B: B is for “BIG DAMN ROBOT”


I’m participating in the A-Z April Blogging Challenge and my theme of choice is Dungeons & Dragons.


Automatons, Constructs, and Warjacks … oh my!


Constructs come in many types, shapes, and sizes. It may be a creature of flesh and blood like Frankenstein, or a big smoke belching steam and gear construct like a Warjack. Regardless, the rules stay basically the same in AD&D. Materials must be gathered, skilled labor must be preformed, and then either the hard work prevails (and your character can shout “It’s alive!” (in your best Doctor Frankenstien voice) or … the project fizzles and fails.

Either way, my goal in this blog post is to offer some insight on constructing constructs in your AD&D game! So before we go any further please let me recommend some references for using constructs in your favorite RPG:

Liber Mechanika for the Iron Kingdoms game.

Clock and Steam for the Blackmoor setting.

D&D 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide: “Special Cohorts” page 199

AD&D Monster Manual: pages 47 – 48 dealing with Golems.

Whether you’re playing in the Blackmoor setting or adventuring in the Iron Kingdoms, big damn robots are cool. Who doesn’t want a huge robot to follow them around and smash their enemies to bits? The easiest way to make a construct requires a suitable object and an Animate Object spell.

But using animated objects puts you on the level of Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Your character can have a band of strange objects following him around, complete with an entire tea set straight out of Beauty and the Beast.

If you’re not satisfied with a mere animated object, then roll up your sleeves because your character will  have some work to do!  First of all, the character making the construct must have the skill to understand and build such creatures. Depending on what setting or game system you are using this might require the acquisition of a Skilled Mentor, Magical Tome, Feat, Skill, or Power.

For example, in the universe of D20 games like your character may need to learn a Feat. Creating a fairly elaborate construct such as a golem or shield guardian requires the Craft Construct Feat (described on page 303 in the Monster Manual). The process of construct creation is just like creating a magic item. The process is described in Chapter 7 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide discussing magical items.

Big. Damn. Robot.

In AD&D specifically, you’ll need to follow a specific series of tasks.

First, you have to be either a high level wizard or cleric (depending on the type of construct you wish to create) with access to a Magical Tome that explains how to create a certain construct. So that means that your character may have to go on a quest to find “Bigby’s Big Book of Iron Golems” or “Dr. FrankNFurter‘s Guide to Flesh Golems.”

Magic Tomes

Then after you have risked life and limb to find the magic book needed to make the nifty robot you want to create, now you have to be able to use the book. (Unless, of course, your Dungeon Master provided your character with a Pop-Up Book containing pretty pictures and one word phrases, and then maybe it will be different. In that case you may be making colorful bunny rabbits instead of big damn robots!) For example, creating an Iron Golem requires a character to be a Magic User of at least 18th level who has the specific tome required to make the golem. So … your character might have to hire the services of a high level magic user, and that could get expensive.

Second, your character will need to cast a series of spells on the construct being created. Again, I use the example of an Iron Golem. Your character (or the 18th level Wizard being hired to do the task) will need to cast Wish, Polymorph Any Object, Geas, and Cloud Kill. Combining these spells on the construct enchants it with the required magical energies needed for creation. This means that whomever is making the construct will need to have access to the required spells, and be willing/able to cast them.

Next, there is always a cost to making things like constructs. This can be handled a couple different ways in AD&D. using the example of our Iron Golem, we will need to spend 1,000 gold coins during creation on materials. Now keep in mind this is in addition to the cost of any skilled labor mentioned before like minions to find you groovy books or crusty old high level wizards to throw a couple of spells for you. Now depending on what you want to do as a Dungeon Master, you can either have the playing character spend 1000 XP (not losing levels but having to gain it back before advancing again to another level) or actually spend some of his/her moldy old money gathered from past adventures. Either way, the playing character is investing something into the creation of the construct. And keep in mind that if Jimmy the Mage wanders down to the local Haul-Mart in his village and plunks down 1000 gold coins, it may raise a few eyebrows with the locals. (“Git yer pitch forks an’ torches ready boys, ole Jimmy the Warlock is makin’ another one of them Monsters!”) Oh, and did I mention that after spending that 1000 gold coins it only gets your fancy construct one whole Hit Point? Yeah, it’s 1000 gold per hit point. So … uhm …. yeah. Spend a little cash on your big damn robot to keep it “alive.”

A construct’s description (usually) includes a market price and a cost to create the construct. In AD&D it’s a little simple and very specific. Look at the description of the construct in question, and it will tell you how to create one in your campaign. For example, the listing for the Iron Golem in the AD&D 1979 Monster Manual on page 48 is very specific in how to correctly create the monster.

In the D20 culture, the following is considered the acceptable way to Craft a construct according to Skip Williams of D&D fame:

“To calculate the creation cost for a construct, subtract the cost of any special materials the construct requires from the market price. Divide the rest in half. The result you get represents the basic materials you must buy to build the construct. This basic cost includes the cost of the construct’s body. Most construct descriptions include a separate cost for the body to allow DMs and players to use the Craft skill to create the body. The total cost to create the construct is the basic cost plus the cost of special materials. For example, a construct with a market price of 100,000 gp and 10,000 gp worth of required special materials has a creation cost of 55,000 gp.” (Here’s the math: 100,000 – 10,000 = 90,000; then 90,000/2=45,000; then 45,000 + 10,000 = 55,000 gp.)

Ouch, my math hurts.

Last, but not least of all, is time. This is a task that is not completed over night. Your character has to put some effort into making his big damn robot. While making the Iron Golem, it will take at least 3 months to finish the task. Creating a construct requires peace, quiet, and comfort, just as preparing spells does. Any location a character uses for construct creation also must have enough space to hold any special equipment and materials the construct requires. Some constructs also require a specially equipped laboratory similar to an alchemist’s lab. The cost for setting up such a laboratory is given in the construct’s description. The cost for a lab is not included in the construct’s market price or base price. Once you set up a lab, you can use it over and over again. (Until the villagers come with their pitchforks and torches, but that is a while different subject…)

You can repair damage that a construct has taken if you have the skills to do so. This will be determined by your DM.  With one day of work and an expenditure of 50 gp per hit point repaired, you can repair up to 20 points of damage to a single construct.

So in the end, all of the work pays off. Your character has a super cool Iron Golem which always remains under the control of the magic user who created it. (Now that bit could be a problem if you paid some crusty old coot to make it for you. So think about that ahead of time!) The Iron Golem will follow simple commands, and be given specific instructions to fight enemies or guard a certain location.

So in AD&D, creating a construct is tough. It’s a task for a high level character which could be worked into a campaign or dungeon crawl to give some motivation to why your character wants to gain XP levels, find specific spells, locate wacky old spellbooks, and hoard money in some tower. Or a construct could be a very cool Magical Item or Treasure found by a very lucky playing character. Or perhaps it is the gift bestowed by a divine being to aid the playing characters. Or in the case of a character in the Iron Kingdoms, it is a tool of war issued to the playing character for use on the Battlefield. But whatever the case, keep in mind that constructs are not to be taken lightly. They’re intricate, expensive, and powerful.

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed this short, chaotic look at constructs. Let me know what you think about my thoughts, and let me know how to plan to use constructs in your games.


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