Dusk Serpent

Round 2: Create a Bestiary entry

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

3 people marked this as a favorite.

Scales like smoked glass cover the coiled body of this massive serpent. Something dark ripples beneath where shadows fall upon its skin.

Dusk Serpent CR 4
XP 1,200
NE Large magical beast
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +12

----- Defense -----
AC 17, touch 12, flat-footed 14 (+3 Dex, +5 natural, -1 size)
hp 37 (5d10+10)
Fort +6, Ref +7, Will +5
Defensive Abilities umbral flesh; DR varies (see Umbral Flesh); Immune fear, sleep
Weaknesses vulnerable to light

----- Offense -----
Speed 30 ft., climb 20 ft., swim 20 ft.
Melee bite +9 (1d8+6 plus 1 Str damage)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks shadow coil
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 3rd)

----- Statistics -----
Str 18, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 6, Wis 14, Cha 10
Base Atk +5; CMB +10; CMD 23 (can’t be tripped)
Feats Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Step Up
Skills Acrobatics +13, Climb +8, Perception +12, Stealth +13, Swim +8; Racial Modifiers +6 Acrobatics, +6 Perception, +6 Stealth
Languages Aklo (cannot speak)
SQ slithering darkness

----- Ecology -----
Environment any urban (Katapesh)
Organization solitary
Treasure incidental

----- Special Abilities -----
Shadow Coil (Su) A dusk serpent can plunge into a shadow of a living creature within reach appearing as a dark, writhing shape coiled around it (Reflex DC 15 avoids); flat-footed creatures do not get a save. When around a shadow, the serpent is immune to all nonmagical attack forms and takes only half damage from magical sources but effects with the shadow descriptor affect it normally.

An affected creature is stunned for 1d2 rounds and takes 1d4 points of Strength damage while the dusk serpent heals twice that amount in hit points. At the beginning of its next turn, the serpent rises out of the shadow into an unoccupied space closest to the affected creature. That creature is immune to this ability for the rest of the combat. The save DC is Dexterity-based.

Umbral Flesh (Su) The body of a dusk serpent is in flux between flesh and shadow within an area of dim light or darkness. The dusk serpent has DR 5/magic in such areas, otherwise it has no damage resistance.

Slithering Darkness (Su) Three times per day, when a dusk serpent enters an area of dim light or darkness during a move action, it can appear in another such area up to 30 feet away and continue moving. The dusk serpent dissolves into shadows as it enters the area while simultaneously reforming in its destination.

Misery befalls the wretched thief who dares to disturb a sanctum guarded by shadow made flesh. In the city of Katapesh, monstrous serpents from a foregone era safeguard the treasure troves of mighty sorcerers and ruthless merchant princes. Rumours abound the Nightstalls that an ancient serpentfolk manuscript holds the secrets to spawning and enthralling dusk serpents. Though rare even in Katapesh, a few of these horrors have found their way across the seas.

Dusk serpents cannot reproduce naturally, but they can survive for centuries provided ample nourishment, while hibernation sustains them through brief periods of scarcity. Many a slave purchased from the Fleshfairs has been offered to sate the ravenous appetite these serpents have for warm-blooded humanoids and their vitality. The serpents thrive in chambers cast in light and shadow from which they surge at an intruder. Their 15-foot-long trunks ooze black, viscous blood when wounded, and upon death their flesh collapses away leaving nothing but skeletal remains behind.

Goblinworks Lead Game Designer

Hi Kalervo, I'm Lee Hammock, the lead game designer on Pathfinder Online. Before that I did lots of d20 freelance work, but I'm probably going to be leaving mechanics to the more up to date judges and concentrating on story, overall balance, and how I could see using them in a game.

I love the fiction for this one, it oozes Robert Howard. I could easily see using it in a wide variety of dungeons or heist games, plus the added wrinkle of feeding it slaves just makes the whole idea even more unsettling. The excellent presentation of the background of the dusk serpent meshes well with the creature's abilities, which are thematic, neat, and different. My only concern is having the ability to create darkness itself 1/day almost seems unnecessary. Really the gamemaster should take it's abilities into account when setting the scene as opposed to letting it create additional darkness.

The stats seem reasonable; I like all of it's special abilities. It's nice to see a monster where simple spells like continual light or just thinking to bring extra torches can be a major advantage in combat.

This is a Should Vote For to me.

Paizo Employee Developer , Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

Congrats on making it to this round! May you have the luck and talent to push all the way through to the end!

”How I Judged These Monsters”:

When I develop a monster for the Adventure Path bestiaries, I print out the monster entry, and then go through it in a quick pass, marking up the page with notes and highlighting any problems that I need to address later when I really dig into it. Much of the time I’m circling things in the stat block or flavor text and leaving a quick note. Most often, this quick note pass is performed while I’m writing out art orders for the monsters so I can make sure that the description I give to the artist is what the final monster will be. This is where I make note of any changes I plan to make (some of which I’m sure frustrate some of my freelancers from time to time).

I’m going to judge this round in a similar manner to how I’d treat a monster I ordered from a freelancer if I asked one of my freelancers to just send me something within the same parameters that you’ve been given. My review isn’t anything personal, and since tone is difficult to communicate online sometimes, imagine my comments and critiques read in a friendly and nudging way. To heighten the experience, imagine my comments on your monster written in purple ink. :)

The blue italicized first line in my review was my gut reaction from reading the name with no context whatsoever. It was a fun guessing game I was playing while reviewing the monsters, so I included that note for everyone’s enjoyment. (Spoiler Alert: I was wrong a lot.)

And now to the monster!

The name is simple, but it sounds cool. I’m expecting a shadowy snake.

Ha! In my last review I mentioned how there were only two Large creatures so far, but this one makes for the third. And it’s the first magical beast I’ve encountered so far.
You don’t have to link! I know it helps the voters, but the final prize is writing for print, not writing for a website, so you don’t have to do that.
The critter’s numbers seem to be in the right neighborhood, although its damage is kinda low (but the Str damage makes up for that, and it’s shadow thematic).
Three racial skill modifiers is a bit much, and +6 is a less than common value.
Shadow coil is not clearly written, and my gut tells me that it’s trying to do too much.
The DR in the Defensive Abilities line set off alarms for me. The umbral flesh ability is cool, but I wouldn’t have represented the ability in the statblock in that way. I’m not sure that DR is the best way to do what you’re trying to do. A miss chance makes more sense in my head.
Slithering darkness, while it sounds cool, is a lot like shadow step and a few other effects, so it would have been much stronger to just use the same language from other abilities that are already in print.
The monster is urban and set within Golarion. While it’s a cool idea, it needs some attention and some fine tuning. This monster would take some time to develop for print.

I don’t recommend dusk serpent for advancement.

Webstore Gninja Minion , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8

Hi Kalervo! I'll be one of the judges for this round, and I'll be looking at a couple of key points for your creature: flavor, GM usability, and how well it fits into the world of Golarion. For some background, I helped found the Wayfinder fanzine before I started working for Paizo, and these are all points that I took into consideration when selecting articles for the magazine. In addition, I oversee every third-party Pathfinder Roleplaying Game product that makes its way onto Paizo.com.

A shadow creature that manages to feel unique is refreshing, and I like how they're used as guardians.

GM Usability
Oof. The shadow coil ability seems really overpowered, and with its defensive abilities...eesh. The shifting DR has a potential to be a pain to adjudicate, and you would have to be constantly aware of changing light levels depending on if characters were carrying light sources. Bleh. Some of its abilities feel like "reinventing the wheel," as it were, and as Daigle pointed out, would have been better to use that language instead of creating another variation on the same ability.

Nice ties to Katapesh--fits particularly well with that country's focus on mercantile trade and having somebody to guard their goods.

Final Thoughts
Thematic, but potential problems and execution at the table. I do not recommend this monster for advancement.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Mark D Griffin

I don't understand where the serpent is during the round after it uses Shadow Coil. It can be attacked, and my gut tells me I'd have to stab the shadow of the person being affected. However adjudicating what square (or squares for that matter) contain said shadow seems like a pain. Perhaps that's what Adam meant when he said it wasn't written clearly. You are great at naming things though, both the monster and it's abilities all have really sweet and evocative names

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 8 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8 aka John Benbo

I can totally see Conan battling one of these guys. Great swords and wizardry vibe. I think the ability drain and stun effect is a bit tough for a CR 4 monster. Feels to me like it wants to a higher CR monster. However, despite the judges reservations, I like your style so this a definite contender for a vote from me.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka Darkjoy

I like it!

Adam has some solid points regarding your monster, but you still did a whole lot of things right.

Very good template use (template fu will be proud)

Regarding hyperlinking => are your reading this Nickolas Floyd ;>

The presentation of shadow coil is imperfect, but I like how it works visually.

I have to agree with adam that variable immunities is wrong bad

Slithering Darkness is ok for me.

Second review, I like this monster more than the previous one I reviewed so you currently rank #1

Good luck and go Europe!

I don't feel that creature should be Large - its ability to enter the shadow of another creature resonates for me more with Small or even Tiny magical serpent.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka theheadkase

Name is simple and cool which works more often than not!

A great idea, a serpent that attacks the shadow of a creature and causes damage that way.

But you do take it too far. Cool and mojo is not synonymous with TPK machine. It's a fine line and I'm fairly certain you made the choices consciously, but it's a gamble that didn't pay off here.

I can't vote for this unless I have a radical change in the amount of stuff on my short list.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 4 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka DankeSean

Nice and flavorful entry; I could definitely see these making for a fun encounter.
I don't think that Shadow Coil is quite as overpowered as it might seem; the fact that a given PC is only able to be affected by it once (although that should be a 'once per day', rather than 'once per combat', I'd say, just to help clarify the issue) and the fact that these are solitary means a party won't be getting strength spammed, barring a GM who specifically designs an encounter to do so. That said, multiple points of Strength drain is pretty nasty at this CR even as a once per PC thing; I'd say it should at least be knocked down to strength damage. I did, however, have immediate issues with figuring where the PCs shadow exactly is supposed to be; this makes it one of those abilities that the GM has to spend a few extra seconds adjudicating the use of. Also, given that it's targeting shadows, some clarification on required lighting conditions would be a good thing here too; I assume it wouldn't work in darkness.
Flaws aside, this stands out to me a a strong enough entry to be likely contender for my vote.

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

Well I really like this entry, even though I must note it is conceptually not far from your Murktouch cloak. The name is a little simple, but sometimes simple is elegant, and definitely in this slithering, sinuous case!

I agree with others comments re: Robert Howard/Conan feel. Definitely a nice descriptive text to start, and I really like the theme of the creature. Sure, shadow biting is a well worn trope, but making the mechanics work is always going to be difficult. Props to you for the attempt.

Thankfully I think you approached this very nicely, and though I agree it is a rough first pass, and the development might be lengthy, the reward is definitely worth it.

I really like the background text provided regarding nourishment too!

Nice work!

Star Voter Season 7

First of all, congratulations on making it past the first round.

I read through this entry twice, not because the rules didn't make sense, but because I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything. My first reaction is simple: I wouldn't want one of my PCs to encounter this, but I am dying to throw this at a party as a GM.

I love the serpent's ability to grapple a shadow; that will definitely produce several "What the -?" reactions at my table. I agree with other posts that this may be a rough draft for an entry, but so far you've managed to make me wonder how I'd use this creature, and if I want to put it into one of my games, then it gets my vote.

I didn't have a lot of time for item reviewing so I'm doing monsters instead. First I'll look at how the monster's basic rundown fits the monster creation table, then general theme and abilities.

= Monster meets the target statistics for its CR
+ Monster exceeds the target stats for its CR
++ Monster greatly exceeds target stats for its CR
- Monster's stats do not meet target stats for its CR
-- Monster's stats are greatly below target stats for its CR

hp: -
AC: =
High Atk +
High Dmg -
Primary Ability DC: =
Secondary Ability DC: n/a
Good save: -/=
Poor save: +

Relatively balanced overall. Strength damage more than makes up for lack of hp damage on its bite attack. Hp are only slightly on the low side, and since the DR can be removed with tactical placement of light sources, this isn't so bad.

Shadow Coil: A few concerns with this one. Being flat-footed never denies you a Reflex save, so far as I can recall. It's a fairly powerful ability, but I can't call it overpowered because it's all or nothing. A successful Reflex save avoids all effects. A failed save pretty much hoses a low level character. There are some definite balance issues here.

Umbral Flesh: I like the play on the DR rules here. No problems.

Slithering Darkness: In this instance I agree that using the wording of the original ability would have improved presentation overall.

Great flavor, solid grounding in Golarion lore, and good presentation. The mechanical issues of its primary ability keep me from loving this. Still, its solid enough that I'll place it on the fence until I've gone through the rest of the entries.

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

Congratulations Kalervo,
I am trying to keep reviews simple to get through them quickly.
Creative: Yes, though a lot of things play with shadows and the shadow plane, occupying a person's shadow that causes them to suffer is also a new kind of possession. Kudos also for making a large critter within the required CR.
Fun to GM: I struggled to know what the shadow coil does. I think It might have been two abilities at one point. There will also be some arguments over whether or not a large creature can fit in a medium's shadow. Potential arguments over how much light is needed cast a shadow.
Golarion Tie: pre-existing shadow snake bound by Katapesh folks. Not super strong, but enough I can accept it.

Good luck! :)

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka GM_Solspiral

Dusk Serpent
The Good: Bold, dare I say ballsy move on going for a shadow creature after the round 1 judges flamed the shadow items last round.
The Bad: So it attacks the victim's shadow and deals strength damage but not constrict or a poison attack?
The Ugly: To be blunt this could be a COBRA villain. We need a bad guy quick so spin the wheel of bed guy tropes twice
Overall: 5/10 - middling for me. It is not particularly good or bad, might make it in on the bubble depends on other entries.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6 aka Transylvanian Tadpole

Love this Kalervo, my vote is yours!

Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2013 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Steven T. Helt

The best part of this creature is it's imagery, but it struggles mechanically. The new abilities aren't fully developed and the prose is shaky and unclear.

I think the monster is a lot cooler inside your head, and the challenge in future rounds/competitions is to translate that into a stat block better. Good luck!

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 think this is a fine monster for guarding ancient tombs and shadow magic locations....but it doesn't feel urban to me at all. Sure, you say it's located under Katapesh, but none of the monsters abilities or behaviors have anything to do with a city.

I also agree that a) you're trying to force too much into a CR4 monster, and b) the shadow coil ability is hard to follow. In addition, I don't see why a flat footed creature wouldn't get a saving throw against it. If the serpent gets a surprise round, it can try using this ability potentially twice, if it wins initiative, just like rogues can try sneak attacking flat footed foes twice under those circumstances. I can see possibly making a non-flat footed foe require the serpent to make a touch attack to hit their shadow, which a flat footed creature wouldn't, or something along those lines, but think having a saving throw for all uses of it is just fine.

My other issue with this (and almost all shadow powered monsters) is that it's very hard to adjudicate lighting and shadows in a combat, which tends to have a lot of the abilities that require a certain lighting condition be hard to use.

If the round was to create a dungeon denizen monster, rather than an urban one, I'd have voted for this, but I just don't feel the urbaness of this at all.

Liberty's Edge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2012 , Star Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 9

I really like the dusk serpent's imagery, and the abilities fit the theme you established. While the rules seem a bit wonky, and might be a bit of a headache for a GM to adjudicate, I like the idea that the dusk serpent has conditional defensive abilities.

The urban and Golarion ties are slim, but get the job done. I see this monster being a better fit in places other than cities (forgotten tombs with sputtering magical torches, for example).

Overall, this monster has more to recommend it than not, and I wish you luck in the voting.

Shadow Lodge Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 9

Dusk Serpent

Category: Dungeon monster with Urban slapped on it

Flavor Factor: Umbral snake guardians of Katapesh vaults. I'm not sure vaults are to be considered urban rather than dungeon. Nonetheless this is the typical tomb guardian kind of monster. Snakes are always popular, shadow too. I don't know why but I feel shadow snake tomb guardian is something I have already seen many times. Certainly it didn't trigger any “wow, I didn't expect that”.

Cool factor: Snakes are cool. Shadows are cool. Shadow snakes must be cool too. Shadow coil is a nice ability. I like the fact that it uses the lights and shadows as an alternative battlefield.

Balance Factor: Stun, Strenght Damage, Healing abilities, Immunity from non magic weapons, DR and the equivalent of a short ranged quickened dimensional door. Even if some of this powers are situational that's really too much.

Clarity Factor: Shadow Coil is a little messy. Is the ability duration of one turn and leaves the victim stunned for 1d2 turns? Does it remains as long as the victim is stunned? (and if so, does the victim takes 1d4 strenght damage once or once per turn?) Also, “rest of the combat” is not the clearest of time spans. As Adam pointed out, using part of shadow step description for Slithering darkness would have improved the consistency with Pathfinder rules.

Usability Factor: This monster powers are highly dependent of light and shadow. That makes it prone to a lot of unclear situation and a lot of work for the master. While I suppose a GM may prepare the area of the encounter laying down the shadows cast by torches on the wall and natural light he cannot prepare for character carried torches and magical lights that would completely change the field of battle. In the case of shadow coil I can already see the endless debate on where exactly the shadow of a character holding a torch falls.

Vote: I don't feel this kind of guardians are to be considered into Urban Environment rather than Dungeon. It has some cool features but I feel you just got carried away by your concept and designed a monster that would prove to be overly powerful and confusing to run. I did not vote for this entry. Sorry.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

Thank you to everyone who commented on my monster, and to those who liked it enough to vote for it, or even enough to consider voting for it.

I was a bit too focused on the flavor this time around, not to mention I took too much time to decide between my two monsters. So the polish-axe didn’t whack quite enough at the abilities, especially shadow coil. The elements fit the idea I had but there’s just too much stuff in it at the moment, and some other aspects should have been clarified.

There seems to be some confusion about the description of this monster. It has been a valuable learning experience seeing how many readers can understand the same text differently. I’ll make sure in the future to underline certain aspects to avoid misunderstandings.

Dusk serpents don’t really live on their own in Katapesh. The idea is that they are created by using ancient serpentfolk methods. Even though they can live for centuries, the serpentfolk age was too long ago for the same serpents to have survived for that long. I placed them in Katapesh because of the Nightstalls, perfect place for ancient secrets to resurface, and the Fleshfairs that provides food for the serpents’ ravenous appetite. Only an urban location has the required population to sustain their diet, and Katapesh is a place where you can get away with it without the society at large coming after you with pitchforks. I also felt that Katapesh had that Robert E. Howard feel to it, since his stories were an inspiration as some of you noted.

I had this image of a thief climbing into an tower and entering its treasure chamber. He grins when he sees the gold gleaming in torchlight but suddenly a serpentine shape surges towards him from the dark and plunges into his shadow. He's frozen in place as the serpent rises out of the shadow.

I hope that clears up some points. I’ll make a revised version in the near future but now I need to concentrate on the encounter round in case I make it.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8

Oh, and my other monster would have been something completely different. Tomorrow I'll find out whether I should gone with that instead. :)

In any case, I'll keep tinkering with it and maybe publish it at some point.

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