Round 3: Create a Bestiary entry

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16

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A pale figure weeps into its long, clawed hands, rivulets of blood pouring from its eyes. The haunting cries of the dead echo around it.
Matianak CR 8
XP 4,800
NE Medium undead
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +22
Aura divine failure (60 ft.)

----- Defense -----
AC 20, touch 14, flat-footed 16 (+3 Dex, +1 dodge, +6 natural)
hp 102 (12d8+48)
Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +11
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +4; DR 10/good; Immune undead traits; SR 19

----- Offense -----
Speed 30 ft.
Melee 2 claws +11 (1d4+2 plus energy drain)
Special Attacks channel negative energy (4d6, DC 20, 7/day), energy drain (1 level, DC 20), unliving empathy
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 12th; concentration +16)
3/day—desecrate, quickened inflict moderate wounds (DC 16), magic circle against good

Str 14, Dex 16, Con —, Int 10, Wis 17, Cha 19
Base Atk +9; CMB +11; CMD 24
Feats Alertness, Channel Smite, Command Undead, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Quicken Spell-Like Ability (inflict moderate wounds)
Skills Heal +15, Perception +22, Sense Motive +22, Stealth +18
Languages Common

----- Ecology -----
Environment any urban
Organization solitary, pair, or ward (3–6)
Treasure standard

----- Special Abilities -----
Channel Energy (Su) As a standard action, a matianak can channel negative energy in a 30-foot burst as an 8th-level evil cleric. This ability requires no divine focus. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Divine Failure (Su) A matianak is surrounded by restless souls that interfere with positive energy. Any creature attempting to channel positive energy or cast a spell with the healing descriptor within 60 feet of a matianak must make a DC 20 caster level check or treat all damage dice as natural 1s. Failing by 5 or more results in no healing, and living targets instead take 1d6 bleed damage. Abilities that help overcome spell resistance also apply to this check.
Unliving Empathy (Su) Curse—touch; save Will DC 20; effect creature gains negative energy affinity within the matianak’s divine failure aura. The creature permanently loses any benefit from positive channeled energy or spells with the healing descriptor. The save DC is Charisma-based.

When a person dies because healers failed to provide adequate care, her rage and despair may cause her to rise as a matianak. This forlorn spirit lashes out against those who allowed it to perish, nurturing other undead in a twisted effort to rationalize its senseless death. Its perpetual mourning attracts other innocent souls lost to neglect, still hungering for salvation and eager to feed on any healing energy within their reach. The wailing dead herald a matianak’s presence, and their endless crying pushes the tortured creature deeper and deeper into madness.

Matianaks predominantly spawn in Rahadoum, where they target political leaders who refuse to allow divine healers to treat sick citizens. Matianaks also arise in areas with abusive or dispassionate clergy, including Cheliax, Nidal, and Razmiran. The undead lords of Geb and Ustalav covet matianaks for their mastery of negative energy, and often force the hapless creatures into service as court healers.

Despite its anger, a matianak longs to save others from its fate. If a matianak finds someone suffering from conditions similar to those that caused its own death, it fiercely attempts to help, using its unliving empathy to heal the victim with negative energy. This “patient” typically resists its advances, further fueling the matianak’s fury as it tries to force aid upon the terrified invalid. Willingly accepting a matianak’s care may give it closure, releasing it from undeath.

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Nick! Welcome back for Round 3! This is the round where we temporarily set aside your earlier tests--i.e., a magic item "calling card" to showcase your potential, and a map to literally draw in the viewer so they connect with your vision for an inspired gaming experience at the table. Instead, this go-around, we're testing your skill with monster design--one of the most important skills a freelancer can have--and, it'll be measured from the ground up rather than relying on class levels or special templates to make it stand out. This is absolutely vital to a great designer, because new monsters are always needed, and always in demand. Even if you don't necessarily go on to win the entire RPG Superstar competition, you can still make a significant enough impression in this round to serve you well in securing future freelancing opportunities, whether with Paizo or Pathfinder-compatible third-party publishers.

So, with that in mind, I'm going into these monster evaluations looking for a handful of insights into what your design choices and overall execution tell me about you. Aside from just a useful, compelling monster, I want to see how creative you are in selecting a particular concept and bringing it to life with your words. I also want to see how you match that with an accurate stat-block, and I want to ascertain how well you understand the mechanics which distinguish one monster creation from another, both as a combination for incorporating existing rules into your design, as well as being innovative enough to invent all-new material which others may eventually reference for their future designs, as well. Essentially, it's one thing to create a competent monster for the game table, but it's quite another to transcend that, and create something truly iconic and ground-breaking. You do the latter and you'll definitely be on your way to the next round.

First up, let's evaluate your monster's name: the Matianak. You've gone for a cryptid from Malaysian and Indonesian mythology, which is a very wise thing if you've kept your eyes on what Paizo likes to use in their various bestiaries. Putting a new spin on a legendary creature can serve you well.

Next, let's examine your creativity in describing and explaining what your monster is all about. "A pale figure weeps into its long, clawed hands, rivulets of blood pouring from its eyes. The haunting cries of the dead echo around it." You kept this description appropriately short and in tune with how read-aloud text is generally represented for Pathfinder monsters. It does great justice to the creepy way matianaks have been described in folklore. However, they also traditionally take the form of a young woman to draw in unsuspecting victims, and I think you could have punched this up a bit if you'd called it out as a particularly feminine figure. When I look deeper into your description paragraphs following the stat-block, I also see some significant departures from the matianak as it's been described in mythology, but, considering the traditional matianak is the vampiric ghost of a woman that died while pregnant, who now uses her claws to rip open a victim's stomach and devour its internal organs. So, that kind of imagery involving pregnancies, children, etc. is probably a good thing to avoid. But the rest of the inspiration remains intact with the wailing dead and perpetual mourning heralding its presence, and the near-mothering instinct to try and "save" others from its fate is an interesting re-interpretation.

So, what about the mechanics? I didn't try to number-crunch everything, but a couple of things gave me pause. As a CR 8 monster, your matianak has an adequate AC, hit points, and saving throws, but the claw attacks (at +11 and only 1d4+2 damage) seems kind of secondary compared to how the creatures are normally portrayed as a physical threat. That makes its damage output kind of weak at only 9 points on average (when even 26 is regarded as the minimum for a CR 8 creature). So, presumably, the energy drain threat, quickened inflict moderate wounds, and Channel Smite feat are meant to punch up the physical attacks a bit more, but still have the potential to fall a little short. Instead, you've really pinned your monster design on the ability to channel negative energy as an 8th level cleric in a wide area. The DC is a bit high (at 20 vs. 18 for the norm as a primary ability), and it's getting to inflict that on everyone within range, so it's got more of a kick than might be apparent on the surface, and, as a result, the average damage output for your matianak might still challenge what a CR 8 creature is meant to have. You've also given it a lot of staying power with DR 10/good, channel resistance +4, and SR 19. In combination, these things are probably raising its threat level a bit further than necessary. It's really a balancing act between a high defense, potentially low one-on-one damage output, and a really devastating area effect attack unless the PCs can shield themselves against negative energy. Overall, the real beauty of your design is the divine failure aura, preventing anyone close to the matianak from benefiting from channeled positive energy to restore them. This, along with the unliving empathy curse bestowing negative energy affinity, create a more compelling niche that dovetails nicely with how you're exploring the matianak's role as a new kind of undead creature. So, while I have some reservations about the execution, there's innovation here, too. If I had any recommendation, I'd say pull back on the Charisma score a little to reduce its hit points and special ability DCs to put it back in line with a CR 8 threat. Its other defenses should more than compensate for that adjustment and still keep it in line with other CR 8 creatures.

Next up, the presentation. Everything looked pretty tight here. You got the bolding, italicizing, alphabetical ordering, and placement of everything right. You even went the extra mile with the proper mini-stat-block for a curse.

Bottom Line: This was a bold reach to bring a cryptid to life. Some innovative abilities got showcased. The professional polish is there. The desciptive text reads well. And, while there are some small mechanical choices that might warrant a closer look, this turnover shouldn't require heavy-handed changes during development. Therefore, I'm happy to say I DO RECOMMEND this designer advance to the next round. I'd like to what more you can bring to the table.

Paizo Employee Developer

Congratulations for making it to Round 3! Your item worked for enough people to make Top and you mapping skills got you through Round 2, and now folks get to see your monster. Like previous years that I’ve judged this round, I’m approaching judging the same way I would do a pre-development pass on a turnover one of my freelancers sent me. I start at the descriptive text at the top and then work my way through the statblock looking for errors or weak spots that need to be addressed in development. Then I read the flavor text and see how it is all integrated. My final judgment is not only based on errors or lack thereof. Some of my comments are just personal preference, so please don’t take anything personally. We just have different tastes.

Now on to your monster!

• While your descriptive text is certainly evocative, we try to not to dictate action—unless that’s what the creature is doing all the time (which would be a lot of blood). ;)

• AC and hit point numbers are on the mark, but the attack is a bit low. This might be fine if outright assault isn’t this monster’s gig. Energy drain certainly makes up for low damage output, and the DCs for that ability and its channel is a little over the mark, which helps.

• Divine failure is a neat ability, and I especially like that its doesn’t completely shut down a caster’s ability, but just seriously weakens it. Some of the language in the ability could be shored up to match our styles, though.

• I like fun curses, and damn is unloving empathy rough! At least by the time PCs would likely be facing one of these, they’d have decent access to remove curse. Also, nearly every special ability that appears in the special ability lines of the statblock need to be represented above. In this case, it needs to be included in an additional melee line and/or in special attacks. Alternately, I might just make this a plain old special ability instead of putting it in the affliction format.

• The monster is a little weird, but I think I like it. The way these things rise is pretty specific, so I wouldn’t imagine very many of them would be stalking around. I like that it flips the positive negative thing around and explores that difference. You gave it most of the toys to be able to do this.

• I don’t fully get how its “perpetual mourning attracts other innocent souls...”. You provide a lot of audible aspects to the flavor of this creature, but none of the abilities are sonic-based. Divine failure mentions the monster being surrounded by “restless souls,” and a reader can assume that they are wailing, but the ability can affect anything. The flavor text even mentions that the sounds drive folks “deeper and deeper into madness,” but the creature can’t mechanically do any of that.

• If I were developing this today, I’d completely cut the Rahadoum reference. I get that the monsters have a better chance of spawning there, but it’s weird that these things would have an agenda of political assassination. The Geb bit is a neat angle, and frankly you spend more words talking about them there than you did where they predominately spawn. And with Command Undead, at least these monsters would have a greater chance to defend themselves against the undead in Geb.

• I like the final bit about how they try to help dying people by “benefitting” them with the curse.

• After my google check for the name, I see that this is based on a creature from Malay folklore. There are some great monsters from that region. I think you were very, very wise to not go with the traditional take on this monster and instead use some of the flavor to go your own route.

This was a good twist on a folklore monster. Even with its problems, I weakly do recommend this designer advance to the next round.

Paizo Employee Editor

Welcome to the top 16! Great job getting this far! Now let’s take a look at your monster.

First off, I did a brief bit of research on the word “matianak,” because it seemed like something out of mythology. While it is a kind of vampire from Malay and Indonesian myths, the word appears to come from the words for “death” and “children.” I think a little bit of that could have be filtered into the description. Nice job, though, fitting the monster into Golarion!

Mechanically, there is a lot going on with this monster. Maybe a bit too much. The unliving empathy attack should have a delivery system of some kind; while it is described as being transmitted through touch, that isn’t evident in the melee line. I probably would drop this special attack altogether, as it feels like there would be some strange overlap with it and the divine failure aura. And speaking of that aura, it is a bit weird to refer to dice rolled for healing as damage dice. I get what you meant by it, but I think you can just delete the word damage. I like the idea behind it, though. However, I don’t know how I feel about the degree of failure on the aura. It’s a bit extreme to go from a minimum amount of healing to no healing and bleed damage.

In the end, I’m on the fence about this entry. It may be trying to do too many things at once.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

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Adam Daigle wrote:

• I like fun curses, and damn is unloving empathy rough! At least by the time PCs would likely be facing one of these, they’d have decent access to remove curse. Also, nearly every special ability that appears in the special ability lines of the statblock need to be represented above. In this case, it needs to be included in an additional melee line and/or in special attacks.

Unliving empathy is in the special attacks line.

Paizo Employee Developer

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Jacob W. Michaels wrote:
Adam Daigle wrote:

• I like fun curses, and damn is unloving empathy rough! At least by the time PCs would likely be facing one of these, they’d have decent access to remove curse. Also, nearly every special ability that appears in the special ability lines of the statblock need to be represented above. In this case, it needs to be included in an additional melee line and/or in special attacks.
Unliving empathy is in the special attacks line.

Doh! Right!

Thanks for pointing that out Jacob. Everyone, disregard that part of my statement. :)

One of my big fears of judging this contest—and this round—is that I'm gonna slip up and make mistakes. I'm fine with me making a mistake, but I don't like when my mistakes affect other people.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16

I think this entry is awesome, but I'll refrain from further comment until after voting closes. Good luck! =D

Silver Crusade RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32

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Neil Spicer wrote:
However, they also traditionally take the form of a young woman to draw in unsuspecting victims, and I think you could have punched this up a bit if you'd called it out as a particularly feminine figure.

Neil, while I think you make many good points regarding the way this creature draws on folklore, I think this specific advice is a particularly tired cliche to avoid. As you note, it is probably wise to shy away from the folkloric inspiration that deals with violence toward pregnant people, and as such this creature has a very different origin that is unrelated to gender. The only links to femininity are the original folk monster's origin (which is avoided here) and the use of the pronoun "her" in the first sentence of the creature's description, which is quickly dropped for "it" when describing the actual undead being rather than the person it used to be. There's nothing particularly tricky about this monster, and the feminine-as-deceptive trope is overdone and relies on harmful stereotypes.

With that out of the way, on to the actual monster. :)

I really dig the way these undead are created, and the Divine Failure and Unliving Empathy abilities carry out that theme of revenge against negligence well. There are some things that confuse me, though. Unliving Empathy is a really neat and thematic curse, but as the judges pointed out, a lot of the Matianak's damage comes from negative energy, and it seems weird that an ability that could deny healing succor to its enemies would also allow it to heal those target's rather easily... I was also a little thrown by the fact that this evil undead wants to heal mortals. It makes sense that it could be a tragic quirk for a creature that wants to help those like its (former) self, but even so I feel like there's a struggle between the evil alignment (which is consistent with Pathfinder's almost exclusively evil undead) and the Matianak's described behavior, which reads as fairly neutral. Overall, though, this is a solid monster with a tight theme and excellent writing. Well done!

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Stephen Stack wrote:
Neil, while I think you make many good points regarding the way this creature draws on folklore, I think this specific advice is a particularly tired cliche to avoid.

We can agree to disagree then. While it may be a common trope, it's common for a reason across many different mythologies and the folklore of multiple different cultures. The feminine-as-deceptive trope doesn't simply rely on harmful stereotypes. Feminine villains are just as valid as masculine ones. And, if you're going to reach for a cryptid, my advice is to stay as true to its origin as you possibly can, thereby giving it life and credence in the game. If you want to define a trope-busting monster and have a masculine-as-deceptive theme, start with something uniquely new and blaze your own trail. I'd give high marks for that just as much as breathing life into something straight out of folklore legend.

But that's just my two cents,

I am glad the mourning, feminine ghost trope wasn't overdone in this entry. It stands up just fine as a general type of undead, which can be employed to fit a variety of scenarios, while still being thematic.

The wordage for unliving empathy is more tangled than the power cords under my desk. Apart from that, I don't see anything that needs a large amount of revision.

I think rather than spend word count making vague connections to Golarion geography, I'd prefer to have seen more about its relationship to other undead, many of whom would surely covet its peculiar kind of love.

Neil Spicer wrote:
Feminine villains are just as valid as masculine ones.

I don't follow how you can say this in defense of this concept without a masculine form. By allowing for a masculine matianak, it does exactly what you say: it creates equally valid feminine and masculine villains. (Paizo also trends toward changing real-world lore in favor of enabling more diverse options; succubi taking male forms on Golarion comes to mind as an example. If anything, this shows Nick pays attention to when and why Paizo deviates from a creature's inspirations.)


This is my top entry for the round. It's got all the hallmarks of a Paizo creature, from its roots in real-world lore to clever, subversive tactical abilities that build on existing mechanics. There's great flavor and some solid lore, if a bit too much. Most of the feedback I have is already up-thread: don't assume action in the description, reconsider the alignment or revise its actions to match, tighten its Golarion range, and watch the potential implications of flavor on mechanics.

The monster round is always my favorite, so I'm going to give some feedback on all the entries. Basic run-through using the monster creation rules to see if the numbers line up, then general thoughts and critique. I'm running down the list as I find them, so this is the third monster entry I've seen.

Basic Stats [+: high for CR; =: within CR range; -: low for CR]
hp =
AC =
Atk =
Dmg -
DC +
Saves =

Everything stat-wise seems right on target, except for damage, which is really low for a CR 8 monster, and its ability DCs, which are high. From the look of it, you're trying to balance the low damage output with its abilities, which can really crank out the pain. However, I'm concerned that my party may be four castings of death ward away from mopping the floor with this monster.

I did a quick search for the name and found that it is a mythological creature, and you gave it your own spin. I'm not going to get into the argument about whether or not it was or wasn't a good idea for you to steer clear of the mythological basis of the monster. Instead I'm focusing on what you did with it. I think the description evokes a really creepy feel.

The abilities are a solid mix, and with the channel resistance, DR, and SR this thing has some decent defense. As for its special abilities, divine failure and unliving empathy abilities are just inspired. I'm really impressed. It's a one-two combo with the potential to throw PCs a nasty curve ball.

The Golarion connection and background are decent. I especially like the Geb and Ustalav twist. The idea that this undead creature actually wants to help its victims is an interesting change from the standard "hates all living things" trope for undead.

All in all, I like the matianak. However, the potential for its major damage output to be effectively neutered concerns me. This puts it in the middle of the pack right now (which is not a terrible place to be, since I've only seen three entries). We'll see where the creature stands once I've seen the other dozen entries. Good job, and good luck to you.

RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut, Contributor

Garrett Guillotte wrote:
I don't follow how you can say this in defense of this concept without a masculine form.

Because there are also other creatures who can be villains in the game which are decidedly always masculine. My point is that it's okay for a particular monster to always be female (like a dryad, for instance). And, it's okay for a particular monster or villain to be uniquely masculine, as well.

Garrett Guillotte wrote:
By allowing for a masculine matianak, it does exactly what you say: it creates equally valid feminine and masculine villains.

That's not what I'm saying. You're taking that to mean that each and every creature has to have a valid masculine and feminine form. I'm not saying that. I'm saying such can exist in two, separate, single-gender creatures. There's no shortage of opportunities to demonstrate that across the breadth of all the various bestiaries both as single-gender monsters and dual gender monsters.

Garrett Guillotte wrote:
(Paizo also trends toward changing real-world lore in favor of enabling more diverse options; succubi taking male forms on Golarion comes to mind as an example.

I'll be a dissenter on that choice. For me, a succubus is female, and an incubus is male. Usually. Their change shape ability as alter self can let them swap genders if they wish, of course.

Garrett Guillotte wrote:
This is my top entry for the round. It's got all the hallmarks of a Paizo creature, from its roots in real-world lore to clever, subversive tactical abilities that build on existing mechanics.

And I recommended it, as well. ;)

I would suggest not to make this into a discussion of sexism in folklore and gamedesign. There is a place for that important topic - propably in a thread specifically created for this purpose - but it does the contestant a disservice to do it here.

That being said, I really like the approach Nick had to this myth, shying away from the more problematic parts. In my eyes, copying folklore is a valid approach, but creating new content that is vaguely inspired by it should be valued highly as well!
The Matianak makes for a very interesting encounter. I can even see some nice roleplaying here, as the creature is intelligent, speaks common and at its core is "benevoloent". It just disagrees with most mortals about how that word shall be defined.

You could drop this into a group with other undead and/or Dhampirs and some fun things will happen :)
I can even imagine mortals who willingly succumb to the curse just to get healing that is otherwise unavailable (in Rahadoum?), which introduces some difficult moral choices when it comes to destroying the local "healer".

This is my favorite entry in this round for many reasons!

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32

How I’m rating monsters:
Creativity: does this seem innovative and original or does this seem contrived? How is the description?
Pulled from folk lore which is not a ding because you played this differently mechanically. Unfortunately claws and a channel burst are not exactly rewriting my perceptions of the game this is a harsh score but reflective of my opinion so all your creative juices hang on some positive energy debuffs. "Cursing" someone into gaining benefit from negative energy is the only thing that saves this from mediocrity 8/10
Marketability: are the choices you made smart and marketable to a voting public? Does the name pop?
Playing off the mythology actually hurt you a bunch in my eyes as this diverges enough to warrant a different name. Pair that with basically being mechanically an undead cleric and I don't think you win much in the way of points with the crowd 5/10
Trade craft: did you format correctly and scale correct to Paizo standards?
You made a perfectly formatted correctly balanced monster 8/10
Encounter worthy: as a GM is this easy to use and reuse?
Decent boss of a mini mob of undead but doesn’t exactly wow me and beg for reuse. It’s sole innovation is shutting down channel attacks and healing, except at 8th level I have tons of unused potions and wands of healing so it doesn’t shut much down at all… 5/10
7 out of 10: loses 2 points further just from the volume of undead beasties that did it better for a final score of 5/10. Sorry, I simply think you've been out competed.
Good luck.

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Neil Spicer wrote:

I'll be a dissenter on that choice. For me, a succubus is female, and an incubus is male. Usually. Their change shape ability as alter self can let them swap genders if they wish, of course.

Interestingly, the folklore goes the other direction in this case. Medieval folklorists suggested that succubi and incubi changed their forms and genders in order to create unnatural children, cambions. As far as the succubus goes specifically, you are the one suggesting changing the most dominant depiction of the creature in legend. So it just goes to show that fidelity to the source material is not always the first concern of a designer.

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Sertaki wrote:
I would suggest not to make this into a discussion of sexism in folklore and gamedesign. There is a place for that important topic - propably in a thread specifically created for this purpose - but it does the contestant a disservice to do it here.

I agree that the judge shouldn't have brought up the creature's lack of inherent cultural sexism as a shortcoming in the contestant's design. :D

Liberty's Edge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I salute the fortitude demonstrated by the contestant in not reacting to the heavy derail of this thread by so many posters.

I hope we can now go back to evaluating the monster on its own merits.

This monster occupies a creative and interesting niche, and it's a monster I'd like to spring on players, as it would be a bit of a surprise. It reads well, too.

I admit I don't know much Golarion lore, so I have nothing to offer regarding its connection to Rahadoum, etc.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

I gave Nick some feedback during development, so my comments will be a bit limited on this one...

Name's a real-world monster. It's got a nice sound to it, IMO, which isn't always true of real-world monsters, though.

Nice, creepy, evocative description.

I like the write-up, which I think gives me more than enough to use it as a GM. It's well tied in to Golarion and has several options for how it could be used as a villain. I think its attempt to help others is a great twist; one with a well-tailored cause of death showing up to help a PC would be great as all the other PCs try to stop it. I think it's interesting the slightly parallel design between this and the tatterghoul, both of which are strong in very different ways.

The collective noun's a good one again, IMO, creating images to me of a hospital ward.

I like the divine failure power -- messing with healing really messes with players (in a fun way, IMO).

Nicely done, Nick.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32

In the interest of sharpening my skills I'll finally be chiming in on entries! I do a stream-of-consciousness style of review (just like my other critiques) and I will do my best not to read other folks' comments so as to not be influenced one way or the other. I believe creatures serve more than just a combat capacity, and removing choices from players (such as forcing them only into combat with a specific creature) is not Superstar design. Plus, who doesn't like outwitting/outsmarting/etc. a creature?


Name is interesting. Not sure what to make of it off the top of my head. I'm interested's got a spark to it as a word.

Great intro.

Another undead! Not a bad thing. There's a reason they are so used.

Senses and such look good.

And boom, a positive channeling disrupting an aura. I like it and it works.

Defense looks good.

Offense looks good and I'm glad it only gets the 2 claws since it's supposed to be weeping blood into them. I would have liked to see its claws have a different effect than energy drain to represent the blood it weeps being some sort of toxic or damaging thing.

Unliving empathy is oddly worded. The second sentence in mention the target permanently (which is harsh) loses benefits from positive energy and healing spells. Is that only within the aura? The first sentence suggests it but the way the second sentence is worded, once the matianak dies or leaves and has afflicted someone with this curse then they are always losing the benefits. Is there really no time limit on the effect? It has to be a remove curse thing to fix it otherwise it is truly permanent? I dunno if you could address it in 20 words but you had a little bit of count to clear this up somewhat.

Whoa and it gets channel negative with no divine focus. This thing is starting to feel like an undead cleric with no class levels. Now my question is...what happens if it DOES get class levels as an evil cleric? Does it channel as 8th + cleric level? Just cleric level? Just 8th until cleric level surpasses?

Good SLAs and glad to see some metamagic...even though this feels more of a divine caster than not, but metamagic doesn't specify you can't be divine so it works.

Stats look good and good feat choice.

Skills are interesting. I'm not 100% sure of why Heal. Ah, looking ahead in the description its from failed healers so it makes thematic sense.

Good ecology and I actually am fine with the treasure line in this. I could potentially see special treasure but this creature doesn't scream special treasure like many others.

Description is good and has flavor.

Overall you did a great job in creating a sympathetic undead creature that has multiple uses and can be used in multiple types of encounters. Well done. You've got a few questions lingering but I quite like this and it will most likely get my 3rd vote.

Dark Archive RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32, 2011 Top 16

Name It’s nothing I know, but I can pronounce it. Apparently it’s a cryptid, so that’s fine.
Gimmick It’s an undead creature that makes it harder to use divine powers around it. That’s pretty neat.
Description The description is pretty awesome, and makes sense for a creature that hangs back and channels energy.
Usefulness It’s a fairly generic looking undead creature with neat powers, so I can probably slot it into most campaigns. PCs would likely remember (and hate) this monster.
New abilities Aura of divine failure is really cool. Unliving empathy plays well into it.
The rest I have reservations about the quickened inflict spells. It gives the creature a lot more survivability (since it can heal itself as a swift action). Otherwise the abilities are good for the CR. Channel Smite and Command Undead are great choices that show the depth of this creature. All in all, I really like this monster.

Dark Archive

There were three entries that I immediately knew were going to get my vote, and this was one of them. I love the way you've brought all this together, and I like that this is an empathic undead (even if it's only towards other undead!). This is not a monster or encounter PCs would easily forget, and I could even see the more kind-hearted ones trying to help this creature "move on" to a better place!
Good luck, and I look forward to seeing what you bring us next round!

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I am going to be rather direct in my feedback.


Great idea overall and awesome story, but a slightly unbalanced build with only a single truly interesting ability within an overfocused theme (Thou shall not heal).

- Name is ok. Happy to benefit from the Judges' etymological searches BTW.

- The description is appropriately chilling and hints at its main ability in an evocative way.

- DR 10/good seems extremely high for an undead of this CR.

- I like that it can Command Undead. This enriches its tactics and potential uses.

- Pet peeve : why so many monsters with Improved Initiative coming out of the blue ?

- Divine Failure is an awesome ability, though I think the difference between the two possible results is too big. It could use a bit more crunch polish.

- The Unliving Empathy curse is interesting but does not look completely thought through, as it seems to have no limits on its duration which gives it a powerful in-combat effect AND a devastating out-of-combat impact. Also, when combined with the SLAs and Divine Failure, I feel that it lays the "no positive healing" theme a bit too thick.

- The origin story is very good, though the part on Rahadoum adds nothing IMO. The last sentence is problematic too because you hint at a way of destroying the creature without giving the appropriate crunch.

All in all, this is a tight monster with some balance issues and a narrow focus. It still packs enough novelty and atmosphere to get in my Alternate list :-)


I don't think DR 10/good is out of line for CR 8. A 7th level wizard lich has DR 15/magic and bludgeoning. A werewolf has DR 10/silver. Even if a party lacks align weapon, by this level, they can probably power through or use other tactics.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

Congrats on getting into the top 16, Nick!

What I like: I love the idea of an empathetic undead, who wants to rescue others from a similar fate. Its concept is strengthened by the fact that most people know or know of someone who died due to the failure of caretakers, whether intentional or accidental, which is always a grievously tragic situation. So many undead (so... many...) predicate themselves solely on vengeance or soul devouring or making spawn or what have you, and you've managed to take one of the most overused creature types in the game and provided it with a very underused, storied, and just cool theme.

I questioned at first the divine failure ability -- an undead that blocks channel energy could be an unbalancing win-button, but you did a really good job balancing the ability. It's interesting that a creature that may have been spawned due to lack of divine healing can prevent others from receiving the same--this perhaps clashes a little with its desire to ultimately heal others, but on the other hand also suits its tragic and contradictory nature.

What I struggle with: If the unliving empathy curse is delivered by touch, that should be listed as a touch attack, I think.

I am not sure why an undead creature (immune to mind-affecting abilities) would have magic circle against good. The spell has other benefits besides defense from influence, but it seems like another protective effect or spell would be more appropriate.

While your read-aloud descriptor is evocative, I'm not clear on why this creature would cry "rivulets of blood." Weeping fits with its theme, but I'd prefer a visual that hints more to its nature--perhaps wrapped in dirty spectral bandages or looking gaunt and undernourished or something else that indicates medical neglect.

Is it one of the three monster types I've been totally sick of since, oh, about the Bestiary 3 (dragon, fey, or undead)? Yes. And undead are the ones I'm MOST sick of. There's too many, and too many that are too alike. (No such thing! the naysayers cry. But still.) So you actually earn bonus points because this is a creature I like and would use.

Final Thoughts: This is a unique, storied monster that is tightly designed. Even with mild room for improvement, flavor and mechanics both are very strong.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
RJGrady wrote:
I don't think DR 10/good is out of line for CR 8. A 7th level wizard lich has DR 15/magic and bludgeoning. A werewolf has DR 10/silver. Even if a party lacks align weapon, by this level, they can probably power through or use other tactics.

I based my assessment on which creatures in the first Bestiary had DR 10/good. All were evil outsiders with CR between 9 and 14. I will take a look at the other Bestiaries ;-)

EDIT - Bestiary 2 is the same. Bestiary 3 has the Dybbuk which is a CR 15 undead but incorporeal. Bestiary 4 has almost nothing with this DR.

Just a quick preface - the point of commenting for me is to force myself into coherent thoughts about the design choices. That might make it feel like I'm being super-critical of a given monster, but that's not my intent.

The name itself is fine, but I do think the monster ended up too far from the real world folklore. The connection is very vague, and I think a new name would have been a better choice for the creature as written.

The description is ok. But what sort of figure? Is it humanoid? And given its stealth skill, do haunting cries echoing around it always occur?

I see it's an urban creature, whereas the folklore version seems to be more of a country road sort of thing.

I like the Special Ability names. Both functional and evocative.

Divine Failure is the core here, and it's a solid ability. Certainly will knock parties out of their routines. The wording is twisty, there's got to be a clearer way to explain it all. Given the tendency of some groups to delay healing til the last second, this ability could cause some very nasty surprises.

I like the overall concept of this monster, and I think it explores the idea well. I don't think it's much like the matianak stuff I can find online, but really that's just a simple name change away.

Nick Wasko wrote:

A pale figure weeps into its long, clawed hands, rivulets of blood pouring from its eyes. The haunting cries of the dead echo around it.

Matianak CR 8

Hi Nick,

Undead... uphill battle for me.
Creative: ++ anti-cleric undead? nice trump card. Channel energy is a nice counterpoint, & the tanking of healing and such will be nice complication for the players to overcome.
Useable: +- Yes, at least once. The abilities will be frightful to a party but they will be discovered slowly. In-combat healing has become so poo-pooed in my area that the second encounter with one of these will be to nuke it from space.
Memorable: ++ Again the first time, or depending on how 'permanent' that positive energy interference lasts.
Voting: Keep

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16

I like the inflicting negative energy affinity, but am a bit confused what the matianak's tactics are. Does it have to activate the unliving empathy as a separate touch attack, or does it trigger on a claw attack as well? If the former, I'd have preferred the attack line to say 2 claws(blah) or touch (unliving empathay). It's also unclear on if it tries to kill foes or convert them to dhampir victims who are immune to its special abilities.

As for the mechanics, there's loose language in the divine failure - does it only apply when channeling positive energy to damage undead, since it refers to damage dice? If you fail by more than 5, what happens if you are channeling to damage undead, since the ability states there's no healing but causes bleed instead?

For background, I'm surprised that Abadar wasn't mentioned, since her clergy is notoriously stingy about no healing/spellcasting if you can't pay, and I would imagine that there would be quite a few matianaks created due to that.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16

Congratulations on earning the votes to see you through to Round 3! Here’s what I’m looking for in a monster.

Does it make sense as something that could really exist? I understand why some undead would want to visit their suffering on the living, but it makes even more sense that they would either be seeking vengeance against those that brought about their suffering in the first place, or be causing harm in misguided attempts to prevent others from enduring the same fate. Not many beasts have tried to tackle that motivation though, and I think you did well with the matianak.

Are the abilities exciting to run? They’re easy to run, and seem to be well-thought out mechanically. They mostly increase or decrease the effectiveness of common abilities though, which isn’t all that exciting.

Does it spark ideas for use in an adventure? There’s a nice tragedy surrounding these creatures, and I’d be happy to work that into an adventure. A sympathetic undead is a welcome addition to the roster.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

Hey folks!

I want to offer my deepest thanks to everyone who provided critiques and/or votes for my matianak. I am honored and humbled by the positive feedback you have offered me, and I hope my work continues to earn your support in the coming rounds.

As part of my RPGSS experience, I'm hoping to revisit all of my entries and provide a short narrative explaining the thought process and design choices behind my work, as well as addressing questions or criticisms from among the comments. Normally I try to keep the two separate, but seeing as how a heated discussion arose from my decision to remove the feminine components of the original myth, I think I’m going to focus on that first.

When I first drafted this monster I adhered to the matianak mythos, using a woman who died in childbirth (because healers failed to keep her alive) as the monster’s origin, using the cry of an infant as an aura, and allowing it to find peace by delivering a baby to a mother willing to accept its help. When I asked someone to look at the final product, he pointed out that using a failed pregnancy as a vehicle for the game’s narrative was a really bad idea. In order to avoid a potentially offensive entry, I generalized the backstory to include every instance of a healer failing to provide care. As a medical student this backstory hit home for me, since I have worked with several patients who felt abandoned by the system. The rest of the mechanics blossomed from that idea: its longing to correct the mistake of its own death fueled its role as an undead support class, its hatred of healers diminished their potency when nearby, and its inherent cognitive dissonance driving it to help others in similar situations.

While I was happy with the outcome, my new spin on the matianak left me far enough away from the original myth that I became concerned an exclusively feminine figure was no longer applicable. I generally dislike gender-specific monsters because I feel that tying any trait, mechanic, or narrative to a creature’s sexual identity, whether positive or negative, runs the risk of creating or propagating stereotypes. I accept situations that include a reasonable biological foundation (such as skum being exclusively male as a result of aboleth genetic engineering) or cryptids that possess a strong mechanical foundation in their cultural roots (such as the medusa arising from a myth that exclusively characterizes her as female), but even then the latter case makes me wary since the appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy, and I wouldn’t accept “it’s always been this way” as a justification for any other incidence of gender bias. The original matianak myth fit both of my exceptions, but when I revised it to focus on inadequate healing I removed the biological need for a female monster (since it was no longer related to childbirth) and diverged significantly from the cryptid’s cultural foundation. After careful analysis I decided that making the matianak exclusively female did nothing for the build apart from acknowledging the original myth, and that was insufficient justification for me to risk tying the entire female gender to my monster. I understand why some folks might disagree, but I stand by my decision.

With that clarified, I’ll try to address any other outstanding concerns:

Neil Spicer:
The damage output is indeed low. When I was still using the matianak’s original myth (digs into men with its claws and devours their organs) I had it deal extra bleed damage that helped offset the low output, but I removed that my subsequent revisions. I had hoped the energy drain would help offset the damage, but ultimately this monster was designed with a support role in mind, and I admit my attention to its damage capacities (both in terms of the physical attacks and the channel energy ability) were lacking. In a revision I would definitely bring down the Charisma to reduce the save DCs and decrease its HP, since its defensive abilities should allow it to survive with fewer hit points. I would probably change its DR to silver as well (see my response to The Raven Black below).

Adam Daigle:
Indeed, I wasn’t happy with the phrasing for divine failure either. A big problem I faced while researching this monster was that the only preexisting ability that I could find with comparable language was the rogue’s powerful sneak talent. I tried my best to emulate that style, but if you have an example of a better template I would love to peruse it. The auditory component of the divine failure aura was left over from the original matianak myth, and I agree it would probably require some additional rules language clarifying whether or not its aura is sound-dependent (which might be cool, if healers could use positive energy but only within an area of silence; something to contemplate). I meant for the “deeper into madness” line to refer to the matianak itself (the voices drive it crazy, not the people around it), so I apologize for being unclear. I’m not married to the Rahadoum idea, so if this would fit better somewhere like Geb or Ustalav I’m open to revising the flavor text.

Jason Keeley:
I agree, the difference between unliving empathy and energy drain was poorly explained. The way I envisioned it, the curse was delivered via a touch attack (just laying hands on the target, with either helpful or harmful intentions) while the energy drain required a claw attack (piercing the skin). I used “damage dice” to refer to positive energy effects because whether the effect is used to heal allies or harm undead, it’s goal is to increase or decrease the amount of damage; it seemed like the right word choice at the time, but several people commented on that phrasing, which makes me think it needs to be phrased more clearly. As for the degree of failure, my intent was to move away from a “save or suck” scenario by dividing the result into three tiers: normal effect, hampered effect, and harmful effect (which would only come into play on a really terrible roll).

Stephen Stack:
Indeed, the ability to heal targets of unliving empathy was intentional. It meant that creatures affected by the curse could be “nurtured” with the matianak’s negative energy, playing into its role as a tortured healer. Importantly the negative energy affinity only applies within the divine failure aura; beyond that, the target cannot benefit from positive or negative energy, meaning its survival would be tied to the matianak’s care if it suffered from the curse. It’s not what you would call an “optimized” build, but I thought it helped with the monster’s narrative. Someone else brought up the alignment problem as well, but after weighing its hatred of healers, undead nature, desire to nurture the undead, and aura that falls just shy of blasphemy against its longing to help other mortals I decided that the net sum was far enough south of Neutral to justify its NE alignment.

Yup, the phrasing needs work. I did my best to adhere to Paizo standards, but I imagine some more time tinkering with that ability would allow me to clean it up.

Jeff Lee:
Your observation that four castings of death ward can hamstring this monster’s combat ability is accurate, but I would argue that if my CR 8 monster convinced a level 7-9 party to burn four 4th level spell slots on casting death ward, then it did its job. Players who adequately prepare for a fight should be rewarded, and at the level when the party will most likely encounter this thing 4th level spell slots are a valuable resource that should not be spent lightly. The thing I like about this design is that at higher levels (when parties have greater access to death ward, the matianak can easily shift into a support role when paired with other undead, making its neutered combat abilities a moot point.

Frank Gori:
Good point, perhaps I should modify the divine failure aura to work on magic items as well. As for the effects lacking innovation, I tried to put a new twist on something familiar so GMs wouldn’t need to learn new material to run the monster well. Sometimes it works for people and sometimes it comes across as bland, so I’m sorry it didn’t have the “wow” factor you were looking for.

Kiel Howell:
Indeed, the weeping blood was supposed to allude to a bleed mechanic I used in an earlier draft and unfortunately I forgot to edit it out of the final submission. Yes, unloving empathy was meant to be permanent until removed with remove curse or similar magic, which I tried to convey using the curse mini-stat block (unfortunately it’s not particularly standardized across curses in the game, so I understand the confusion). Ideally a party fighting this thing should have access to remove curse, so I didn’t see a problem with making the effect permanent. As for class levels, I saw cleric as a synergistic class for the matianak, so each level of cleric would increase the channel power and CR accordingly. That being said, it’s backstory makes levels in cleric seem fairly unlikely.

The Raven Black:
You are correct, DR 10/good seems inappropriate given the breakdown from your bestiary searches. I would probably make this DR 10/silver, or scrap it altogether. As I mentioned to Kiel, I didn’t mind the devastating potential of unloving empathy because by the time the party is facing a CR 8 monster they probably have access to remove curse or similar magic, plus the matianak was not intended to be a front-line fighter dishing out curses as its primary tactic. As for Improved Initiative, it seems like a must-have for many monsters (particularly support monsters) because savvy PCs can quickly identify and neutralize vital threats, so a high initiative makes it more likely for your monster to get off at least one cool power before the PCs nuke it.

R Pickard:
Good catch about the listing as a touch attack. In a revision I would fix that. I picked magic circle against good more for the AoE defensive bonus than the mind-shielding component, in keeping with its theme of protecting the undead near it. There may well be a better option, but it made sense when I was writing it. The rivulets of blood were left over from an earlier draft, and in a revision I would probably go with something more along the lines of your suggestions.

R D Ramsey:
Your opinion about the name certainly makes sense. I stuck with matianak because I love that monster, and given its controversial mythos I saw this as the best way to introduce it to the game without upsetting customers. I pictured the sounds as being a constant, since one of the components of the myth was that one could tell a matianak was near when a baby’s cry came out of nowhere.

If the response to a subsequent encounter is nuke it from space, then I consider my mission accomplished. I believe a monster should frighten PCs because their players are scared, not because of a frustrating fear mechanic that makes the character run away against the player’s will.

Joel Flank:
Yes, my intent was to have the curse and the claw attack function as separate abilities, and the phrasing you suggested would go a long way towards clarifying that. I wanted divine failure to work on all forms of positive energy, used for both healing the living and harming undead. Unfortunately I couldn’t find much precedent in the rules language to clarify that, so if the ability ended up being unclear I apologize for the confusion. I hadn’t considered the Abadar angle, but I like it.

Brian J. Fruzen:
Glad you liked it!

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