I’m whipping up a few astral creatures for the DM’s Guild, and I figured I’d document some of my thoughts while doing so. First up is the shedu.
What Does the She…du?
My first step for this critter was to look at its history in D&D as far as I could see it. It’s present in the 1e and 2e Monster Manuals, and the 3e Fiend Folio, but doesn’t make an appearance that I could see in 4e (that edition generally steered away from statblocks for things you weren’t meant to fight, so that makes some sense).
Stat-wise, we’re looking at a mid-to-high tier challenge in all editions, though in each case, it doesn’t seem to have a lot of power to back up that XP value or Challenge Rating. Offensively, each iteration of the shedu is a little underwhelming, with essentially two 1d6 hoof attacks. In 1e, this could have been augmented by powerful psionics, but in 2e it’s psionic load-out was distinctly utility-based, and in 3e this remains true (though it does gain a trample ability to augment its hooves). Defensively, the shedu does a little more respectably, but this is largely thanks to their ability to peace out of a fight entirely by traveling to another plane. In 2e, this ability was the weakest (astral projection does leave your body behind), but in 1e a shedu could travel the planes “at will,” and in 3e, it has an ethereal jaunt it can call upon.
Shedu are one of the more labor-intensive monsters to use as a DM in 1e and 2e, requiring you to pick some psionic abilities for them. This could shore up their defenses or offenses, but would rely on DM expertise with psionics to do this effectively.
So, we’re looking at a creature, encounter-wise, where if the party was to fight it, it would simply run away. More often, this creature was likely to be an ally to the party, perhaps for a few sessions (making sure the DM gets some mileage out of choosing their psionic powers), vanishing to another plane when things got too hot in combat. From a functional mechanical perspective, it’s a friendly NPC with some cool powers.
From a narrative perspective, we’ve got a fairly nebulously-defined agent of Good and Law. They travel the world doing good and helping others. 3e expands on this role a bit by making them advisors to clerics who summon them. This is still pretty bland, but 2e and 3e do like to talk about their head-gear. In 2e, it was emblematic of a heirarchy, and in 3e, it was a mysterious link to a perhaps-lost kingdom. They also are among the “random psionic powers” crowd in earlier editions, without much of a reason for why their spells were psionic and not just…spells…
The New Shedu
I didn’t have a whole lot of meat to work with, as you can see, but that’s OK – it gave me some room to breathe. In looking to spice up the story, I did some research on shedu in history (their original inspiration being the man/bull/eagle/lion creature that can be found with frequency in many cultures of the ancient middle east) and found a bit about them guarding a threshold. Combining that with the intended mechanical perspective gave me a bit of a hook: they’re creatures who serve communities, summoned by others to help them repel invaders. This presents one immediate scenario where they can be used in your game: to rise up in defense of an attacked location. They also worked well as a Celestial creature type, making them well-suited to conjure celestial.
I liked the oddness of the psionic powers. It is good grist for the story-mill (why do these creatures have psionic power? What is psionic power in your world? How do these celestials fit into it?) but by 3e, the shedu had gained a lot of cruft with their multiple powers and fifth leg. So I wanted to simplify.
I took the planar travel ability and made it a limited plane shift as part of the psionic suite, defining it and limiting it. It’s still a nice “adios, muchachos!” ability, but it’s no longer an evasiveness. Their inherent magic circle I also turned into a magic circle psionic ability. I took the telepathy devotions from 2e and reduced them to charm person, which seemed to mimic the function of those abilities well enough. I’ve also given them telepathy, which fulfills the “many tongues of mortals” camp. For ability scores, I cribbed the auroch’s physical stats (because they’re bulls!) and gave them 5e-ified stats based on the 3e numbers. 5e tends to have lower ability scores across the board, so I reduced each modifier by about 50% from their 3e numbers. I collapsed the 3e skill list down to two main skills (which could replicate the effects of all those 3e skills).
I’ve also left them weak. The current CR of the shedu is 2. This serves a few purposes, design-wise.
- Keeps them good for conjure celestial, to evoke their narrative better.
- I don’t need to arse about with a lot of new ways to power-up their defenses and (especially) offenses that might ring hollow with their history.
- They’re good allies, even for mid or low-ish level parties. They can actually see use before level 10.
- It makes it easier to use a herd of 8 or so of ’em in practice
- It leaves plenty of room for a “greater shedu,” if I were inclined to make it.
That’s a lot to gain! Their weakness isn’t an uncontroversial choice (this powerful being of celestial might is less mighty than…an owlbear?), but it’s one I’m happy with, and I imagine the existence of a Greater Shedu would do a lot to appease those looking for a bit more badass in their man-bulls.
The other semi-controversial choice I’ve made is to make them no longer just bearded middle-eastern dudes in their heads. The symbolic meaning of the king-with-a-big-beard head in the original art is as a representation of wisdom and authority. I kept the crowns, but ditched the gender-specificity, so now we can have wise, authoritative lady shedu, too, why not.