Storm Bunny Presents – The Zhamaja (5e)
The 5e-version of this little pdf clocks in at 4 pages, 1 page of which is devoted to the SRD, with the other 3 sporting content of some sorts, with the first page sporting the amazing artwork of the monster, as well as the description – the zhamaja is a worm from beyond space and time, prowling the darkness beneath, with horrid, ringed mouths and poisonous stingers – on page two, we actually do get visual close-up representations of the moth and poison-sac-laden stingers, including annotations, making that part look a bit like a field manual, which is a pretty damn cool angle, as far as presentation is concerned.
The zhamaja comes with 2 statblocks – one for CR 6 and one for a CR 13 iteration. Both have in common, that they can either opt for tentacle slams, stinger or bite attacks as far as their attack routines are concerned, and with their telepathy, they are not mere brutes, but actually sentient adversaries. Another plus would be that we do get descriptions of the respective features of their behavior patterns, with the pdfs explaining e.g. the functionality of the acidic maws and behavioral patterns. These diverge between the two variants and add some serious value to the critter, contextualizing them in the context of the game and kicking the creative juices in high gear. A problem here in the 5e-version, is a slight disjoint regarding the flavor and attack array – their Multiattack consists of a tentacle, a bite and a stinger attack, with the stingers actually, flavor-wise, being part of the tentacle; this is in as much a bit odd, as it deals the same amount of damage, but also adds poison damage on a failed Constitution save. This is supposed to be offset, I guess, by the optional attack routine of hitting with additional tentacles instead of bite and stinger, if the first tentacle attack hits. Considering that bite gets bonus acid damage, stinger bonus poison damage, that option usually doesn’t make much sense, in spite of the cumulative (and some might argue “un-5e-ish” +1 bonus to attack with subsequent tentacle attacks.
On a formal level, it should be noted that, while the statblock is solid, it does not properly format the abilities, which are usually both bolded and italicized in 5e, and followed by a full stop. Similarly, “Hit” is not italicized in the attack section. A possible error in the statblock pertains to the stinger attacks, which are +1 too high – this leads me to suggest that the stinger may have been intended at one point to require a previous hit of a tentacle. As far as tentacle attacks are concerned, an easy means to differentiate them slightly would have been a change of damage type. While tentacle attacks are often bludgeoning in 5e, e.g. gricks have slashing tentacles, grells piercing ones, so I don’t object to piercing tentacles per se. Considering 5e’s rock-paper-scissors approach to damage types, though, it’d have made more sense to provide a meaningful choice for the monster there, perhaps shifting the tentacle damage value around.
The introduction of the Outerdark as a new terrain type made me smile, as it reminded me of the much-beloved Ocean Game-based settings by Pelgrane Press, so that’d be another flavor-plus, as far as I’m concerned. So, as far as flavor and artwork is concerned, this is a definite 5 star + seal candidate, but, as noted, there are a couple of components that may end up irking you slightly ona formal level.
Editing and formatting re very good on a formal level, and slightly less refined on a rules-language level. Layout is pretty gorgeous and adheres to a two-column full-color standard reminiscent of a field manual, with the phenomenal artwork by Terry Maranda being one of the highlights of the supplement. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.
I really liked Jaye Sonia’s zhamaja, mainly because they are a great example of what I’ve been preaching – good flavor can really elevate a critter. A cynic could call them another worm-like thing without much going for it, but it’s the contextualization of the monster that adds to it, that helps it come into its own. While the pdf sports a few minor snafus and design decisions that could have been refined a bit, the creature ultimately is more compelling in its 5e-iteration. While not exactly reinventing the wheel as far as critters are concerned, it is a solid addition to your bestiary. Having a couple of special abilities that diverge more strongly between versions also helps the two iterations stand out from one another more. In short, this version, to me, feels slightly superior to the PFRPG-version, which is why I will round up due to in dubio pro reo from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.
You can get this gorgeous, if not perfect critter here on OBS!