Monday, October 9, 2017

HBM 4 Top 5: Grynthak by Mark Nordheim

The head and forelimbs of a bloated wart-covered toad front the writhing body of an enormous bone-white maggot. The creature’s wizened, narrow eyes are partially obscured by the layer of glistening slime that covers its skin.

Grynthak CR 14
XP 38,400
CN Huge magical beast (extraplanar)
Init +8; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +25

AC 28, touch 12, flat-footed 24 (+4 Dex, +16 natural, -2 size)
hp 212 (17d10+119)
Fort +17, Ref +16, Will +12
Defensive Abilities defensive lore

Speed 40 ft., climb 40 ft.
Melee bite +23 (2d8+8/1920 plus grab), 2 claws +23 (2d6+8), tongue +23 (1d8+8 plus grab and pull)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 15 ft. (30 ft. with tongue)
Special Attacks absorb stories, pull (tongue, 10 ft.), regurgitate story, swallow whole (4d6+12 bludgeoning damage, AC 18, 21 hp)

Str 27, Dex 19, Con 24, Int 15, Wis 20, Cha 18
Base Atk +17; CMB +27 (+31 grapple); CMD 41 (can’t be tripped)
Feats Cleave, Combat Reflexes, Critical Focus, Improved Critical (bite), Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, Power Attack, Sickening Critical
Skills Bluff +13, Diplomacy +13, Knowledge (history) +19, Perception +25, Perform (oratory) +12, Sense Motive +13
Languages Aklo, Common, Sylvan

Environment temperate forest (Primal World)
Organization solitary or symposium (24)
Treasure standard

Absorb Stories (Su) Once per round as a free action, the grynthak can transfer knowledge of one exciting story or tale of derring-do from an enemy it has grappled or swallowed into its own memory. The enemy loses all knowledge of the story so absorbed as if affected by modify memory unless it succeeds at a DC 22 Will save. This is a mind-affecting effect. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Defensive Lore (Su) Three times per day as an immediate action, the grynthak can call upon its vast memories of heroic tales to quickly determine the optimal defense against an incoming attack. The grynthak can choose either to gain DR 20/— against the attack or to gain a +5 bonus to the saving throw against the attack.
Regurgitate Story (Su) Once every 1d4 rounds as a standard action, the grynthak can belch forth a 60-ft. cone of brown, viscous fluid infused with the essence of a story known to it. Each creature that contacts the fluid must succeed at a DC 22 Will save or be forced to reenact the infused story for 1d4 rounds. An affected creature can take no actions of its own choice but can defend itself normally. Each round, the grynthak may choose to have the creature move up to its speed, speak lines chosen by the grynthak to fulfill its role in the story, or awkwardly pantomime any other actions required by the story, thereby provoking attacks of opportunity. This is a mind-affecting compulsion effect. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Tongue (Ex) A grynthak’s tongue is a primary attack with reach equal to twice the grynthak’s normal reach. The grynthak does not gain the grappled condition when using its tongue to grapple a foe.

Grynthaks, sometimes called fabulavores or eaters of stories, are grotesque creatures that combine aspects of larval insects and amphibians. They derive sustenance from learning new tales of heroism and valor, possessing insatiable appetites for myth and legend. Typical grynthaks seek to parley with travelers and ascertain whether their quarry is likely to know any stories of interest. Once they discover a person of interest, grynthaks offer a friendly exchange of stories; however, they become irritable if a conversation partner withholds information or ends the discussion prematurely. Such encounters frequently end with physical attacks by the grynthaks, who seek to absorb the stories directly from their victims.

Grynthaks are native to the labyrinthine hollows and root systems of the colossal trees of the Primal World. They are prodigious travelers, constantly moving in search of new lore, who often set up temporary lairs far from their forest homes, even venturing to other planes or worlds if they can reach them. Adventurers and scholars sometimes seek out grynthaks, hoping to barter for bits of rare knowledge or lore; this is a dangerous endeavor as many grynthaks resent being used as knowledge brokers and may become physically aggressive. Occasionally, grynthaks form partnerships with carnivorous creatures to share prey – the grynthaks absorb stories from their victims before the carnivores devour them.

A typical grynthak is 20 feet long and weighs 4,000 pounds.

Jacob W. Michaels:

Hey, Mark. First of all, welcome to the Top 5 of Here Be Monsters. Let's look at what you've given us:

You've given us a made-up nonsense-word name but it feels easy enough to say out loud and doesn't feel like something that would cause players to lose their sense of immersion. That's a heck of a description. Evocative and gross. Bloated's a great game word, and glistening slime certainly conjures up an icky impression for players. Your write-up's solid; I know how to use these things and they can be both friend or foe.
Your stat block looks good; I don't think I noticed anything. You picked a great organization name (maybe it's a little unusual that they monster's not ever just in a pair, which I think is pretty standard, but that's so nit-picky, I'm only mentioning it in a parenthetical because I called out the organization name).
Let's look at your special abilities:
Absorb stories is clear enough but I wonder if instead using or including some sort of limited mental block (suppressing feats or skills or abilities for a short period) might be more fun. It might make the players do different things than they're used to in combat and just have a bit more of an effect than modify memory.
Defensive lore is a powerful ability, but I think it works OK. This is a high-CR creature and it's just three times per day. Most combats only last a few rounds, so this may extend that a couple extra (by wiping out/limiting three heavy-hitting early attacks) but it isn't overwhelming. When action-economy is so often situated against the PCs' antagonists (they're often outnumbered), I think this makes works in that rule space.
Regurgitate story: First of all, ew. Literal regurgitation. It's an interesting ability, more exciting than the summons I was expecting it to be. I'm not sure it's 100 percent clear, though: if it makes a target speak lines, for example, does that mean it can't cast? I guess if it can't take any actions of its own choice anyway, that's sort of a moot point. Also, does any action provoke attacks of opportunity? It sort of reads that way now, but I'm not sure it's meant to. Replacing "thereby provoking" with "potentially provoking" might clear up that issue.
All in all, good job, and I'm curious to see what the voters will have to say.
Mike Welham: 
Welcome to the top 5, Mark! The grynthak has a nice suite of interesting abilities that fit its theme. The write up gives a compelling reason for primal world origins for the grynthak. Regurgitate story is a cool breath weapon-like ability with an unusual, but thematically appropriate, effect. The stat block is very clean (the only quibble I have is that you don’t need to spell out the extended reach in the text for tongue).

I would have liked the absorb stories and defensive lore abilities to have some sort of tie with each other (something along the lines of the defensive lore ability providing a better benefit against creatures it absorbed stories from), since absorb stories is not going to have any other immediate impact to a character.

Overall, I found the grynthak to be a clever monster which uses stories as weapons. Good luck in the voting!

Joe Kondrak:
Congratulations on making into the finals! Getting picked by Mikko, Jacob, and Mike tells me you’ve done a good job, even before I read your monster. I’ll do my best to provide constructive feedback and commentary regarding various aspects of your design such as the descriptive text, formatting, rules-language, and anything else that comes to mind. Regarding stats, I’ll weigh in on their adherence to the monster statistics by CR table, but I won’t get as detailed as checking math or counting skill points and feats and such.

The descriptive text grabs my attention, successfully paints a picture of the monster, includes some fine details, and doesn’t assume action. Well done. However, there are a few small issues. The first one is indeed minor, but the use of “front” as a verb doesn’t sit well with me in this instance (just a matter of taste, it’s not wrong). Also, using the indefinite article an, as in “…an enormous bone-white maggot,” suggests a non-specific, somewhere-out-there creature, rather than the specific one in front of the PCs, which breaks immersion. It’s customary to use “this,” to refer to this specific creature in front of the PCs. Finally, the second sentence would benefit from a little rephrasing, both for flow, and to avoid the passive “are…obscured.”  

Regarding stats for its CR, they’re right in line for a CR 14 creature. The attack is on the high end, but that’s fitting for the monster’s role. 

The stat block is very clean, almost perfect, in fact. I had to look hard to find any issue at all. Even the dashes in the bite’s critical threat range and the organization group’s range are the right ones (en-dashes). I only noticed two things, and I admit the second one is stretching it. The first is the hyphen in the size penalty to AC, which should also be an en-dash. The second one isn’t even necessarily a clean-formatting thing, but “Primal World” should probably be “primal land of fey” like an ankou or zomok.

A symposium is a great name for a group of these monsters—very fitting.

The special abilities are excellent. They’re innovative, cohesive, and the rules-language is quite good. Like the rest of the stat block, I had to strain to find any issues. One passage that might need minor adjustment is “…bonus to the saving throw against the attack.” I’m more accustomed to seeing on rather than to, and perhaps it could be plural, like any saving throws, to account for the possibility of attacks requiring multiple saves (if that’s the intent). In regurgitate story, “60-ft. cone” uses an abbreviation for foot, which is common in parentheticals, and in places higher in the stat block, but not in special-ability text (I’d go with 60-foot cone). Finally, I had hoped to see a mechanical effect for its slime-covered body (as mentioned in descriptive intro). I presume the slime in the descriptive text is the remnants/residuals of the monster’s regurgitations, but it would have been nice if the slime on its body had its own effect.

The flavor text tells me a lot about the monster’s motivations and habits, and the writing is pretty good. I think this section would need minimal editing and cleanup. The designer used semicolons in a couple places where I might have used a period, but that’s really not much of an issue. A few sentences would benefit from rephrasing, but they’re fine even if left alone. Given the monster’s strange nature, I was hoping for a line or two about how they reproduce, but that’s merely a quibble.

Overall, I like this monster a lot. It’s creative and original, well written, and needs very little in the way of editing and cleanup. Great job and good luck in the voting round!

Adam Daigle:

I really like the description of this creature. It seems gross and menacing just from those first two sentences. I skipped the statblock on my initial reading and went right for the favor text. I like that they’re collectors of stories and how they pretty much hold people hostage to get them and if they don’t get what they want they attack. Them living among the roots of massive trees makes sense and provides a cool location to encounter these things in. I also want to see the art for this creature, because I really like that description.
The creature’s special abilities are interesting and fit its theme, even working with each other in a flavorful way. The weakest one is the defensive lore ability. While interesting and flavorful, I’m not buying that just knowing a thing effectively translates to a 20-point reduction in damage or a big save bonus. Maybe I can buy the save more than the damage reduction, so if I was developing this monster I’d probably take out the DR bit.
I like this monster and think you did a good job on it. Well done on making top five and good luck in the public voting!


  1. Excellent entry. I'm very fond of its appearance and, more importantly, the thematics. I love bards, and a creature that could be a primary antagonist (or even potential ally) of a bard interests me. The story-based powers are entertaining and effective.

  2. Absorbing stories is quite rarely relevant at all. The only situation I can come up with is when the players are following an old legend, or using such as a hint, and the monsters manage to make them forget it. This would create a major change in the story, which is always a good thing.


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