Monday, October 9, 2017

HBM4 Top 5: Calliope Pachyderm by Aaron Tysen

This pale purple elephant is about the size of a pony. Four trunks of varied length writhe betwixt its silvery tusks.

Pachyderm, Calliope CR 5
XP 1600
CN Medium magical beast
Init +0; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +9

AC 16, touch 10, flat-footed 16 (+6 natural)
hp 51 (6d10+18)
Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +2

Speed 40 ft.
Melee gore +8 (1d8+2), slam +8 (1d6 +2)
Special Attacks bardic performance, infrasonic rumble (DC 16)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 6th; concentration +9)
At will—invisibility (self only)
3/day—charm person (DC 14)

Str 14, Dex 10, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 16
Base Atk +6; CMB +8; CMD 18 (22 vs. trip)
Feats Improved Bull Rush, Power Attack, Skill Focus (Perform (trunks))
Skills Perception +9, Perform(trunks) +12, Stealth +9;
Languages Common, Sylvan
SQ veridical hallucination

Environment temperate plains
Organization solitary, duet, or ensemble (3-10)
Treasure standard

Bardic Performance (Su) A calliope pachyderm may use bardic performance as a 6th-level bard (10 rounds/day) and can use countersong, fascinate, inspire competence, inspire competence and suggestion. Levels in the bard class stack with this ability.

Infrasonic Rumble (Ex) As a standard action, a calliope pachyderm can produce a stomach-churning tone at a frequency so deep as to be inaudible to most humanoids. All creatures within 30 feet must succeed at a DC 16 fortitude save or be sickened for 1d6 rounds. This is a sonic effect that does not require line of sight. The save DC is Charisma-based. Calliope pachyderms are immune to this ability.

Veridical Hallucination (Su) A calliope pachyderm's at-will invisibility does not render it invisible to creatures under the influence of alcohol. A single, strong drink consumed within the past hour is generally sufficient to see the elephant.

Cheerful, undersized elephants with oversized appetites, calliope pachyderms roam the land in search of food, drink and entertainment. They love music, and their many trunks comprise their own, personal pipe organs. A pachyderm can produce a wide variety of pitches and timbres, ranging from shrill whistles, through mellow, reedy tones, all the way down to ground- and gut-shaking infrasound. Calliope pachyderms find it hard to resist joining in with other creatures' performances; they revel in improvising wild, contrapuntal harmonies, often while remaining invisible.

Calliope pachyderms are strict herbivores and avoid violence. Nevertheless, they can be a dangerous nuisance, due to their voracious appetites and the means by which they seek to satiate them. Despite their small size, these creatures can easily consume as much provender as full-sized elephants. They crave alcoholic beverages, particularly distilled spirits, which they drink by the bucketful. While they are certainly capable of using their clever trunks to open granary doors and turn taps, they prefer to compel other creatures to supply their desires.

In order to feed and amuse itself, a calliope pachyderm will lurk invisibly around the edges of a settlement, looking for just the right victim. The ideal candidate is a lone drunkard, staggering home after a long night in the tavern. Once the poor soul is away from the crowd, the elephant appears in front of him, using charm person and its bardic abilities to compel him to fetch enormous quantities of food and drink. A few nights of this is, sadly, often sufficient to deplete a farmer's store of fodder, leaving his animals at risk of starvation over the winter. For the pachyderm, the benefits of this foraging method go beyond free meals. The real joy comes in watching the victim try to explain the situation to his neighbors, who are unlikely to believe in invisible elephants.

The tusks of the calliope pachyderm are formed from an exotic, silvery alloy. With careful drilling, they can be crafted into flutes of exceptional warmth and clarity of tone. A pair of unworked tusks might be worth several hundred gold pieces to a skilled artisan. Of course, the pachyderms themselves take exception to this practice and do not hesitate to avenge their kin, usually in elaborate, embarassing ways.

Calliope pachyderms grow to be 4 feet tall and weigh about 700 pounds. They appear in a wide variety of pastel shades, sometimes with exotic patterns. Rare individuals sport bright butterfly wings, far too small to allow them to fly.

Jacob W. Michaels:

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

We start off with an interesting name. I'm expecting something a little more whimsical, but curious to see where it goes. I am excited about "pachyderms." There probably aren't enough elephantine monsters.

I really like the write-up. It certainly gets across how to run the monster as a GM. More importantly, it manages to avoid crossing the line into feeling like a joke monster, thanks in large part to the sentence, "A few nights of this is, sadly, often sufficient to deplete a farmer's store of fodder, leaving his animals at risk of starvation over the winter." That gives the whole thing some heft and the possibility of serious consequences. It's still definitely on the lighter side, but when we're dealing with a fey theme, I think that can work.

I did chuckle at the presentation of the name—are there a whole slew of pachyderm monsters ready to be unleashed? (As Adam notes later, usually the comma presentation is done for broad types of monsters .)

Looking at the stat bloc, the AC is a little low for its CR, as is the HP (maybe invisibility at will compensates for those, though) and Will save. They could pretty easily be bumped up, but I might give it a little more AC and keep the HP low. Damage is also a little low; considering it has four trunks, I might have given it four slams. All even attributes (monsters should have three even and three odd), and a few other presentation errors.

Looking at your special abilities, I think this is where you really shined. Bardic performance is nothing new, but you wisely didn't make a bard-in-monster's-clothing and gave us a couple other unique powers. I like infrasonic rumble. It's a solid ability that can hamper players, but also really fits the theme and makes sense as a power. I really like veridical hallucination (also, I learned a new word in veridical). That's a fun ability that I don't remember seeing before, against works very well with the concept of the monster, and will have some PCs behaving differently to try to spot this thing. Yes, it would be a lighter adventure, but having all the PCs have to spend all night drinking as part of a stake-out would be something players would talk about for a while, I think.

I think this may be a very polarizing monster that draws some heated reactions, but I think you've done some very clever things with it, and in a world where we have the tooth fairies and pipefoxes in Bestiaries, I think there's room for a calliope pachyderm too.

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, Aaron! I think you went all in on the whimsy for the calliope pachyderm, but it’s still a credible threat to characters who fight it. I think verdical hallucination is an interesting ability, because it provides an outside-the-box way to combat the pachyderm’s invisibility, and it is a neat way to explain the “pink elephants” trope to show how drunk someone is. I also learned a new word, so that was a bonus. The write up gives me an idea of how to use this as a GM and adds a little bit extra to show how PCs could plunder the pachyderm for treasure.

Its AC and hit points are a little low for a CR 5 monster, but this is mitigated by its natural invisibility. Its attack bonus and damage output are likewise low for CR 5, and those could be bumped up. There are a couple of minor issues with the stat block (Fortitude should be capitalized, Perform (trunks) should be Perform (wind)—readers will get that it can play sounds through its trunks, especially if you indicate it in the write up.

Overall, I thought this was a fun monster that (with a couple of tweaks) presents a serious challenge. 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 is quite good in my opinion. It paints a nice, clear mental picture with an economy of words. If I had to nitpick or were editing it myself, I’d be looking at “writhe betwixt.” Betwixt is a little archaic/flowery for my taste, but that’s very minor and it’s certainly clear. Regarding writhe, that seems a little too energetic for how I imagine the movement of trunks, but again, that’s minor, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with them writhing.

Regarding stats, everything except the save DCs seems somewhat low, but not way too low, for a CR 5 creature.

The stat block is moderately clean, but there are some formatting glitches and small mistakes here and there. Watch out for things like: missing comma in XP value, extra space in slam damage, missing space between perform(trunks), trailing semicolon in skills line (I’ve done that myself btw). In the bardic performance ability, inspire competence appears twice—I assume the second one should be inspire courage. In the infrasonic rumble ability, fortitude should be capitalized. I noticed the ability scores are all even, but customarily they’re 3 odd and 3 even. I’m not sure if that’s codified, so I understand the oversight—just something to keep in mind for future designs.

I love the organization names, they’re very fitting and smile-inducing. (Side note—the hyphen between 3 and 10 should be an en-dash rather than a hyphen.) 

I like the special abilities overall, and the rules-language sits well with me—great job on that count. For the bardic performance, I was wondering about including a parenthetical in the special attacks line (such as rounds/day). After looking around, I see that yours is handled like the siren, which has no parenthetical, so I’m satisfied with it as is (another judge may be able to indicate if there’s a newer precedent to follow). The bardic performance and infrasonic rumble abilities both fit very well with the monster’s concept. Regarding veridical hallucination, I really love the ability, especially the flavor it introduces—excellent! That said, I think its name could be better and more fittingly tied to alcohol (I admit I had to look up veridical).

The flavor text is rather well written, and it provides a lot of useful information for a gm to go on. I found it an entertaining read, too—certainly not dry or boring. I don’t think it would need very much in the way of editing, and after reading through it, I feel I know more than enough to successfully use the monster. There’s one misspelling (embarrassing is missing r), so just remember to always spell-check and proofread thoroughly.

All in all, I like this entry quite a bit. The petite purple pachyderm fills a fun and somewhat humorous niche, and fills it well. It doesn’t go too far in that regard, and neither does it stray into silliness. I think you hit it just right. I’m also satisfied that it’s in line with the contest’s theme—it definitely suggests fey to me. It’s evocative and it sparks my imagination. Well done, and good luck!

Adam Daigle:

I like the whimsical nature of this creature. Sometimes I’m not a fan of whimsical. It needs the right time or place, like any flavor really, and this contest is a great place for whimsy. I’d really like to see the art for this monster.

I like the veridical hallucination ability. Not only did this teach me a new word (thanks!) but it fits in with popular culture in a way that isn’t necessarily jarring. Sometimes when something touches pop culture too firmly, it takes you out of the moment or distracts from the creative world you’ve made by reminding the reader of something not connected to the story at hand.

Mechanically, the creature’s attack and damage are low, which can be fine for some monsters whose role isn’t that of a direct combatant like this one. 

I like the choice of special abilities and spell-like abilities. They work well together, fit the theme, and don’t include anything that feels tacked on or unnecessary. Also, keeping it tight like this gave you more room to talk a lot about in the monster in the descriptive text.

I like the language you use and your writing is good. The descriptive text for the monster gives it a niche in the world and makes sense. This kind of thing really helps a GM know how to use this monster and can even get a few encounter ideas from reading it.

There were a few small mistakes here and there, but things look good overall. One thing I’ll call out is the name for the statblock title. Unless you already have a grouping of pachyderms, you don’t need to do the “category, name” naming convention (like it’s done with devils, golems, and such).

Well done on this whimsical and creative monster!


  1. Great monster. A whimsical theme certainly fits with this contest, and I think it was done well. Given that it's a nonviolent monster, the DCs for its abilities should definitely be higher, if for no other reason than to give the creatures a fighting chance against money-grubbing adventurers looking to make a profit on their tusks. Its CN alignment gives it a chance to shine as an adversary that can do harm not through maliciousness but sheer selfishness, which isn't something I get to see often. Kudos for that.

  2. Whimsical creature with an interesting ability. Subjective illusions tickle a fancy with me as they can lead to interesting scenarios where some PCs might perceive things differently than others. The monster really shines in the description, which firmly fits the creature in fiction and facilitates a number of ways the monster can cause trouble or lead to an adventure.


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