Before I get going on my first homebrew monster breakdown, I want to take a moment to give a shoutout to RPG Superstar’s monster creation tool. With built-in formatting and stat suggestions, it has proven by far the most seamless and enjoyable creature crafting experience I’ve had with Pathfinder. Also, if you haven’t yet done so, you should scroll down and read Owen Stephen’s Making an Awesome Monster post. Whether you’re a first-time designer or a seasoned homebrewer--especially if you’re looking to submit an entry to the contest—you should give particular attention to his explanation of concept, use case, and memorable options. In the weeks ahead, I will be touching on the same ideas in my own words, but his are probably better.
Finally, as a general rule, I will not be discussing how I arrived at any particular bonus, DC, or hit point total unless I feel there is a specific point worth making. Anything and everything you could want to know about numbers is found in the “Building Creatures” section on page 56 of the Pathfinder 2e Gamemastery Guide. Read this section, top to bottom. Memorize it (not really). The explanations are clearer and more comprehensive than anything I could hope to cover here. This section is also available as a free PDF directly from Paizo, and can even be found online at the Archives of Nethys. In other words, there are plenty of resources for you to peruse at your leisure.
Okay, enough boring stuff. You came for monsters, right? Teeth and tails, scales, and spells. Well, we’re not starting with a dragon. We’re starting small with a diminutive member of the fey folk. I present to you, the pikkwit. You will notice, first of all, that its stat block is almost as petite as its stature. Mechanically, the pikkwit is fairly simple. Barring the usual stats, its only notable entries include a special sense, a reaction, a couple of spells, and a somewhat lengthy special ability. In theory, however, this is all the information the reader will need to build a clear image of a pikkwit’s personality, talents, and likely behavior before they even take a glance at the creature description. Have a look and see for yourself.
Hopefully, you’ve gotten the sense that the pikkwit is a sneaky, devious little pissant who excels at vexing adventurers as it snacks on their trinkets and treasures. As implied in the creature description, my primary inspiration for the pikkwit is this:
Like a chipmunk, the pikkwit has the potential to be cute, pesky, and above all else greedy. This was my core concept, and each of the creature’s stats and abilities are designed to support this concept. Developing a solid concept is often the most important, and therefore first, step in designing a creature. Everything about the creature should contribute mechanically or thematically (preferably both) to that concept. This is the key to building a memorable and distinct creature. No matter if you’re making a dragon, giant, goblin, zombie, or something completely original; you should strive to differentiate your creature from all the others in the bestiary through a strong, novel concept.
Now the pikkwit is definitely not the only trickster fey on the block. But it is, as far as I know, the only creature with an extradimensional space in its mouth. There are a thousand and one monsters scattered across both editions of Pathfinder, so maybe I missed it, but let’s operate under the assumption that this is a fresh concept. If building a monster is like putting together a puzzle, the Mouth Stash ability is my corner piece. “Cheeks stuffed full of goodies” was the main thing I wanted to emulate from my chipmunk concept, so I drafted a rough version of the ability before anything else. Of course, most players don’t consider seeds and nuts to be “goodies,” so I endowed the pikkwit with a proclivity for precious metals, gemstones, and maybe even the occasional level 1 magic item. Now it wants something that players want too. An obvious but important choice. Because Golarion is a larger than life magical land, I dialed the ability up to 11 by turning the chipmunk’s cheek pockets into extra-spacious pocket dimensions. Turning to the classic bag of holding for reference, I made it an Interact action to add or remove items from this space. Whenever you can, it's smart to use pre-existing items, creatures, spells, and abilities as touchstones for good design. More often than not the custom feature you need turns out to be not so custom after all, and much like writing code, it's often easier to utilize another designer’s syntax then spend time laboring over it yourself. It’s not ripping off. It’s borrowing. Not to mention any potential editors or judges reading your creature will thank you for using standardized language and established rules.
So our pikkwit has the oral capacity it needs. Now how can it go about finding treasure to gobble up? Well, I could leave it to GM fiat to simply assume it knows where every coin purse, cashbox, and secret chest is, but why not give it the mechanical ability it would need to do its job if there weren’t an omniscient god nudging it along? Goldscent is another ability unique to this critter, but similar special senses have a well-established precedent in the official bestiary. Plenty of creatures have the preternatural ability to see, hear, smell, or taste things like heat and vibrations, or even intangible concepts like “life” and “sin.” So the ability to smell precious metals isn’t out of place, and not particularly powerful since it has the Impercise trait.
Now the pikkwit can find its way to treasure, even if it didn’t initially know the treasure existed. This is a small detail that is easily overlooked, but it has big implications for your game’s story. Imagine a situation where players are searching for hidden treasure, but don’t know exactly where it’s buried. They could cut a deal with a pikkwit to sniff it out for them, like a living metal detector, in exchange for a share of the wealth. Maybe the pikkwit will play along. Maybe it will double cross them and steal as much as it can for itself. Maybe the pikkwit is actually the agent of a pirate gang who are planning to swoop in and claim the booty themselves.
Hooks like this are essential for your creature to be a cohesive part of the game’s narrative. They give you a reason to use the monster in one scenario over another. You don’t want to make a monster that is just a speed bump on the way to something more interesting. The gamemastery guide refers to this as the creature’s role while Owen Stephens calls it a use case, but no matter what you call it, everyone needs a purpose.
The pikkwit’s final unique ability is its Glittering Grin reaction. Our fuzzy little friend won’t last long if caught in a straight fight, but this ability might at least hamper a melee combatant long enough for it to make a getaway. I puzzled for a while over what sort of combat trick I could give the pikkwit that would compliment its concept as a magical gold-stealing chipmunk. I pondered using the mouth stash to gobble up a weapon mid-attack (an ability which seemed both too powerful and too unbelievable for my tastes) and even wondered if the pikkwit could somehow turn its mouth inside out to swallow itself up in its own extradimensional space (dismissed again for the same reasons). Then it occurred to me; if the pikkwit’s whole shtick is a mouthful of gold, then why not simply flash the stash? Dazzling an attacker with the glint of its shiny little treasure hoard seemed like the perfect fit for a tricksy thief, but only if the pikkwit had something to show off in the first place. Therefore, I made sure to give the pikkwit some starting cash already in its mouth stash, which also makes for a convenient bargaining chip in a pinch.
With these abilities in place, I felt I had captured the essence of what makes a pikkwit a pikkwit. I began filling in stats I felt would be appropriate. A pikkwit would clearly be more of a threat to a low level party, perhaps serving as the antagonist for a light-hearted first session, so I stat-ed it up for level 1. I gave it high AC to represent its tiny size and agility, balanced out by low HP and a pretty pitiful Strike. Those who read between the lines will also note that the pikkwit is pretty easy to snatch up with a grapple, but might prove more slippery than expected. Add some fitting skills for an evasive burglar, a couple of distracting illusion spells to reinforce its fey nature, a climb speed to access hard to reach places, and you’ve got the recipe for an encounter straight out of Tom and Jerry.
But there’s one more pretty big thing I haven’t touched on yet. You may have noticed that, just as with the bag of holding, the items in a pikkwit’s extradimensional space are permanently lost if the critter meets an untimely end. I kept this feature to deter players from simply solving the pikkwit problem with a big hammer; instead encouraging them to cajole, bargain, or trick the pikkwit into handing over its stolen possessions. (Note: this feature does have the side-effect of potentially derailing—or perhaps enhancing—plots revolving around small all-powerful artifacts that must be protected/destroyed. Imagine if a pikkwit got its mouth on the One Ring).
All this was well and good, but as I was putting the finishing touches on my monster, serendipity intervened. I was plugging in the common characteristics for fey creatures when I came upon that good old aversion to cold iron. I dutifully slotted it into the weakness section and was about to move on, but then I began to think: The pikkwit already has a habit of eating bits of metal, so what if it ate a piece of cold iron? Obviously it would feel sick, so I double-checked the sickened condition. Whoa. Hold on. The only way to clear the sickened condition (barring spells or remedies) is by retching up the thing that made you sick. What if, in addition to vomiting up the cold iron, the pikkwit had to spit out everything else too? If a PC was clever enough to make a pikkwit eat cold iron by deception or force, they could get the whole regurgitated stash in one fell swoop! That felt like a wonderfully thematic non-combat solution to resolve the main threat posed by the pikkwit, and hopefully makes a memorable option for both players and GMs.
That about sums it up for my discussion of my first custom monster for the series. Next time, I’m pumped to share a twist on your classic undead encounter.
Until then: Cheers, and happy imaging!