Monday, December 5, 2016

HBM3 Top 5: Strife Wasp by Joe Kondrak


A single translucent tendril wriggles between the disgusting mandibles of this enormous black wasp. Dappled with twinkling specks of light, its leathery wings resemble the nighttime sky.

Strife Wasp CR 6
XP 2,400
N Large aberration
Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +12

AC 19, touch 14, flat-footed 14 (+4 Dex, +1 dodge, +5 natural, –1 size)
hp 76 (9d8+36)
Fort +9, Ref +9, Will +7
Immune cold; Resist electricity 10, fire 10

Speed 20 ft., fly 80 ft. (perfect)
Melee bite +10 (1d8+5), sting +11 (1d6+5 plus poison)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks cerebral extraction, malign venom, poison, spiteful glimmer

Str 21, Dex 18, Con 19, Int 2, Wis 13, Cha 12
Base Atk +6; CMB +12; CMD 26 (34 vs. trip)
Feats Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Great Fortitude, Lightning Reflexes, Weapon Focus (sting)
Skills Fly +15, Perception +12
SQ auroral transit, no breath

Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, constellation (3–6), or invasion (7–19)
Treasure none

Auroral Transit (Su) When a strife wasp flies through a cloud of ionized gas such as a planet’s aurora or a comet’s tail, it supernaturally senses the locations of similar phenomena across a vast expanse of space, and can transfer itself to one of those locations as a standard action.
Cerebral Extraction (Ex) Using a tendril specialized for just such a purpose, a strife wasp can extract a portion of cerebral tissue from the brain of an adjacent, helpless creature as a full-round action. This deals 1d4 points of Intelligence and Wisdom damage unless the target succeeds at a DC 18 Fortitude save. The save DC is Dexterity-based.
Malign Venom (Ex) Any round a creature fails its save against a strife wasp's poison, it must succeed at a second DC 18 Will save or become hostile toward its allies for 1 round as if affected by murderous command. This is a mind-affecting poison effect. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Poison (Ex) Sting—injury; save Fort DC 18; frequency 1/round for 4 rounds; effect 1d2 Wisdom damage plus malign venom; cure 1 save. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Spiteful Glimmer (Su) As a standard action, a strife wasp can cause the twinkling lights on its wings to brightly pulse with eldritch light. Creatures within 30 feet that can see the strife wasp must succeed at a DC 15 Will save or be overcome with spite for 1 round, as if affected by murderous command. This is a mind-affecting effect. The save DC is Charisma-based.

Strife wasps are strange, alien bugs that travel throughout the universe, hunting and spreading misery wherever they roam. Though they can fly through the upper atmosphere and even outer space, strife wasps do not fly quickly enough to navigate interplanetary or interstellar distances. Instead, they travel from one planet to another by teleporting between the planets’ auroras.

Strife wasps possess a rudimentary intelligence, but are driven primarily by instinct and appetite rather than malign intent. In order to produce viable eggs, they must ingest unspoiled cerebral tissue. After ingesting a suitable amount of such tissue, a strife wasp travels to a comet using its auroral transit ability, and then lays its eggs on the comet’s icy surface. To properly incubate, the eggs require a substantial period of cold and darkness, hatching only after the comet makes a complete trip around its parent star. Scholars and seers on planets repeatedly plagued by strife wasps associate the arrival of the strange invaders with the appearance of particular comets. A typical strife wasp is 12 feet long and weighs 900 pounds.


First of all, Joe, welcome back to Here Be Monster's Top 5, and congratulations on being our first (and only) three-time finalist! That's impressive.
An interstellar invader is a common trope but one you handled really well with your strife wasps. I loved the cometary aspect of your monster. It reminds me of thread from McCaffrey's "Dragonriders of Pern" series in a good way (despite everything else being really different), which was a nice touch of nostalgia for this creepy creature. It also helped elevate it from a single-note monster, as it allows a GM to play with portents and growing fear as the comet approaches instead of just having the strife wasps be something to fight and kill with no other options. I do have to admit I groaned at first when I read the tentacle in the description (tentacles feel a bit like adding scorpion stingers to something to make them monstrous).
The stat block seems mostly clean, and I like the organization names.

I like the strife aspects, though I'm not sure it needed both the malign venom and spiteful glimmer abilities. The latter feels like it could be pretty powerful; I think it probably needs a 24-hour immunity kicker added in; otherwise it can just keep doing this and really wreak maybe too much havoc. It also seems a bit odd to me to have the malign venom as a separate ability from the poison as it's written. Right now, I feel like it's just part of the poison and probably should have been listed there. I also think the ability's name also needs a little tweaking (malignant venom, maybe, though that feels redundant).

Cerebral extraction is perhaps a bit too hard-hitting at this CR, but that's balanced by its needing to be a full-round action vs. a helpless creature. I tend to be biased against these kinds of abilities as I find they rarely come into effect. I see why it's there, but I think I'd rather have something that did a little less ability damage with a little more utility.

Hi Joe and welcome to the top 5! The strife wasp is a nasty critter that eats brains to propagate itself. Its descriptive block, suite of abilities and write up do an excellent job of demonstrating how to use the creature.

This is the cleanest stat block out of the top 5, but there are a couple of minor issues. You could bump up its Strength to get its total average damage just above the low threshold, and you could drop its Constitution to lower the high save DCs for its poison and malign venom. Just to add an extraneous quibble, I think the range for invasion should be 7–20. No breath makes sense as an ability for a creature spending most of its time in the airless void of space, which was a nice touch.

If starflight were a universal monster ability, then I would suggest using that instead of auroral transit. However, I appreciate the consideration you gave to how strife wasps make their way around the universe. It also provides an excellent story element when a comet comes into a solar system seeming to drive people mad and kill each other. Cerebral extraction is a nicely creepy ability. It does make me think a strife wasp should have a grab attack with its bite, so it can pin an opponent and potentially use this ability more often. I like the adherence to the theme of mental degradation caused by cerebral extraction and its poison, and the murderous side effect caused by the strife wasp’s poison. Spiteful glimmer continues along that theme, but I would have liked a different spell effect as a result of that ability (malicious spite could be too on the nose, but I like the idea of an ability that affects a character for the long term thanks to exposure to the twinkling lights).

Overall, I like the strife wasp for its ability to create inter-party strife (great for the GM, but not so great for the players), and the creature is appropriately suited for the contest’s themes. Despite being a low-Intelligence creature, it has a lot of story potential.

Good luck in the voting!

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.

I like the descriptive text, especially since it includes a bug. It’s always easy to win me over with a bug.

I like that they have a connection to comets, and I like that the comet has to make a full circuit before the strife wasp’s eggs hatch.

The auroral transit special ability is interesting, but I somewhat wish that it had more solid parameters like the maximum distance in which this ability works.

Cerebral extraction and malign venom are both fine abilities. I like that the cerebral extraction connects with the creature’s flavor text, and the malign venom seems like it would be fun in play. I might have approached malign venom and the poison entry a bit differently, though. Since they are connected, I feel like they should be one single entry.

Spiteful glimmer is interesting and flavorful, but I’m not totally thrilled that it does the same thing as the poison. I would consider changing this effect to do something else.

All of its numbers seem to be in good places for a CR 6 creature. Damage output is a little low, but the monster has other things going on to balance that out, especially if it gets the murderous command effect to deal some damage to the party as well.

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

The monster’s name is ok; it describes the creature pretty well, but isn’t quite as evocative as it could be. The description gives me a pretty good idea of what the creature looks like.

The stat block is perfectly formatted as far as I can tell. You even have en dashes where they belong. If I was a developer working on this monster, this is exactly the level of professional polish I would like to see. If there’s anything I’d complain about, it’d be that the feats aren’t quite as imaginative as they could be, basically they’re only +x feats except Combat Reflexes. A monster designer can easily adjust the numbers so that it’s possible to include more interesting feats.

I love the names “constellation” and “invasion” for groups of these creatures.

Auroral transit is a creative and flavorful alternative to space flight, but much like space flight, it’s basically just there to justify the monster’s status as a “space monster”. I think I’ll call it the “space monster tax” from now on.

Cerebral extraction sounds cool and bizarre and very much like something that an aberration from space might do. Mechanically, it’s just ability score damage, though. I like it that there’s some synergy between Wis damage and forcing Will saves on its foes, but since the target has to be helpless, it’s likely that it won’t affect that creature’s Will saves anymore. The poison, on the other hand, can make a PC more susceptible to the murderous command effect, which I like. Malign venom is a fun way to create some chaos amid the wasp’s enemies. Mechanically, it’s basically a Spell in a Sting, but I really like it that the delivery method is a poison.

Then there’s spiteful glimmer, which makes the wasp an even more dangerous debuffer. However, giving the wasp a second method of delivering the chaos and mayhem that murderous command is sort of reduces the awesomeness of the poison because--let’s face it--forcing a save on every PC at the same time is much more effective than one at a time even though the poison has a longer duration. If a successful save made creatures immune to further attempts, I’d like this ability more. However, I’d strongly prefer that spiteful glimmer did something else, maybe something that affects poisoned creatures, or some other interesting synergy/interaction with that ability.

The first paragraph of the write-up doesn’t offer a lot of new information (we already know they use auroras for transportation). The second paragraph is much more interesting, providing information on their biology and behavior, which may help a GM use the monster in an adventure.

Overall, this is a really good entry, very polished and wouldn’t take a lot of time to develop. I think the strife wasp was one of the first monsters submitted, and it got my first Keep vote.

Now that I know it’s your monster, Joe, congratulations on your 3/3! Obviously, you’re very talented, and I hope that you’ll design more awesome monsters!



  1. Congrats on the three-peat, Joe! When I saw in the stats that there were no vermin, I was surprised as I think there's plenty of opportunity for space bugs, and though yours is an aberration, it hits the spot very well.

    The description is excellent (home run), I like seeing venom/poison focused enemies (I wonder if there might be a way to include Malign Venom as part of the Poison itself) and this one does something out of the ordinary, making the poisoned target more dangerous to the party.

    I think I would've liked Spiteful Glimmer to do something a little different than Malign Venom, but it remains a cohesive whole.

    Auroral Transit is a very cool and original take on space travel as well.

    I'm curious if you considered Flyby Attack and decided against it. I think it's wise to omit it, as the Wasp is so fast with a confusion in the ranks type poison, it may have been too hard to actually fight for a CR 6.

  2. I really thing the auroral transit ability is cool and could easily use it as a plot point.

  3. Wasps are horrible, cruel insects, and the Strife Wasp feels like a welcome addition to that messed up family. Does it require live prey to reproduce? Yes it does. Does it poison it's prey so it can do some serious body horror action? Yup.

    In short, this is a nightmare monster, and so a great entry for the contest. I do wonder how the wasps target inhabited worlds specifically. Perhaps there is some kind of Strife Wasp Queen with an oracular ability that guides her to where all the juicy living things are so the hive can reproduce?

  4. Congrats Joe.
    This was a good monster. Seems easy enough to run.
    One small thing is I may have made them NE instead of Neutral. It makes the murderous command abilities make a bit more sense to me. A Neutral creature may not care that you specifically attack an "ally" just that you attack somebody. So maybe the "attack nearest creature" option from the confusion spell would be better for a N creature. But with a limited wordcount, i can appreciate the choices you made.

  5. I typed up a whole bunch of comments on my cellphone and they disappeared, must be all that "void" stuff going around :-)

    I think Belabras made an excellent point about the wasp queen.

    It's personal taste, but I would take the Strife Wasp without the Aurora travel ability. Replace that with more rules for comet travel and I'd love it. Also, Spiteful Glimmer would make more sense to me as a fascinate type of ability, but that allows the wasp to make its Cerebral Extraction. I can image players sweating as they watch their helpless character's frontal lobe being stroked by a giant insect ... scary!

  6. I like the simplicity of use for this monster, but my biggest concern is: how does something that large have a perfect fly speed? That's generally reserved for magical flight, and this has wings instead.


A Sword for Hire