Building Monsters

Monday, May 14, 2018

We've talked in depth about many of the systematic changes and PC options in the blogs so far, but what about monsters? From animated objects to zombies, from the lowliest kobold to the mighty jabberwock, the Pathfinder Playtest Bestiary includes over 250 different monsters and other adversaries built specifically for the playtest. But what makes these monsters tick? We've worked to bring you many of your favorite Pathfinder monsters with their familiar feel and niche in the world, but with updated mechanics to make your encounters even more memorable!

Signature Abilities

One of the monster innovations I—a computer science student at the time—appreciated most in Pathfinder First Edition was the idea of the Universal Monster Rule. It follows one of the most important principles of programming: modularity, which is to say, don't reinvent the wheel. One side effect of Universal Monster Rules having been a new concept in Pathfinder First Edition, however, is that many less fantastic creatures, especially animals, had a similar suite of Universal Monster Rules. For example, owlbears are iconic and memorable creatures, but as far as their statistics, if you look at the CR 4 owlbear and the CR 4 tiger side by side, the owlbear doesn't really have anything different to use during the encounter that the tiger doesn't.

Illustration by Wayne Reynolds

In the playtest version, those two monsters have some significantly different abilities. The tiger still has grab, allowing it to grapple a creature it hits with its jaws or claw attack, and the pounce action, allowing it to Stride and then Strike. Based on its real-world fighting style, it now also has wrestle, allowing it to claw a creature it's grabbed and knock it prone, and sneak attack, granting it extra damage against flat-footed creatures (typically ambushed via Stealth or those prone from its wrestle). Meanwhile, the owlbear also still has grab, but once it has you grabbed, it can gnaw on you, hoping to disembowel you so it can devour your guts and later regurgitate them to feed its young—and potentially making you sick from the disgusting sight. It can also unleash a blood-curdling screech as it advances into the fight to frighten you.

In general, giving interesting new abilities to real-world animals like the tiger allowed us to do some fun research into the animals' habits and design from there. Animals that hunt in packs sometimes have abilities to deal extra damage in groups, ambush predators use sneak attack and various sneaky tactics, and so on.

Dynamic Defenses

In Pathfinder First Edition, damage reduction (DR) and energy resistance both reduce damage by a set amount, the rarer vulnerability multiplies damage by 1.5, and immunity flat-out prevents certain abilities from functioning. Taken as a whole, monster defenses generally penalize you for using the wrong thing; you can deal your normal damage only by correctly bypassing DR, resistance, and immunities, and monsters rarely have a vulnerability. But in stories, we often imagine fey as being burned by cold iron or werewolves being poisoned by silver, and the reality of DR is that they just take the same damage from those as they do from cold, electricity, or fire. To fit those stories and to vary things up, we've combined DR and energy resistance into resistance, which reduces damage by a set amount, and we've changed vulnerability into a more common element called weakness, which increases damage by a set amount.

Two great examples of how this can dramatically change the feel of monsters are skeletons and zombies. A level 0 skeleton has 14 AC, 6 HP, and since it's made of bone, resistance 5 to slashing and piercing damage. A level 0 zombie, on the other hand, has 11 AC, 20 HP, and weakness 5 to slashing damage. The zombie takes 5 extra damage every time it's hit by a slashing weapon—that's an extremely high weakness! This means the fights feel very different, even though the creatures both take about the same number of swings to bring down. You can test this out for yourself in Pathfinder First Edition right now: consider giving zombies some extra HP and changing their DR into a weakness instead and see how the feel of the fight shifts!

Sweet Suites

Some monsters in Pathfinder First Edition have a large suite of abilities (typically from long lists of spell-like abilities), which vary between key iconic abilities, story abilities that influence what the monster can do in the narrative, and other abilities that are niche, redundant, or sometimes much weaker than their other attacks. For instance, it's pretty unlikely a nalfeshnee's call lightning is a good idea for a CR 14 monster to use in combat, and it doesn't have much of a noncombat application, either. In Pathfinder Second Edition, we tried to keep a monster's iconic abilities and story abilities while removing redundant or niche abilities, and then adding something new that fits the monster's ecology. For instance, barbed devils don't have the equivalent of order's wrath or unholy blight, but they have a special power called Warden of Erebus that lets them create extremely versatile glyphs of warding, cementing their role as, well, wardens of Erebus. For all such monsters, the goal is to make the monster's suite of abilities much easier to use and more memorable without oversimplifying the monsters, following our overall goal of adding as much depth to the game as possible while minimizing the cost in complexity.

I Have Multiattack

To close off, many people have been wondering how in the world we handle creatures with many heads, like the hydra, or arms, like the marilith or hekatonkheires, in the 3-action system. Such creatures have unique abilities to use their attacks in tandem in different ways. For instance, a marilith has three options for her six blades. She can make a focused assault on one enemy, which can deal a massive amount of damage on a hit, and deals damage for a single longsword even on a failure (but not a critical failure). Alternatively, she can spin about like a whirlwind of blades, attacking up to six different creatures with her swords. Finally, she can just attack twice and use the other blades to parry, giving her a killer AC for 1 round.

That's it for monsters for today; tune in on Friday as Logan goes through an example monster in detail and shows how we made the statblock easier to reference!

Mark Seifter
Designer

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Tags: Pathfinder Playtest Wayne Reynolds
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Air elementals should be immune to electricity and wind effects.

Earth elementals should be immune to petrification effects. Though I never understood the association with acid.

Fire elementals should be immune to fire.

Water elementals should have a freedom of movement type effect while underwater.

All elementals should be immune to poison and disease. If Genies were added to elementals then not all elementals should be immune to crits/sneak attack.


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MadScientistWorking wrote:


Also nobody thinks of the norse Dark Elf when you say Drow so I'm not buying that argument. They are so thoroughly trashed as a concept because of the inherent sexism, racism, and transphobia that they are indefensible as any plot element. Seriously, tell me if they aren't racist then tell me why was it a mechanical plot element that they were black because of evil? That's not even subtext more than it is overt text.

The racism is obvious but the other two? A female led society seems like the opposite of sexism. If it's that it that happens to be evil, how is that any more sexist than all the evil male led societies in D&D, eg Orcs, that represent the bad side of masculinity? Maybe I'm missing something? I never plumbed the depths of drow lore.

And I can't even remember ever seeing anything in relation to drow or pretty much anything else in D&D vis a vis trans or the like, barring Gender Change belts / potions from the early days. If this is something new and awful to 5E, well, that is a WotC thing and this is Paizo.


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Fuzzypaws wrote:


The racism is obvious but the other two? A female led society seems like the opposite of sexism. If it's that it that happens to be evil, how is that any more sexist than all the evil male led societies in D&D, eg Orcs, that represent the bad side of masculinity? Maybe I'm missing something? I never plumbed the depths of drow lore.

Drow society is basically a parody of what men think a women led society would be. Every single trait of Drow culture is a negative stereotype of women and is kind of implied that it hinders more than helps them. Nothing about them is a feminine quality outside of stupid stereotypes of women.

Also, I wouldn't exactly say WoTC's interpretation isn't relevant given that those Drow are more well known and "iconic". Even in threads not about them WoTC Drow are constantly brought up.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Yep, Drow society is cartoonishly evil and matriarchal, they're not evil because they're matriarchal.

Silver Crusade

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Fuzzypaws wrote:
And I can't even remember ever seeing anything in relation to drow or pretty much anything else in D&D vis a vis trans or the like, barring Gender Change belts / potions from the early days. If this is something new and awful to 5E, well, that is a WotC thing and this is Paizo.

The only thing that comes to mind is I believe that Elves are more genderfluid than other races in 5th so conversely they made Drow vehemently despise genderfluid/NB/trans Drow to make them more evil.

I could be misremembering how that was handled however as I don't play 5th.


Rysky wrote:
Fuzzypaws wrote:
And I can't even remember ever seeing anything in relation to drow or pretty much anything else in D&D vis a vis trans or the like, barring Gender Change belts / potions from the early days. If this is something new and awful to 5E, well, that is a WotC thing and this is Paizo.

The only thing that comes to mind is I believe that Elves are more genderfluid than other races in 5th so conversely they made Drow vehemently despise genderfluid/NB/trans Drow to make them more evil.

I could be misremembering how that was handled however as I don't play 5th.

Yeah that's pretty much it. Its kind of a massive case of why copying and pasting certain elements of another game isn't necessarily the best of ideas because now you have two conflicting drow and the Paizo's not the one that will be better known.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Xenocrat wrote:
Looking forward to a monster based on posters in this thread that attacks others by mentally projecting it's own fears and sins onto its enemies.

Isn't that what the litany spells do? If not, I'm sure once we get psychic casting back an occult inspired beast will have that ability.


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Not saying anything that hasn't already been said here, but adding in my voice that "Don't make Orcs into apes" is pretty much the very first thing anyone attempting to make a fantasy rpg not racist should do.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Neat stuff, and certainly some novel ideas here for making combat more interesting, varied, and threatening (just how I like it). My one question is how this is going to play into custom monster creation. Will monster feats and hit dice still exist?


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
CoeusFreeze wrote:
Neat stuff, and certainly some novel ideas here for making combat more interesting, varied, and threatening (just how I like it). My one question is how this is going to play into custom monster creation. Will monster feats and hit dice still exist?

I wouldn't expect full rules on this for the playtest, since they said encouraging us to run wild with custom monsters adds more ambiguity to the playtest, but I'm guessing it'll be closer to the Simplified monster creation in Unchained or how Starfinder does it. Hit die is abstracted and feats are a lot thinner on the ground unless you're creating a particularly complex monster.


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Unicore wrote:
I am very curious to hear a developer talk about how the new monster rules will synthesize with the ancestry system as far as how creatures from the bestiary will be accessible as player ancestries or not, especially since it seems like ancestries now require a lot more feat support than PF1 and because I can't imagine special attacks or abilities coming across to PCs

You see, the funny thing is you say that but I foresee the exact opposite. The new setup makes it easier to give monstrous PCs access to those special attacks that their NPC counterparts would have... as Ancestry Feats. Slap a Char Level prereq onto them so they become available at a level where that kind of ability is appropriate and let them take it (or not) as they want.

Liberty's Edge

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Rysky wrote:
Yep, Drow society is cartoonishly evil and matriarchal, they're not evil because they're matriarchal.

Problem happens if most matriarchal societies are depicted as evil

I always thought of black CE elves as an opposed version of white CG elves. The problem originated with CG elves being white only

I am happy that the core races got more variety in skin color. I would like other creatures to get more of this too, including the drow (ghoulish white Drow)

Green skin was still the preferred color code for Evil though

At least until PF2 core Goblins


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Orcs seem like a kid stuck in the middle of a divorce.

One parent is the principle that sapient people and cultures should be interesting and have basic rights e.g. don't KOS.

The other parent is the requirement many narratives have for sentient people you can identify easily, oppose, and kill guiltlessly.

Mommy and daddy stopped getting along.

Tough adolescence.

Paizo Employee Customer Service & Community Manager

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Sara Marie wrote:
I'm passing the feedback on the orc concept art along to our creative team. I would like to remind everyone that it is not okay to belittle, dismiss be aggressive towards or otherwise antagonize folks who may have concerns about connotations of artwork that you do not share.

Hey folks, especially with the lead up to PaizoCon, we don't have the ability to moderate a discussion on racism and fantasy art. I feel very strongly that the topic is incredibly important to be educating ourselves on and be thoughtful about. I also believe in the power of a group discussion to learn and grow with new ideas and understanding and empathy for different ways of thinking and feeling. However, in threads such as this one, some of what gets posted trying to discuss/explain how something might not be racist (or sexist) has a tendency to be unintentionally dismissive of concerns or of different viewpoints. The thread can become a flood of "Well, I personally don't think or feel this thing is racist, so its fine," drowning out the voices of those who feel excluded or hurt because of it–voices that are vital to a robust and vibrant gaming community.

To prevent this thread from spiraling further, we need to circle back to the blog's text content. If you feel like you want to express an opinion regarding the orc art, drop me a line at community@paizo.com. Jason and I have already talked about this quite a bit and I know he's been speaking with Erik as well. I'm happy to take your feedback (though I won't reply with more than a "thanks for your feedback" as I'm in the last minute scramble mode for PaizoCon).


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

In the interest of converting a module or AP to PF2, will there be a quick cheat-sheet for converting statblocks on the fly included with the playtest? Even something like, "we're shifting CRs for xxxxx type of creatures up/down by 1" or "increase/decrease monster HP by xx%". I could see my players being interested in running one of the We Be Goblins modules with the new rules to see how it goes. Some of them have already expressed approval for the action overhaul.

Also, with 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2 CR no longer existing, will there be a trait or icon that some creatures get as a red flag for GMs? Something to warn them that, "hey, this thing is weak on its own but put a few together and it gets out of hand faster than some other weak creatures"?

Blog wrote:
For instance, it's pretty unlikely a nalfeshnee's call lightning is a good idea for a CR 14 monster to use in combat, and it doesn't have much of a noncombat application, either.

This may have already been solved in development, but how about an ability for monsters to use such signature abilities as reactions instead of using up their actions? Opening up the AoO space to more flavorful abilities like that would really keep players on their toes.


Question to the Devs.

So Spell Like is gone. Do Monsters still keep Supernatural Abilities? Or are they just called something else?

I don't think it's been mentioned though if I'm wrong, well I'm wrong and will be given a link.


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Thanks for looking out for us, Sara. I appreciate it.

Paizo Employee Chief Creative Officer, Publisher

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Sara is always looking out for you guys. The amount of effort Paizo's customer service team has put into the messageboards since the announcement of second edition has been herculean, and you can be sure Sara is working hard both to keep the conversation here civil and to forward concerns raised by the community to folks in positions to do something about it.

So a hearty "thanks" to Sara Marie, and a hearty "we hear you" to pretty much everybody else on the thread who has taken the time to express their feelings on the art associated with this blog.


5 people marked this as a favorite.

Thanks, Sara! I know we don't make it easy.

Alright, we got scrubbed just when I'd finished a big post, so I had to do a little editing to remove the controversial content from it before posting. Here's what survives:

The Raven Black wrote:
Green skin was still the preferred color code for Evil though

Though it's worth noting that green skin can be dicey in certain cases—let's just say I'm very glad Paizo moved away from the "greedy beak-nosed goblin" trope in Pathfinder.

Whew, glad I got all that off my chest. Sorry for the text wall, all!


Kobold Cleaver wrote:

Thanks, Sara! I know we don't make it easy.

Alright, we got scrubbed just when I'd finished a big post, so I had to do a little editing to remove the controversial content from it before posting. Here's what survives:

The Raven Black wrote:
Green skin was still the preferred color code for Evil though

Though it's worth noting that green skin can be dicey in certain cases—let's just say I'm very glad Paizo moved away from the "greedy beak-nosed goblin" trope in Pathfinder.

Whew, glad I got all that off my chest. Sorry for the text wall, all!

Uhh.....


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Definitely NOT a certain Kobold wrote:
Kobold Cleaver wrote:

Thanks, Sara! I know we don't make it easy.

Alright, we got scrubbed just when I'd finished a big post, so I had to do a little editing to remove the controversial content from it before posting. Here's what survives:

The Raven Black wrote:
Green skin was still the preferred color code for Evil though

Though it's worth noting that green skin can be dicey in certain cases—let's just say I'm very glad Paizo moved away from the "greedy beak-nosed goblin" trope in Pathfinder.

Whew, glad I got all that off my chest. Sorry for the text wall, all!

Uhh.....

Traditionally in comics primary colors (red, blue, yellow) are for heroes and secondary colors (orange, green, purple) are villains.


^Although in D&D (going all the way back to Basic and 1st Edition AD&D), for Dragons, all the abstract colors (whether primary or secondary) are for villains and the metallic colors are for heroes.

* * * * * * * *

Surprised that nobody seems to have mentioned the following problem with the new description of Orcs that has nothing whatsoever to do with stereotypes or moral implications:

Having Orcs walking on all fours is going to interfere with their use of manufactured weapons other than cestus/gauntlets/hand blades. Walking on all fours, and then you have to stand up or sit back and then pull your javelins out of your quiver? Doesn't sound very handy . . . .

Paizo Employee Chief Creative Officer, Publisher

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Orcs in second edition Pathfinder do not walk around on all fours. Their current "take" has longer arms and a slightly different physiology that might allow them to charge like this (hence this piece of concept art), but they stand erect and they are not otherwise particularly simian. That's not to deflect criticism or soft-pedal concern about this piece of art or even the "take" in general, but I think it's probably worthwhile to understand a bit of perspective, here.

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