Monday, December 5, 2016

HBM3 Top 5: Star Cinder by Isaac Volynskiy

Light dims around this small humanoid creature composed entirely of condensed ash, its single empty eye trembling under an unseen pressure.
Starcinder CR 7
XP 1,600
NE Small outsider (elemental, evil, extraplanar, fire)
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +12
Aura dead weight aura (15 ft., DC 17)

AC 20, touch 18, flat-footed 13 (+7 Dex, +2 natural, +1 size)
hp 85 (10d10+30);
Fort +10, Ref +10, Will +8
Defensive Abilities negative energy affinity; Immune cold, fire, elemental traits;

Speed fly 60 ft. (good)
Melee 2 slams +10 (2d6+4 plus destabilizing touch)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks destabilizing touch (DC 19)

Str 18, Dex 24, Con 16, Int 15, Wis 13, Cha 9
Base Atk +10; CMB +13; CMD 30
Feats Combat Casting, Combat Expertise, Combat Reflexes, Greater Sunder, Improved Sunder, Power Attack, Weapon Finesse,
Skills Acrobatics +20, Bluff +12, Escape Artist +20, Fly +26, Knowledge (planes) +15, Perception +14, Sense Motive +14, Stealth +20
Languages Ignan
SQ form of annihilation, starflight

Environment any (Space)
Organization solitary, gang (2–3), form (4)
Treasure none

Dead Weight Aura (Su) Neither light nor hope escape a starcinder’s presence. The illumination level in its aura drops one step and when a creature comes within 15 feet of a starcinder, it must succeed at a DC 17 Will save or be able to move at no more than half its normal speed and be shaken long as the creature remains within the starcinder’s aura and for an additional 1d3 rounds after leaving it. Once a creature successfully saves against the aura, it is immune to that particular starcinder’s aura for 24 hours; otherwise, reentering the aura forces a creature to save again. Starcinders are immune to each others’ auras.  This aura is a mind-affecting fear effect.

Destabilizing Touch (Su) Whenever a creature is dealt bludgeoning damage by a starcinder, it must succeed a DC 19 Fortitude save or gain vulnerability to bludgeoning damage until the end of the starcinder’s next turn.  An object struck by a starcinder instead loses 10 hardness.  An attended object or magic object can attempt a DC 19 Fortitude save to negate this effect.

Form of Annihilation (Sp) As part of taking a total defense action, a starcinder can prepare itself to merge with at least three other adjacent starcinders.  Once the fourth starcinder uses this action, they must maintain concentration as if casting a 9th level spell for one round.  Afterwards, the starcinders collapse into a sphere of annihilation which has a move speed of 5ft. The starcinders can maintain this form for up to 24 hours before separating, and cannot assume the form again for another week.
Starflight (Su) A starcinder can survive in the void of outer space. It flies through space at incredible speeds. Although exact travel times vary, a trip within a single solar system normally takes 3d20 months, while a trip beyond normally takes 3d20 years (or more, at the GM's discretion)—provided the starcinder knows the way to its destination.

When a star dies, the thousands of fire elementals which resided in the star die with it.  Rarely, gravitational forces and negative energy bind the dead ashes together into a new elemental, the starcinder.  Starcinders are forces of structural instability, seeking to band up with others of their kind and rampage in areas with dense fire elemental populations (such as a planet’s molten core or a star).  

Each fire elemental destroyed by a starcinder has a 1% chance to be reborn as a starcinder in a random part of the universe.


I’m going to be going over these monsters as if I was doing a quick development pass on them to note what is strong in the entry and what I’d need to address for a full development of the monster. This is usually the first step I take when developing a monster. I start with the descriptive text at the top of the statblock and then read the flavor text at the bottom before I go through the actual statblock. Then I do a quick look to see if it’s hitting the numbers it needs to in regards to table 1:1 in the Bestiary. After that I check out the special abilities and feats and skills and see how they all work with one another.

The descriptive text doesn’t tell me much, but it certainly has a sinister feel to it.

This is an interesting take on an elemental. I like the idea of burned out elementals (even though I’m not 100% sure that’s how that works).

I also like that they go after fire elementals and have a chance to turn fire elementals into starcinders.

Most of the numbers hit where they should for a CR 7 creature, but the damage output is pretty low.

Dead weight aura is a cool ability. I feel like there might be a better name for it, though. Naming things is hard. Some of the wording in the ability is clunky, but it would be easy to tighten up.

Destabilizing touch is interesting and could help shore up some of the low damage output. And it seems like it would pull that off fairly reliably since that save DC is fairly high for a CR 7 creature.

The form of annihilation ability feels too strong to me. Basically four CR 7 monsters can turn into an artifact!? Some of the wording in the ability needs some work as well, but the main thing that throws me off is the strength of the ability. It is pretty cool imagery, I have to admit. At least the move speed is only 5 feet so that it doesn’t just gobble up the PCs.

Congratulations on making the Top 5! Here’s some feedback on your monster.

The name is good, it’s evocative and gives an idea of what to expect. The description is evocative and dynamic (without suggesting action), and it shows well that a description doesn’t have to be long to be effective.

While the stat block is mostly correctly formatted, there are a number of unfortunate rookie mistakes that could be easily averted. As a CR 7 creature, its xp value should be 3,200. Its Perception bonus is +12 in the Senses section but +14 in the Skills section. There should be no semi-colon at the end of the hp line, ditto for the Defensive Abilities line, and there’s a comma at the end of the Feats line. Semi-colons and commas are separators, and if there’s nothing to separate, you don’t need them. The Space and Reach line should be omitted because both values are 5 ft.

Unlike many monsters submitted, this one actually has useful feats that it needs, or ones that give it interesting combat options. Also, its sundering feats have interesting synergies with its destabilizing touch (but see below). Combat Casting, though, seems unnecessary. I’m aware that its form of annihilation ability requires concentration much like a spell, but see my comments on that ability below.

The starcinder’s special abilities and write-up have double spaces after many sentences. After writing these comments I got a strange feeling of déjà vu and went to have a look at your HBM2 monster, the hellfire gorger, and noticed that I had commented about the same thing. Ditto for the semicolons. Please take this advice to heart: Don’t let a developer (or contest judge) catch you making the same mistake twice.

Anyway, I really like the starcinder’s special abilities. Dead weight aura with its slowing fear effect is thematically appropriate. As a side note, to increase readability, I’d insert a hyphen in “reentering”.

Destabilizing touch is an interesting debuff that has synergies with the monster’s slam attacks and feats. However, I wish the ability explained better how the ability interacts with the sunder combat maneuver. Does the hardness loss happen before or after damage is dealt to the object?

Form of annihilation is at the same time the monster’s best and worst ability. I’m sure Adam, Jacob, and Mike will tell you in detail why a sphere of annihilation is a bad idea, so I’ll try to focus on the positive things. Four of these creatures joining to form a small black hole is very, very flavorful and cool idea. I also like it that they must maintain concentration for 1 round, so that any PCs fighting them have a chance to stop them, I’d just probably use a different mechanism than a concentration check to determine whether they succeed, such as a damage threshold. Also, as pointed out, the resulting form should be something less destructive than an effect identical to that of a powerful artifact.

The write-up has a few problems. It assumes that fire elementals live inside stars, which may or may not be true depending on the campaign setting. I do think that the origin of this monster is interesting, but I would have liked to see more about how these intelligent monsters live their strange lives, what motivates them, and so forth. For an Int 15 creature, “banding up and rampaging” sounds very brutish. Furthermore, because they seem to be only interested in fighting fire elementals, their utility is limited in a standard (space) campaign.

Overall, I think this creature is a diamond in the rough; while the formatting, mechanics, and write-up need some adjustments, this monster has some really cool flavor and abilities. Thanks for submitting this flavorful monster!

First of all, Isaac, welcome back to Here Be Monster's Top 5, and congratulations.
This was another really great, intriguing concept — a "dead" sun-inhabiting fire elemental is a very cool idea (er, no pun intended). I got excited about the idea, which I thought was one of the most original of the concepts we received, and it really drove me to back this monster despite some of my other concerns about it (more on that below).

The write-up is clear about how to use these guys, though I think it was a bit of a missed opportunity to have them want to rampage in areas with dense fire elemental populations (such as a planet’s molten core or a star).  Those are areas you might not necessarily find PCs — especially at the CR of these monsters — though of course there's still plenty of other ways a GM could end up having them interact.

I don't know if it needed the 1 percent chance aspect at the end of the write-up, but that's a quibble.

Looking at the stat block, I see some good and bad:

I really liked the attention to detail with the negative energy affinity, which is something I was looking for based on the write-up. I like most of the feat choices, as the sunder chain gives them something to do beyond just hitting enemies; it makes sense with their concept, and meshes well with its destabilizing touch ability.

That said, there's no need for the Space/Reach line if they're just 5 ft., there's an extraneous comma after the last feat, and I don't know why it has Combat Casting when it doesn't have any casting abilities (I'm guessing it was related to form of annihilation, but more on that later).

Looking at its special abilities, dead weight aura is a bit of a mishmash. I think you pull it all together, though I'm not 100 percent sure. It dims light, as well as slows foes and makes them shaken. Which is all a mind-affecting fear effect — that makes sense for the latter two aspects, but not the dim light part. It also doesn't say what the saving throw DC is based on.
I like destabilizing touch. I had noticed the damage output was right at the lower end for a monster of this CR, but this potentially increases it, and it's not something you see a lot (especially with bludgeoning damage). The hardness part remind me a bit of my guttersnipe submission to Superstar, so obviously appeals to me. Again, it doesn't say what the saving throw DC is based on.
But then we get to form of annihilation, and ... oh no.  This is a CR 7 creature; with four of them, you've got a CR 11 encounter ... and you're letting them turn into one of the most dangerous/iconic artifacts there is? No. This was IMO a big misstep, one which nearly kept this monster from my Top 5. I understand where it came from, but it's just too much. Maybe some sort of combined disintegrate effect could have worked (that would be appropriate for a CR 11 challenge) but a 24-hour sphere of annihilation is just overkill.

Hi Isaac and welcome to the top 5! I like this concept, one where a star dies and threatens to become a black hole and creates black hole-like creatures from fire elementals inhabiting the star. We had a couple of creatures based around the concept of dead stars and black holes, and this was one of the most evocative, even in the brief introduction and write up.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, no one came away with a 100% clean stat block, and I didn’t hold mistakes against an entry unless the stats had egregious errors. Elemental traits should come before fire in the list of immunities, and none of the save DCs indicate the ability they are based on (if I had to guess based on the DCs, dead weight aura is Int-based, while destabilizing touch is Str-based). You could increase the starcinder’s Charisma and make dead weight aura Charisma-based, and there is some precedent for using Strength as the base for a save DC. However, destabilizing touch’s save DC is too high at 19, so you’d be better off using Con as the ability (reducing the DC to 18). They have a high enough Intelligence to speak another language (perhaps Aklo). Finally, Combat Casting could give way to a cooler feat. After all, the feat is only used to allow starcinders to activate form of annihilation (more on that later), and could be accomplished with a racial bonus.

It’s unfortunate starflight is not a UMR yet, because those words could have been better spent discussing more about the starcinder’s ecology. I appreciate how you made sure the creature had means to travel from system to system, though. Dead weight aura is an interesting ability, and I think the different effects work together based on the creature’s concept. You have some awkward phrasing with regards to when the effect applies, but it was clear enough what you had designed. Destabilizing touch is also a cool ability and makes up for the starcinder’s low damage output. Against multiple star cinders or starcinders with creatures dealing bludgeoning damage, this will be dangerous for the characters, and I like that.

Form of annihilation is extremely overpowered, even accounting for four starcinders to create the sphere of annihilation. There is no reason a bunch of starcinders couldn’t get together outside of combat and one of these artifacts, something way beyond a CR 11 encounter. At first, this was a deal-breaker for me, but I came to appreciate the swing for the fence. The ability needs to be toned down or removed.

In the small amount of space left, you did a great job of detailing the starcinders’ genesis and motivations. I’m left wondering if this would have worked better as an undead creature (with a reasonable origin in its unnatural death), but I can understand the choice to leave it an elemental. Overall, this is a terrifying creature (even without form of annihilation) that fits perfectly with the contest’s themes.

Good luck in the voting!



  1. I really like the destabilizin touch ability, but the dead weight and form of annihilation not so much.

  2. Cool monster.
    I liked the 'slow' part of the Dead weight aura, but dealing with a moving 15 foot aura of lower light level can be challenging at the table. Especially if you have a gang of these monsters and multiple light levels throughout the encounter area. (If 2 starcinders are adjacent, would the overlapping aura lower the light 2 levels?)
    Destabilizing touch is a cool ability.

  3. I really like the visuals and concept on this. A little, incredibly dense ash man who wants to eat all fire! What's not to love!

  4. Cool concept Isaac.

    You didn't give enough to calculate concentration...what is its caster level and what ability does it use? Otherwise, it's a really great ability and I like that there are two requirements necessary for the star cinder to pull it off.

    Also, consider that "Starcinders are forces of structural instability, seeking to band up with others ..." is a contradiction.

    Otherwise, very cool concept.

  5. I love this monster. It ties in with starts as hosts to fire elementals, and how the cosmos tends to have portals to energy planes in stars. The one thing I'd have changed is I'd have increased the % chance of Star-cindering a slain elemental.


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