Submitted by: Quin Callahan
SHALLOW CR 4
LN Medium humanoid (any)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 30 ft.; Perception +9
EAC 16; KAC 18
Fort +6; Ref +8; Will +3
Speed 30 ft.
Melee unnatural protrusion +12 (1d6 E&P + Unify)
Ranged laser pistol, carona +9 (2d4 F + Burn 1d4)
Str +0; Dex +5; Con +0; Int +3; Wis +1; Cha -2
Skills Computers +15, Engineering +10, Medicine +10,
Other abilities Metal in the Flesh, Synthetic
Languages Common, All of Host’s Previously Known Languages
Gear Laser Pistol, Carona with 2 batteries (20 charges each)
Organization Solitary, Cluster (2-7), Horde (9 – 14)
Metal in the Flesh (Ex) A Shallow can shift the shape of the metal that distorts and breaks out of its otherwise primarily biological form. Through minute adjustments, it can temporarily shape small tools and basic electronic devices that it may need out of its synthetic protrusions. For this reason, a Shallow is always considered equipped with both a hacking kit and an engineering kit.
Unify (Ex) A creature pierced with a Shallow’s spikelike wrist protrusions is Dazed for 1 round unless they succeed on a DC 14 Will Save.
Any Medium or smaller humanoid killed with this ability will rise up in 1d6 days as a Shallow, replacing all of their statistics with those listed in this entry with the exception of Size and its specific Humanoid subtype. Shallows have all of the memories of their hosts but often completely lack the will to access such memories, not unlike a computer with files in an inaccessible folder. Who the host truly was, and their personality, is lost during the macabre process, although it is not unheard of to catch glimpses of the old host through a Shallow’s strange mumblings. Some posit the Shallows avoid accessing these memories for fear of reawakening the host but such remains only theory. Coaxing one to pull from these memories would be a challenge indeed, although not impossible if the right offer was made (fresh corpses or advanced technology being effective bribes).
Synthetic (Ex) This creature is affected by any ability that specifies it functions against androids.
The Shallows began as an attempt at immortality. Their creators were called the Yow’tune, a race seemingly now extinct (unless one counts the Shallow husks). A race of curious beings, they often wore dark woven robes, tall pointed hats, and had bizarrely small heads with eel-like mouths on their otherwise human-esque looking bodies. The Yow’tune seemingly grew obsessed with extending their long (by some accounts nearly 500 year long) lifespans. A nanite program was started, and showing promising results, the Yow’tune soon adopted the still developing treatment. This proved their doom.
There was a ghost in the machine, either willfully (and if so maliciously) hidden in the project’s code or simply an accidental product of the nanites’ AI. It waited for near total adoption before striking at its hosts, breaking their minds and rewriting them to its will. In essence, a new species was created via the genocide of the Yow’tune. Civilized space is lucky in that, while certainly intelligent, the Shallows are uncreative and incurious. Their only true goal is to maintain their bodies (with both their biological and occasionally synthetic needs) and to spread their plague to other sapient life. They rarely travel far, and can only spread their “Unity” by touching mostly fresh corpses (which they are more than willing to purchase from the occasional neerdowell if such trade is deemed more beneficial than attacking the negotiators). While they were a critical threat at the peak of the nanites’ rampage, they have been a hated people since their creation, and most Shallows were destroyed in the years that followed the Yow’tunese downfall. However, some remain, hiding in dark corners, and, some say, evolving.
I’m appreciating that this is a lower-CR monster; it’s easy to have good flavor when you’re making a massive foe, but smaller challenges can be tricky to incorporate interesting abilities. This one is definitely interesting. Narratively, the focus on what the predecessor race looked like when we don’t actually have a great description of what the creatures themselves look like. I’d like to see more about what their own semi-society is like and more hooks for involving them in adventures—“uncreative and incurious” makes for somewhat boring enemies, but there’s a hint of something more interesting in the host memories mention that could be developed into something really cool. There’s some great potential here; the math is solid and there are interesting ideas, but it needs a bit more development to really shine.
Jacob W. Michaels:
First of all, congrats on making the Top 5 of the fifth Here Be Monsters contest, our first challenge using the Starfinder Roleplaying Game rules. This is a neat concept for a monster, almost as much undead as humanoid. I think I might have liked to see a slightly different presentation of it — I don’t know that we needed to know what its originator race was, for example, or what it looked like. What’s more important is what the Shallows look like (presumably similar to the original race, though since they can spread to other types of corpses, I’m not 100 percent sure that’s true). I’m not sure if I like the idea of them buying corpses — while it could allow for some interesting stories (PCs are hired to help the family of a person who escaped a community that sees this as a legitimate way to gain immortality and are willing to overlook the drawbacks), I think it feels a little passive, which makes them feel less dangerous. I think I know how I would use these as a GM, but I think the write-up limits the options by having them be fairly non-aggressive in terms of how they expand. The other judges have talked a bit about the stat block, so I’m going to try to avoid duplicating what they’ve said. I like the metal in the flesh ability a lot; it’s not a blockbuster, game-changing ability but something simple that to me really evokes the nature of the creature. For a CR 4 alien, that’s a very smart choice. Beyond that, be careful of following style (you have a lot of things capitalized that don’t need to be) and I see at least one typo.
Welcome to the top 5!
The Shallow has an interesting premise, using nanites to achieve immortality. You made an interesting choice by going with humanoid as the monster type, when the Shallow’s abilities align more with undead, especially the way it creates spawn, but I think it works here. The stat block looks like it follows the combatant array. I would suggest making the Will save DC 13 for unify, since DC 14 is typically for CR 6. If I were editing this, I would have to clean up a few places in the stat block where items are capitalized where they shouldn’t be (abilities, gear, environment, and organization, for example), and I would have to update “laser pistol, carona” to “corona laser pistol.” Additionally, the unify special ability delves into a lot of information that is not specific to the rules using the ability, so I would need to move that text to the overall description.
Good luck in the voting!