Burst of Insight

Burst of Insight – Overcoming Fear

Welcome to the second installment of the Burst of Insight Blog, today I’m going to continue the theme of introductions and tell you a little about myself, how I became a freelance designer, and share a here-to-fore unpublished monster template.

When I was 10, I spent the summer hanging out at the community pool and the board game /art activity club that gathered at the pavilion. I made several new friends playing Connect Four, chess, checkers and other family board game staples. One of these new friends had a game he’d only been able to play once or twice with his dad. Of course, given the story I’m telling here, it was Dungeons & Dragons.

Over the next several years we explored the strange worlds our imaginations dreamt up through dozens of game systems but most often it was Dungeons & Dragons. I tinkered with rules, crafted dungeons and worlds. I even created hundreds of specialized character sheets first on the family typewriter and eventually on the computer. I was a game designer but I didn’t realize it. To me, then, this was just another aspect of the game. The “real” designers were the names on books and in the magazines.

It never occurred to me until the early nineties that maybe I should try to be a designer but even then I found reasons to not submit an article or an adventure to Dragon or Dungeon. Sure I could entertain my table but somehow that was different from submitting my work professionally. I’d never be accepted and my adventure would either be filed in the round cabinet or worse I’d be some sort of joke around the TSR offices. So I delayed, procrastinated and designed settings and adventures for my friends alone.

It wasn’t until Paizo unveiled RPG Superstar in 2009, that I really engaged with the dreams I should have pursued for 20 years. When I placed in the top 16 in 2012 I was finally able to ignore the lies my fear had been telling me and began to believe in myself. After completing my run I got a message from Owen K.C. Stephens. OWEN K.C. STEPHENS!! He said some nice things about my run and invited me to pitch some material to him. I leapt on that opportunity…then heard nothing back. Instead of assuming he was just busy and my pitch got lost in the confusion I let fear whisper its lies and got ready to pack it all in.

I would have, too if it weren’t for my wife. Monica backed an Indiegogo the following year that made Owen himself available for an hour as a reward level. For $100 we got to have lunch with Owen at GenCon. It was awesome. We sat at the Ram in Indianapolis, shared gaming war stories and talked about those unanswered pitches. We sorted out the miscommunication and after the Con, I sent him whole new proposals. The first of which was published by Rogue Genius Games while I was competing in RPG Superstar for the second time.

The lesson here is two-fold. If you want to be freelancer tell your fear to just shut up and take a back seat, then seize the opportunities that you find. Don’t let setbacks deter you if you really want to make a go at professional game design. Even once you’re in, though, understand there will still be setbacks. Not everything you write will make it into publication. I had a 3rd party publisher/developer tell me just a couple days ago content I had written for an upcoming product needed to be cut. Partly for room and partly because it wasn’t exactly what they needed. It happens, don’t let that get you down either. Dust yourself off and come back swinging.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with a beastie another publisher left on the cutting room floor when they ran out of space and because it is similar to a template that appeared in Green Ronin’s awesome Advanced Bestiary.

I poured a lot of research and love into this template and I’ve been dying for a venue to share it. So, I really hope you enjoy it.


Volcanic Creature

Volcanic creatures are primal manifestations of the untamable might of volcanoes. Born under the titanic pressures of trapped gasses and magma deep beneath the earth, a volcanic creature takes a form similar to any number of terrestrial creatures. The stresses of their native environment, however, make them far more unpredictable and savage than the creatures they appear to be.

A volcanic creature resembles a normal being found near the volcano that birthed it but the volcanic creature’s blackened basalt skin (or exoskeleton depending on the base creature) and the roiling sulfurous smoke that wreaths its body belies a more mundane nature.

Creating a Volcanic Creature

“Volcanic creature” is an inherited template that can be added to any living corporeal creature of at least size Large (referred to hereafter as the base creature) that doesn’t have the water or cold subtypes.

Challenge Rating: Same as the base creature +2.

Alignment: Volcanic creatures are always Chaotic Neutral.

Type: Change the base creature’s type to outsider with the earth, elemental, fire, and native subtypes if the base creature didn’t already have them.

Senses: The base creature gains tremorsense 60 ft. if it doesn’t already have it.

Aura: Volcanic creatures can surround themselves in a caustic haze.

Caustic Haze (Su): A volcanic creature can vent a turbulent cloud of caustic black smoke and embers from cracks in its rocky skin as a free action. As long as the volcanic creature is venting, any other creatures within the volcanic creature’s reach are dazzled by the acrid smoke and must make a Fortitude save each round or become fatigued and wracked by coughs. The Save DC against this haze is equal to 10 + ½ the   creature’s HD + the creature’s Con modifier. Targets with either acid immunity or fire immunity are unaffected by the caustic haze.

AC: Natural armor improves by +2.

Hit Dice: Change all racial Hit Dice to d10s.

Defensive Abilities: Volcanic creatures gain immunity to fire.

Weaknesses: As creatures with the fire subtype the base creature gains vulnerability to cold.

Melee: The damage inflicted by the creature’s melee attacks are increased by 1d6 points of fire damage.

Special Attacks: A volcanic creature retains all the special attacks of the base creature and gains a the following special attacks.

Breath Weapon(Su): Volcanic creatures are able to breathe a 30-ft. line of magma once every 1d4 rounds. This breath weapon inflicts 1d6 points of fire damage for every two HD of the base creature. Those caught in the area of effect can attempt Reflex saves to take half damage. The save DC against this breath weapon is 10 + ½ the creature’s HD + the creature’s Con modifier. A volcanic creature can use its magma breath when it is grappling or is being grappled.

Earth Mastery (Ex): A volcanic creature gains a +1 bonus on attack and damage rolls if both it and its foe are touching the ground. If an opponent is airborne or waterborne, the volcanic creature takes a –4 penalty on attack and damage rolls. These modifiers apply to bull rush and overrun maneuvers, whether the elemental is initiating or resisting these kinds of attacks. (These modifiers are not included in the statistics block.)

Magma Pool (Su): A volcanic creature can use its breath weapon to create a pool of searing magma as a standard action. This magma pool has a radius of 5 feet per size category of the volcanic creature above Medium size. When a magma pool is created, anyone inside its area takes damage as though they had been hit by the creature’s breath weapon. Any creature that starts its turn in touching this pool takes damage but may make a Reflex save for half. As the magma cools the damage caused by the magma pool is reduced each round by 1d6 until the damage would be less than 1d6. The cooled magma crumbles to dust.

Ability Scores: Str +4, Con +4, Wis +2


Volcanic Bulette

Black basalt armor plates cover the sleek shape of this smoldering creature’s body. The plates rise to a jagged-rocky dorsal plate. The beast’s gaping maw glows with a molten-red-gold light from deep within the heart of the creature.


XP 6,400

CN Huge outsider (earth, elemental, fire, and native)

Init +6; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent, tremorsense 60 ft.; Perception +12

Aura: caustic haze (10 ft., DC 22)


AC 24, touch 10, flat-footed 20 (+2 Dex, +14 natural, –2 size)

hp 108 (8d10+64)

Fort +13, Ref +8, Will +5


Speed 40 ft., burrow 20 ft.

Melee bite +15 (2d8+11/19–20 plus 1d6 fire) and 2 claws +14 (2d6+8 plus 1d6 fire)

Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft.

Special Attacks breath weapon (30-ft. line, DC 22, 4d6 fire), earth mastery, leap, magma pool, savage bite


Str 27, Dex 15, Con 24, Int 2, Wis 15, Cha 6

Base Atk +8; CMB +18; CMD 30 (34 vs. trip)

Feats Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Skill Focus (Perception), Weapon Focus (bite)

Skills Acrobatics +9 (+17 jumping), Perception +12; Racial Modifiers +4 on Acrobatics checks made to jump


Environment temperate hills

Organization solitary or pair

Treasure none


Breath Weapon(Su): See the volcanic creature template.

Burning Haze (Su):   See the volcanic creature template.

Earth Mastery (Ex):   See the volcanic creature template.

Leap (Ex) A bulette can perform a special kind of pounce attack by jumping into combat. When a bulette charges, it can make a DC 20 Acrobatics check to jump into the air and land next to its enemies. If it makes the Acrobatics check, it can follow-up with four claw attacks against foes in reach, but cannot make a bite attack.

Magma Pool (Su): See the volcanic creature template.

Savage Bite (Ex) A bulette’s bite is particularly dangerous. It applies 1-1/2 times its Strength modifier to damage inflicted with its bite attack and threatens a critical hit on a 19–20.

Here is an example of a volcanic creature using a bulette as the base creature.

Volcanic bulettes are implacable emissaries of destruction and brutal hunters. Often emerging from the volcano mere days before an eruption they wreak havoc across their large territories. A volcanic bullete’s territory may stretch as far as thirty miles from the creature’s volcanic lair. While these elemental cousins of the notorious “landsharks” are hunting and patrolling, lucky prey may notice the beast’s strange rocky dorsal plate tear through the dirt but by then it is probably too late.

Volcanic bulettes are ravenous, ready to gorge themselves on any creature unfortunate enough to cross its path. Unlike ordinary bulettes, volcanic bulettes seem to have no qualms eating dwarves or even elves although they seldom eat either race without thoroughly cooking it with their magma breath first then devouring the charred bones and ashes of the unfortunate humanoid.

A cunning killer the volcanic bulette employs a variety of tactics often surprising foes with its agility. A favorite tactic of all bulettes is to charge forward and launch themselves into the air in order to drop on their prey with all four razor-sharp claws extended, volcanic bulettes are no exception. Even though this attack doesn’t benefit from the creature’s earth mastery ability the damage caused by four fiery claws is significant.

While they may patrol their territory at any time, volcanic bulettes become much more active and aggressive just before an eruption. In some regions where there are primitive cultures living in the shadow of a volcano, volcanic bulettes are revered as heralds to the volcano god and at the times when the creatures seem most agitated, most locals make preparations for the likely eruption.




Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.