Monday, December 16, 2013

Living Statues are not Golems

It always seemed curious to me that AD&D had the classic Golems - Clay, Flesh, Stone and Iron - whereas the Basic D&D book had lower level creatures called "Living Statues" - Crystal, Iron, and Rock.  I always viewed it as  part of an "AD&D just gets better stuff" syndrome.  However, in the Expert rule book, classic D&D would add variants of the Golem, such as the Wood, Bronze, Bone, and Amber Golems.  Strange that the archetypal Clay Golem or Frankenstein-like Flesh Golem never made it to classic D&D!

However, there are a few key differences between the Living Statues and Golems that make the oversight more nuanced and more interesting - the overlap between the monster types is incomplete.  Regarding Golems:  they have a morale 12, meaning they never check morale, and are unaffected by Sleep, Charm, and Hold spells.  They're also immune to non-magic weapons.  They're firmly in the realm of powerful magic constructs, true automatons - mindless and dedicated to relentlessly following the creator's orders, heedless of personal danger.

The Living Statues have a morale rating of 11.  There's a slim chance that a statue chooses to disengage from combat or retreat - the self preservation instinct implies awareness and a degree of consciousness.  Living Statues are unaffected by Sleep, but they are affected by mind control - Charm and Hold spells work against them - more evidence that a guiding consciousness is present within the construct, differentiating them from their more powerful cousins.

For my campaigns, Living Statues are constructs like Golems, but achievable at lower cost - represented by the weaker combat statistics and fewer magical immunities.  The short cut to creating a Living Statue is imbuing the creation with a degree of will.  Independent thought makes the Living Statues less reliable as guards and servants -they're capable of interpreting commands loosely or abandoning their posts in the interests of self preservation.  The idea of a powerful wizard with a bunch of unreliable stone flunkies is kind of funny.  I suppose that's why Living Statues end up collecting dust in the odd corners of low level dungeons - they have a tendency to forget their mandates or get abandoned for more effective servitors by the high level wizards.  For a pulp fantasy setting, the Living Statue is imbued with the soul of a sentient being or a summoned outsider during creation, allowing some unusual story possibilities.

It does make me wonder if such a theme appeared somewhere in the classic pulps of the early 20th century.  Living Statues seem to be a Tom Moldvay creation; I don’t remember seeing them in Holmes (and please chime in if they went back to OD&D).  Moldvay's bestiary is rife with pulp action monsters, and his power trio of classic D&D adventures - The Isle of Dread, The Lost City, and Castle Amber - borrow ideas heavily from 1930's era weird tales.  They are practically homages to Robert E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.  (If you're new to the hobby and enjoy weird tales, I highly recommend those adventures).  I have to wonder if the Living Statues are a throwback to the weird tales era that I'm overlooking.