Thursday, March 3, 2016

Gabriel Almer wins Here Be Monsters 2!

Gabriel Almer's anomiak protean got roughly one third of the votes cast, winning this year's Here Be Monsters design contest. Congratulations, Gabriel!

I'll be contacting the winner and the runners-up within a few days about the prizes from our sponsor Legendary Games and contracts with the publisher Rogue Genius Games.

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest, and thanks to my fellow judges Adam, Jacob, and Mike, all the voters, Tommi Salama, Jason Nelson of Legendary Games, and Owen K.C. Stephens of Rogue Genius Games!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Here Be Monsters 2 Voting Booth

The Top 6 monsters have been revealed! Now it's time to vote for your favorite monster!

We are using the Poll Maker website for voting. Clicking the link below takes you to the voting booth where you can cast your vote.

Enter the voting booth

The voting is open for seven days, i.e. until the 3rd of March. The winner is revealed shortly after the voting closes.

Top 6: Hellforge Slag by Steven Hanis

Intense, glowing red eyes are the only visible contrast on this humanoid, walking heap of crumbling metal and filthy black dross. The pungent smell of burning coal and sulfur along with the grating screech of grinding metal give this denizen of hell away long before its unsettling stare can be seen.

Top 6: Headless Devil by Landon Bellavia

A four-armed, humanoid torso sits fused to an emaciated equine body with ebony wings. The neck ends in a bloody stump, and each hand grips the coccyx of a gory spine that ends in a gaping human head.

Top 6: Hellfire Gorger by Isaac Volynskiy

This oversized bulbous worm is covered in pale corpulent faces with sealed shut lips, erratically sputtering fetid flames from its many nostrils.

Top 6: Enabler Devil by Eric Hindley

This slim-hipped, broad-shouldered man has flawless skin and shoulder-length, dark hair. A pair of white-feathered wings sprout from his back.

Top 6: Hellhorn by Joe Kondrak

Steel fangs and jagged shards of flint protrude from the cavernous maw of this monstrous rhinoceros. Obsidian scales cover most of its tough hide, and the horn on its greasy snout glows red hot.

Top 6: Protean, Anomiak by Gabriel Almer

Strings of ever-shifting symbols run across this serpentine creature's scales and disappear in a flash as they converge at its horned iguana head.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Here Be Monsters 2: Statistics on the Submitted Entries

The submission deadline for the Here Be Monsters 2 open call was last Thursday. We received a total of 29 monsters, and the judges spent a few days voting on them to determine the Top 6. We have now chosen our finalists and started commenting on the six monsters.

The Top 6 will be revealed Thursday next week, but meanwhile, I'll be posting some data and statistics about the 29 entries. Below are some stats:

Challenge Rating

  • CR 2: 2
  • CR 3: 3
  • CR 4: 4
  • CR 5: 2
  • CR 6: 3
  • CR 7: 5
  • CR 8: 3
  • CR 9: 1
  • CR 10: 2
  • CR 11: 3
  • CR 14: 1


  • Lawful Evil: 23
  • Chaotic Neutral: 2
  • Neutral: 3
  • Chaotic Good: 1

Monday, February 1, 2016

Here Be Monsters 2: Useful Links

Below are some useful links for people thinking about submitting a monster!

Please note: Some of the advice below was originally written for RPG Superstar contestants. Most of the advice applies to Here Be Monsters, but be careful not to include any references to Golarion in your monster entry, for example.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Here Be Monsters 2: Hell Breaks Loose begins!

Here Be Monsters is a Pathfinder RPG monster design contest. The second season began on Thursday, 21 January.

Theme: Hell Breaks Loose

The open call for Here Be Monsters 2 begins! The theme for Season 2 is Hell Breaks Loose. To create a monster appropriate for the theme, you monster should be:
  • A denizen of Hell, such as a new type of devil,
  • An ally of Hell or its denizens, such as a creature born in an area tainted by devils,
  • An enemy of Hell or its denizens, such as an archon that hunts hell hounds, or
  • A creature that is otherwise closely connected to Hell.
Please note that the monster must be setting-neutral. This means that you should not make references to deities, countries, organizations, or other entities that are specific to a particular campaign setting. For example, a new breed of hell hounds would be acceptable, but a creature allied to an order of Hellknights would not be acceptable.

Publisher: Rogue Genius Games

The Top 6 entries will be developed and published as a bestiary in the PDF format by Rogue Genius Games! The winner of the contest is offered a contract to write another 2 monsters for a total of 8 monsters published in the bestiary.

Below are some additional details:
  • The finalists are required to sign a contract that outlines the terms of using the entries in the bestiary product. 25% of the money earned by Rogue Genius Games from the sales of the bestiary product is split among the authors. Assuming the winner agrees to design additional monsters for the bestiary, his or her share is proportional to the total word count. 
  • Rogue Genius Games owns the published entries, but they're 100% Open Game Content. The authors are given permission to use the monster art for their personal non-commercial promotion.
  • All other entries remain the property of their respective authors, which means you can publish your monster elsewhere if you don't make the Top 6. Only the three contest judges see the entries. The judges reserve the right to publish statistics based on the entries.


  • Legendary Games gives each finalist a book of their choice from the Mythic Monsters product series, and the winner gets a signed Mythic Monster Manual.
  • Special thanks go to Tommi Salama who designed the Here Be Monsters logo!

Additional Information

How to Submit a Monster

  1. Download the monster template.
  2. Read the contest rules & judging criteria, and design a monster that follows the rules and guidelines.
  3. If you have any questions about the rules or judging criteria, use the form at the bottom of this blog post to leave a comment. We'll answer as soon as we can.
  4. When you're ready to submit, send your monster via email to Include the monster's name in the subject line of the email. The monster template page contains more information about submitting.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Here Be Monsters 2: Monster Template

Download the monster template by clicking one of the following links: Microsoft Word or Open Office. When submitting your monster, please copy-paste it directly into the email. This makes it easier for the judges to review the monsters. You may also attach the monster as a file if for any reason copy-pasting breaks the formatting.

Before you submit, check that the formatting (bolded words, italics, etc.) matches the template and that you have replaced or deleted all the placeholder text (marked with [square brackets]) and placeholders for numbers (marked with ##). Also, remove any lines that you don't need (such as the Aura line if your monster doesn't have an aura), and add any lines as necessary.

Please do not include anything else in your submission. For example, explaining your math or design choices is not allowed.

Submit your monster via email to before 11 February, 2:00 PM PST.

Here Be Monsters 2: Contest Schedule

Here Be Monsters 2 begins today! Before we reveal this season's theme and other important details, let's have a look at the contest schedule.
  • 21 January: The open call begins. Contestants have three weeks to create and submit a monster.
  • 11 February: Thursday 11th of February, 2:00 PM PST is the deadline for the entries. The judges (Jacob, Mike, and Mikko) start winnowing down the entries to find our Top 6 finalists.
  • 18 February: The judges (including our guest judge) begin commenting on the Top 6 entries.
  • 25 February: The Top 6 entries are revealed in the order they were submitted, along with the judges' comments. When the sixth finalist is revealed, public voting begins.
  • 3 March: The winner of Here Be Monsters 2 is revealed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Here Be Monsters 2: Meet the Judges

The judging panel for Here Be Monsters consists of three freelancers and RPG Superstar veterans, who select six finalists from among the submitted entries. Our esteemed guest judge joins us to comment on the Top 6 entries. The judges for Season 2 are:

Guest Judge: Adam Daigle

Adam Daigle is a developer at Paizo and works on the Pathfinder Adventure Path line of adventures. An avid monster maker, Adam has designed and developed hundreds of monsters for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Adam has also been a judge on RPG Superstar since 2014.

Mikko Kallio

Mikko Kallio started out gaming in the late 80s with the Red Box D&D. (He still mourns Aleena the Cleric). In 2014, Mikko was a top 4 finalist in Paizo's RPG Superstar contest, and a year later, he returned as a monster round judge. His freelance design work for Paizo can be found in more than a dozen publications, including Occult Bestiary, the 5-star adventure Ancients' Anguish, and the 5-star Player Companion Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Mikko is also a developer at Swords for Hire Development and the main organizer of the Here Be Monsters contest.

Jacob W. Michaels

Jacob W. Michaels has been gaming for 30 years, since he went on an expedition to the Barrier Peaks in the third grade. A newspaper editor in eastern Pennsylvania, he's a two-time finalist in Paizo's RPG Superstar contest, making the Top 16 in 2012 and 2014. He has written several five-star products from Raging Swan; published a five-star module, Ironwall Gap Must Hold, with; and had work in products from Paizo, Flying Pincushion Games, Jon Brazer Enterprises, Louis Porter Jr. Design and Rogue Genius Games. He started Swords for Hire Development with Mikko Kallio, with whom he runs the Here Be Monsters contest.

Mike Welham

Mike Welham has been gaming since 1979. The first RPG purchase he made with his allowance was the original Fiend Folio, which set him along the monster path. He translated his love for RPGs into an RPG Superstar victory in 2012, and he has written and contributed to a number of critically acclaimed works for Kobold Press, Paizo, Raging Swan Press, Rite Publishing, and Zombie Sky Press. He has also contributed a menagerie of monsters to the Mythopoeic Rambling blog ( Mike was a finalist in last year's Here Be Monsters and looks forward to being on the other side of the judging table.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Here Be Monsters 2: Contest Rules & Judging Criteria

Here Be Monsters is a Pathfinder RPG monster design contest. The second season of the contest begins Thursday, 21 January 2016.

Contest Rules

Contest entries must adhere to the following rules.
  • Your monster must be 590-610 words. Note that the maximum word limit is almost 100 words fewer than in the previous Here Be Monsters, and this time there is also a minimum word limit. Use your word processor to check your word count.
  • Each entrant may submit one monster.
  • Your monster must be designed for the Pathfinder RPG, and you must use the monster template.
  • Your monster entry must be appropriate for the contest theme "Hell Breaks Loose", which is described in more detail in the contest announcement.
  • Your monster may not have class levels or templates.
  • Your monster must be setting-neutral.
  • Your monster's CR must be at least 1 and may not be higher than 20. Please note that you only have 600 words, and higher-CR monsters may eat up all your words with describing special abilities, which could leave you limited space for describing it.
  • Your monster may use feats, spells, and other resources available in Paizo's Pathfinder PRD. Your monster may not, however, have mythic ranks.
  • You must submit your monster via email to before the deadline 11 February, 2:00 PM PST. Include the monster's name in the subject line of the email.

Additional Judging Criteria

Following the guidelines presented below maximizes your chances of winning.
  • Your monster's concept is something new and creative or puts an interesting spin on a classic theme.
  • Your monster's name and read-aloud text are evocative.
  • Your monster's stat block is correctly formatted. Use any recent Pathfinder RPG bestiary product published by Paizo as your style guide.
  • Your monster's statistics are balanced against other creatures of the same CR. Refer to the Monster Creation chapter in the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary for instructions.
  • Your monster has interesting new special abilities with reasonably simple and elegant mechanics.
  • Your monster entry includes compelling lore about the monster which helps GMs use the monster in adventures and campaigns.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Beast Breakdown, updated

Paizo's Adam Daigle mentioned that each year he judges the monsters contestants submit, he makes a spreadsheet to track things like CR, alignment, size, and type (and any subtypes). With that inspiration, I thought it was worth updating my own previous chart with the monsters created in the 2015 Season.


The following alignments have been represented in Superstar monsters (the number in parentheses is how many were added in 2015):
CG: 2
NG: 1
LN: 2
CN: 12
N: 34 (10)
CE: 24 (2)
NE: 21 (4)
There have been no lawful good or lawful evil monsters, Until 2014, all the monsters had been neutral, chaotic neutral, neutral evil or chaotic evil.


Monsters haven't quite come in all sizes and shapes, with none being Gargantuan or Colossal. That's likely a factor of the CR, which since 2010 have never been allowed to be more than CR 7 (and other than in 2012, were always lower than that).
Huge: 3
Large: 25 (5)
Medium: 37 (7)
Small: 20 (2)
Tiny: 7 (1)
Diminutive: 2 (1)
Fine: 2


Aberrations have been the most common monster type, followed by magical beast. As with sizes, though, these numbers have likely been influenced a bit by restrictions: In 2012, monsters couldn't be a construct, dragon, ooze, or outsider.
Aberration: 19 (4)
Magical beast: 17 (3)
Fey: 15 (3)
Outsider: 9 (1)
Plant: 9 (3)
Undead: 7 (1)
Construct: 6 (0)
Dragon: 6 (1)
Ooze: 4 (0)
Monstrous humanoid: 3 (0)
Humanoid: 1 (0)
Aquatic: 5
Earth:4 (3)
Swarm: 4 (1)
Incorporeal: 4
Native: 4
Extraplanar: 3 (1)
Cold: 3
Chaotic: 2
Evil: 2
Water: 2
Elemental: 1 (1) 
Shapechanger: 1 (1)
Air: 1
Demon: 1
Giant: 1
Kami: 1
Mythic: 1

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Villain Codex II Open Call still open for a few more days!

If you're interested in creating villains for the Pathfinder RPG and seeing them published, consider submitting something in the Villain Codex II open call! The deadline is the 30th. See the announcement here!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Bad Design Alert: Don't create a problem just so you can solve it

Advice: If the premise of an ability is your interpretation of how the rules should work rather than what is actually written in the rules, you're going to be in trouble.

Examples: You're designing a weapon special ability or spell that makes firearms as quiet as bows. Two-handed firearms become as quiet as longbows, while one-handed firearms become as quiet as short bows. Congratulations, you just designed an ability that (from a RAW perspective) does absolutely nothing. Don't get me wrong, I also think firearms should be louder than bows, but since the rules don't support this interpretation, so I just house-rule it in my games. (I think it may have been mentioned in flavor text that guns are loud, but nothing in the rules text suggests they are louder than other weapons.)

Another example would be an ability that makes your teleportation spells look like the target(s) turned invisible instead. Or the other way around, when you turn invisible, it looks like you teleported. The problem is that the most iconic teleportation spells, dimension door and teleport, don't describe how you vanish. Does it look like using a transporter in Star Trek? We don't know!

The only teleportation ability (that I remember) that involves a visual description of the effect is the cape of the mountebank which explicitly describes the visuals: "When he disappears, he leaves behind a cloud of harmless gray smoke, appearing in a similar fashion at his destination." If the dimension door spell had the same visuals, it wouldn't make sense to repeat that in the magic item description, so it is safe to assume the spell doesn't have any similar visuals.

Designing an ability like that forces the players to interpret a rules element in a way that is not supported by the rules. Don't do that.

Even though it might seem like you created an ability that does nothing (which are annoying but harmless), you may actually create a huge rules debate, lots of FAQ requests, and whatnot. You created a precedent that will plague RAW discussions forever. Suddenly, retroactively, you changed how the game works. (Kind of.)

So. Don't. Do. That.

Color within the lines. Design stuff that interacts with existing rules.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Spreadsheet Magic: Pathfinder NPC design tool

Last year, I blogged about a monster design tool I designed for D&D 5th edition. Using some of the same ideas, I started designing a spreadsheet tool for PF RPG, mostly because it might help freelancers working on projects like the Villain Codex and me when I'm developing the stat blocks. The main purpose of the spreadsheet is to help designers by calculating the most common stats of an NPC, such as hit points and skill modifiers, automatically. One of my main design goals is to make the user interface easy to use, and to make everything relevant fit on a normal-sized screen so you don't have to scroll or flip between tabs.

Let's have a look!

It should be fairly straightforward to use. Green boxes mean that you can enter text or a value in them, while blue boxes are check boxes. Anything with a white background is calculated automatically: your ability score modifiers, saves, AC, hit points, attack and damage, and skills. You even get the stats laid out in the same way they appear in a stat block.

Next time: Step-by-step instructions on the use of the spreadsheet

Friday, August 14, 2015

Art Preview: Villain Codex

Earlier this year, Jacob W Michaels and I founded Swords for Hire Development, a studio that runs projects for third-party publishers that publish Pathfinder-compatible products. Our first project was the Villain Codex, a book of villains that GMs can easily use in any adventure or campaign. The Villain Codex will be published in September by Outland Entertainment.

I received the pencils for the artwork earlier on in the project, and here is a sample!

Sgt. Maybn Blaine (left) and Hadin the Painless (right). Copyright Outland Entertainment

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

RPGSS advice: Discuss your ideas (but not publicly)

It's been a while since my last blog post. I've been traveling and generally busy with a lot of things, but I'm back and it's time to get cracking again. A new season of RPG Superstar begins soon, so I'll be posting some RPGSS-related advice (mini) articles in the coming weeks.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Interview: Legendary Planet Adventure Path Kickstarter

A Sword for Hire interviewed lead developer Neil Spicer about the epic interplanetary adventure saga Legendary Planet! The Kickstarter campaign will run until Tuesday, July 28 2015. The adventure path is compatible with both the Pathfinder RPG and the 5th edition of the world's oldest roleplaying game.

Friday, June 19, 2015

3PP Interview: Richard Moore of Jon Brazer Enterprises

I interviewed Richard Moore, editor for Jon Brazer Enterprises. He discusses JBE's products, working with freelancers, and more!

Friday, June 12, 2015

PaizoCon 2015 highlights

Better late than never! Here are some of my personal highlights from PaizoCon 2015! (Yes, it was awesome!)

Monday, June 8, 2015

PaizoCon Swag Bag: Horned Demon

At PaizoCon 2015, besides having a blast, meeting great people (including the First Sword himself, Mikko Kallio), and learning a great deal about designing for Pathfinder, I also received a bunch of cool merchandise in the convention's swag bag.

Among the many items I was excited to receive were a copy of Wayfinder #13 (there's an item of mine in that issue, by the way), a deck of Pathfinder Cards: Tides of Battle (which I plan to use the next time I run a game), and 2 Pathfinder Battles booster packs!

From one of those booster packs, I pulled out a Pathfinder Battles Horned Demon, and from the other, followers of Lamashtu. Usually, when I post photos here on A Sword for Hire, I select them from my large and ever-growing catalog of existing photos. For today's post, the photos are more current. In fact I took these photos just the other night, using the figures I received at the con.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

What the Chase Cards Deck and Social Combat Deck taught me about skills

Last year when I was writing my round 5 adventure pitch for RPG Superstar, I bought the Chase Cards deck because I wanted to include a chase encounter in my adventure and wanted to mine the deck for ideas. This year at PaizoCon, my loot bag included the Social Combat deck, and I was thrilled to notice that the mechanics are very similar to those of the Chase Cards deck. In this article I'll discuss how these two decks have affected the way I see skills as part of encounter design.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

They'll be back!

Remember this contest?

The earth will shake and tremble,
When the monsters return.

August 2015.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Quick links list for design advice articles

At PaizoCon, a number of people mentioned they've found my advice articles useful, so I thought I'd make a link list about the articles so that it's easier to find the ones you're looking for. The quick link list is now available in the right pane.

Beyond Mortal Concerns by Ismael Alvarez

In this week's guest blog, Ismael Alvarez discusses epic level adventuring.
Readers, please discuss your experiences with epic / mythic rules in the comments section!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Monster pitch reviews on Blazing 9

A few weeks ago, I announced a monster pitch challenge in the Blazing 9 thread on If you're interested in monster design, have a look at the reviews (I'm trying to post one per day) and take part in the discussion. There's still two days left until the deadline, so it's still possible to submit if you want a bit of practice for next year's RPGSS, Here Be Monsters, and other design contests!
A Sword for Hire