Thursday, July 26, 2012


Homunculi are imp-like constructs that toe the line between creature and tool.  In addition to being lab assistants, they are, to quote the Bestiary, “effective spies, messengers, and scouts.”  A homunculus even shares its creator’s alignment and aspects of her personality.  Unless, of course, it’s lost its master…in which case, things get interesting…

Eloise Raven is frantic.  Her homunculus Bazelfisque has gone missing, perhaps abducted.  A local expert on bandits and trade, Eloise has already survived one assassination attempt, but after a recent illness she doubts she could survive the shock of Bazelfisque’s death should he be killed.

Mad King Bladetail rules a tribe of kobolds.  His favorite pet is bloodthirsty homunculus whose master was cut down by orcs.  Utterly shattered in brains and sanity, the creature roamed the caverns until ensnared by the kobolds.  The Mad King (far less mad than he appears) calmed the construct by retrieving what remained of its master’s spellbook and robe from the corpse, then chained the homunculus by his lair’s secret exit to stand watch.

Radovan Charr, Chair of Transmutation at Darkwater College, is actually a homunculus.  Its former master released it from service on his deathbed.  The sleepless construct mourned for a year, then simply took its master’s name, headband of intellect, spellbooks, and (after much study) eventually his departmental chair.  At another university, this would have been sacrilege, but Darkwater’s transmuters, used to far more extreme changes of state, shrugged and carried on.

Pathfinder Bestiary 176

Homunculi and familiars fascinate me from a story perspective.  As a PC, I would need a really compelling reason to ever call a familiar (my eldritch knight has been saved way too many times by his arcane bonded amulet) or give up blood and hit points for a construct.  But as a GM and world-builder, how an arcane caster surrounds himself with allies and servants is fascinating to me.  Depending on your setting, the choice to have a homunculus might be a taken-for-granted given in the world, a rite of passage once an adventuring wizard settles down (homunculi don’t like to be too far from their creators after all), a custom of one particular school, or a rare, blasphemous event.

Plus, not every Pathfinder game is a four-person-plus-GM combatfest.  In a more story-oriented game, particularly a wizard-focused one in the tradition of Ars Magica or Mage: The Ascension, or in a game with only one to three players, creating a homunculus could be a rich role-playing experience.  (Similarly, Bruce Heard’s amazing GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri offered suggestions on how to run a campaign for students at the Great School of Magic—years before Harry Potter—and homunculi would fit right in with all the hijinks, imps, and manikins.)  Just learning the spells and collecting the ingredients alone could open up the PCs to any number of short adventures…

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