Sunday, April 22, 2012

On Golemetry

At the moment, I'm reading "Iron Council", by China Miéville, a really amazing and inventive writer. One of the main characters, Judah, is a Golemist- a thaumaturge (magic-user) who is a talented creator of golems.

Here's Judah being lectured by an golemist academic: "We see structure, and in pointing it out we see mechanisms and grasp them, and we twist. Because patterns are asserted not in stasis but in change. Golemetry is an interruption. It is a subordinating of the static IS to the active AM." (Pg. 205 of my edition)

And here's Judah in action: "[Judah] shoved his hand among the cadavers and barked. There was a fermentation as the world's energy was channelled, the moment bowed and swelled and spat out strangeness. And the corpse-pile stood in a new configuration, a golem of flesh still twitching as the nerves within it died...It walked quickly with Judah behind it, energies spitting from him, connecting him to his monstrosity with an uncanny funniculus."

So, really you should just read the book. It's amazing.

Beyond that though, I find it very inspiring for D&D. I would love to play a golemist like Judah! What's great about it is that you'd have to work with whatever was around you. That means that you'd have to pay attention to what the DM is describing, and actively extrapolate in your own imagination. It's kind of the same reason that I love it when players have lots of rope and grappling hooks and crowbars and whatnot. If you have a rope and a grappling hook, there's no automatic solution to any problem there, they solution only comes when you interact with the environment- if you have a grappling hook, you're going to be asking about any protruding rocks, roots and whatever. That means that you have to validate the shared, imagined world in a way that you just don't if what you have is a magic missile or a sword.

What would it be like to be a golemist in, say, the Barrowmaze? I think it would go something like this (ignoring any kind of dice rolls or levels):
You see some skeletons walking toward you down the hall.

Ok, I'm making a golem!

What are you making it out of? What's this golem going to be like?

Hmm well you said that this hallway has flagstones on the floor and kind of stone blocks making up the walls, right? And some roots hanging down in places, and water dripping? How about this golem is formed so that blocks from the walls assemble themselves into a body, the flagstones hang on the front and back like armor, and the roots wind themselves around the whole thing to hold it together?

If you're a Golemist, using your regular ability reinforces the shared imagination of the dungeon hallway and makes it more real. At the same time, you the player get to put your stamp on your magic in a way that you don't often get a chance to. The DM then gets to decide how this "intervention" will affect the environment- could any of those stone blocks that make up the wall potentially cause a cave-in? What are those roots connected to, anyway? Is there anything under the flagstones?

Also, as a DM, you get to change what the dungeon looks like the next time players come that way:

I'm walking down the hallway.

You see that there's a section ahead of you where the flagstones are missing and there's just muddy earth underneath. The whole area looks like bits have been ripped away.

Oh right- Judah fought those skeletons here!

Cool, right? I'm not sure how I would integrate this into an ongoing campaign, but if any of my players are reading this, I'm totally down to work with you on creating a Golemist character class!

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