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Making Monsters in Las Vegas: Desiccating Stalker

Making Monsters in Las Vegas: Desiccating Stalker

Desiccating Stalker(Art by Ashton Sperry)

A few weeks ago at NeonCon 2010, I ran a workshop called Monster in an Hour. The plan was to do some crowd-sourced monster design. I wanted participants to think up the things that horrify them not only as a player but also as a person—then we’d build it together.

After talking about the truly monstrous for a few minutes, we decided on the important foundational elements for our critter-to-be (Type, CR, Hit Dice, and size). From there we went down the list, debating attacks, brainstorming abilities, talking over the ecology, so this monster made sense to our deranged minds. In the process, we used my patented Daigle Monstertron 3000 technique and fleshed out this horrible monstrosity for your GMing delight (and for players’ weeping and gnashing of teeth)…

I had a lot of fun and my fellow workshoppers were awesome to work with. Cody, JP, and Matt had great ideas and worked collaboratively as if they’d been doing it for years—as if they were Open Design patrons, even. One of my favorite things about the event was that, even though we each came from different backgrounds and had different games we primarily played, we showed that creativity, collaboration, and good ideas are not the domain of any one particular edition, system, or play style.

I hope you enjoy our creation, and I hope at least one PC dies and the others soil themselves. And GMs… giggle when it happens. Do it for us.

___

A wad of grasping arms and tangling legs from dozens of different creatures drags itself through the sand, driven only by the need to feed.

A thankfully rare threat in warm and vast deserts, desiccating stalkers thirst for vital fluids and soft tissue, driven only by hunger. Despite being mindless, they prove formidable hunters, lying in wait just beneath the desert’s blistering sands for any sign of movement above. When it senses prey, a desiccating stalker erupts from the ground and grapples its victim with a host of mismatched arms and appendages.

Desiccating Stalker (CR 9) for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

XP 6,400
N Large ooze
Init
+1; Senses tremorsense 30 ft.; Perception −2

DEFENSE
AC 18, touch 10, flat-footed 17 (+1 Dex, +8 natural, −1 size)
hp 114 (12d8+60)
Fort +9, Ref +5, Will +2
Immune ooze traits

OFFENSE
Speed 30 ft., burrow 20 ft.
Melee slam +13 (1d8+5 plus grab)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks constrict (1d8+5), siphon vitals

STATISTICS
Str 21, Dex 12, Con 20, Int —, Wis 6, Cha 3
Base Atk +9; CMB +15 (+19 grapple); CMD 26 (can’t be tripped)

ECOLOGY
Environment warm deserts
Organization solitary
Treasure none

SPECIAL ABILITIES
Siphon Vitals (Ex) A desiccating stalker digests its meals through contact with its gelatinous mass, nestled deep between its grasping limbs. When a desiccating stalker has a grappled opponent in an adjacent square, it can pull it close and begin dissolving and weakening the victim. Each round, the victim suffers 1d3 Str damage and 1d3 Con damage (Fortitude DC 21; Constitution-based).

Desiccating Stalker (Level 9 Solo Brute) for 4th Edition

Large aberrant beast (blind, ooze); XP 2,000
Initiative +5; Perception +2, tremorsense 10

HP 424; Bloodied 212
AC 21, Fortitude 22, Reflex 21, Will 20
Speed 6, burrow 4
Resist 5 poison, 5 disease
Saving Throws +5; Action Points 2

TRAITS
Appendage Swarm
The stalker takes half damage from melee and ranged attacks.

Engulfed (acid)
Creatures engulfed by siphon vitals suffer 3d10+6 acid damage.

STANDARD ACTIONS
[M] Double Slam • At-Will
Attack—Melee 2 (one or two creatures); +12 vs. AC.
Hit—3d10+9 damage, and the target is grabbed and pulled 1 square. A maximum of four creatures can be grabbed at a time.

MINOR ACTIONS
[M] Siphon Vitals • At-Will
Attack—Melee 1 (one grabbed creature); +12 vs. Fortitude.
Hit—Target is weakened (save ends).
First Failed Saving Throw—Target is helpless (save ends).
Second Failed Saving Throw—Target is helpless and engulfed.

TRIGGERED ACTIONS
[M] Constrict • At-Will
Trigger—The stalker grabs a creature.
Attack (Free Action)—Melee 2 (one creature); +10 vs. Fortitude.
Hit—1d8+5 damage.
Sustain Minor—1d8+5 damage on one creature at a time.

Skills Stealth +10
Str 24 (+11)         Dex 12 (+5)         Wis 6 (+2)
Con 26 (+12)       Int 0 (−1)              Cha 3 (+0)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

Ecology

Straddling the line between an undead creature and an ooze, the desiccating stalker is indeed unique. While its most frightful characteristic remains the multitude of appendages of its consumed victims, desiccating stalkers are not animated dead. The limbs incorporated into its bulk protect a rubbery, slimy core mass that is the creature’s true body. As the creature feeds, it draws in its victims centered on the torso and abdomen, so only legs and arms protrude. Because they utilize the appendages of their victims, the creatures are commonly confused with undead.

As a desiccating stalker feeds, it absorbs moisture and grows larger with every ingested body. When the creature grows large enough to reach a new size category, the desiccating stalker instead splits into two smaller specimens of Medium size. These new stalkers can be represented using the young creature simple template.

The true origin of these creatures is unknown; however, one theory proposes the desiccating stalker began as an alien wasting disease that withered its host and dissolved its vital organs into goo. This goo became ambulatory, slithering to safety away from the burning sun in search of life-giving moisture and the creatures that carry moisture in their juicy bodies.

Desiccating stalkers are round to oblong in shape and stretch over 8 ft. across. Dense with moisture, they weigh 700–900 lb. The scent of rotten flesh and pungent water follows them where they hunt.

Habitat and Society

Desiccating stalkers live in warm deserts and spend most of their time just under the surface to protect themselves from the heat and to prevent moisture loss. These strange creatures sometimes hunt along trade routes and haunt oases, but as vital as an oasis is to desert survival, most desiccating stalkers find themselves at the tip of a protector’s scimitar.

It is rare to find more than one desiccating stalker in the same area at the same time unless the creature recently split.

(Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatible)

___

Find more of Ashton’s art in Paper Miniatures for Tales of the Old Margreve.

21 thoughts on “Making Monsters in Las Vegas: Desiccating Stalker”

  1. Sounds like it was great fun, Adam – and even a good monster at the end of it, kudos to all! Although
    for a second there, I misread and thought you’d created a ‘defecating stalker’ (horrifying for entirely different reasons!)

    I’m completely with you on hitting below the belt and using players own fears and foibles against them (spiders always good, also whole prawns in my gaming group and the shameless manipulation of players who have children). Just a hint of something that you know pushes the player’s buttons is sauce for the goose in any scary encounter.

  2. Yep, nice work Adam and company! I think the “limb-spider-ness” is gross in all the right ways, and even the goo at the center could be a nice final touch for players hoping for some kind of malevolent intelligence. Instead it’s just …. goo.

    And then, of course, it’s perfect as an ambush predator around the sort of bodies one might find near a butchered caravan….

  3. It is nice to see it in print. Thanks again for the opportunity to hang out and help create a PC nightmare. I wasn’t sure the 4e version was going to make it in or not. Pleased to see it there.

  4. Wow, this is absolutely amazing. I can’t believe it’s here! I absolutely love this. I’m going to use it now in one of my own games. Adam, you are the best and for all of the people who appreciate our monster I thank you too.

    Good gaming to all!

    Cody Martin AKA GM Artifex

  5. It was a ton of fun doing this event. Thanks to you guys that were there and the vision you brought to the table and the discussion that helped us shape this monstrosity. I also greatly appreciate you working up the 4e version. Thanks also to Scott and Wolfgang for putting the resulting monster up on the site, and thanks to Ashton for rocking out the artwork.

    I plan on doing this event at other conventions I attend, so I hope next time I see some of you fine readers.

  6. Nice beast all!

    Sounds like a very cool seminar – glad to learn there will be others. (Hopefully they too will employ the patented Monstertron 3000 technique!)

  7. This is a very interesting creature, though it seems a bit weak for a CR 9, especially for a player-killer hopeful, at least by the standards of DnD v.3.5. I know that Pathfinder is different from 3.5, but from what I’ve seen, not different enough to make CR’s radically different.

    I mean, I was looking through my MM for precedent, and please consider the following:
    -Chuul (CR 7) Has more AC, comparable hp (98), has about the same grapple bonus (+17), two attacks per round to attempt improved grab, and its “special grapple ability” deals full paralysis
    -Tyrannosaurus (CR 8) Has more than half again the hp (180), higher grapple bonus (+30), and an attack dealing an average of 26 damage (3d6+13). It can then swallow the target whole for an additional 2d8+8 plus 8 acid damage per round, for an average of 25. This would let it digest most lvl 8 fighters in 3 rounds (including the delay of bite to stomach), with very low odds of even a fighter escaping the grapple.
    -Level 9 fighter (who would most likely be the first target of this monster). +14 to hit, ~1d8+1d6+5 damage per hit, 2 attacks per round. AC could easily be around 20 conservatively (it could be as high as 27 for a full-tank character within wealth per level with other magic gear), which means the ooze would have somewhere between a 70% chance and a 35% chance of hitting the tank, at which point the fighter’s grapple of probably around 12 would give around a 35% advantage to the ooze. For a creature dealing low damage while not grappling, it can’t really afford to not hit/not grapple when the party will almost certainly have 9d6 damage fireballs available (not to mention the damage from being surrounded by melee characters, especially if they think it’s undead, they will probably be less cautious than if they knew it was an ooze). Also, with a +6 base fortitude save, and given a role that typically has high con, the first victims would probably have at least a 35% chance of saving against the 1-2 average str/con damage each round.

    Personally, I would probably drop it’s HD by 2, boost the str/con damage to 1d4 or 1d6, and make it a CR 6 monster.

  8. I love that the site thinks Tyrannosaurus is a 8) dinosaur. Looks like Tom from the Paizo boards is getting around…

    Seriously, good critique. Adam probably has a response.

  9. Alright Wolfgang, I’ll bite…

    Thanks for the critique, Thraxis. You really put some time into that analysis. You based it on 3.5 which isn’t really an apples to oranges situation, but monster design, especially the CR system, was certainly something that got some tinkering and revamping, though much of it isn’t immediately visible. Some monsters got CRs adjusted and the whole system was put a bit more in line. The general guidelines can be found in the last chapter of the Pathfinder Bestiary, and they lay out about what the AC, HD, Hit Points, saves, attacks, etc should be for a particular CR.
    (Also linked here: http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/monsters/monsterCreation.html)

    At CR 9, the guideline suggests 115 hit points. This can be wiggled a bit if the critter has fast healing, regeneration, DR, etc, but at 114 hit points, the stalker measures up. Now, its AC should have been around 23, but I couldn’t justify too high an AC on an ooze just because high ACs don’t really fit the monster type, so I kept it at 18. As for attacks, I just noticed a typo. It actually should have two slams. The attack bonus is a few points lower than the guideline suggests, but this critter’s real schtick is grappling, which is much easier for the creature. The damage output is a touch low as well, but I let that stand because the ability damage will sap hit points as the victim’s Con score drops (also, the victim’s Fort save is going to suffer). As the Str score drops, it gets harder to break the grapple. And while the critter isn’t bright at all, it has a burrow speed to either ambush or get the heck away from fireballs and people circle sticking it with pointy things.

    I probably went into too much detail in this tiny box of text, but there ya go. Now it’s like y’all were all there!

  10. I’d argue that an AC dropping by 5 points is probably justification to increase the HP by at least 20 to 30% over the standard (with a Con bump or whatever post-hoc rationale you like).

    But that’s a matter of taste: this ambusher might work in tandem with another, tougher monster for a satisfying encounter.

    Thanks, Adam.

  11. Yeah, I can totally see that. The critter could probably stand to have a little more…erm…meat on it’s bones. Being immune to crits only gets you so far. I think instead of the Con route (because the DC for its SA is already 3 higher than the guideline), a 2 Hit Dice bump would bring the attacks more in line and boost the Hit Points.

  12. 4E typo
    Should read:
    Attack—Melee 1 (one grabbed creature); +12 vs. Fortitude.

    MINOR ACTIONS
    [M] Siphon Vitals • At-Will
    Attack—Melee 1 (one creature); +12 vs. Fortitude.
    Hit—Target is weakened (save ends).
    First Failed Saving Throw—Target is helpless (save ends).
    Second Failed Saving Throw—Target is engulfed

    I wish I knew the Pathfinder system would love to get into the “math” disscussion.

  13. If you’re worried that the AC is too low, try this idea: The creature keeps its gelatinous part a couple of feet below the surface even while attacking. Victims are pulled down into the sand for feeding (the way victims vanish into the ground in the old “Mole Men” movies). Until something is done to remove the protective layer of sand (spells like “move earth” or “windstorm”, or just lots of frantic digging) only stabbing attacks can reach it – and these do only half damage (stabbing through a thick layer of sand is not easy). Plus, it has concealment, so even a good attack roll still has a “miss” chance.

  14. The 4e stat block isn’t quite kosher.

    Is there any reason you aren’t using the standard swarm keyword/rules set?

    Is englufed an attempt to do something like ongoing damage?

    Double slam would probably be better seperated into a BMA and a standard action that makes two attacks.

    Squeeze the move action should probably be a trait or something, but using the standard swarm keyword/text would make it redundant.

    Siphon Vitals last failed saving throw doesn’t make sense, and most failed saves replace the save ends condition.

    Constrict would make more sense as a minor action to deal damage to all grabbed creatures and sustain all grabs.

  15. I had a look at the 4E stat block and I cannot really work out what is going on with the creature.

    1) If the creature is a swarm, it should ideally have the swarm keyword and that will give it all the usual properties. See any Monster Manual 3 and beyond swarm for the text.

    2) Engulfed on siphon vitals doesn’t have an end, is it until escape or similar? Or is this an effective three save “Save or Die” so to speak? Also is your intention that the target is still helpless when engulfed? In 4E, when you have saves with aftereffects like that, the previous effect is replaced by the new one. So the weakened gets replaced by the helpless, which the engulfed replaces etc. I’m a little unsure as to what engulfed as a condition does (except damage).

    I feel your intent is that the target is helpless, but it’s a bit odd that they will be happily running around stabbing the creature that has now [apparently] engulfed them.

    3) The move action is not required if you give it the full swarm keyword. Swarms can already squeeze through a space that is as large as their smaller member without penalty.

    4) Constrict cannot function except when used as an opportunity attack. As it’s an immediate reaction, the monster is unable to use it on its own turn. So it can only do this when it makes an opportunity attack. It will very rarely get to use the power in a combat (if at all).

    5) Double slam should read -> (one or two creatures) after the melee 2.

    It is a bit hard trying to figure out what the creature is supposed to do, particularly with the confusingly worded engulf power. Eyeballing the monster, for a level 9 monster it also looks fairly underpowered. It needs a few more actions and abilities to avoid the controller easily disabling it.

  16. I’m absolutely ignorant of 4e rules and design guidelines. The 4e stats were provided by one of the attendees after converting our Pathfinder creation. I’d answer some of your concerns if I were capable.

  17. Edits: Made some adjustments to 4E stats for clarity. 1) Creature given blind and ooze keywords; the latter negating the need for the squeeze ability, which was removed. 2) The siphon vitals ability is left largely unchanged, but the helpless condition was added to the last failed save result, turning this power essentially into a 3-tiered save-or-die, which I think is what was intended. 3)Constrict was changed to a free action. 4) The wording on the double slam targeting info was standardized. 5) Siphon vitals targeting info to include “grabbed.”

  18. Thank you to those who took a critical look at the 4e stats. I should have proofed it better before submitting it.

    It is nice to see the online community take such a positive approach to improving this creature, and/or any errors presenting it, instead of just negatively bashing it or those of us who lacked a bit of attention to detail.

    I hope when all of the kinks are worked out it can find a good home in everyones gaming sessions.

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