Golems and other constructs pose unique challenges to adventurers. In addition to just being tough, golems are immune to most types of attacks. Provided here are some tips on how to come out on top when facing a mindless automaton.
Golems are tough, fearsome fighters with incredible defenses. Although they move like living creatures, they are merely animated objects, giving them several advantages and disadvantages in a fight.
Golems, as constructs, are innately immune to a number of attacks. They possess immunity to mind-affecting effects, poison, sleep effects, paralysis, stunning, disease, death effects, and necromancy effects. In addition, they are not subject to critical hits, nonlethal damage, ability damage, ability drain, fatigue, exhaustion, or energy drain. They ignore effects that provoke a Fortitude save (unless it affects objects; see below) and don't have to worry about death by massive damage. They possess both darkvision and low-light vision. That's quite a list! In short, golems don't get tired, can't get confused or distracted, and only go down when they are truly, utterly destroyed. But wait, it gets worse . . .
The golems listed in the Monster Manual all possess varying degrees of damage reduction (typically DR 10/adamantine), so most weapons are going to be seriously degraded in their effectiveness. The golem's most powerful defense, however, is its immunity to magic -- both magical and supernatural effects. Unless otherwise noted, spells (that allow spell resistance) just fizzle when cast against a golem. Spellcasters in particular are at a serious disadvantage when facing a golem, followed by rogues, whose sneak attack ability has no effect against constructs.
While a golem's defenses are formidable, it still has some weaknesses that can be exploited. Because it is mindless, a golem lacks much in the way of creativity and initiative, so it's relatively easy to keep a golem guessing (as it were) on whom to attack next.
Fight from a Distance: Golems are almost exclusively melee fighters -- if you can stay away from its massive fists, it cannot deal any damage. The best solution is to get up high (fly, levitate, and spider climb are great for this) and pepper it with arrows and crossbow bolts. Reach weapons, such as polearms, are imperative, and even nets can keep a golem tripped up long enough to assault it with weapons that do damage. If you know you're going to fight an iron golem, stock up on slow poison and neutralize poison spells, or have everyone quaff a vial of antitoxin to protect against its poisonous breath weapon.
Adamantine: Adamantine is the material of choice when fighting golems. The most cost effective weapons are arrows, crossbow bolts, and other ammunition, which can be used far away from the flailing limbs of a golem. An adamantine warhammer or greatsword work best for inflicting melee damage against these creatures, although the cost might well be prohibitive.
"It's Gone Berserk!": A golem going berserk is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the golem "forgets" its programming and attacks anything within reach. This means that if you weren't considered a threat before, you are now -- get out of the way! However, you can use this mindless destruction as an advantage since the golem is no longer focused on destroying just you. When a golem goes berserk, stay far away and give it other targets to destroy or potentially get damaged during its rage.
Using Magic against Golems
Just because a golem is immune to most spells doesn't mean that they cannot be employed in some way against them. The best use of spells is to change the battleground to hinder, trap, or damage the golem indirectly.
Transmute Rock to Mud/Soften Earth and Stone: These spells bog the golem down, making it much easier to shoot with ranged weapons. The golem isn't at risk of drowning, but the effect reduces its speed to a mere 5 feet per round and lowers its attack and Armor Class. Casting transmute rock to mud on the ceiling above the golem causes significant bludgeoning damage (particularly effective against clay golems) as the roof crashes down on top of it.
Wall Spells: With the exception of the wall of fire, the other wall spells (force, ice, iron, stone, and thorns) are great for penning a golem in. It's quite possible the golem can simply smash through the barrier, but it'll be slowed down, allowing time for damaging attacks.
Telekinesis: Although useless when attempted directly against a golem, telekinesis can be used to hurl objects at it or block its path with debris. Particularly useful if the golem has gone berserk (see above).
Pits and Traps: If you have the luxury of time, setting traps -- especially pits -- are a great way to force a golem to keep it where you want it. Other effective traps include falling debris.
Smoke: Remember that although golems possess both darkvision and low-light vision, they are hampered by anything that obscures their sight. Setting fires with thick smoke, or even using smokesticks, keeps the golem from seeing much -- the converse is just as true, however, so make sure you have your trap set before attempting such a maneuver.
Programming: Golems follow the orders of their owners and follow them literally. Sometimes the best offense against golems is to watch their behavior and see how they react to different stimuli. Do they attack when you approach a certain distance? Do they seem to ignore certain types of characters? Do they seem ordered not to leave a specific area? Sometimes the best way to defeat a golem is to kill or incapacitate its owner, leaving it to fend for itself with preprogrammed commands that can limit its ability to fight.
Fighting golems in D&D is similar to fighting a robot in a science fiction game -- they are emotionless foes that can suck up a tremendous amount of damage, but they are limited in reasoning and the ability to come up with decisions on the fly. Remember that spells are best used against the surrounding terrain to slow and confuse the golem. Last but not least, stay as far away from melee as possible, unless you have no other choice!
Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Player's Handbook.
About the Author
Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Races of Destiny, and Monster Manual III. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Green Ronin Publishing, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.