Article Header Image
Bound Constructs
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

S peaking of creatures bound to service . . .



Last week I talked about bound elementals. This week I figured I'd talk about constructs that are created and animated to perform a service for a mortal spellcaster: helmed horrors, shield guardians, animated objects, and homunculi.

Helmed Horror

Medium Construct
Alignment: Neutral
Level: Medium
Environment: Any

A helmed horror is the beginner's golem, easier to create and less likely to go berserk, but still expensive in terms of both time and resources. The lore needed to create one is more accessible and easier to comprehend, meaning they are typically found at lower levels than golems.

A helmed horror looks like a suit of armor, and observers might easily mistake it for empty armor standing on display. When active, purple light shines through the joints in its armor and through the eyes of its helm.

Arcane spellcasters create helmed horrors and imbue them with a variety of arcane spells and abilities. These constructs can see invisible creatures (making them useful guardians), use abilities that emulate the air walk and feather fall spells, and wield melee and ranged weapons with skill and strong tactics. Each helmed horror is immune to three specific spells determined by its creator.

A helmed horror is created with a specific purpose in mind. Even if its creator issues it new orders, it always works at its best when carrying out the kinds of tasks its creator originally assigned to it. To give a simple example, a helmed horror created to help in the assault on any enemy keep will always be stronger at offensive tactics than at defense, and if its creator later orders it to help protect his or her own keep, the horror will be less effective. Even so, a helmed horror follows orders with intelligence and cunning, obeying the intent rather than the literal wording, and it acts with autonomy as it carries out its orders.

A helmed horror is cunning enough to focus its attacks on spellcasters, ambush enemies, and use terrain to its advantage. It makes clever use of its wind walk ability, often taking up a position out of reach of its enemies and peppering them with ranged attacks. It lacks the insight to change its environment, fortify it, or otherwise take active measures to improve its position—its tactics revolve around its own position and actions in the moment of battle.

Helmed horrors are supernaturally strong, but minimally intelligent.

Shield Guardian

Large Construct
Alignment: Neutral
Level: Medium
Environment: Any

A shield guardian is very similar to a helmed horror, including its status as a sort of beginner's golem. While a helmed horror could serve the same function, a shield guardian is extremely specialized in a single task: protecting its creator (or whoever wears the amulet made as part of the same creation process). If no one wears the amulet, it stands inert, taking no actions.

When it has a master, though, it acts as if it were completely devoted to ensuring that person's safety. It can find its master unerringly if they become separated. When commanded, it uses its actions to guard its master from attack. It can also magically link itself to its master to absorb damage its master would otherwise take (the shield other spell in 3rd Edition). Finally, it can store a single spell that its master can cast, casting the spell once before the master must imbue it with a new spell (the same one or a different one). It can cast the spell when commanded or when a specified trigger occurs.

It's not altogether rare to see a wealthy wizard parading through a larger city with a shield guardian in tow. Having one is an ostentatious sign of wealth and magical power, and even if it is a "beginner's golem," it indicates that its creator is bound for bigger and better things. Because the shield guardian's ownership can be transferred by giving the amulet to someone else, some wizards have also been known to collect exorbitant sums from princes, nobles, and crime lords to create shield guardian bodyguards for them.

Naturally, if you can succeed in killing a wizard protected by a shield guardian, the guardian itself is a fine prize.

Animated Objects

Constructs of Various Sizes
Alignment: Neutral
Level: Medium
Environment: Any

Helmed horrors and shield guardians are carefully created and permanently animated to serve a specific purpose as long as their physical form lasts. Animated objects, though, are constructs of convenience, made on the spur of the moment by the casting of a single spell (a cleric spell, traditionally 6th level). They remain animate only as long as the spell lasts (perhaps a minute), so their usefulness is limited to that duration. Despite this limited duration, the tremendous variety of objects that might be animated makes them extremely versatile.

Third Edition took the same approach to animated objects as it did to giant vermin—the size of the object gives its basic statistics, and the material it's made from gives other characteristics. We're (currently) taking a similar but somewhat simpler approach in the D&D Next design of the spell by letting the object's size determine its hit points and damage but otherwise making its characteristics consistent.

The most common use for an animated object is in combat, particularly because of the spell's short duration. Essentially, an animated object is a summoned monster that pops in and fights for a few rounds and then pops out—that is, returns to its inanimate state. During its brief existence, an animated statue could also batter down a door, an animated rope could snake across a narrow ledge across a chasm and fasten itself on the other side, an animated bookshelf could move itself into position to serve as a makeshift ladder, an animated chest could walk out from the trapped area it's in, and so on. The combination of combat strength and exploration utility makes animate objects a pretty awesome spell.

Homunculus

Tiny Construct
Alignment: Same as creator
Level: Low

A homunculus is a tiny construct created as an extension of its master. It's made from clay, ashes, and the creator's own blood, and it resembles a crude mass of flesh with rough skin and leathery wings. It functions more or less as a familiar, though it can act more independently. The creator (typically a wizard) can see and hear through the homunculus's eyes and ears at will, using the homunculus as a scout or spy. A telepathic link joins creator and creature, and the homunculus obeys its maker's commands without question or hesitation. The homunculus can range about a quarter of a mile from its maker.

Though it's primarily useful as a spy, the homunculus has a nasty, poisonous bite it can use to escape harm. Its venom puts the victim to sleep for as long as a half an hour. It can also deliver touch spells cast by its master, just as a familiar can, and it can store such a spell for several minutes before delivering it.

Fundamentally, a homunculus is an improved familiar, along the lines of a pseudodragon, imp, or quasit. Mages with an alchemical bent are the most likely to possess such a familiar.

What Do You Think?

These are pretty straightforward. Did I do anything surprising?

Previous Poll Results

How well do you think treating invisible stalkers as bound elementals makes sense given their role and history in the game?
1—It shows an utter lack of respect for the history of the creature in the game. 43 4%
2—It doesn’t make sense to me at all. 32 3%
3—It could work, but it needs improvement first. 169 15%
4—It’s pretty good, and I can suddenly imagine using an invisible stalker in my game. 595 51%
5—It’s awesome, and I can’t wait to use an invisible stalker in my game. 308 27%
Total 1147 100.0%

Past editions of the game haven’t actually been very clear on the duration of an invisible stalker summoning. Would you rather see them limited to a single task, no matter how long it takes, or the spell duration limited to a fixed amount of time?
They do one task, no matter how long it takes. 677 58%
They do one task, which can’t take any longer than the fixed duration of the spell. 338 29%
They do as many tasks as they can complete during the fixed duration of the spell. 130 11%
Total 1145 100.0%

How well do you think treating water weirds as bound elementals makes sense given their role and history in the game?
1—It shows an utter lack of respect for the history of the creature in the game. 26 2%
2—It doesn’t make sense to me at all. 58 5%
3—It could work, but it needs improvement first. 266 23%
4—It’s pretty good, and I can suddenly imagine using a water weird in my game. 574 49%
5—It’s awesome, and I can’t wait to use a water weird in my game. 222 19%
Total 1146 100.0%

The elemental weird in 3rd Edition (in Monster Manual II) was a sharp break from the water weird’s history in the game, turning them into oracular seers who could offer mystical insight into lore related to a specific field of study. And they had the upper bodies of beautiful women. Am I right to go back to the 1st Edition and 2nd Edition depiction of water weirds?
never saw any previous version of the water weird, and the oracle sounds cooler than what you have here. 111 10%
I never saw any previous version of the water weird, and what you presented sounds better than the oracle. 278 24%
I’m familiar with only the 1st Edition/2nd Edition water weird, and the 3rd Edition version makes no sense to me. 210 18%
I’m familiar with only the 3rd Edition elemental weirds, and the version you described here makes no sense to me. 43 4%
I’m familiar with all past incarnations of the water weird, and I like the classic version best. 382 33%
I’m familiar with all past incarnations of the water weird, and I like the 3rd Edition oracular version best. 93 8%
Total 1117 100.0%

How well do you think treating elemental myrmidons (formerly archons) as bound elementals makes sense given their role and history in the game?
1—It shows an utter lack of respect for the presentation of the creature in 4th Edition. 63 5%
2—It doesn’t make sense to me at all. 61 5%
3—It could work, but it needs improvement first. 221 19%
4—It’s pretty good, and I can suddenly imagine using an elemental myrmidon in my game. 478 41%
5—It’s awesome, and I can’t wait to use an elemental myrmidon in my game. 320 28%
Total 1143 100.0%

How about the name elemental myrmidon?
Love it! 487 42%
Meh. 338 47%
Hate it! 114 10%
Total 1149 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
Comments
Sort Items By: Newest First Oldest First Top Rated
 >
There are no comments yet for this article (or rating). Be the first!
 >

Create Comment
Follow Us
RSS
Find a place to get together with friends or gear up for adventure at a store near you
Please enter a city or zip code