love the sufficiently scientific description of its digestive process, etc. without using too much jargon or pseudo-scientific babble. Also, using real-world analogies (star going nova / the creature's death throes) is really smart; things like that flare up the imagination because the reader sort of already knows what you're talking about. In other words, I think the flavor is excellent!

Simple mechanics, cool effects: You have a lot of new abilities, which can be problematic for the GM. However, you've used simple mechanics, so actually I don't think it would be very difficult to run an encounter with this creature. Not to mention you've used the simple mechanics in such creative ways that make each round an interesting tactical challenge.
  • Normally it's really really easy to hit, but on some rounds it's suddenly harder to hit, forcing the PCs to re-adjust their tactics (though in practice, the AC is still far too low to matter.)
  • Gravity well has synergies with its other abilities, particularly the distortion field. That's good thinking and makes this creature's abilities more than just a ”SAK”. (And yes, I do think monsters, too, can be ”Swiss Army Knives” if they have an arbitrary collection of abilities.)
What's up with the dashes?: I have to say your attention to detail is nearly perfect. However, there's something weird about the em dashes. Upon closer inspection, I noticed it's actually two hyphens joined together using the strikethrough style. That's pretty creative, I'll give you that... but your publisher is going to hate you if you do something like that and it gets past the editor's radar and ends up looking weird in print. (To illustrate my point, try adjusting the zoom level in your browser, (ctrl-+ and ctrl-− in most browsers); sometimes it looks ok, sometimes it doesn't.)

(Note: The information about dashes below was clarified on the 30/9/2014) The four dashes and dash-like symbols you need to be aware of are:
  • The hyphen joins words together, e.g. awe-inspiring.
  • The minus sign is technically the correct symbol for negative values, but Paizo, for example, uses the en dash instead. I don't know if other publishers differentiate between the two symbols; check the template / style guide if in doubt.
  • The en dash should be used for ranges (and negative values, see above).
  • The em dash should be used in text—to set off a parenthetical statement like this—and for non-abilities or DR/—.
If your word processor doesn't have a shortcut for adding these symbols, you can always google ”em dash” or ”en dash” and copy-paste the symbol. If you design monsters for Paizo, their template adds the symbols for you if they appear in the stat block.

(Note: this whole thing about dashes is really a very minor quibble, but I wanted to mention it because it's such a common mistake.)

Unconscious elder horror: A number of spells, effects and abilities have the same problem as the nova ability; something happens when a creature is killed. A lot of GMs interpret this to mean ”when dropped to 0 hp” or ”when unconscious”, but neither interpretation is technically correct. The warpstar, an ooze, is staggered at 0 hp, and unconscious and dying when at negative hp. That can be a bit of an anti-climax if played straight, so I think the nova ability should be triggered when it's at 0 hp or below.

Temporal anomaly is confusing: What really happens when that ability is triggered? I think the ability only creates a barrier between those within 15 feet and those outside. Is there any time-related effect, really, other than its flavor? Or is time slowed down on the outside, somehow?

Also, 30-feet-diameter sphere should be 15-feet-radius (or 30). You shouldn't use diameter to describe an area spell or effect.

Radiation does what: Exploring new rules is good and it shows you know what's going on in PF RPG, but it may also be a risky choice because not everyone has the Technology Guide, and some people don't even want that kind of stuff in their fantasy. At any rate, I think it'd probably be a good idea to mention the source if you use rules from an obscure source.

Overall, this is a delightfully flavorful and creative creature that (mostly) manages to do everything it does without unnecessarily complex mechanics. Excellent job! (Btw, unlike some of the other judges, I like the name.)

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!

Distortion field: A CR 7 creature’s primary ability DC should be 17; this one’s is 20, which is that of a CR 10 creature. That means the PCs within range are going to have to pass a hard save every round or automatically take 2d6 points of damage. Note that level 7 Kyra’s Fort save bonus is +7, Valeros’ is +8, Merisiel’s is +4, and Ezren’s is +8, which means a typical party is going to fail this save every other round. To be fair, this helps make up for the creature’s low damage per round, but it still adds up to be a dangerous encounter for its CR.

Nova: This needs to identify the saving throw type (we can assume it’s Reflex because it’s an area attack that deals hp damage, but you should always specify the save type).

Repulsion: I admit that I haven’t read the technology guide, so I don’t know if it addresses gravitational fluctuations, but… deflection bonuses affect incorporeal creatures, and incorporeal creatures aren’t affected by gravity, so I don’t think this should be a deflection bonus. If the tech guide says this sort of thing is a deflection bonus, you are right to follow it as a precedent, in which case I disagree with the book, not with you following the book. :)

I like the physics of this creature, especially how it sometimes creates diamonds when it eats too much carbon.

A lot of people don’t like tech or even quasi-tech in their fantasy games, so you took a risk here. I respect that. Other than a couple of quibbles about game stats, this is a solid monster with some neat abilities, and a GM could easily reflavor it as a magical creature rather than a tech one. Good job!


  1. Congratulations, Douglas! Another new designer in the mix, love it!

    Love the flavor for this critter, even though high-tech adventuring is not palatable to me. I really like the novel abilities, but I'm worried the core stats (AC, hp, dpr, etc.) are too wonky to really balance the monster out. It's one of the issues with oozes (just look at the same-CR black pudding).

    Like Sean said, I would probably reflavor this into a magical critter using the same general ruleset, maybe something that is found in the company of aeons?

    Lots of mojo working here, well done!

  2. Very nice work Douglas,
    The best flavor entry here. The abilities tie well together and seem logical options for a gravity/sphere of annihilation critter. Mechanics I think this is the least prepared. I don't know yet which will be my deciding factor in voting, but in any case this is a really cool critter.
    Thanks --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

  4. That's a cool monster, Douglas. It's concept is refreshingly unique, and it has a lot of new and interesting abilities. Congratulations and good luck in the voting.

  5. Thanks for the kind comments, everyone!

  6. My favorite monster, even looking past how much I _like_ the sci-fi elements.

    Point of order on the feedback: "the en dash which you generally don't need if you write for Paizo"

    Paizo style uses en dashes instead of unicode minus signs. Paizo also uses en dashes for ranges, like January–May.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Garrett! I went back to read what I had written there. About the en dashes, yes, you're right about the ranges, somehow that slipped my mind even though I've used it a lot of times for threat ranges and organization info in stat blocks.

      As for the minus signs, I never checked in a PDF which symbol Paizo uses in their published products, but it's true that their template uses the en dash. I probably forgot because it's inserted automatically in stat blocks. So, while the minus sign is technically the correct symbol for negative values, one should always follow the publisher's template / style guide. I'll clarify the part about the dashes - admittedly written in a bit of a hurry, it is rather inaccurate.

  7. For anyone interested, I've posted a revision of the warpstar based on the comments here, as well as some commentary on the design process, on my blog:


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