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1 Nandag, the Soul Render

Nandag, the Soul-Render

Spoiler: Synopsis

Two-headed young adult fang dragon Soul Eater 10

An adolescent dragon in a murderously nihilistic phase, who has accumulated enough power by eating souls to threaten the kingdom—if not the world.

Spoiler: Ability Scores

CR Strength Dexterity Constitution Intelligence Wisdom Charisma
Elite Array 15 13 14 8 12 10
4 17 13 18 6 14 8
5-6 17 13 18 6 14 8
7 17(21) 13 18 6 14 8
8-10 19(23) 13 20 8 16 10
11-12 20(24) 13 20(24) 8 16 10
14-15 24(28) 13 22(26) 8 16 10
17 26(30) 14 22(26) 10 18 12
18-20 26(30) 14(18) 22(26) 10 18 12

Parenthetical numbers include the bonus from Soul Strength, Soul Agility, or Soul Endurance, abilities which grant a +4 enhancement bonus to ability scores as long as Nandag has used her energy drain ability within the past 24 hours.

Spoiler: Build Tables

Note: “two-headed fang dragon” may be appended to all age categories. But that would make the column very wide.

CR Age category/Level Base Attack Bonus Base Save* Bonus Fortitude Reflex Will DC†
4 Wyrmling +5 +4 +8 +5 +6 11
5 Very Young +8 +6 +10 +7 +8 13
6 Soul Eater 1 +9 +8 +12 +9 +10 13
7 Soul Eater 2 +10 +9 +13 +10 +11 14
8 Young +13 +10 +15 +11 +13 16
9 Soul Eater 3 +14 +10 +15 +11 +13 17
10 Soul Eater 4 +15 +11 +18 +14 +16 17
11 Soul Eater 5 +16 +11 +18 +14 +16 18
12 Soul Eater 6 +17 +12 +21 +15 +17 18
14 Juvenile +20 +14 +24 +17 +19 20
15 Soul Eater 7 +21 +14 +24 +17 +19 20
17 Young Adult +24 +15 +25 +19 +20 22
18 Soul Eater 8 +25 +16 +26 +22 +21 22
19 Soul Eater 9 +26 +16 +26 +22 +21 23
20 Soul Eater 10 +27 +17 +27 +23 +22 23
*Both dragon racial HD and the Soul Eater class have three good saves. I didn’t want to spend three columns on this.
†Frightful Presence, Sound Imitation, and (apparently) Ability Drain all have saving throw DCs equal to 10+½ HD+Charisma bonus.

Note: Starting at CR 10, saving throw bonuses include bonuses from Soul Enhancement. Starting at CR 11 and 18, they also include bonuses from Soul Endurance and Agility.

CR AC Natural attacks* Bite Attack Bonus Special Abilities Feats Skills
4 16 (+1 Dexterity, +3 natural, +2 size) 2 bites, 2 claws +10 Ability Drain, dragon traits, Keen Senses, Spell-Like Abilities (detect magic & read magic @ will), Sound Imitation, Trip Combat ReflexesB, Improved InitiativeB, Multiattack, Weapon Focus (bite) Hide 2 ranks (+11), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+3), Listen 8 ranks (+12), Move Silently 2 ranks (+3), Search 4 ranks (+5), Spot 8 ranks (+12)
5 18 (+1 Dexterity, +6 natural, +1 size) 2 bites, 2 claws +13 Alertness Hide 2 ranks (+7), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+3), Listen 9 ranks (+13), Move Silently 3 ranks (+4), Search 4 ranks (+5), Spot 9 ranks (+13)
6 18 (+1 Dexterity, +6 natural, +1 size) 2 bites, 2 claws +14 Energy Drain 1 Shape Soulmeld (sphinx claws) Hide 3 ranks (+8), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+3), Listen 10 ranks (+14), Move Silently 3 ranks (+4), Search 4 ranks (+5), Spot 9 ranks (+13)
7 18 (+1 Dexterity, +6 natural, +1 size) 2 bites, 2 claws +17 Soul Strength Hide 3 ranks (+8), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+3), Listen 10 ranks (+14), Move Silently 4 ranks (+5), Search 4 ranks (+5), Spot 10 ranks (+14)
8 20 (+1 Dexterity, +9 natural) 2 bites, 2 claws, 2 wings +20 Spell-Life Ability (shield 2/day) Open Least Chakra (hands claws) Hide 6 ranks (+7), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+3), Listen 12 ranks (+16), Move Silently 6 ranks (+7), Search 5 ranks (+6), Spot 12 ranks (+16)
9 20 (+1 Dexterity, +9 natural) 2 bites, 2 claws, 2 wings +21 Soul Blast Hide 8 ranks (+9), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+3), Listen 12 ranks (+16), Move Silently 7 ranks (+8), Search 5 ranks (+6), Spot 12 ranks (+16)
10 20 (+1 Dexterity, +9 natural) 2+1 bites, 2 claws, 2 wings +21 Soul Enhancement Rapidstrike (bite) Hide 9 ranks (+12), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+5), Listen 12 ranks (+18), Move Silently 9 ranks (+12), Search 5 ranks (+8), Spot 12 ranks (+18)
11 20 (+1 Dexterity, +9 natural) 2+1 bites, 2 claws, 2 wings +23 Soul Endurance Hide 11 ranks (+14), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+5), Listen 12 ranks (+18), Move Silently 10 ranks (+13), Search 5 ranks (+8), Spot 12 ranks (+18)
12 20 (+1 Dexterity, +9 natural) 2+1 bites, 2 claws, 2 wings +24 Soul Radiance Hide 13 ranks (+16), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+5), Listen 12 ranks (+18), Move Silently 11 ranks (+14), Search 5 ranks (+8), Spot 12 ranks (+18)
14 22 (+1 Dexterity, +12 natural, -1 size) 2+3 bites, 2 claws, 2 wings, 1 tail slap +28 Spell-Like Ability (dispel magic 1/day), Spell Resistance 16 Improved Multistrike (bite) Hide 13 ranks (+12), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+5), Listen 18 ranks (+24), Move Silently 11 ranks (+14), Search 8 ranks (+11), Spot 18 ranks (+24)
15 22 (+1 Dexterity, +12 natural, -1 size) 2+4 bites, 2+1 claws, 2 wings, 1 tail slap +29 Energy Drain 2 Rapidstrike (claw) Hide 15 ranks (+14), Knowledge (arcana) 4 ranks (+5), Listen 18 ranks (+24), Move Silently 12 ranks (+15), Search 8 ranks (+11), Spot 18 ranks (+24)
17 26 (+2 Dexterity, +15 natural, -1 size) 2+4 bites, 2+4 claws, 2 wings, 1 tail slap +33 Damage Reduction 5/magic, Frightful Presence, Spellcasting, Spell Resistance 18 Improved Rapidstrike (claw) Hide 15 ranks (+14), Knowledge (arcana) 8 ranks (+10), Listen 23 ranks (+30), Move Silently 12 ranks (+15), Search 10 ranks (+14), Spot 23 ranks (+30)
18 28 (+4 Dexterity, +15 natural, -1 size) 2+4 bites, 2+4 claws, 2 wings, 1 tail slap +34 Soul Agility Hide 17 ranks (+16), Knowledge (arcana) 8 ranks (+9), Listen 24 ranks (+30), Move Silently 13 ranks (+16), Search 8 ranks (+11), Spot 24 ranks (+30)
19 28 (+4 Dexterity, +15 natural, -1 size) 2+4 bites, 2+4 claws, 2 wings, 1 tail slap +35 Soul Slave Hide 19 ranks (+18), Knowledge (arcana) 8 ranks (+9), Listen 24 ranks (+30), Move Silently 15 ranks (+18), Search 8 ranks (+11), Spot 24 ranks (+30)
20 28 (+4 Dexterity, +15 natural, -1 size) 2+4 bites, 2+4 claws, 2+1 wings, 1 tail slap +36 Soul Power Rapidstrike (wing) Hide 21 ranks (+20), Knowledge (arcana) 8 ranks (+9), Listen 24 ranks (+30), Move Silently 17 ranks (+20), Search 8 ranks (+11), Spot 24 ranks (+30)
*2+1 means a pair of natural weapons with one additional attack from Rapidstrike. 2+3 and 2+4 indicate additional attacks from Improved Rapidstrike. Note that these extra attacks have -5 to -20 penalty.

Note: The attack bonus for all non-bite natural attacks, before Rapidstrike penalties, is three lower than the bite attack bonus.

Spoiler: Spellcasting

Nandag gains spellcasting as a 1st-level sorcerer at CR 17, and it never improves. Hence, no table for spellcasting is required.

When Nandag gains the ability to cast spells, she can cast up to five cantrips and four 1st-level spells per day. She knows the following spells:
0: dancing lights, [i]ghost sound[/], mage hand, prestidigitation
1: blood wind, charm person

Spoiler: Storyline

Spoiler: Infancy (CR 4-7)

Occasionally, two wyrmlings will grow within the same egg. Two wyrmlings in the same egg, sharing the same space and the same yolk, are less likely to hatch and still less likely to survive. Egg-twins who survive past their first year have a strong bond with one another, and are usually respected by their peers for their hardiness and spiritual power.

Nandag was a pair of egg-twins who consumed one another in the womb, becoming a dragon with two heads and five legs. Some of the fang dragons in her home mountain range recognized her as having the same significance as any egg-twin, while others considered her an ill omen. Over the first decade of her life, Nandag slowly became aware of this disagreement, and the uncertainty ate at her.

Shortly after the end of that decade, Nandag discovered unique spiritual powers; her fangs and claws could tear at the souls of those she touched. This supernatural ability to meddle with others’ souls manifested as a bluish light, manifesting primarily over her claws. After this discovery, Nandagknew her path in life: She would master her unique power and use it to become a hero to dragonkind, to save them from the ruin some feared she prophesied.

At this level, Nandag is less a villain than a unique random encounter.

Spoiler: Tragedy (CR 8-12)

As so often happens when dragons congregate near civilization, dragon-hunters were attracted to the mountain range. Over a few years, thieves and slayers went from occasional nuisances to a constant background threat; then, in less than a month, more organized raiding parties began to slaughter dragons by the lair. Nandag only survived because of her small size and a lucky hiding place.

After this slaughter, Nandag swore vengeance on the humanoids who slew her family. Over the next decade, she grew in power and skill, honing her skills by pouncing on wildlife, devouring them body and soul. Eventually, she gained enough finesse with her powers to be able to extract those souls in effectively one piece, letting her take the forms of the creatures she slew.

With this skill, Nandag could safely investigate humanoid settlements to trace her targets, so she began hunting in earnest. One by one, her leads turned up dead—often literally. The elven ranger had died in a bar brawl, the warlock died in battle, the thief vanished into the night. And so on. Eventually, she managed to find an elderly knight who supervised the dragon-slaying; Nandag slipped into his room in the form of a spider, before returning to her true form and devouring the knight’s soul.

That was it. Most of the perpetrators of the murder of Nandag’s family had escaped her justice, whether by death or just not leaving a trace. The future which gave her life meaning had faded into meaninglessness, and Nandag was left adrift.

For most of these levels, Nandag works as a one-shot villain. Perhaps she’s discovered by and fights a noble party hunting in the woods, and the survivors hire the PCs to fight the dragon in response. Nandag is eager to test her skills against dragon-slayers, but will retreat if she is in danger. If she just dies without accomplishing anything, it means she was nothing but the ill omen she feared she would be.

Spoiler: Stasis (CR 14-18)

Thirty years passed—an entire generation, to some races. Nandag lingered on the edge of civilization, hunting wild animals and using their shapes to watch civilization, searching for any scraps of information for dragon-slayers she could fight.

As time wore on, she brooded on her existence thus far. She would have one head voice a thought on what she had done thus far in her life, and the other would voice an opposing thought. Isolated, Nandag eroded any sense of accomplishment she might have once felt. As Nandag’s power over the lives of others grew, her value in her own life shrank.

With nowhere to go and nothing do do, what hope or purpose could a dragon find? And when someone isolated like that watches races of beings who live and die in the time it takes her to grow up, without accomplishing anything she can see, how could she not project that hopelessness onto them?

At these levels, Nandag is too passive to be a good villain. Perhaps the PCs could come across her in the wilderness, or perhaps she rushes into the civilized world chasing a false hint of the dragonslayers she hunter—chasing the future she once hoped for. In any case, Nandag will fight fiercely, largely apathetic to her own safety.

Spoiler: End (CR 19-20)

Nandag’s world was bleak. She had no hope; every future she had dreamed of crumbled in her claws, leaving her with nothing. From her isolated perch, without the context or insight to recognize anything the humanoids she watched accomplished before their inevitable deaths, she projected this hopelessness onto the world.

The power of her magic and soul eventually reached a pinnacle, letting her transform the corpses of those whose souls he consumes into shambling undead monstrosities...monsters who also have the power to rend their victims’ souls, transforming them into more undead.

Watching and studying these wights, Nandag sees the first meaningful future she has been able to imagine for decades, and throws herself into bringing it into fruition. A world cleansed of despair, by wiping all life from the planet, ending their suffering and letting them meet with their lost loved ones in the afterlife.

Slowly, she begins transforming hermits, travelers, and wildlife into undead minions, sending groups of them to attack and convert small outlying settlements into more undead. As more rural areas are swallowed by a plague of undead, despair and hunger begin to fester in the strongholds of civilization. Nandang begins gathering powerful wights to her, searching out groups of undead-hunters and crushing them with overwhelming power. Slowly, crudely, efficiently, she carves the world apart.

At these levels, Nandag is finally a campaign-shaping villain. Her powers give her enough reach to meaningfully affect the world beyond her claws, and her character arc has reached a point where her despair crystalizes into a motivation. At this point, discussing Nandag’s place in a campaign is less about giving her and the party reasons to encounter each other and fight, and more to do with finding ways ways for the players to fight back against an apocalyptic threat.
When Nandag does personally get into a fight, she is still pretty reckless, but not as much as she used to be. She will gladly put herself in danger if there’s something to gain, but she has an actual goal now, so she won’t fight to the death for no reason. That said, if there’s something to gain from risking death, she may be willing to take that risk and hope the undead horde she’s created will have enough momentum to free the world from despair.

Spoiler: Tactics

Nandag isn’t really Nandag at all until CR 6, when she inflicts negative levels with her attacks. There’s no saving throw or anything mentioned; each attack just inflicts a negative level. At this point, she just has two bites and two claws. A low-level character could die in a few rounds if they’re unlucky.
As a fang dragon, her bites also drain Constitution on a failed Fortitude saving throw. This is handy, and seemed even more handy when I assumed the energy drain came with a Fortitude scene. Well, it still fits the contest guidelines.

Speaking of which, inflicting one (or, at CR 15+, two) negative level on every successful natural attack is really dangerous. If you don’t want to murder characters, you should try to spread out natural attacks a bit—a couple bites for the wizard, tail smack the cleric, etc. By contrast, if you want to kill (or at least debilitate) characters, focus fire like normal.

At CR 8, Nandag has her hand claw chakra opened and can bind the Sphinx Claws soulmeld to it. This gives her a +1 competence bonus to Strength-based skill and ability checks, a +1 insight bonus to Climb and Swim checks, and the ability to make full attacks on a charge. You get one guess as to which of these incredible abilities is the primary reason I had her take these feats.
Pounce lets Nandag make full attacks without needing to start within five feet of her target, which is handy when your whole build is centered around touching your enemies a lot to inflict negative levels. In addition, it lets Nandag open a fight with an overwhelming dive—swooping in from hundreds of feet away and striking a target with a full attack before they have a chance to react.

Also, by this point Nandag has some basic buff abilities—at this level, a +4 enhancement bonus to Strength whenever she’s used energy drain within the past 24 hours and the ability to cast shield twice a day. The statistics provided assume that Nandag has drained energy recently—eating souls is kind of her whole thing—but not that she cast shield.

CR 12 sees a couple of extra “if you’ve drained energy recently” buffs, a de facto free action force “ray” (which can only be used once per day), and no other combat abilities. However, it also adds the Soul Radiance ability, which lets Nandag shapechange into any creature whose soul she fully eats.
Since the shapechange spell is specifically referenced, I assume she can transform to and from these forms at will (until the 24-hour limit is passed). However, shapechange also disables all of the user’s supernatural abilities, which means that almost all of Nandag’s abilities are lost; she can still mimic sounds, trip enemies (if her form has claws or a tail attack), use spell-like abilities, and arguably the Increased Damage ability affects any natural weapons her new form has. Oh, and maybe the Superior Two-Weapon Fighting quality she gets from her multiheaded template and can’t use because she doesn’t use weapons would apply?
Yeah, Soul Radiance is a useful plot tool, but it’s pretty much useless for combat.

After that, it’s mostly boosts to the same formula. A size increase (and tail attack), better rapidstrike-ing, a +4 bonus to Dexterity for eating souls, etc. But there are some neat side abilities.
First, the standard dragon defenses that mostly serve to make it impervious to armies of mooks so the players look cooler for being able to beat it. (Well, I guess SR 16 is impressive when a classless dragon picks it up, but at CR 14 a typical player literally just needs to not roll a 1, and it gets worse.)
Spellcasting is hard to make useful for a dragon, but there’s one 1st-level sorcerer spell which seems really handy for Nandag. Blood wind targets a creature with natural attacks, which then makes a full attack at up to a 20-foot range, no action cost (aside from casting the spell). Nothing stops the caster from targeting herself. Granted, Pounce handles most cases where Nandag might want to make a full attack as a standard action, and flight makes ranged attacks less important, but blood wind is a spell that meaningfully builds on Nandag’s combat abilities. (I could replace it with another plot-power spell, but I wanted to do something with spellcasting.)
Frightful Presence is a handy little perk; it can potentially give an entire party a bunch of penalties, if they all fail a DC 22 Will saving throw at level 17. A level 17 fighter with Wisdom 8 and a cloak of resistance +2 has a 75% chance to fail their save, but anyone with moderate optimization will have better odds (up to “only on a natural 1” for a CoDzilla with moderate saving throw investment).
Soul Power sounds cool, but Nandag has so few Su/Sp abilities that it doesn’t do much. Her Constitution-draining bite is more dangerous, she can dispel more things (at CL 5, if she wants to lose a full attack), and most importantly, I don’t take a ding for elegance for grabbing a single level of some unrelated prestige class.

And then there’s Soul Slave, which turns people killed by Nandag’s energy drain into wights which she controls, with no listed cap. That’s not a useful combat ability—wights aren’t a serious threat at level 19—but it fundamentally changes encounter design. You’re not just fighting a two-headed dragon that attacks a dozen times a turn and drains levels like a frat boy chugs jello shots, you’re also fighting a horde of wights.
Nandag is kinda dumb, but she’s wise enough to use this horde in at least a basic fashion. If Nandag has a chance to arrange an ambush or similar, she would command the wights to surround the party and move into melee after her initial dive-pounce. They would give her flanking bonuses, which is about all the support basic undead minions can provide a melee villain.
If you want to make this ability more interesting (and don’t mind bending the rules), try making custom wights as minions. Maybe use the wight template from Savage Species, and maybe apply it to non-humanoids. Or if you’re sticking to RAW, maybe she has some wights who gained class levels after being turned. But this sort of thing is well outside the scope of this contest.

Spoiler: Use In a Campaign

Nandag is a very introverted villain. She has a complicated internal life, and isn’t the type to exposit her motivations to heroes in a climactic confrontation. So how do you make use of this backstory?

The ideal solution would be to stretch the character’s story across multiple campaigns. (Or multiple segments of a single campaign set decades apart, like Fire Emblem 4.) First, the players participate in a dragon hunt where they spy a young dragon with five legs and two heads, and searching the cave with detect magic notes traces of necromancy on some corpses. Later, the players perhaps come across Nandag in her slow descent into omni-nihilism or hear about a helpful NPC from the dragon-slaying mission dying with those same necromantic traces on his body. Finally, the undead army begins to descend on the world, with those same necromantic traces; add in some hints about Nandag’s projected hopelessness somewhere (maybe they find emo poetry in one of her abandoned lairs?) and the players should be able to put the pieces together.

But stretching a playable backstory into pieces scattered across decades of in-game time is usually impractical. How else can you express the character’s backstory?

The simple method is to just compress everything. Move the big tragedies in Nandag’s life past the first age categories, or handwave her rapid growth as a side effect of eating so many souls. Removing the decades of isolation from her backstory does weaken it, but sacrifices have to be made for play.

Finally, there’s the option of inserting a character who can explain Nandag’s backstory and motivations. That’s tricky, due to the aforementioned isolation. You would need to write someone close enough to understand Nandag, but not close enough to help her out of what amounts to depression mixed with an unfulfillable vengeful anger and an inability to imagine others living a better life. Perhaps a hermit-druid or something who also mostly lives as an animal around the margins of civilization or something?
Once you’ve written such a character into Nandag’s story, killing that character can serve as a more acute catalyst to her apocalyptic self-destruction. To make it clear that this random corpse is important, Nandag makes a monument around it and sets wights to guard it. Eventually, the party follows a lead to this brand-new undead-infested mausoleum in the middle of nowhere and finds either a corpse they can speak with dead on or a mournful ghost the party can more freely chat with.

Complex villain motives are tricky to properly convey in any medium, and the strictly “first-person limited” perspective inherent to TRPGs makes that even harder. (To say nothing of players who will obliviously walk past or obnoxiously talk over major plot points without even realizing it.) At the end of the day, all you can do is find ways to put the pieces in front of the players and hope for the best...or write villains whose motivations can be expressed in a quick pre-combat monologue.

Spoiler: Author’s Notes

Nandag is a Scottish form of “Nancy”. As in “negati—” Never mind.
I originally called her the Eater of Souls, before I wound up leaning on the parts of her threat that were less about her eating your soul specifically and more about general soul magic.

I gave myself two goals for this round: Don’t use anything undead-y, and include as many of the optional requirements as possible. Turns out that most negative energy stuff is undead-y, and the way I wound up leaning on an undead apocalypse is pretty necromancer-y, but I managed to get ability damage and negative levels in here!

Some of you might wonder why so many skill points are invested in Hide and Move Silently. I’d like to point to the notes in the Tactics section that talk about Nandag surprising her victims with long-distance aerial charges. This kind of ambush works better if the villain has at least some basic stealth capabilities, and one level of sorcerer spellcasting won’t cut it.

I considered adding a Shedu Crown or Gorgon Mask soulmeld, but you can’t open the totem chakra with a feat and it’s probably arguable whether trampling would actually apply the touch effects. I was also going to add the Deepspawn feat for two more tentacle attacks, until I realized that Aberration Blood requires the humanoid type. Oh well. More annoying is that the sickened status effect exists, which gives more save penalties, but I can’t find anything that would inflict it.

In the category “stuff I would have added if I didn’t reread and realize how little it added,” we have the Disciple of the Eye class from Races of the Dragon. I added it entirely because it was another potential source of the shaken condition, and removed it because A. it’s clunky B. it’s weird for a teenage-stereotype dragon to have a monklike mindset and C. dragons don’t get frightful presence (which is a better way to inflict fear) until young-adult age, and that’s a 2-CR addition that adds a lot more. (Also, inflicting a saving throw penalty isn’t as important as I expected because the energy drain doesn’t involve saving throws.)

On things that I’m only mostly sure I got right: You don’t get ability score increases for monster HD, since those are assumed to be incorporated into the racial ability score modifiers. You get ASI’s every fourth HD thereafter. But dragons keep getting more racial hit dice as they add age categories, which makes this simple rule complicated. I kept track of how many multiples-of-four levels the class levels added, which is less complicated than I’m making it sound and which I think is how this is supposed to work.
Also, Nandag’s Ability Drain ability arguably qualifies as a “head-based special attack”. I don’t think so—it doesn’t become more potent like a breath weapon does, it just becomes a rider on more attacks. But if it does, I over-CR’d by one.

Speaking of Ability Drain, is the DC supposed to be Charisma-based? That seems random, and some of the other true dragons have Charisma-based breath weapon DCs (which definitely isn’t right!).

Spoiler: Sources

Book of Vile Darkness: Soul Eater
Draconomicon: Fang dragon, Improved/Rapidstrike feats
Magic of Incarnum: Bind Soulmeld, Open Chakra, Sphinx Claws soulmeld
Savage Species: Multiheaded template
Spell Compendium: Blood wind

Core rules: Four feats, five spells, and that’s about it.