Game: Encyclopaedia Arcane: Constructs
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 4th, April 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 4.00
Alejandro Melchor, Mongoose’s new writer, took six entries from the Monster Manual and span them out into a jam-packed 64-page book. You’ll find that even the inside covers of the book are used so I guess you could argue on a 66-page book. The inside cover, full colour art, is rather creepy – just the thing to inspire your players. The Encyclopaedia Arcane: Contacts comes with the tagline “It is alive!” and this Frankenstein feel is rife throughout the book. Those would-be Frankenstein wizards are sometimes called transmuters in the book and I can see where that’s come from, straight from the Dungeons and Dragons magic categories but I would have liked to seen an attempt to “mancy” this particular branch of arcane science. What about “creomancy” and “creomancer”?
The way I see it you’ll buy Constructs for two possible reasons; as a way to cope with your powerful mage PC attempting to build himself a golem (or something similar) or as a specialised beastary from which you can populate the gothic castle of your own NPC creomancer, sorry, transmuter. By concentrating on the first the book answers the second as well. It’s easy enough to flick to any given section in the book, pick a suitable size (fine to colossal) from the table and you’ll have the core stats for the creation, with the special abilities of that particular style of construct near by. If you want to make good use of Constructs in your game then you simply need to purchase this book. If Constructs are going to play almost no role in your fantasy heroics, for example, then depending on your fanboy factor you may simply want the book for the inspiration, the read or to keep your set of Encyclopaedia Arcane complete.
Cleverly, by taking the already small sphere of magical constructs and diving it up into even smaller sections, the encyclopaedia manages to expand the scope and appeal of the magical genre. It’s no easy matter creating a golem and you’re not going to find much for your sub level 10 wizard in the book. The Homunculus and Mockery Simulacra require casting levels of 7 and 8 respectively though. The simulacra are an example of the different sort of construct aside from the infamous golem and they’re different from the rest in that they’re actually grown instead of being built. The homunculus is a simple but strange little creature powered through their dose of their creator’s blood and the mockery is a pale attempt to mimic (very badly) some other known life form. The golems are the biggest and baddest, and then the automata are those clever contraptions (including the clockwork design) that are powered by raw magic – you’ll find your scouts and shield maidens here – and then the strangely grown simulacra. The simulacra as the sort of things you might see rise up from a bubbling cauldron, that said, the presented rules for the power sources of these constructs is either raw magic or a bound elemental. If you envisioned demonic or necromantic powered golems then they’re simply mentioned as a rumoured possibility in this particular Encyclopaedia.
The process for building a golem is rather detailed but not overly complicated. You cobble together your golem in a similar way that a wizard might make his decisions. The most important decision is the base material for your golem and your choices range through wood to diamond, from shell to mithral. The most ambitious your choice of material then the higher the spell casting requirements and bigger penalty you’ll incur for your Construction Rating (CR). The size of the golem is the next decision, it’s easier to build small or medium scale things but if you are up to the challenge you can slide on the scale between fine and colossal. These changes also affect the skill checks required, the CR and amount of gold you’ll need to spend simply putting the body together. You then get to play around, add extra limbs, hidden weapons or associate magical effects and powers with your creation. The example in the book is of a transumter building a large bone golem in the shape of a centaur, given the skills required to use its mighty scythe and then the special ability that allows it to track its target anywhere and everywhere. It’s a rather good example of how much more interesting a golem can be than the classic image of a bulky humanoid. The only issue I have with the example is that the designer skips over the Horizontal (construct) feat which seems required for anything designed to walk on four legs rather than two, although the bone golem does purchase an extra pair of legs I would imagine the lack of this small additional feat (extra legs, extra feats! Oi!) would leave it with four legs attached to only one set of hips.
In addition to the magical skill required to build a golem (or an automation) the whole process of actually crafting the body is something that deserves attention in itself and sure enough you’ll find the craft rules set out sensibly here. I can just picture some masterful and ancient wizard who could close the gates to hell but would get stumped if he had to wield a hammer for more than five minutes without smashing his thumb. Luckily for this wizard and for GMs who like to share the scene and goals around someone else can be hired out to actually craft the physical frame of the golem. There’s also the tasks and chore required to keep your golem, automata or simulacra repaired and this is briefly mentioned along with the various difficulties or time saving involved in re-animating those constructs that have had the life-force beaten out of them.
Finally there is space enough to offer advice and suggestions to GMs who wish to include constructs in their game. It might be all too easy to have the mage’s new and mighty metal ally steal the limelight and smash all the enemy monsters. There’s also the suggestion that maybe, deep inside, golems have some sort of residual intelligence. In fact, if you’re so inclined, there are a few ethical debates you can plunge your players into even against the political-correctness of automated enemies (your heroes are smashing magic machines, not taking life) in that they might finally defeat the wizard’s army of constructs and then inherit his notes on re-creating the very same army…