Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Der (Flesh) Golem

Just in time for the Halloween season...

I was thinking about golems the other day.  Dungeons and Dragons, not known for originality, but great at taking a piece of property and running with it, introduced golems into the game early on.  Unlike the legendary Jewish animated statue, the D&D golem is an artificial construct created by a magic user and animated by an elemental bound within it.  That's not quite the Jewish golem, but it worked for D&D.  Golems are generally useful.  They are strong, tough, immune to most forms of attack,including many spells and while not exactly intelligent, they can be very useful for guarding things.  Golems come in many varieties, being made out of stone, wood, metal, clay, even glass, but today we are interested in the FLESH GOLEM.
The flesh golem first appeared, as far as I know, in the AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual and is basically Frankenstein's Monster.

See the image?  Yeah, that's Frankie.

The flesh golem was, originally, quite different from other golems.  It was healed by electricity and had a cumulative chance of going berserk in combat.  Again, that's pretty much Frankenstein's monster.  The flesh golem write up, in case you are interested, is below.

A flesh golem can be created by means of a magical tome or by a high level magic-user employing a wish spell, a polymorph any object, a geas, a protection from normal missiles and a strength spell. The latter case demands a level of magic-use of at least the 14th. The cost in materials is 1 ,OOO gold pieces per hit point of the golem. It requires 1 month to fashion the creature.  The creator of the flesh golem controls the monster, being able to have it follow simple commands (go ahead, stop, kill, etc.). The master of the
golem can have it suspend its functioning until a set event tokes place (such as someone entering its room).
However, for each turn of melee a flesh golem engages in there is a 1% per melee round cumulative chance it will go berserk, attacking at random anything in sight. The monster‘s master has a 10% per melee round chance of regaining control of the golem.
The flesh golem is very powerful and able to smash through doors and wooden structures of normal construction. For example, a flesh golem would break through an oaken door with iron reinforcing bands and hinges, in 5-8 melee rounds. It does 1 point of structural damage to wooden constructions only every 3 melee rounds. Normal weapons do not harm flesh golems, but magical weapons have normal effect. Spells of most sorts have no effect on such monsters, but fire
or cold based spells (such as wall of fire, fire boll, ice storm, etc.) slow the golem by 50% for 2-12 melee rounds. Electrical attacks restore damage to the golem in direct relation to the number of dice of damage normally done, i.e. a 6 die lightning bolt restores 6 hit points of damage which the golem might have sustained.

The link between Mary Shelley's creation and the Golem of legend is really an afterthought as no evidence exists that I can find to suggest that Mary Shelley had any knowledge of the legend or considered it in creating her story.  She does tell her readers, in the 1831 introduction to her work (reprinted after minor style changes by her) that discussions between her husband and Lord Byron on the philosophical nature of life, experiments attributed to Erasmus Darwin and Galvani and how those linked to it, and in the work Victor speaks of Paracelsus and alchemists and occultists all contributed to her creation.  Thus we can infer with some reasonable accuracy that Shelley's creation is not a golem by her understanding.  Regardless the Flesh Golem of D&D is clearly more than a little inspired by Frankenstein's Monster, particularly as seen in films.
"Wizard BAD!"
Golems are mere tools in AD&D, not player characters, which is a shame because what monster fan wouldn't have to have a go at being one of the classic big boys of monsters?  Universal Monsters Online, the defunct MOBA allowed players to play as Frankenstein's Monster.  He was a tank, by the way.
Looks a bit less a lumbering dolt than one would expect, doesn't he?  

Over the years and editions the Flesh Golem changed its look and some of its characteristics.  The 3rd edition is particularly nasty looking in keeping with the DungeonPunk stylings of that era.  Since they are made of scavenged body parts any single Flesh Golem might be quite an interesting mix of monster parts as well, as shown below.
3rd edition Flesh Golem, note the wires and such.
He's reading a book.  Are we supposed to believe he's intelligent?
Yet for all the obvious Frankenstein references, the Flesh Golem is not like our monster friend up there.  It is an elemental spirit bound into a flesh shell, not a creature animated by the fire of heaven itself.  It does not have free will and so does elicit our respect or sympathy.  It's just another monster for players to kill or use as they see fit.  It should be respected for it's natural toughness, but outside of that, nobody cares much.  That seems a crap way to pay tribute to a great inspiration like Frankenstein, and so it would be but for a little 2nd edition campaign setting called Ravenloft...

To be continued.

1 comment:

  1. I am an avid D&Dr fan and have played 2nd edition since I was 15. Not as much anymore, but that is another story.

    So anyway, I remember a few encounters with flesh golems. I especially remember when we first stumbled on a book on how to make them, and our Elven wizard-fighter refused to take it because he considered it evil. We sold it at a high price, under the pressure of some of our non good-aligned PCs, but we made sure we didn't sell it to evil NPCs, only to some priests who were interested in such tome for academic reason.