Libris Monstrum #32: Golems Revisited
Welcome back to the Libris Monstrum and the revisit portion of our second series! Today we are going to talk about golems, those lumbering magical constructs that guard many a dungeon and wizard sanctum. Last time we touched upon a lot of the real world myths surrounding these things and where the D&D version seems to stem from. In looking for stuff to talk about today, I discovered a few things I had not realized. Golems that appear in various media are often derived from the Jewish clay-given-life versions. These are relatively similar to what we discussed in the last entry, as there is little reason to manipulate this thing to fit the story. Whatever setting the golem appears in it is generally a nice change to have some supernatural thing that is more or less a really buff human….that happens to be clay. So, instead of trying (and struggling) to do further justice in that regard, I have decided to dive into some of the places the concept has taken us over the years!
Let’s start with one of the more prolific versions of D&D: 3E and its predecessor 3.5. I am going to go ahead and skip the traditional forms of golems and move into some of the new ones that came out over the years. Some of these are golems we talk about in one of the Untamed Rant episodes. You can listen to that for a deeper list but I still want to highlight some of my favorites. Golems are, foremost, protective constructs made by powerful spellcasters. Whether they are protecting a tower, a town, a dungeon, or whatever else the wizard needs protecting these guardians can be virtually unstoppable. The ritual is taxing and expensive but in the end the mage will have an incredibly powerful guardian which will listen to their every command. This basic outline covers a lot of ground and it isn’t hard to extrapolate potential versions of the golem from it.
Some of the best golems are made to stylistically fit where they need to be. Sure, this might be as a iron automaton or a stone statue but there are so many other possibilities. The best example of this that I know of is the stained glass golem. Despite being magically enhanced, glass probably isn’t the best material to make a golem from. However, all I can imagine is a church or temple that is full of stained glass windows depicting various celestials, fiends, and heroes. When the temple is in danger these colorful images break from the surrounding montages and come to life, cutting and slashing at any who might get in their way. The imagery alone is worth making a golem of stained glass!
This edition had a lot of golems and most of them were the types of things that someone said, “what if we made a golem out of THIS!” Everything from fang golems to dragon flesh golems to hellfire golems. Among my favorites is the brain golem: a creature made by illithids out of nothing but brain matter. On the top of this being is a bud from the colony’s elder brain to make sure the construct is connected to the hive and able to be controlled properly. If the membrane-enclosed brain thing doesn’t throw the party off than the psionic powers certainly will. Of course there is also the alchemical golem which is a vibrant concoction of chemicals and toxins as much as it is a golem. It might look like a vaguely humanoid ooze but in reality this thing has a host of magical abilities to keep it alive from super fast healing to an acidic breath weapon! Finally I want to mention the gloom golem because it is just so cool. The image from the MM III depicts a grey, somewhat hunched form. Its flesh is smooth save for the faces that seem to wail and moan as they press from within. The golem’s head is a swirl of clay that has only a pitch black pit in its face. If that wasn’t frightening enough, this creature is made of the clay found along the banks of the River Styx. This thing is made up of the river of sad souls that is the Styx as much as anything else. What fun could be had with this golem!
As much as 4E had, there seems to be precious little selection of golems. Of course we got a lot of different things like skeletons, zombies, and goblins that didn’t have the work-free variety we really could have used in 3E. That being said there are a pair that are in the second MM that I want to mention. These are both pretty basic materials-based golems but because of their 4E status it helps reveal some of the cool effects that can play out in battle. *Obligatory note about referencing 4E to add interesting mechanics to your fights* The first of these is the bone golem. We made one of flesh, why wouldn’t we make one of bone!? I’m sure it even smells better. What I find most interesting about the bone golem is that it isn’t just a pointy golem made of bone, slashing about a battle. This thing is FULL of bones that it can spray out in a cone, retaliate against those that hit it, and explode from within when killed. This brute is just mean and will wear down a party even as they are destroying it. The chain golem on the other hand is an awesome construct made entirely of, you guessed it, chain links. What I like about this one is that chains are both flexible and maneuverable, allowing the golem to take full advantage of its form. Difficult terrain is nothing to the creature and getting anywhere near it ensures you will have a hard time not getting tangled up. Add to all that a burst grab ability that lets it drag opponents and a speed of 8 (40 feet) and you have a deadly creature who will make sure its master has you right where he wants you!
Where would we be if we didn’t dive into the lovely world of Golarion? Pathfinder has done a lot of great things and has some of the best monster books I could put on my shelves. The second Bestiary alone has half a dozen golems for you to use. These range from adamantine to mithril and even includes a version of alchemical that involves injectors and bombs. Personally, though, my favorite two come from the third entry. This one features a handful more golems but among them are the cannon and the fossil. The fossil golem is basically someone saying, “well we have bone golems so why not make those dinosaur bones?” Honestly I love it. More than that, though, they went all out on it and threw a carnivore skull at the end of each arm instead of hands. Not only that they play on what fossils really are: stone. The bite attacks of the fossil golem slowly turn its victims to stone. How cool is that?! The cannon golem is just a really clever idea for a setting where black powder is a thing and pirates abound in certain areas. It looks like an amalgam of metals and iron ship plating with chains dangling from various bits and a full sized cannon for one of its arms. There is nothing nice about fighting something so strong while it also is firing actual cannon balls at you!
This is just scratching the surface of golems in D&D (and Pathfinder) without even diving into other RPGs. Hells I didn’t even dive into third party publishers for some of the wacky things they create. Needless to say, Tome of Beasts by Kobold Press has some great examples and I can only imagine what type of space fantasy golems will show up in Starfinder! Do you have any golems that you threw at your players? Are you a wizard with grand schemes for a new type of golem? Let us know in the comments below!!!