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Deathleech Puppeteer

Round 2 - Top 32: Create a monster concept

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Orange Toque

Deathleech Puppeteer
Description: A deathleech puppeteer is a gaunt undead monstrosity that towers over even the tallest human. Its limbs appear stretched and too long for its slight torso; its skin is pulled tight across its frame with boney protrusions piercing its flesh . Its fingers are unnaturally long and bend at odd angles. A long, thin strand of ligament extends from each of its fingers (except the thumbs) and appears to move of its own accord.
Deathleech puppeteers are commonly found in graveyards or picking amongst the dead following large battles. Most have developed an obsession with physically stronger creatures, and, if forced to flee a foe, will hunt that enemy until either their quarry is assimilated into the puppeteer’s collection, or the puppeteer is destroyed. They are fairly intelligent and serve as assassins as long as they are paid in corpses of powerful creatures.
Powers and Abilities: Deathleech puppeteer’s finger ligaments deliver negative energy to living creatures. When driven into the skull of a corpse, a ligament animates the body as a zombie. These zombies are faster and stronger than a normal zombie of the same type and provide the deathleech puppeteer added abilities while acting as a moving wall of flesh. These zombies are tethered to the puppeteer; if the ligament is destroyed or removed, the zombie reverts to a corpse. Deathleech puppeteers may animate eight zombies at a time, one from each finger ligament. Most choose to control a few stronger zombies over many weaker ones. The puppeteer can leech the negative energy infusing a zombie into itself, destroying the zombie, but allowing the puppeteer to heal its wounds or amplify its spell-like abilities. Its magical abilities revolve around strengthening its zombie "puppets" and disabling opponents so that they too may be killed and reanimated.


Evocative description, creepy monster, and I like that it's a monster likely to flee and come after the PCs later (though how easily it can stalk someone when it's Large is debatable).

I like it's power to animate zombies, and how the zombies remain connected to the puppeteer. I'm guessing PCs can sunder the ligaments to several the connection with the puppeteer. I'd like to hear more about the connection between the two, such as what happens if you channel energy and only the zombies are in range.

Pathfinder Creative Director, Frog God Games

Puppeteer monsters make me leery for one reason: How does this guy brush his teeth? He's got four zombies stuck to each hand! It's an awesome concept but needs a simple solution to make it workable. I think after awhile he'd be really tired of the zombies. The name is evocative but I think it's maybe too much. Deathleech is a template and, I think, a creature in the various Tomes of Horrors. There have also been assorted grim, evil, and/or mildly talented puppeteers over the years (I'm looking at you Ravenloft--which is totally where this guy belongs by the way), so I think a name change would be in order. However, I still think its a good monster. I like it's motivation and MO, and it does have an AWESOME creepy description.

Paizo Employee Editor-in-Chief

The idea of a monster that animates and controls zombies but within a specific area is pretty neat.

I like my undead to have a reason, to come from somewhere, though. Ghouls are great, as they come from cannibals. Liches from evil wizards. And so on. This guy could use some more of that.

I'm also not super keen on the name. The dual word, descriptive angle really doesn't do it for me. I don't know who would come up with this kind of name for these creatures... aside from a game designer.

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

Initial Impression: Creepy elongated undead bad boy. But will it make the grade? We’ll see...

Concept (name, overall design choices, design niche, playability/usability, challenge): B+
Great visuals. I can imagine the art order for this already. That is a good start. I like the assassin angle. I’m not sure you took this to the next level, though. Zombie animation is pretty standard for a concept.

Execution (quality of writing, hook, theme, organization, use of proper format, world neutral, quality of mandatory content—description, summary of powers): B-
I felt the powers were a bit lacking. Zombie animation is a bit “been there, done that.” But I do like some of the twists—using the zombies to heal itself and enhance its abilities. The writing could have been better, too. You didn’t really give me a power or ability that made me say “oh yeah I want to see that statted up.”

Tilt (did it grab me, do I want to use one in an adventure?): B-
This one didn’t come together for me. There are lots of zombie variants. Yes, this is a bit of a mastermind and I like that (thus the B) but I don’t think you left the well plowed ground enough for my liking.

Overall: B-
If you are going to visit territory that has been well-traveled, you really need to bring something more to it than you did, in my view.

Recommendation: I DO NOT recommend this creature advance.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Orange Toque

Thank you all for your critical analysis of my monster. If nothing else, I got professional criticism of my creations, and that is wonderful to me.

To all of the voters reading over this,

Vote for Deathleech Puppeteer!

I look forward to reading your discussions of this creature.


The Exchange RPG Superstar 2009 Top 8 aka Tarren Dei

I really like the idea Tobias but I needed to see it earlier. The name kind of gave me an idea of where this was going but the first words after "A deathleech puppeteer is a gaunt undead monstrosity that ..." should have given me an idea of its power.

This could be a great monster but needs some rewriting to make it great.

Grand Lodge Dedicated Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014, Dedicated Voter 2015

How did the author respond to the challenge? Very nicely - this entry gives me a description and a concept for what's important to the monster. The rules that it considers are those relevant to the central idea and which might present problems.

How does it stack up

  • as an opponent? It really has one trick and would be in difficulty if most of its zombies were wiped out rapidly. It does have a couple of ways to recover as they get weaker and to harm enemies on its own.
  • as something other than an opponent? It has a distinct discernable motive, which might include an evil master or partners-in-trade elsewhere at another level of the plot.
  • in relation to other monsters? This monster depends on zombies, which I find dull, but augments them in potentially cool ways. I don't know of a lot of other monsters that are closely comparable (creating zombies, yes, but not involved so closely in directing them).
  • in relation to the author's item? Continues a theme of augmenting other things, but in a broader sense.
  • in itself? Well described. I often question other odd-sized undead that are presumably made from Medium-sized humans, but here, there's an easy explanation, since its description clearly suggests its bones have expanded.

Very likely a keeper. This is only the second I've seen, but I'll be impressed if there are four better entries.

You know, I think I own this.


RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Zombies aren't very exciting (especially if you're adding a weakness on top of what a zombie already is), and applying stat modifications to a zombie (which is technically already a template applied to another creature) could get clunky fast. But I just love the snot out of the image. I wish I'd thought of it.

This is something that could be just "good" (great idea but unwieldy in play), or could be "freaking awesome", depending on the execution of the statblock.

This strikes me as being particularly effective as either a Huge creature or a small flying creature. There have been remarkably few puppeteer-like monsters over the years and this fits the bill quite nicely. Yes, yes zombies are boring, what with the inundation of them throughout popular media, but the idea of something turning your dead allies against you in a macabre fashion, well.

I'll be stealing that idea sir.

Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015

I like the monster over all, but it is not one of my top four... were we given a couple more votes I would likely include this one, but as it is the puppeteer just misses my personal cut.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8 , Marathon Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014 aka Demiurge 1138

This is not, I am afraid, the first zombie puppeteer monster I've seen. It's maybe three or four. But it is one of the better ones. The fact that it can use its zombies for fuel and augmentation, and that it can do more than just have zombie puppets, make it a pretty solid entry.

But the name's not so good. I'm not seeing much deathleeching here, and the adjective-verb nouner construct is very 4th Edition feeling and not terribly classic. Your writing could also use a bit of spit and polish; a little extra proofreading would clean up some of the bad grammar and hone sentence structure.

I like it! One of my more favorites so far.

I'm fond of the puppeteer angle, I'm busy designing a similar critter from scratch for my home game. I agree with Demiurge that the name seems very 4th ed, not that this is necessarily a bad thing.

I think the zombie angle is the hole in the side of this boat, this creature has some neat fluff but in fighting it the party may feel like a they are up against a yellow musk creeper with the serial numbers filed off.

The description is however solidly creepy and the creature's motivations are great.

Liberty's Edge Contributor , Star Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014

This is definitely a theme that's been done before, but you've got a great example of the theme, with some very evocative description (eventually). I'm considering this one.

Scarab Sages

The thing that I wonder, and the thing that got me liking this monster, is just how long are those filaments binding the zombie to the puppetmaster? Like miles? Now that'd be cool: the puppeteer is off in a cave somewhere while his minions are sacking the town, dragging back corpses.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Criticism first: This sounds like a 4e miniature. Ugh.

Now, on to the good stuff: While the puppeteer angle isn't altogether original, your execution is. I like the way the creature can interact with its minions, providing the GM with a variety of tactical choices. This monster does have 'only' one shtick, but it's one that it excels at. Nothing wrong with that.

This is among my top submissions for this round. Best of luck to you.

Star Voter 2013

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

Hmmm... I actually like this monster:)
However, I would like that the ligaments to control the undead came from his torso or something like that instead. That way he could wield some kind of weapon in his hands.

I can really visualize this monster from your description, and thats great writing:)

This creature has some conflict in imagery; fortunately they are pretty cool images. On the one hand, it is a scavenger, and I can see it, a shadow against a setting sun, clumsily picking over the dead in a giant killing field. I can also see it with it's zombie pack, attacking the party with a certain dark intelligence. I can see it hunting the party, watching, waiting, and striking when the party is unwary.

However, these images don't mesh well. It can't be a listless scavenger AND maniacal overlord AND capable assassin(with a vengeance!). It sounds like there's a lack of direction here.

I just don't see this monster coming together. I see some scattered but not completely opposing ideas. I don't really see the name either. I think this is endemic of the MMO era, where a generic creature has a template applied to it, resulting in a name format of ________ ________. Any two-named creature that isn't really original just sounds like it came out of WoW. I think this entry has a number of good ideas, but lacks the glue to bring it all together.

Tobias Mullen wrote:

Deathleech Puppeteer

cut for space

This is the seventh monster that I am looking at. I do not read the comments below the entry before posting my opinion. An apology if this is duplicative of someone else’s entry, in part or whole.

Okay, tall, gangly undead puppeteer assassins. Cool. The world needs more of them. I note that rarely in D&D is a foe “forced” to flee. Usually they’re dead even if they choose to run unless they have a dimension door handy. The description is fairly straightforward and precise. I like that.

*deliver negative energy (so far so good)
*animate corpses via their skulls as more effective zombies (cool, although I think the Bestiary zombies are better than 3.5)
*zombies provide additional abilities (give us a clue please!)
*act as a moving wall of flesh (like that – creepy and odd)
*can leach energy controlling the zombie into itself to heal (could use some better phrasing here – sounds like you tap a zombie to get healing, which is cool)
*magical abilities revolve around strengthening zombies and disabling opponents

Summary: There’s a lot of ideas here. Good ones. I like it. This is the first critter I’ve read right off the bat where I said “Yeah, neat monster.” I think it needs a little work. There’s an implication of energy flowing back and forth. That could be very ambitious. Do its HD pass into the zombies? Does it get a pool of points (tricky to balance)? Or can it just do some kind of deadly evil buffs, like a cleric. In the latter case it would be easier to give it a set of spell-like abilities per day like bless. The name makes sense once I read the entire entry. That said, it comes across as a tad corny. It also needs a little work on the intro since what I suggest most DMs would do is have it plus a max number of zombies on hand when it encounters the PCs. If it’s a center of a living circle of dead people, that’s even creepier.

I think you really needed to make clear how long those long, thin, strands of ligament are, because if this creature has to keep its puppets on a 'short rein' then it's a prime target for area effect spells because, umm, they'll all be bunched together close enough for a fireball to get them all.
Still, it's nice to see a monster which isn't quite a swarm that gives some love to area of effect spells, even if glitterdust is on many spell lists anyway. (Quick questions for answering later: Can all creatures in the network share one another's senses, making it difficult to get sensory deprivation effects past them unless it gets every last creature? If there are enough creatures in the network can they be flanked?)
If a puppet is 'killed' can the puppeteer pull out the ligament, stick it back in, and reanimate the corpse all over again or is there a 'fresh corpses only' restriction on reanimations?
Is there a size limit to the size of a corpse that can be reanimated? If a great wyrm dragon corpse suddenly becomes available, can a puppeteer rush out and grab that? Do larger creatures need more fingers to control?
There isn't any obvious explanation of where these creatures come from. Are these maybe something bards can do instead of lichdom? Do these have variant bard spell-lists (cause wounds instead of cure wounds) and bard like abilities?

The opportunity to use these creatures in encounters seems to be pretty limited, given that they are stated to hang around primarily in graveyards or battlefields. At best it seems one without any zombies might appear to the PCs as a heavily cloaked & veiled 'patron' who wants to pay them to go and kill a creature for it - it might pretend it wants the creature dead for benevolent reasons, but it really just wants it bounced so it can grab the corpse.

My overall impression is of an outline of a creature with some potential, but as currently written somewhat limited in scope for use in-game if all it is interested in is collecting zombies and keeping them close to it.

Thanks for submitting this entry.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015 aka JoelF847

I'm having a hard time with this monster. It seems impractical to me. First, it animates corpses into zombies by driving ligaments into their skulls. I'm pretty sure ligaments are flexible tough fibrous parts of the body, and I'm having a hard time seeing one penetrating a thick solid skull (especially if it prefers big strong physical specimens what presumably have tougher, thicker skull.)

Next, assuming it can actually pierce 8 skulls to create a full band of zombies, I'm having a hard time visualising the pupetter moving around. After reading the description, I have a hard time imaginging the ligaments as being longer than 10 feet, and if that's the case, how's this mass of zombies and master move around easily? Does it take them a few minutes to sort things out and move through a doorway? It reminds me of earlier Doctor Who episodes where the Daleks couldn't get up stairs. In addition, I can't get the image of a party of the 3 stooges beating the puppeteer by running circles around it and getting the zombies all tangled up in each other's ligaments.

Finally, knowing that the puppeteer animates zombies, do we need to be told repeatedly that it likes bigger stronger corpses? Zombies don't keep the special abilities of the base creature not related to its size and strength, so it doesn't tell me much that the puppeteer prefers strong corpses other than that it uses its main power effectively.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4; Contributor; Publisher, Legendary Games

The visual for this monster is awesome, and reminds me of a suit of evil magical armor I read at some point, armor of the dread emperor or some such thing, where it has like 5 chains linked to it and you can use them to intercept attacks meant for you.

Once you get past the illo, though, I'm not sure the guy really holds up as a zombie boss (esp. with PF-style channel energy), or as Greg says how he frickin brushes his teeth.

Overall: He's not bad, he's just drawn that way. :)

As a monster, though, he's not quite rising to the occasion.

Tobias Mullen wrote:

Deathleech Puppeteer

A nice riff on the undead controller role.

I like the general idea of your monster. A literal puppeteer of flesh is not new as an idea, but I've not seen it as an monster so far, so I'm glad it has finally been done, but only to have that base covered for the off-chance that I'll need it.
With your execution you hit a few speed bumps.
While I get them as being scavengers and predators, prowling around lost graveyards with their rotting menagerie, I can't really see them as assassins, especially paid ones.
As for the powers I like the pupetter killing his slaves for healing, but not for spellpower. I like that the liaments raise corpses and that the zombies are destroyed when the liaments are removed, but not that the zombies are necessarily stronger than normal esp. since the pupeteer can choose his zombies and will have some fairly powerful ones if needed.
From a rules perspective i can see that you want the minions to even matter on a fairly high CR, but I also fear that you need to basically make a new zombie template, or add an additional template to your minions ( advanced for instance), but I don't really think that the line about the power of his minions really belongs in this section. I at least are set off by it, since there seems to be no flair reason for the zombies to be stronger than normal.

Old concept, new application. This would have needed to be presented more vivid, more thrilling with more great, new ideas to be not just another undead controller.
And that you have problems with your presentation adds to the feeling that this is not new and shiny, but that graves dust already has settled on it.

Again a new application for an old role. While this holds true to pretty much any monster, since with all those monster manuals ,bestiaries and adventures out there pretty much all bases are covered. But this is not intriguing enough to let me see this role in a new light, wanting to do new things with it, use the puppeteer in my campaign.
There is nothing too special about this aside from his filaments. So even without this I might easily create something similar enough by taking a wight, slapping some cleric levels on it and giving it a magic item that is undead animating strings.

I'm not considering this for a vote, but it got close. You heavily stressed my suspension of disbelief with your assassin note, and without it I might have liked this more, but now I'm not intrigued.

Star Voter 2013

This is cool. I imagine its power to sacrifice its zombies to heal and gain spell-like abilities would work something like a devourer. That would work nicely.

It's true that having to stat up zombies would be a pain, and not sure how much I buy the assassin angle, but what a cool picture. This is the kind of undead I want to throw at my players.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Orange Toque

Thank you all for the discussion of my monster. It is very eye opening to see other people's thoughts on something I have created. I will try to answer questions once voting is closed, but for now, keep the comments coming. The concerns that you have raised already have my brain grinding on how to make this better. Thank you for your time.


Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014, Star Voter 2015 aka JoelF847

I just had a really cool thought on how I would have liked this monster more than I did. If, instead of using physical strings to connect the puppeteer to the zombie, instead it used some power to attach the dead soul's silver cord from it's corpse to the puppeteer, and only a foot or so of the silver cord was visible at each end, that would be really cool, and provide a monster that used silver cords since the Githyanki aren't open content.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 16, 2012 Top 32 , Marathon Voter 2013, Marathon Voter 2014, Marathon Voter 2015 aka Epic Meepo

My thoughts on the deathleech puppeteer...

The Name: If this were Magic: the Gathering, "deathleech puppeteer" would be a good monster name. But for Pathfinder, that name seems a bit unrealistic. Who exactly calls a creature a "deathleech puppeteer"?

The Description: My biggest problem with the description isn't the appearance of the monster, per se, but the appearance of the monster in conjunction with its zombie minions. I'd have a hard time describing this thing performing actions on the battlefield when it has a zombie attached to each of its fingers.

The Powers: The deathleech puppeteer has some interesting sounding powers, but I don't know that they'd be very GM friendly. First of all, the GM has to stat up and run a bunch of zombies for the puppeteer to control. Then there are a bunch of buff powers and, apparently, hit points being moved around from zombie to puppeteer. While there may be some way to do all of this without causing a bookkeeping nightmare, I'm not seeing any hint of it in the monster's description.

The Buzz: I see that several posters take issue with the fact that the puppeteer creates better-than-normal zombies, and suggest that this would require a new type of zombie. I'm not so sure I agree with this particular criticism. When I read the deathleech puppeteer, I took the language about improved zombies to mean the puppeteer uses the fast zombie variant already described in the Bestiary. I could be wrong about that, though.

The Vote: Its an okay idea for a monster, but I won't be voting for it on account of its goofy name, its awkward appearance, and its promise of potentially clunky mechanics.

Liberty's Edge

In my opinion this one is great. For some reason I could see this being one of those monsters that are often talked about in the gaming community. I think it would have a reputation that many people would remember and continue to talk about during or after games. That's what I like about it. I think Tobias had a great idea going here! It's using some of the monsters that are similar to it, but in a different way. I like that! I will agree with Wes on that I would like to have seen more information on the motives or "where it comes from" and so on, but other than that small factor it is just too cool for me to not post. :o)

Star Voter 2013, Star Voter 2015

"Deathleech Puppeteer" oh wow this things hunts down carnivals and sideshows just to kill people entertaining children brutal! I only hope Deathleech Mime is next :-D

"A long, thin strand of ligament extends from each of its fingers (except the thumbs) and appears to move of its own accord." What moves on its own accord?

is there something missing? why did the description abruptly stop?

"Deathleech puppeteers are commonly found in graveyards or picking amongst the dead following large battles." 'burial sites' might have been better than 'graveyards'

"Most have developed an obsession with physically stronger creatures, and, if forced to flee a foe, will hunt that enemy until either their quarry is assimilated into the puppeteer’s collection, or the puppeteer is destroyed. edit needed. Why are they obsessed?

"They are fairly intelligent and serve as assassins as long as they are paid in corpses of powerful creatures." unlike many of the other entries it make sense that this creature is intelligent. I'm not sure if it needs to to be 'fairly intelligent' but I'll let that slide. I dont get these guys as typical sneaky assassins, but maybe paid killers

Description does not include actual height of creature. Does towering mean mere inches, a foot or two, or tens of feet?

"Deathleech puppeteer’s finger ligaments deliver negative energy to living creatures." why negative energy and not some necromantic fluids pumped to the zombie like a twisted IV

"When driven into the skull of a corpse, a ligament animates the body as a zombie." I think 'body' should have been 'victim'. Since I'm assuming the whole corpse is reanimated

"These zombies are faster and stronger than a normal zombie of the same type and provide the deathleech puppeteer added abilities while acting as a moving wall of flesh." editing. What abilities are added?

"These zombies are tethered to the puppeteer; if the ligament is destroyed or removed, the zombie reverts to a corpse." awkward

"Most choose to control a few stronger zombies over many weaker ones." why wouldn't they choose to control 8 zombies all the time no matter what their strength?

"The puppeteer can leech the negative energy infusing a zombie into itself, destroying the zombie, but allowing the puppeteer to heal its wounds or amplify its spell-like abilities." What spell-like abilities?

"Its magical abilities revolve around strengthening its zombie "puppets" and disabling opponents so that they too may be killed and reanimated. " Why have its abilities suddenly turned magical? Would have liked to have seen some examples

very interesting concept, and one that crippled by the 300 word count. I like the controlling ligaments its making me think. There so much more that I want to know about the creature, particularly the control interaction with the zombies. I'm also wondering if this thing should be undead vs a dark fey

Since Tobias can't respond, please allow me to rebut one of the criticisms...

Fast Zombies: these are in the Bestiary on page 289.


I too like my undead to come from somewhere, and I’m not getting a sense of this creature’s source. If a creature is going to violate the natural order of life, there should be a reason.

Also, I also would have liked to know how long those "strings" happen to be.

Paizo Employee Developer

I get a very clear visual for these, as well as a distinct idea for how all the described abilities work. That's very impressive in a statless, concept only round. It means you can communicate your ideas well. I'm not so sure this particular idea is superstar material, though. Puppeteers have been done to death, though this one does seem to have a new take on it and you're clearly keeping game balance in mind with them being tethered and severable. Whether the voting public feels this should move on isn't obvious to me, because I could see this going either way. I wish you the best of luck and hope to see you in later rounds.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32 aka flash_cxxi

I like this Monster. I'd like to hear some more about wha t his other abilities might be, but it seems liek a good low-mid level recurring foe.

I'm gonna put this in my Keep pile for the moment.
Good Luck! :)


Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 , Dedicated Voter 2013, Dedicated Voter 2014, Dedicated Voter 2015

Hey Tobias, I think that this is a good solid monster but it is fighting for space with every other zombie monster made for D&D. The twist to make it stand out from the pack would have had to have been so tricky that it might have turned people against it anyway. Keep on writing, the only way to learn is to try (and learn from mistakes). I've been learning/making mistakes quite a lot lately. :-)

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