Posted by : David Guyll August 07, 2013

This is going to be another one of those posts where I wonder why the designers are keen on giving us a variety of specific, similar monsters, instead of just adopting a toolkit approach with some examples. I think it is even more fitting given that we are talking about constructs.

A helmed horror is a Medium-sized suit of armor that for some reason glows purple, can see invisible things, cast a couple spells as defined by...someone, is immune to exactly three spells, and built for a purpose. I kind of zone out after the first comma, as none of the rest approaches anything resembling rhyme or reason.

Why the purple glow? Is it because of the magic? Is purple the magic color for an animated suit of armor? Why air walk and feather fall? Why immunity to exactly three spells? Why is this described as an entry-level construct for spellcasters wanting to get into the craft? It is expensive and has a variety of bells and whistles that probably contribute to the cost without serving any necessary function. I guess always envisioned a wizard's first starter-construct to be, I dunno, at least crude-looking.

Sure, it cannot see invisible things, but it can still rip a strider apart.
What, can constructs only be made through a rigorous process of stringing a bunch of random capabilities together? Maybe early wizards were just fashionably conscious, such that vanilla suits of animated armor just would not cut it. "Yeah, it glows purple alright, but can it fly?"

This actually might explain the shield guardian, another construct that is pegged as a beginner model: it is Large, specifically built to protect the creator (or whoever is holding an amulet, because there is no way that can be abused), and can hold any one spell no matter what level it is (because no one seems to even be sure what a spell slot means). The the only drawback (aside from that whole amulet business) is that it looks like someone assembled it out of random bits of garbage.

Effective, but totally clashes with those robes.
So...what if a wizard wants to make a Medium shield guardian, or a Huge one? Why can they not add air walk to it? Normally in fiction wizards tend to be the kind of folk that do lots of weird experiments, so how come in Dungeons & Dragons they do absolutely none of these things? In The Dying Earth one of the characters tries to learn how to create artificial life. In D&D you would not try, but instead just wait until you can cast a spell that lets you create a clone or simulacrum and do that.

There is no try, just safe, predictable "magic".
I bring this up because it does not sound like wizards learn to make constructs, but just find an existing construct recipe, spend however much gold it says to spend, and get their construct after a requisite amount of time has passed. No trial and error, no experimentation.

First, spellcasters should in general should be able to build constructs/golems, not just clerics and wizards. I can easily imagine druids, shamans, psychic classes, and so on building some interesting and thematic constructs out of wood, stone, psychically-charged crystals, and so on. They could power them with bound elementals, nature spirits, and distilled intelligences (like 3rd Edition's psicrystals).

Materials and size should serve as a foundation to determine the construct's defenses, hit points, Strength, and damage output. Some materials might have other effects, too, such as reducing speed, resistances against some kinds of damage (as well as vulnerabilities), etc. From there the creator can add in additional functions, whether that means an expanded Intelligence score (to program more complex commands), extra limbs (extra attacks, bonuses to grapple, etc), combat maneuvers (like a fighter), spells, ability to track the creator or take damage for her, etc.

This sounds a lot more interesting and flexible, and is something that both players and DMs can mess around with. I mean, come on: Adventurer, Conquerer, King has a system for wizards that want to make bizarre things, including splicing things together. Get with the times.

After all this made it into the game; can players actually do worse?

...

Do not answer that. 
Animated objects are, as the name says, objects temporarily animated by...clerics? Really? Not just any old cleric mind you, but mid-level ones? I had to actually look this up because it seemed too silly to be real, and to my surprise found that no, not just clerics, but bards of all classes can also stir one up if you want, which just makes it even more ridiculous. I also love how you can animate one Small object per level, but until 10th-level you have absolutely no capacity to do this at all. I hope that the designers are not seriously considering limiting animating an object to either of these classes.

I think that animated objects, especially temporary ones, would be great for transmuter wizards, but could even see a case for druids and wood/stone. Think Fullmetal Alchemist, where they sometimes transmute objects and cause them to move. I see no reason why a spell like this cannot just be a cantrip: the wizard touches an object, or channels energy into an object, and it just whacks someone. Per-day versions could even be used to help bend gates, open doors, etc (giving a bonus/advantage to the check).

Finally, the homunculus suffers from the same problem as the first two monsters: for some reason, no matter what, they are always Tiny, and always have leathery wings...until Eberron came along and added seven more, from walking dressers to stay-at-home crafters. 3rd Edition's Magic of Eberron kind of does what I want, by allowing you to upgrade a homunculus. The only problem is that it costs feats and the end result still sucked. Just let wizards build them out of whatever they want, possibly making them more powerful if the wizard invests more into it (like reducing hit points, temporary ability score damage, etc).

{ 2 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I love Fullmetal Alchemist!!!

    Yeah, I agree with everything you say, except one point. They said that the Shield Guardian is an entry-level construct for wizards of that bent, and then complained that they looked like they are pieced together with garbage. I think you know what I'm saying here.

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  2. Hmm? My problem with the helmed horror and shield guardian is that both feature things that a budding crafter might not want/need. Frankly most first time golems would likely be made from scrap. I would assume a wizard might start small (literally), then build up from there.

    Probably nothing too fancy, though it could be really cool to see spell schools interact with everything, so a wizard that specializes in Illusion might be able to make her construct look, evoker could install lightning cannons, and a transmuter might have it change materials so that it could hurt lycanthropes and fey.

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