About Me

Friday, April 28, 2017

RMA: Wood Golem

Looking over my many old RMAs, I see that I've now covered every golem from BX except this one. I'll be honest. The wood golem has never seemed that impressive to me. They are, to be sure, the weakest of the golems; both in terms of  puissance and any special abilities. Let's just jump into the stats first, shall we? Since it's so brief, I'm including the full write up of this variety for reference.

Wood Golem (from Cook)

AC: 7
HD: 2+2
Move: 120' (40')
Atk: 1 (fist)
Dmg: 1d8
No. App: 1
Save As: F1
Morale: 12
TT: Nil

These monsters are crude manlike figures about 3' tall, rudely hacked from wood. They move stiffly and have a penalty of -1 on their initiative rolls. They burn easily, saving at -2 and suffering one extra point of damage per die from fire-based attacks.

So! Where to begin? Even with golem immunities, this thing is pretty wimpy. with an average of 11 hit points and the armor class of a hireling, the only thing keeping it going is the need for magic to hit it. It packs a punch for something kobold-sized, but then its punch is essentially getting hit with a baseball bat.

It's fire vulnerability and slowness are the kickers, though. There is a pretty good chance that someone in the party goes first. At that point, the thing is an oil flask and a torch away from oblivion. So what's the problem? It's a starter golem. Something easy for the players to smack down and move on from. After all, we don't want to make things too hard on th- BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!

aheh - Sorry! I couldn't get through that sentence with a straight keyboard. That is NOT how things are done here!

OK. So we've got a lemon of a monster. How do we make some limoncello out of this?


Of course you can tweak the stats, make a giant one, and so forth. But lets work with the numbers we've been given, shall we?

"crude manlike figures about 3' tall, rudely hacked from wood." But does it HAVE to be crude? I mean, that's really just cosmetics, right? A grey orc's stats aren't necessarily any different than a green one's, so why do all wood golems have to look like this? What if they were, I don't know...


They'd still be slow and flammable, but infinitely more unnerving to have one staring at you than something like Little Wooden Boy:

Now admittedly, that's just flavor text. What about making them more effective monsters?

One thing to keep in mind is that golems are created by someone. Usually at great effort and cost. Even a wooden golem isn't cheap, so you want some kind of ROI.

So who says Wood Golems are for combat?

The relevant definition of "Golem" here is "an automaton or robot." A wood golem could be a handy little servant for some wizard, possibly carved into a whimsical shape. It's size would allow it to move through small passages (Like a -heheh- "dumb. waiter"). It could also be a form of home security by scurrying about, triggering traps according to circumstances. If anyone came across it and it wanted to conceal its nature, it could just go limp in a corner.

My players would go to extreme lengths to leave this scene the hell alone!

If caught, it can fight, albeit not extremely well. That's not its function though. Its job is perform various tasks for the master. It's a spanner in the works. A little robotic assistant that can cut the rope or pull the lever while the PCs are busy fighting the "boss." It can be sent off to run some errand while its master is doing something completely different.

After all, there are no strings on it!

RMA: Bone Golem

We miss you, Steve Z.

When I was a lad, playing 1st edition AD&D, golems were flesh, clay, stone, or iron. It wasn't until I discovered Moldvay/Cook years later (my "Basic" had been Holmes) that I found out about bronze, wood, amber, and bone golems; not to mention living statues.

To me, these somehow underscore "Classic" D&D's distinct flavor, especially B/X's. There's a weirdness to B/X that always seemed lacking in AD&D to me. Maybe it's the artwork, maybe it's the more streamlined rules, but some of these critters were just more wild and FUN to me. I'm sure that's just a personal bias, but there it is.

Anyway, on to old tanglebones here (that's for you Moorcock fans).

Bone Golem (from Cook Expert) 

AC: 2
HD: 8
Move: 120' (40')
Atk: 4 (weapons)
Dmg: by weapons
No. App: 1
Save: F4
Morale: 12

OK, first off. One of the things I love about the BG is that it looks kind of like an undead, but it's not. So clerics might waste time trying to Turn Undead or people might waste holy water (Or does one dare hope a Protection from Undead scroll?) on the thing. Also, in my games undead radiate evil for Detect Evil purposes, and this fella doesn't.

Next up, it's got all the great golem immunities: sleep, charm, hold, gas, and non-magical weapons.

Each golem type listed in Expert has a fun little ability or twist to it. Granted the wood golem's are disadvantages (fire and poor initiative), but I still appreciate the extra effort in the details. The Bone Golem's is 4 attacks per round (!) due to extra limbs grafted on. It can only target two people at a time, but still! Even with smaller weapons like shortswords, the thing is a macabre Cuisinart. 8 HD means it's attack rolls aren't too shabby either. A fun twist is the option to give it two 2H weapons (e.g. polearms) and let it do more damage per attack with only 2/round.

It's AC is decent but not unhittable. Again, 8 HD means it's probably in the fight for a little while.

Its Treasure Type -like all golems- is Nil, which means players may want tot think carefully about whether engagement is worth the effort.

So, tactics for it and to fight it?

As a GM, I would place this as a guardian for some tomb or temple. Maybe the bones of heroes were used to serve the cause without foul necromancy being involved. Tactically, it might appear as a pile of bones in an ossuary, magically assembling itself if the sacred place is desecrated.

"Creating a golem is costly, time consuming, and beyond the power of player characters in the D&D Expert rules." (X33) So they shouldn't be random fodder or too casually placed in the game. Someone, at some point, went to a lot of effort to put it wherever it is, so make it count.

Depending on the group it faces, it might focus all four attacks on one PC at a time until it drops the strongest foe, before moving on.

Fun thought #1: Give it two swords (1d8 each under the variable damage rules) and a longbow in the other pair! If you allow missile attacks while engaged in melee, the thing can be peppering the mage with arrows while fending of the melee types.

Fun thought #2: Cover the BG in armor head to toe. Even if it doesn't affect its AC, it may take the PCs a little longer to figure out what they are dealing with.

Fun thought #3: Use up one hand to give it a shield for -1 AC.

Fun thought #4: It's a walking weapons rack. The magic weapons in the treasure hoard are the ones it's using. If the fighter wants that shiny +2 longsword, he's going to have to beat the thing wielding it. I once gave a Bone Golem a +1 battle axe and a +1 glaive. The dwarf (I let them use battle axes as traditional weapons despite their 2h status) and polearm-favoring fighter PCs were very happy after they beat the thing. The dead thief's player, not so much.

When facing the BG, players should have magic weapons and straight damage spells (fireball, etc.) available. Golems are nasty business in general. In most cases they have a specific task to perform and if you have to back off and come back better prepared, then do so. If you absorb some punishment, it shouldn't be too hard for non-beginner PCs to whittle down its hit points. Ranged attacks are your friend if it's sporting only melee attacks, and it's not too terribly fast (or slow) movement-wise.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A funny little thought

I was perusing some old blog posts and stumbled across this old RSA about the Read Languages spell. It got me thinking about the "Common Tongue" conceit in D&D. Other games have their versions as well; Runequest's "Tradetalk" springs to mind. In the post I mention that the spell doesn't seem to see a lot of use in-game and being a stickler GM about languages can be potentially annoying/un-fun for the players.

So here's an idea: the Common Tongue is just that; a tongue. i.e. a spoken language. That means there IS no written form. It's a pidgin of various words and grammars into an almost slang. Sure you can chat up the shopkeeper in Common, but odds are the sign on his door is in his native language.

This can open up more reasons that learning a language can matter as well as knowing the Read Languages spell. It's not TOO punitive, because it doesn't preclude all communication. It just makes knowledge a tad more useful. Which can be really handy in old-school games where that 16 INT magic-user knows five languages, but is tapped out on spells for the day.