Round 2: Create a monster concept

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RPG Superstar 2008 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka MythrilDragon

I so love that fact that this already cool beasty gets badder if its pack shows up. I am looking forward to the crunch you'll have to write to make that little tid bit work. Good luck in the next round, I think your going to make it.

Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I really don't like the whole hive-mind thing. Mind you, having pack tactics is fine, I don't object to that.

I am on the fence on this one.

Paizo Employee Director of Brand Strategy

I'm not digging the hive-mind aspect of it (this is the second ice- or cold-based hive mind creature so far) but everything else is pure awesome. Pack tactics make sense for a cat creature, but snow-pheromone shared consciousness doesn't fit. The physical description is vivid and unique, especially it appearing as ice and water at the same time. I like the flavorful effect of the stinger, as well as its heat-vision ability. I'm about halfway through with this round's entries, and this is already a leader on my consider-for-vote list. Great work, and I hope to see you in future rounds. May the force be with you.

Dark Archive

This is my favorite beastie, from a visual perspective (although the Crysalis is also described really evocatively). The name is also cool sounding.

The bit about expelling water to freeze around you is some kind of crazy genius. Very cool.

Shadow Lodge Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8

I was tempted to to cast my last vote for the wyrmhiri(since I already said I wanted one), but I really like this ice-cold killer.

I toss my vote in for the Chaitrakhan!

Dark Archive

Jesse Benner wrote:


Description: Prowling the coldest reaches of the world, the chaitrakhan is a fierce, catlike predator with a dense, broad-backed build and crystal clear eyes. Its snow-bleached coat gives way to an azure patchwork of ice growing from the creature’s body along its forelimbs, spine, and wickedly barbed tail. This ice armor fluoresces an eerie blue light that intensifies as darkness falls and combines with a chaitrakhan’s languid movements to give observers the impression that the creature’s very body shifts between ice and water with each breath. Aggressive and cunning, chaitrakhan view smaller creatures as viable prey, making them a particular threat to humanoids sharing their territory. A single chaitrakhan is formidable but the creature’s ability to mentally connect with others of its kind makes it a deadly pack hunter, stalking and killing yeti, winter wolves, and even dire bears without fear.

Powers and Abilities: A chaitrakhan senses the heat given off by other living things and can pinpoint prey through all manner of illusions and camouflage. They deliberately ambush in blizards and blinding snowstorms to make full use of this advantage. Using the serrated barb at the end of its tail, a chaitrakhan stings its prey and injects a paralytic poison that violently expels water from the victim’s body and instantly refreezes the water into a binding net of ice. Lastly, scent glands in the chaitrakhan’s paws secrete pheromones on fallen snow, attracting others of its kind and creating a shared and cumulative intelligence among pack members. This mental link confers increased speed, strength and heightened awareness on each creature in the bond and makes a chaitrakhan resistant to mind-affecting magic. The mental bond grows in power based on the number of chaitrakhan in the pack.

AHEM...*clears throat* I LOVE this one! You had me at "Catlike predator!"

Okay first, you have an awesome description for both the look of the creature AND how it stalks is prey. This could SO be lurking out there in the snowy mountains. I love the whole survival feel of this monster too. GREAT job!!!

Okay, Reaper... make this a miniature now so I can paint one!!!

I would be a moron not to vote for this one!

Jesse Benner wrote:


Most things I've said about the Lamahu hold true here.

This is again a mostly mundane, yet somewhat wondrous, intelligent predator. This is well designed and everything fits into its place.
You walked on thin ice with the mental bonding, but didn't overdo it.
Everything else is nice. Especially the poison. A interesting and creepy new ability that really adds to to flavor of the monster.
Like with the Lamahu this got me really interested but not excited. It is pretty much tied with the lamahu fighting for a vote, if there should be one left. I think the chaitrakhan would win out, because I like the name and the visuals (both of the creature and its powers) a tad better, but it's a really close call. I hope that both of you get into the next Round and I'm going to see stats of both, so that I can toss them into the ring of death and make them fight for my favor ;)

Personally, I find intelligent hive mind creatures some of the most terrifying of those out there. Maybe it's cause I grew up on the first Jurassic Park movie...I dunno. An intelligent monster with a kind of poison and natural attacks to boot make me want even more to equip every character of mine with a fire-based weapon and a decanter of endless water (take THAT dehydration!). I don't mind the tail at all, really. If anything, it takes me further away from thinking of it as a snow tiger kind of creature. In fact, it might be interesting to set the encounter up that way: "Just beyond the curtain of falling snow, you spot what looks like a single large cat." And that's when the attack comes. Not from the Chaitrakhan in front of you... but from the didn't even know were there...

I, too, kind of had a problem originally with the tail, but in retrospect, I think it adds to the otherness of the creature. For mid-level PCs to happen upon these things for the first time and realize they're actually NOT dire snow tigers (or whatever) could be a great game moment.

I totally dig the name, too. "Khan" is Indian (Hindi?) for tiger, I know that much (...thank you, Jungle Book). I could easily surmise that "Chaitra" could mean snow or frost or poison or freeze-dried, for that matter... That it's name is somehow derived from something familiar yet is so NOT familiar adds something for me. That some can't help but see an 80s pop star in it isn't personally a problem to me.

As for writing prowess (pun intended), I think it's spot on. Just enough information to keep me wanting to read on but also enough to give me a clear picture of what it is. Like someone much earlier noted, this is a final draft, not something he thought up on his lunch break. The writing reflects that. I DO think you misspelled, "blizzard", though...

This one wins for me, hands down.

Jesse Benner wrote:


cut for space

This is the twenty-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.

Snowy, catlike predator. Ahah. The initial writing is evocative. Oooh, it looks like it’s ice then it’s water? I like that description. It’s a predator (again). Yep. Mental pack hunter abilities. K.

*senses heat given off by others (nice variant on current senses; what does endure elements do for this?)
*pinpoint prey through illusions and camouflage (uhhh, this doesn’t quite make sense)
*deliberately ambush (along with a lot of other monsters this round)
*serrated barb with paralytic poison (kay, that’s a little different)
*poison ejects water and refreezes it into a net of ice (very different!)
*scent glands summon others and help form the pack intelligence (very neat idea; not sure on the execution of it)
*bond boosts everyone in the pack (hey, it beats just having numbers to attack with)
*mental bond increases depending on the number (might make a lot of work for the DM)

Summary: I’m seeing a certain segmented trend in this round toward “intelligent animals that fight in packs”. Where is that coming from? Okay, this critter seems really, really interesting in its description. Then the powers don’t quite mesh up? Where is the whole ice/water thing going? Or is that just flavor text. (In which case, one should ignore flavor text?) I think that there are some very imaginative powers that run over into a lack of space from the time spent dwelling on the pack nature of the beast. I find a lot of the ideas in here worth consideration. How they hang together in the aggregate? Remains to be seen. Thanks for submitting this though!

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka JoelF847

I like this monster a lot, and for some of the same reasons as the Lamahu - it's a magical beast that does something novel (suck your bodily fluids out and have them freeze around you - is that an entangle effect like the mentioned net it forms? - I want to see the stat block!). It's also well described both in its tactics and its description. I especailly like the mention of it's place in the arctic pecking order by "killing yeti, winter wolves, and even dire bears without fear", that really grounds it in the environment instead of making it a stand alone addition.

The one thing I have a slight issue with is related to the mental link. I'm fine with a pack hunter having a mind link with the pack, but I'm not clear on why this would make it "confers increased speed, strength and heightened awareness". I get the heightened awareness - all around vision, none are flanked unless all are flanked, that kind of thing, but not sure why it would increase speed and strength. Since this monster lacks a ranged attack, I'd rather see the mental link increase its psychic powers when a certain sized pack is gathered and let it launch mental bolts to deal with flying fireballing wizards (which is too often an all too safe tactic against beast type monsters without ranged attacks - especially ones with a presumable fire vulnerability.)

I now have 5 strong contenders for my votes - I'm going to really have to think about how to bump one. Great job!

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Orange Toque

Does it grab me visually: I love the imagery of shifting from ice to water. Stalking by heat in snowstorms makes perfect sense. The stinger tail kind of threw me, but the poison effect sounds interesting and I’d love to see it in play.

Would I use it in game: Yes. A very nicely designed snow predator. Hunting the heat of prey makes this a terrifying monster.

Would my players enjoy an encounter with it: They would be freaked out, certainly. And using the environment against them during a snowstorm while a crazy ice cat stalked them? They would eat this right up.

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32 aka flash_cxxi

I have to agree with the Judges on this. Cat creatures are always fun (Displacement Panther, Couerl, even Guenhwyvar) and yours is cool right up to the Pack Mentality/Hive Mind thingie. What is it with Hive Mind anyway?

This is in my Keep pile.
Good Luck! :)

Silver Crusade Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

Now that I can comment on my monster I say...ahem "comment comment comment."
Seriously though I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for their comments, their suggestion and frankly just their interest. It really got my wheels turning.
I'd love to answer any questions in the aftermath of round 2 and even if I don't get to round 3, it really has been a great time.
All the best

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Jesse Benner wrote:

I'd love to answer any questions in the aftermath of round 2 and even if I don't get to round 3, it really has been a great time.
All the best

Where you think you're going buster!?

You're staying put.. you got to go through this whole mess again! ;-)


Well done on reaching Round 3, Jesse.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

First of all, congratulations on making it to the Top 16. I thought I would wait until after the voting for Round Two ended before offering any commentary or advice. And I'm going to come at it a little differently, in that I'm not going to focus primarily on your design this round. Rather, I'm going to have a go at examining your entire portfolio to this point to sort of assess what you've done well, where you could shore up a few things in your overall design and writing, and then give you some more pointed advice on stuff you could showcase in future rounds to maybe improve your chances of going all the way to the end. So, with that in mind, here goes:


I have to admit I wasn't that crazy about the snapleaf. It was an okay wondrous item for me, but just had too many spell-in-a-can aspects to it that I really didn't get a full sense of mojo from it. Now, with the Chaitrakhan, you've totally reversed that for me. The ice cat predator is so well imagined and described that you've got full tilt mojo going for it. Really well-done there. And I believe it's vital for any competitor to take the weaker aspects of any previous submission and rework them in such a way that you can win people back in a future submission. And you've absolutely done that.

Now, at the same time, I do think you went a little overboard on the Chaitrakhan. I'm not too crazy about the name. It doesn't evoke anything in my mind's eye when I read it...and I'd be totally dependent on the artwork and accompanying descriptive text to start painting a picture for me that I could permanently associate with the name. In time, I'm sure I'd come to immediately think "ice cat predator" as soon as I read Chaitrakhan. But, for the purpose of the RPG Superstar contest, I think it's best to work on a name that's really evocative on each round. That way, the name gets people already liking your submission. So, I'd advise you to look for ways to draw on that.

In addition, looking further into the Chaitrakhan's description, you might have gone a little too far with its abilities. The hive mind thing feels more like a throwaway. It isn't really needed. You've already got the cats leaving pheromones for one another to track prey and bring it down. That's probably enough. So, from a design perspective, I'd recommend that you occasionally take a step back from your work and when you think you're done, reassess it for any pieces you can strip off and still maintain the core concept. If you can pull something off and still keep true to what you're crafting, you've probably put too many powers and abilities into it. And, if you can recognize that, you can go back and edit it out, thereby putting the reclaimed words to better use on more flavor text or embellishment.

Looking down the road at the future rounds of the competition, my only remaining advice would be to keep increasing the mojo of your ideas so you can stand out. Your Chaitrakhan got you into the Top 10, if we can trust the exit polls. That's good, but keep pushing for the "homerun" by swinging for the fence on something. Find the "road less traveled" if you must, but don't go off into the weeds and get stuck with something so far out that you totally lose the voters. Be innovative and be awesome.

Best of luck,

Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Hopefully what I am offering will help your writing/design in future rounds, but if not I felt I owed you a big congratulations!

Visual: 15 Charisma
Creativity: 13 Intelligence
Would I use it: 18 Dex
Overall: 17 Strength. The picture caught me from the beginning so you have strong visuals. That the icy fur works into an armor bonus is a nice bit of design or rather grounds the visuals in the mechanics which is I think important. A cat from the cold, is a little out of the norm but not impossible, but had enough new stuff to keep it fresh. Hive mind is meh for me, but hunting as a pack is definately a win.

You got my vote, congratulations and keep it up. O:)

Silver Crusade Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

Charles Evans 25 wrote:

Well done on reaching Round 3, Jesse.

Thanks Charles, and thanks for the feedback throughout.


Silver Crusade Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

Neil Spicer wrote:


First of all, congratulations on making it to the Top 16. I thought I would wait until after the voting for Round Two ended before offering any commentary or advice.

I just wanted to say thank you for the feedback and particularly for it as an overall critique of my style. It actually came at a perfect time.
I had just started working on round 3 and was debating some things when I read what your suggestions were and it helped me make some decisions for the round 3 process that felt immediately more comfortable when looked at through the lense of "less is more."

It really is appreciated. Also, I know this is belated, but I really did enjoy you submission for the top 4 last year.
I wish we lived in closer cities. I'd love to see what your GMing style is like.
Thanks for the help again and here's hoping I see you in round 4.
Best Regards,

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Hey Jesse! Congrats. Once you're done getting all that awesomeness done, I'd really like some feedback about what I did with your critter. Good luck in Round 4!

Silver Crusade Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

Jason Schimmel wrote:
Hey Jesse! Congrats. Once you're done getting all that awesomeness done, I'd really like some feedback about what I did with your critter. Good luck in Round 4!

Jason, my pleasure.

I just want to say thanks for the congratulations and I really hope you re-enter next year because I think you brought some great things to the competition.

In terms of your take on the Chaitrakhan I wanted to say, first, that it was very flattering for you to stat my monster concept, thanks for that.
In terms of the stats, I thought that your stat block was consistent and strong. I did a test run of the chaitrakhan and drew on a lot of the existing big cats in the bestiary, using their abilities and their attributes. The inclusion of rake, pounce grab, etc, in your stat block suggests you did the same, and I think it was a strong part of the presentation.
I liked your take on the poison, as it both entangled and did dex damage. I had personally thought of cons and entangling of some kind, but your choice to make it dex was even more consistent with the description and I think was ultimately a stronger choice that was more consistent with my own original concept.
I think that the challenge you had with your stat block as some of the judges and our general gaming peers pointed out, was in describing some of the more specific abilities.
For example, the heat sense ability. As Sean mentioned, you note what creature types it doesn't work on, but we're not given a strong idea of how it does work. I think that addressing what common game elements it negates or compromises (concealment, invisibility, illusion or glamer effects,etc) would have made this ability feel more immediately usable. I think this was the biggest missed chance (like Clark mentioned for some of the design elements in my own Round 3 monster) as the heat sense ability was one of the ideas that was best received from the round 2 concept.
I will say that the mechanics you picked for the pheromone link was very much in line with my own concept on how it would play at the table. I think the criticism of a max +3 bonus was valid as I think it detracts from some of the menace of a large pack, but I really felt that we had achieved a mind meld of sorts when I saw your write up of that.
Lastly, I think that while Clark was a little rough in his assessment of your writing I agree with him that the narrative part of the stat block didn't feel as much in your own voice as your previous entries for rounds 1 and 2 were. I think that with some editing or even a pass over by a good friend who knows your writing style, it would have been easier to rewrite the flavor text so that it kept the original pieces of the concept on which you based your version of the creature, while sounding like Jason Schimmel through and through.
That said, I really liked the mercantile angle you threw into the ecology about the pelts and harvesting the poison. I think that speaks well of your efforts to personalize this creature and make it yours.
I'm sorry we won't be moving forward together. I think you did some solid work, and did my stingin' ice kitty proud. I'd love a chance to collaborate with you on future projects. Also, if memory serves, you're in Allentown right? Glenside's not THAT far away, and you will ALWAYS have a seat at my table, sir.
Best regards,

Silver Crusade Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

F. Wesley Schneider wrote:
The stinger is okay in this case, but it seems like one of the default ways to make a monster is to take an animal, stick a scorpion stinger on it, and presto! Instant monster.

Psssh...<nervous glance> wha-...

I didn't do THAT, I...

Okay that's kinda how it started when I first envisioned the "snow-cat."
But, that was way back in my first edition days. In the absence of the rules of 3.5 I relied heavily on narration and was able to take what was basically a scorpion tailed white tiger and turn it into something more scary to my players by narrating it as an apex predator made of living ice. It had a very good reception among my players but went into mothballs after the campaign arc took us to warmer climates.

When the Round 2 challenge was announced I looked back and the snow cat was one of my favorite concepts but I knew, as Wes pointed out above, a tiger with a scorpion tale would smell of deadline monster, so I tried to think of a backstory and a niche for this creature that would make sense, and be more engaging.

I took the concept of the scorpion tail and examined scorpions as a whole. If the creature did have a scorpion's tile, where did it stop? Did it just hit the butt and then end? The notion that the carapace covered tail would need to bleed into the rest of the creature's body seemed to make sense with the idea of this creature as living ice.

I then scrapped the scorpion tail and what I hoped would be some of the abject hackery of that initial concept and turned the scorpion-esq feel into the patchwork of ice plates.
I also thought that the plates would create an armor bonus that might allow the snow cat to stand against some other monsters in game terms.

The majority of the concept was otherwise dictated. I'm an amateur zoology nut and had read an article once about cats being apex predators in a lot of different habitats, so "building it on a cat chasis" as the judges mentioned made a lot of sense to me. Also, in reading about scorpions it turns out that some kinds actually glow under blacklight. So, making the armor glow seemed like a good nod to the inspiration without being too obvious.
There was still the idea of the tail, though. I liked the concept of a venom of some kind making the creature more formidable, but I didn't want the scorpion tail to brand it as an abject combo creature.
Again the idea of the living ice theme made the difference. I thought that if I could describe the venom as having an effect different than traditional poison, it might work to make the creature its own thing.
That's where the icy-net came from, and it's still one of my favorite creature concepts.

The heat-sense was also popular, and was another thing that I think made the snow cat a good concept. It came from kicking the monster around with a friend who thought that a creature so cold might therefore be able to detect the heat of other creatures. Again, during the design process the goal became taking an apex predator concept that originated as a combo creature and giving it it's own life.
Also, in thinking about the move from drawing table to gaming table making the heat sense a rational part of the creature's ecology could also give the added benefit of thwarting some conventional PC tricks (invisibility, blur, concealment) that might up the ante for characters fighting it, but not making it feel like an ability that was tacked on for the sole purpose of negating such effects.

The hive mind was meant to encourage the use of this creature in groups as well as using it as an individual challenge. In hindsight, the choice to make it pheromone based was consistent with some research I did on hive minds, but didn't gel with the overall concept as well as I'd hoped.
I'd still stick with benefits to them working in packs but in hindsight I would have ascribed it to a different origin.

To those that didn't like the name, and feel that my monster was infused with 80's pop singer origins I can only say 2 things
1) Chaitrakhan is Hindi for Snow Tiger, which seemed like something that people hunted by this creature might have called it and that some of my friends thought sounded sinister.
2) Had I wanted to submit an 80's music themed monster for Round 2, I would have gone for my alternate idea.
My swarm monster concept...Flakufseegahls

Thanks for the votes and support. :)

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