I have never been happy with the way that magical constructs were presented in games. Admittedly, a large statue stomping the surrounding countryside is an impressive image. But the logic (or lack thereof) involved has always bothered me.
A large statue, which is what the stereotypical golem is, is not articulated for movement. It doesn’t matter if the statue is of a human, an ogre, a bunny rabbit, or a giant caterpillar. Anything created from a single peice of hard material isn’t going anywhere. Golems crafted out of several pieces are slightly more logical, but the matter of joints is generally completely overlooked. Also overlooked would be the general fragility of such a creation. What are the first pieces to break off of any statue? Any extensions, such as fingers or limbs.
With that in mind, I present the x-jacks, my own take on constructs. A x-jack is any type of construct made of many smaller pieces, and specifically articulated to move. The x-jack is named for whatever it was made of, and the pieces are generally encased in something to keep them all together. A sandjack, for example, might be a cloth casing filled with sand. In theory, one could take a set of ordinary clothes and fill them with whatever, then use magic to bring it to life.
X-jacks need not be humanoid, as long as they are capable of movement. In some cases, the properties of the material itself fill this requirement: sandjacks, ragjacks, leatherjacks, and grassjacks would all be innately flexible. (As would a waterjack, if you could figure out how to keep it in shape.) But, unless they had some sort of semi-rigid, articulated skeleton, they would unfortunately be kinda floppy.
Constructs made of stiffer materials, such as stonejacks, woodjacks, glassjacks, and, for the mage who likes to be flashy (and has too much money), jeweljacks need to have specially created joints. This could be as simple as hinges or basic pivots, or something as complex as a fully carved ball-and-socket, depending on the capabilities of the mage in question and the uses for the construct.
A mage need not personally craft every piece of an x-jack; he may hire an expert sculptor to carve the pieces of a stonejack, or a metalworker to make the pieces of an ironjack.
Usually, the spells involved in animating an x-jack imbue it with some kind of magical perception, but in some cases, the mage opts to give it “eyes.” These maybe glass marbles, wooden balls, metal balls, or even small knots of fabric. One mage created a grassjack, and used round nuts for eyes.
An x-jack does not need to be only one material: it is quite common for a ragjack to have a core of pieces of wood, or a woodjack to have joints made of metal. The x-jack is named after the dominant material.
There exist special types of x-jacks. A mage in a dangerous area may protect his home with armorjacks, animated (but empty) suits of armor. A particularly depraved necromancer might take a fancy to fleshjacks, which are pieces of corpses sewn together. A variant of this is the skinjack, in which the mage fills the skin of some creature with whatever. The difference between skinjacks and leatherjacks is that a skinjack is still recognisable as what it was before it died, and may or may not be rotting.
X-jacks last as long as the materials that make them up and the enchantments holding them together. If a ragjack starts to rot, or gets moths, it’ll fall apart soon. A sandjack with a hole in the casing won’t last long either: sand pours out, and will at the very least render the body part useless. A woodjack that is incinerated or has termites also has a problem.
Magicrosis is a problem that affects all x-jacks regardless of type. It occurs when the animating magic starts to wear out, wear thin, and just generally decay. Of course, materials can be treated to resist decay, insects and other pests can be driven away, tears and other “wounds” can be mended, and spells can be renewed.
An x-jack is only as smart as its creator chooses to make it; that is part of the spells used to animate it.
Examples of x-jacks: the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz would be considered a strawjack, the Frankenstien Monster is a fleshjack, and Gatekeeper of the Goblin City from Labyrinth might be considered a particularly nasty example of an armorjack.
Additional Ideas (15)
This is a good flavor element for animates. It would make them a bit different than the traditional magical statues. In a good way too.
The process of animation should be discussed. How hard is it to make an x-jack? Is is a simpler process because the spell does not have to make magical joints? Is it alchemy or a small magic ritual. It if it simple, then the creations of x-jacks would change the world. You would have easy to access "slaves" who would replace people (See Undead Ecology or Golems are fantasy robots in the catacombs)
If the process is somewhat accessible, there may even be a professional Jackmaker.. who can handle the spell and the materials to make one. Thus starts a whole new guild/ power group that would have to be factored into the world.
Another thought is that one must summon some sort of soul into a jack to give it life. Particularly in fleshjacks or skinjacks, maybe. Although that would probably make it a bizzare form of the undead. Which is not a bad thing. That would also make creating jacks in that particular way a bad thing in most places. Might even require animal/human sacrifice.
I wouldn't consider it a simple process in any case. Maybe a wealthy enough noble could hire a mage to create some jacks for household labor and other things. Although, if there are rambunctious children or pets about, they'd better be made of pretty stern stuff, or they won't last long.
Cost would include the raw materials for the jack, any material components for the spells, and compensation for time if hiring a mage to do it, (and, as we all know, they rarely work cheap). I see it as a kind of long process to get right.
To give it a little thought - the human skeleton is, little surprising, a good way to move a humanoid body around, but you can spare several things: the ribs are not necessary, as the thing does not need to breathe, and does not have muscles which would have to be anchored to the ribs. The shoulderblades and key-bones could be replaced by a far simpler construction, say, two bars whose ends hold the arm joint, attached to the spine in the center.
As for the spine, you could either try to emulate the flexibility of a human's spine, or just use three connected bars with ball joints - the construct would be a little stiff, though.
The pelvic bone could also be reduced to two flexibly attached bars that hold the joints at their ends. You could attach a chain for a tail...
IF there was a way to sculpt a jack out of some flowing material, say a more difficult version of the same spell, you could for example make a form, fill it with water, jack it up, and then the waterjack could lumber around, retaining the shape. In the same way, you could make an iron jack and melt it to allow it to move..., or pour jello into a form.
You could sculpt an ice statue and then allow it to thaw and thus move. Exotic jacks could be the NightJack, which is made by sealing off a chamber in the shape of a humanoid against light and enchanting the darkness within.
So the inside is then enchanted for movement and intelligence, the outside for resistance.
The spell's diffilcuty
How hard are these creating spells/rituals to cast then?
- Moving control - how fast, but also how precise is the -jacks' control over its own movement? The typical golem/Frankestein has only the basic level of control, is slow and clumsy. The magic invested into the spell rises with the desired control, and probably also its diffilcuty.
- Size - has generally impact on the mana cost only, the larger the more. Heavier material demands more physical power of the -jack to actually move, so an ironjack needs more raw magic than a strawjack of the same size.
- Intelligence - both magic and diffilcuty rise with it. Can this part of the ritual actually "re-cast", to change how smart one is? Maybe, one cannot lower a -jacks intelligence. On the other hand, magicrosis will lower it (though it may be the last to be influenced).
- Protection - could be cast after the creation, and even several times. There probably exist several spells to this effect. Some more potent ones may confer a limited regeneration ability.
- Duration - is there a fixed duration? Or is there some "warranty", holds 2 years together unless severly mistreated, then will fall apart at some random moment?
A -jack, having enough intellect and dexterity (and proper materials), could in theory repair itself. Some could have regeneration, to some forms of damage at least (a woodjack coul heal cuts, but no burns, etc). For ease of use, potions could be created for the healing of -jacks.
Learning to walk
So you glue together something that shall walk like a spider, and swim like an octopus. Will it move like you want? Probably not.
Exotic -jacks (and probably the first few -jacks of any Jackmaker) have to learn to walk first! Having enough legs is not a help the first time, it actually complicates things. Most -jacks have to learn what is stability and moving without falling (beware the great and powerfull ones...).
The Jackmaker could provide a humanoid -jack with sufficient instincts and knowledge at creation, though the more exotic ones may be beyond his imagination. Another reason why there are so few flying -jacks.
I remember that scientists experiment with brains of living beings for controlling of robots, like cockroaches or rats. Sounds like an option, don't you think?
But higher beings brains could also be used... but that is necromancy again. Could a preserved brain of someone dead be implanted into a -jack? Oh, the eternal dream of immortality...
- ("common" fantasy) How would it be to find a golem with lost hands? It could be intelligent, have a purpose, but no means to reach it?
- -jacks are created as servants. But over time, some will become free. Options abound.
They are not particularly intelligent, and are incapable of speech, but they can work. Strawjacks are the most common on farms where they are used to handle the most menial of labors. A team of x-jacks, handled by the jackmaster can be seen working in a field. Two or more x-jacks pick the ripened vegetables, or the labor intensive cotton, while one or two more pull a high wheeled cart along behind. Once the cart is full, the x-jacks return it to the holding area and another cart is taken back into the field.
When a jack wears out, it is a small matter to have it restuffed, and reanimated to return to the field. Only a fire can render a strawjack irrepairable.
Btw., in GURPS Creatures of the Night was a nice idea - the jacks could have their intelligence having depend on their likeliness to humans/whathaveyou. Thus, a jack with a painted face and well articulated joints could have a high int, but if his face was burnt by fire, he would become an idiot until someone repairs him...
There are many people and businesses that might become "notable" should jacks become prevolent. Carvers, Shadow Makers, certain smiths, and people who are writing jack scrolls (after all this is just unseen servant on steroids) or making jacks for various purposes.
Actually having a plague would enhance the making of jacks. Generally people would hate undead servants and workers (though we have had that discussion too). Jacks would fill in for the missing servants and laborers. Once the Jacks had their "in" to society... they would be tough to get rid off.
If a limiting factor is applied, such as a mana-to-weight cost, there are ways around this, with more graphically satisfying results. A flexible material can be animated only to act as a motive force, replacing the muscles, senses, and intelligence, with the rest of the body being inanimate materials. For example, a threadjack (no relation) can be wound around a skeletal frame & encased in armour. Coil enough of the animated thread into the braincase to act as a center of higher thought, with tendrils extending into the optic cavities for sight. Part of the thread can be bound together & given an easy port out of the armour, to be useful as a tendril or tail. Just imagine the horror of encountering a platoon of skull faces grinning from suits of armour, with tentacles twitching all around them in anticipation of the slaughter...
Composite -jacks are another possibility. Here's one creepy example that would make a great assassin: Worms are bound into muscle groups, tied together & enchanted to follow the commands of the rubberjack. A wooden framework is erected for the skeleton, and engraved with explosive runes, should the construct ever be captured or destroyed. A rubberjack is animated and coloured whatever would fit the complexions of the people it is to imitate. The rubberjack can flex its surface to imitate the appearance of a person, or just to rapidly alter itself to hide in a crowd, et al. The disembodied brain of a skilled swordsman is placed inside (not necessarily the head) to add ready-made combat expertise. This latter component is pseudo-science, rather than necromantic, as the brain is dead, but chemically preserved so that the old pathways still function when a current is driven through them. The brain would no longer be able to think or learn, but the motive responses of wielding a weapon could still be utilised.
I am adopting the above ideas for golems in Ageratos, absolutely!
Can you imagine how cool it would be for players to go up against such a golem? They expect a dull, boring man made of stone or something...
What they get is gruesome amalgamation, a thin human skin stretched over iron muscles with copper veins. There is no head- instead, there is a warrior's helm sewed into the flesh, and filled with a mass of tentacular tubes for a head-structure. The stomach contains an iron box containing the magical tablets which animate it. And it is somewhat intelligent, and moves fast as lightning, and is incredibly strong!
How cool is that?!
Lavajack - If an appropriately strong material could be found - some sort of adamantine or mythril, perhaps - it could serve as the skin for a -jack made from molten lava. Depending on the outer structure, the body itself may be incredibly hot to the touch, giving 3rd degree burns to any that get near it. The downside, of course, is that such -jacks are short lived: either the material in the skin would gradually melt, or the lava would harden into stone.
Coinjack - What better way for a mage to guard her treasure than to have the treasure guard itself? -jacks made of coins could be easily disguised in regular treasure holds to keep an eye on the loot within. Joints would likely have to be constructed, but coinage could easily be welded on to appear as stacks of booty. In a proper storage area, these -jacks would need very little maintenance and could certainly haunt a royal tomb.
Ropejack - Rope is already a common, useful, and cheap material. Why not -jack it up? Flexibility and joints are not a problem, but rigidity would have to be taken into account; a wooden skeleton might do the trick. A ropejack would have a great reach, allowing it to scale just about anything. As an alternative, how about a chainjack?
Full sized WoodJacks would seem to be the Jack of Choice ( http://www.kidsart.com/store/manikin.html) I would think would be the most appropriate and easiest to make. Their faces could be carved in (with mouth joints and ball eyes to make them more realistic and just an extention of what puppet makers can do). Add a wig and some well painted faces and they could missed at first glance. They would wear clothing over their formed bodies and shoes/boots would make their footfalls sound like people. These could make great servants.
If the tradition was to have your servants be masked, then you could substitute jacks for living servants... or when you have a living servant instead of a jack.. they could be substituted without flaw. This would make a great way for adventurers to move about in a household "unseen in plain sight".
Bonejacks would be a great way to have a skeleton without all the undead backlash (negative energy, necromantic magic, all that). Sure there would be social issues.. but those could be glossed over.
It was a clumsy thing, to be sure. Living ivy wound about a roughly humanoid frame of roughly broken deadwood. The torso had been crafted from the lightning-blasted stump of an ancient oak, with jagged roots sticking out oddly from the thing’s abdomen. The hollow remnant of the tree’s trunk held soil, but it was hard to see, for the ivy’s dark green leaves obscured most of the jack’s torso. The woodland craftsmen had made no effort to make the thing symmetrical, so it stumbled awkwardly between the trees, staring oddly with the bright river stones jammed into knotholes that served it as eyes.
Vine jacks, all natural and Unseleigh approved!
Constructed of hundreds of fired bricks shaped into the semblance of a man, these jacks are best described as mammoth. Each one is 14 feet tall and tips the scales at a husky 8 tons. The points are specially made from iron castings as thich as a man's thigh. The biggest hazard to the behemoths is the grinding away of the bricks that are close to the joints. this is alleviated by the fact that these worn and damaged bricks can be chiseled away and fresh new bricks can be mortered into their place. Unlike stonejacks and other resilient types, with regular maintenance, a brickjack can serve without fail for centuries.
What about a backlash against having too many -jacks? If, as has been submitted above, Strawjacks work the farms, and Woodjacks act as servants, and varous other -jacks to yet more work, then there would be those whose livelihoods have been displaced.
Suddenly (or gradually, either way) there is a large population in the urban centers with nothing to do and no prospects for improving their lot. They know who's really to blame, but they can't do anything about it, so they turn to easier targets, maybe demi-humans, or foreigners, or perhaps they just riot in the streets.
More or less the same thing... A "robotic" economy of "cheap" labor.
Incidentally, the undead economy will fit in with the one of the nations over the mountains from my hero's stomping grounds.