When you hear “the monster eats your body,” you’re probably thinking it eats the meat parts of you. But what about all those delicious bones? Surely there’s something out there to munch on all those bones you keep selfishly hidden inside of you. Worry not, concerned citizen, the crest-eater is here! Though if you’re ever faced with one, worrying is actually a good course of action.
The crest-eater is a CR 4 magical beast hailing from the desert world of Kasath. Their primary ability is Bone Eater (Su), which forces any target that takes damage from its bite attack to make a DC 13 Fortitude save or take one point of Constitution damage. It also has Venom Spit (Su), which allows them to make a ranged attack with a 30 foot range against KAC that forces the target to make the same save against the same effect. These both sync up nicely with its Bone Tracker (Ex) ability, which allows it to smell calcium deposits and grants it blindsense (scent) against any creature that it’s inflicted Constitution damage on in the last hour.
The crest-eater isn’t entirely rooted in fiction. The bearded vulture, a very real bird, has a diet consisting almost entirely of bone. True, it technically eats the marrow, but it’s proof that a bone eating beast isn’t completely impossible. Of course, surviving entirely on bone is nutritionally improbably, which is why the crest-eaters have large frills and fins that act like solar panels to collect the energy they need to live. That alone raises a number of interesting questions about biology. A monster that eats bones to dissolve and repurpose into growing its own bony fins is a pretty unique creature. The vulture isn’t the only real animal it’s inspired by either. Certain snakes have the ability to track prey they’ve bitten by smelling trace chemicals in their own venom, specifically included to allow them to bite prey and flee, avoiding a fight and letting them track down and eat the now-dead prey at their leisure. The crest-eater’s Bone Tracker works much the same, helping them find any creature they’ve bitten. This also adds more fun for the DM, giving you the perfect reason why a pack of crest-eaters tracked down the players after they fled from the fight.
The crest-eaters also have a pretty neat role in the culture of the race of their homeworld. Namely, they’re seen as omens of death. Why? Well they only eat the bones, so if they kill something they take the boniest parts and leave the rest so as to avoid wasting time and energy trying to separate out those delectable bones and giving themselves indigestion by eating more meat than they’re meant to. This gives them a rather peculiar habit of biting the heads off corpses to get the bone-dense skulls, a practice supported by the bony skull crests of the native kasathas. With that in mind, their cultural role makes a lot of sense. We’ve come to see ravens and vultures as omens of death simply because they feed on corpses. Imagine how much stronger our reaction would be to an apex predator that decapitated corpses and left the bodies for others to find?
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Crest-eaters are surprisingly social creatures, traveling in groups of unrelated individuals to hunt for prey. They also tend to accumulate communities of smaller creatures, which they allow to scavenge the meat from their meals and pick parasites from their hides. It’s all very in mind of a nature documentary, but don’t let that distract you. Crest-eaters are still big, dangerous, and very intent on eating that tasty skeleton you keep attached to your vital organs. Here’s from plot hooks to use crest-eaters in your game:
- A war has been raging on a desolate moon for years on end, each side growing more and more desperate as they attempt to eke out a victory. Revolutions in magic and technology drive the war effort, seeing the invention and widespread use of things most civilizations would balk at. One side has turned to necromancy to help counter heavy casualties, raising the dead of both sides as skeletons despite the impact on the morale within their own troops. To counter this, the other side has imported a number of crest-eaters to let loose on the battlefields. The beasts, barely trained, rampage through the undead enemy lines as they devour the animated bones, though on more than one occasion they’ve chosen to hunt their captors rather than the musty skeletons of the enemy.
- A crest-eater recently discovered an old cave in it territory, and in its depths, a crack in the wall carrying the smell of many bones. After battering down the wall it discovered an ancient catacomb filled with moldering remains. What it took to be a feast soon took a turn for the worst when it encountered a ghoul residing in the same crypt, contracting ghoul fever in the ensuing struggle. Now consumed by twin hungers for flesh and bone while equally unable to sate either, the creature has gone nearly mad, killing everything it can find to devour their bodies in an attempt to curb its apatite.
- Crest-eaters don’t typically get along with other creatures any more than most apex predators, but in some circumstances they make exceptions. One such exception is found in the forests of Vastil, the site of recent expeditions in search of a viable settlement location. The forests are home to a species of jellyfish-like creatures, boneless gasbags that float above the forest floor while trailing venomous tendrils. These creatures aren’t venomous enough to kill more than a squirrel, but they have another trick up their tentacles: the ability to brush against the minds of others and influence their emotions. Usually used to dampen the fear reaction to stop prey from running, they’ve learned to use it to stoke curiosity and dampen unease, luring explorers away from their groups and into the hunting grounds of the crest-eaters. In exchange for luring prey, the floating creatures get to feed on the fleshy remains the crest-eaters pass over.