Thursday, February 25, 2016

Top 6: Headless Devil by Landon Bellavia

A four-armed, humanoid torso sits fused to an emaciated equine body with ebony wings. The neck ends in a bloody stump, and each hand grips the coccyx of a gory spine that ends in a gaping human head.

Headless Devil (Gannceann) CR 11
XP 12,800
LE Large outsider (devil, evil, extraplanar, lawful)
Init +3; Senses all-around vision, darkvision 60 ft., see in darkness; Perception +28
Aura fear aura (10 ft., DC 20)

AC 25, touch 12, flat-footed 22 (+3 Dex, +13 natural, –1 size)
hp 126 (11d10+66); regeneration 5 (good weapons, good spells)
Fort +11, Ref +10, Will +13
DR 10/good; Immune cold, fire, flanking, poison; Resist acid 10; SR 22
Weaknesses sensory melding

Speed 50 ft., fly 50 ft. (average)
Melee +1 frost flail +18/+13/+8 (1d8+7 plus 1d6 cold), 3 +1 frost flails +18 (1d8+4 plus 1d6 cold) or 4 slams +16 (1d4+6), 2 hooves +11 (1d6+3)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks decapitation, multiweapon mastery
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 17th)
At will— frigid touch, greater teleport (self plus 50 lbs. of objects only)
3/day— cone of cold (DC 20), create dullahan, quickened frigid touch
1/day— summon (level 4, 1 erinyes, 50%)

Str 23, Dex 17, Con 22, Int 19, Wis 23, Cha 20
Base Atk +11; CMB +18 (+20 disarm, +20 trip); CMD 31 (33 vs. disarm, 37 vs. trip)
Feats Combat Expertise, Great Fortitude, Improved Disarm, Improved Trip, Quicken Spell-Like Ability (frigid touch), Weapon Focus (flail)
Skills Acrobatics +17 (+25 when jumping), Bluff +19, Fly +15, Intimidate +19, Knowledge (planes) +18, Knowledge (religion) +18, Perception +28, Sense Motive +20, Spellcraft +18, Stealth +13; Racial Modifiers +8 Acrobatics when jumping, +8 Perception
Languages Celestial, Common, Draconic, Infernal, Sylvan; telepathy 100 ft.
SQ undersized weapons

Environment any (Hell)
Organization solitary or squadron (1-3 gannceanns, 2–36 dullahans)
Treasure standard

Create Dullahan (Sp) This ability functions as create undead, except that it has a casting time of one swift action, can be used at any time of day, and can only be used to create a dullahan. If used on any plane other than Hell, this ability requires a decapitated humanoid body to animate. A dullahan so created remains under the control of its maker until the gannceann is destroyed or releases the dullahan from its service as a free action. A gannceann may treat adjacent dullahans under its control as part of itself when using greater teleport.
Decapitate (Su) A gannceann can decapitate a dead small or medium creature as a full-round action that provokes attacks of opportunity, ripping out the corpse’s spine along with its head. A gannceann that delivers a fatal coup de grace can decapitate the victim as a free action. A gannceann may wield the discorporated spines and heads of its victims as weapons, treating each as a +1 frost flail for as long as it is in the gannceann’s possession.
Sensory Melding (Su) A gannceann uses the eyes and ears of the heads it wields to suppliment its vision and hearing, gaining a +2 racial bonus on perception checks for each head in hand (included above). A gannceann without any heads in hand cannot utilize its all-around vision ability and loses its immunity to flanking.

Headless devils, known as gannceann by scholars of the diabolical, are front-line sergeants in the legions of Hell’s frozen layers. Their ability to create and command undead dullahans provides valuable battle fodder for the machinations of more powerful devils, be it within Hell or on the Material Plane, and gannceanns are often seen as commanders of “irregular” cavalry in infernal armies. Gannceanns stand over 7 feet tall, and weigh nearly 1600 pounds.

Jacob W. Michaels

Congratulations to the Top 6 monster designers; we had a lot of great entries, but these rose to the top. For my comments, I'm including what were, for the most part, my stream of conscious thoughts as I read each monster (edited slightly for public consumption).

I had some questions about the name -- as a search for it revealed a 3.5 race -- but Mike kindly pointed out to me Gan Ceann is Irish for "without a head," which removed some of my concerns. I don't think most devils take their names from Irish, though, so it still sticks out a little to me as an off note.

Excellent description. Written well, and looks really monstrous. Sadly the write-up's not quite as good (probably due to limited word count in part). These things seem to basically be shock troops, which is OK, but I'd like a little something more for a contest. Why are these devils headless? What causes them to develop vs. some of the other types of devils?

Interesting that they can create undead. That seems like an odd role for devils, though. The two are pretty separate. I suppose there's some slight link in that both involve being dead (with devils/Hell involving the afterlife) but a quick search for "undead" among the devils on the PRD only returned a hit on pit fiends, which have a create undead SLA.

Stat block: HP are a little low (should be 145 at CR 11), but it's got regeneration to make up for that (along with DR, and immunity to flanking); 4 odd attributes instead of 3; 2-36 dullahans in the squadron? That's a whole lot of combat going on...

Create dullahan shouldn't be a swift action. I'm more forgiving of action economy changes in monsters, but that seems unnecessary.

Decapitate could probably be written differently (the first two sentences basically repeat themselves; I suspect the latter mechanics were meant to replace the initial ones) though the meaning's clear enough. Kind of nasty (in a good way -- wielding enemy skull and spines as weapons is memorable!). Sizes should be capitalized.

Sensory Melding doesn't capitalize Perception—it's also a bit redundant in that all-around vision and immunity to flanking are already listed in the stat block. Just including them here probably would have been the better way to do it as they may not always have the ability.

This is OK, but there enough errors that concern me. The name would have to be changed, I think, and the juxtaposition of devils and dullahans doesn't quite work for me. I like the idea of a devilish headless horseman, but I think I just would have liked to see it separate from the undead headless horsemen.

Mike Welham

Congratulations on making the Top 6! I'm just going to jump into the monster and give my feedback.

The description only covers one sense, but, wow, it does so in style. This is a scary monster from the get go.

I like the alternate name for the devil (a take on gan ceann), which fits with its special abilities.

The stat block is clean. It's a devil, and has all the appropriate devil abilities (per its description, it gains immunity to cold, which makes sense). Its hp are low, but that is made up by regeneration (even if most martial characters will be able to suppress it by this point). Its damage skews a little high, but the iterative attacks make it less likely that all the attacks will connect. I had to look up multiweapon mastery, since I had never seen it before (or forgot if I did)--excellent use of that ability. The spell-like abilities fit the monster's theme well (quickened frigid touch will be a nasty surprise).

A minor thing: the Knowledge skills can be combined, Knowledge (planes, religion), since they have the same bonus. Improved Disarm and Improved Trip work nicely with its gruesome choice of weapon.

The special abilities are fantastic. I like the heads providing it a bonus on its Perception (which should have been capitalized) checks. Sensory melding should have been a special quality rather than a weakness, but I can understand the decision to place it there. Decapitate is terrifying, but appropriate. Create dullahan is an appropriate ability for an ur-dullahan, but I think it should take a standard action or work more like create spawn.

You took a risk by leaving space for a couple lines of write up, but the description and special abilities more than make up for the light write up, which still conveys enough information let GMs understand how to use them.

In short, I truly enjoyed this even spookier take on the Headless Horseman.

Mikko Kallio

Thanks for submitting a monster, and congratulations on making the Top 6! Below are some comments on your entry.

The description describes the creature's appearance really well. It's also pretty evocative in a gory, positively creepy way. The only thing I'd change is the word "coccyx"; I'd guess most people don't know what it means, so it makes the description less usable as a read-aloud text. Not to mention, as far as I know, it's pronounced something like cock-six. "It's gripping what?" Quite often, when a normal word will do, it's a good idea to use it.

The stat block is pretty much perfectly formatted. There are only two small mistakes I noticed: extra spaces after the em dashes in SLAs and a hyphen in 1-3 gannceanns. It's also got 4 odd ability scores while it should be 3 and 3.

The special abilities are mechanically straightforward to use, consistent with the creature's concept, and also flavorful and evocative. There are a few minor mistakes: size categories (Small, Medium) should always be capitalized; the same applies to skill names (Perception).

Perhaps the biggest flaw I see in this monster is that the abilities are quite "safe", mostly only modifying existing spells or abilities (though in flavorful ways). Create dullahan is just a reflavored create undead; decapitate is a flavorful way to kill a foe and create a weapon in the process, but the resulting flails are still just +1 frost flails; sensory melding is basically just a skill bonus and all-around vision wrapped in a gory piece of flavor text. In other words, they are all things that other monsters can already do, just in slightly different ways. Having at least one mechanically unique ability would have been great.

The ecology section gives me a pretty good idea how I would use them as a GM in an adventure. They also also versatile enough in their role and abilities to be usable as more than just fodder in a battle. In fact, a gannceann would be a pretty cool BBEG in an adventure (or campaign) that begins in a town like Sleepy Hollow and ends in a frozen layer of Hell.

It's unfortunate that the section is really quite short. I think you would have been able to tighten up the writing in other parts of the entry and include more info on the creature.

Anyway, I like it that this creature is cold-based. It seems many people think Hell is only about fire and forget that creatures like ice devils also exist. That's good thinking on your part: you didn't choose the most obvious type of devil. Most devils also don't have any special connection to undead creatures, but the undead dullahans' fates are closely connected to Hell, so you've managed to create consistent theme from what at face value may not seem to fit together. Well done!

Headless devil is not a terribly evocative name in my opinion, but gannceann does have a nice ring to it. Some googling revealed that Gan Ceann is another name for dullahan, which may be confusing for some people.

Overall, a very cool and memorable monster!

Adam Daigle

Congratulations on being selected for the top six monsters! Monster contests are a blast, so I hope you had fun coming up with this cool critter. When judging, I’m not going to focus too much on the mechanics and making sure it hits all the numbers on Table 1–1 in the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary (because I’m sure one of the other judges will cover that). Instead, I’m just giving my gut opinions on the monster and focusing on the style and formatting. With that said, on to the comments!

At first look, I like the description of the creature and think that this could make for some cool artwork to accompany the creature. Now, that said, I’m not sure how good of an idea naming this creature essentially another name for a dullahan, especially since it can make dullahans and you went with the classic bit about how dullahans use a spinal column as a whip (though, to be fair you have them as flails). This, to me, kind of distracts from the Hell theme.

I feel like the create dullahan spell-like ability should have mentioned a cap on the number of dullahans it can create and control. As it’s worded right now, it can just control an unlimited number of them. Since these creatures are immortal, one of them could have dozens and dozens under its control and just teleport around with a whole entourage of these things.

The sensory melding is a cool ability and it works with the other abilities and flavor this monster has.

Monster ability scores have three even and three odd scores. Here you have four odd and two even. This is a quick fix, but it’s worth mentioning.

On a minor note, there are some inconsistencies when it comes to styles and editing. For example, in the special attacks line, you list an ability as decapitation, but in the special abilities you list it as decapitate. Also, in that ability, you don’t capitalize the sizes mentioned (“Small or Medium”). In sensory melding you don’t capitalize the Perception skill, and in the organization line you use a hyphen for the first range of numbers, but (the proper) en dash in the second range.

It’s a shame that you didn’t have more flavor text, but I understand that it’s difficult to add too much in such a small space. What you do have certainly gives a good enough idea about what these devils are all about and how to use them in a campaign or encounter.


  1. Congrats! CR11 is a tough challenge for this word count!

  2. Scott 'Curaigh' JankeFebruary 25, 2016 at 11:11 PM

    Congratukations Landon.
    I like this big guy mostly on image. Four arms with four (borrowed) heads is totally something I expect on the big screen. Way to swing for the fences with the high CR.

  3. I like this one a lot. Interesting imagery, and quite a challenge.

    I was confused about a couple of things (and I may be wrong).A CR-11 outsider should have 14HD (yours has 11) Also, I was under the impression that CL=HD which should make it 14 (or at least 11, since you used 11 HD), but this has CL=17.

    1. While commenting on the entries, I also noticed the difference in CR/HD/CL. It's maybe unusual but not a mistake at all.

      Regarding the number of HD, I think you're referring to Table: Creature Hit Dice. Above the table, the text reads: "Table: Creature Hit Dice lists the average number of Hit Dice for each creature type, depending on its CR. While many of the monsters in this book are close to these values, some are not. This is because they have higher or lower average hit points to balance out their Armor Class or resistances." Also, it's possible to give a creature fewer HD than the table suggests and compensate for it by giving it better ability scores.

      As for the CL, you're right that CL is *usually* equal to (or close to) the creature's HD, but there are certainly exceptions to that rule. The imp, another devil, has 3 HD and CL 6th, or CL 12th when it's casting commune. The headless devil needs CL 17th because creating a dullahan requires CL 17th, and considering the creature's theme, I think it's justified.

      I hope that helps!

    2. I stand corrected. Just goes to show how much I have to learn myself. I retract my confusion, and therefore have nothing bad to say about this cool monster! Great Job


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