Not all creatures in Dungeons & Dragons fit into the category of “living and breathing.” No, some are created, designed for a specific purpose. Some creatures aren’t really creatures at all, but rather, constructs.
So how do you define a construct? Very simply actually. “Constructs are made, not born.” – Monster Manual, pg. 6.
Now, obviously, not everything that’s made is a construct. A loaf of bread is probably not going to start fighting you. That might mean you have other problems on your hands.
Constructs specifically are created beings with some form of sentience, even if that sentience is just a drive to fulfill a very simple purpose. A great classic example is the golem.
Formed from clay, or a great number of other materials, these hulking monsters serve their masters’ commands tirelessly.
Constructed Creatures in 5e
It should come as no surprise that constructs don’t tend to just appear. Since they’re made, there’s a process involved. Normally that comes in two steps, the physical construction and the magical aid providing sentience.
While there are some creatures like the clockwork dragon that are almost purely mechanical, even those have some form of magic connected to them.
Let’s look at a few constructs to see how they’re made and what they can do.
Golems – Clay Golem; CR 9
- AC – 14 (Natural Armor)
- HP – 133 (14d10 + 56)
- Speed – 20 ft.
- STR 15; DEX 9; CON 18; INT 3; WIS 8; CHA 1
- Acid Absorption – Regains hit points when hit with acid damage instead of losing hit points.
- Berserk – Has a small chance of going berserk when under 60 hit points. When it does so it continues to attack the nearest creature each turn until it is destroyed or regains all of it’s hit points.
- Immutable Form – It’s form can’t be changed by any spells of effects.
- Magic Resistance – Advantage on saving throws against spells and magical effects.
- Magic Weapons – Its attacks are considered magical.
- Multiattack – It makes two slam attacks.
- Slam – 2d10 + 5 bludgeoning damage with a +8 to hit. Creatures must succeed on a DC 15 CON saving throw or have their hit points reduced by the damage taken. Hit points can only be restored by Greater Restoration or similar magic.
- Haste (Recharge 5-6) – The golem gains a +2 bonus to AC, advantage on DEX saves, and can use slam as a bonus action until the start of its next turn. This ability can’t be used again until it recharges when the golem rolls a 5 or 6 on a d6 at the beginning of it’s turn or on a short or long rest.
Golems of any variety are created by forming the body and tying a spirit from the Elemental Plane of Earth to that body. The resulting creature blindly follows the instructions of its master and has no actual consciousness of its own to speak of.
Whether formed of clay, flesh, stone, iron, glass, or any number of other simple materials, this is the basic package we’re looking at.
Even for a CR 9 creature, this golem is pretty strong. It has the potential to easily drop a target’s max hit points by somewhere 20 to 40 each turn. If a 9th level character isn’t making their saves, they’re going down in about two or three turns.
What’s important to notice is that these creatures really toe the line of magical and physical prowess. They certainly aren’t coming at you with any spells, but their entire makeup is influenced by their magical origins.
Resistances, magical weapons, and even an impressive buffing ability all show us that this creature is more than just a pile of clay.
List of Golems by CR
- Damaged Flesh Golem; CR 1
- Glasswork Golem; CR 2
- Reduced-threat Flesh Golem; CR 3
- Snow Golem; CR 3
- Flesh Golem; CR 5
- Lightning Golem; CR 5
- Reduced-threat Clay Golem; CR 6
- Reduced-threat Stone Golem; CR 7
- Fiendish Flesh Golem; CR 8
- Clay Golem; CR 9
- Crystal Golem; CR 10 (Any Ben10 fans? Diamondhead instantly comes to mind.)
- Hammer-headed Golem; CR 10
- Headless Iron Golem; CR 10
- Stone Golem; CR 10
- Dragonbone Golem; CR 11
- Mad Golem; CR 12
- Canopic Golem; CR 13
- Iron Golem; CR 16
Animated Objects – Animated Armor; CR 1
- AC – 18 (Natural Armor)
- HP – 33 (6d8 + 6)
- Speed – 25 ft.
- STR 14; DEX 11; CON 13; INT 1; WIS 3; CHA 1
- Antimagic Susceptibility – The armor is incapicated while inside of an antimagic field, and falls unconscious if it fails a CON save against the caster’s DC when subject to a Dispel Magic spell.
- False Appearance – The suit is indistinguishable from a normal suit of armor while motionless.
- Multiattack – The armor makes two slam attacks.
- Slam – 1d6 + 2 bludgeoning damage with a +4 to hit.
Obviously, a CR 1 creature is going to be much weaker than our clay golem, but the animated armor presents its own challenges for players. Like most “animated” constructs, it’s an enchanted version of a regular object players might come across.
Rugs of smothering, animated brooms, and so many other enchanted objects are basically commonplace in creepy dungeons.
Animated armors are particularly interesting because they can even have messages recorded in them. Some suits you come across will issue threats, riddles, or warnings, while some might be enchanted with powerful enough magic that they can actually carry out a conversation with you.
DM Tip: Animating Objects
Most constructs can be considered animated objects. In fact, there are so many animated objects with stat blocks that you’re likely to find the one you’re looking for.
If you can’t, use some of the stat blocks as inspiration to bring your own decorations to life. It’s a trope you don’t want to wear out, but pulling out an Animated Picture or having the torch an adventurer picks up start to attack them is a really fun way to add some excitement to a dungeon.
Most animated creatures have pretty simple attacks that make sense with what they are. An animated sword would do some sort of slashing or piercing damage, while an animated torch is likely going to do some fire damage.
Modrons – Monodrone; CR ⅛
- AC – 15 (Natural Armor)
- HP – 5 (1d8 + 1)
- Speed – 30 ft. , 30 ft. fly
- STR 10; DEX 13; CON 12; INT 4; WIS 10; CHA 5
- Axiomatic Mind – Modrons can’t be compelled to act against their design or nature.
- Disintegration – If destroyed, modrons disintegrate into dust, leaving any weapons or anything else they’re carrying on the ground.
- Dagger – +3 to hit, 1d4 +1 piercing damage.
- Javelin – Melee or ranged attack. +3 to hit, 1d6 +1 piercing damage.
Modrons are a very interesting subset of constructs. Consisting of the mono-, duo-, tri-, quad-, and pentadrones, these creatures are automatons that work tirelessly to maintain the clockwork plane of Mechanus. They are created by Primus, a godlike entity that is more of a position than an individual.
Modrons are created as monodrones and promoted through the ranks whenever a higher ranking modron dies. It’s through this process that these absolutely lawful beings may eventually attain the rank of Primus.
While described in detail in the Monster Manual, there aren’t many publications discussing when one might encounter these law-abiding drones. There is a fun adventure you can find at DMsguild if you’re looking to explore mechanus in more detail.
Living Spells – Living Bigby’s Hand; CR 4
- AC – 15 (Natural Armor)
- HP – 5 (1d8 + 1)
- Speed – 30 ft. , 30 ft. fly
- STR 26; DEX 10; CON 20; INT 1; WIS 10; CHA 1
- Magic Resistance – This living spell has advantage on saving throws against spells and magical effects.
- Unusual Nature – The living spell doesn’t require food, air, drink, or sleep.
- Force Fist – +10 to hit, 4d8 +8 force damage. This can move a target of large or smaller up to 5 feet along with itself. This movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks.
- Grasping Hand – A Huge or smaller target must succeed on a DC 15 Dex save or be grappleed by the living spell. The target takes 2d6 +8 damage at the start of each of its turns until the grapple ends. While holding a creature in this way, the living spell cannot use force fist.
One of the most unique and, as far as I’m concerned, exciting subsets of constructs are the living spells. Manifested in areas of wild magic or huge power wells, these spells are often cast by a creature before they gain some level of their own consciousness.
Spells that come to life can have wildly different behaviors. Something like Bigby’s Hand will remain more or less loyal to its caster, acting as a sort of guardian.
On the other hand, a Blade of Disaster that gains consciousness behaves viciously and chaotically, much like a demon.
While there are only about ten published living spells, you could easily make any spell you want into a living spell. Even something like a Fireball could gain sentience, and just jump around dealing massive amounts of fire damage to creatures around it.
The big question is how you bring them to life. Mad scientists and areas of extreme magical influence, or wild magic, are probably the best two ways to go about it.
There’s also influence from incredibly powerful spellcasters that could use a high enough spell slot to cast a version of Animate Objects capable of manipulating magic itself.
List of Living Spells by CR
- Living Demiplane; CR 0
- Living Unseen Servant; CR 0
- Living Burning Hands; CR 1
- Living Bigby’s Hand; CR 4
- Living Lightning Bolt; CR 5
- Living Cloudkill; CR 7
- Living Blade of Disaster; CR 8
Characters and Constructs
Constructs are created, and for that reason, it makes sense that characters might be able to make some of these beings themselves. In fact, there are more than a few ways to build your own creatures that were in 5e before we even had access to the artificer class.
We’ll definitely touch a bit on the class that makes magical machinery an art, but let’s get into some other options first.
Actually, let’s clear something up before we go any further. Warforged are not constructs.
That’s right, the closest we get to playing as a robot in this fantasy game is treated as an artificial humanoid; a classification that puts it in the same category as most other races. This is the source of a lot of confusion, especially since the first UA appearance of warforged referred to them as “Living Construct(s).”
The reason they are treated as humanoids is largely mechanical, pun intended. There are plenty of spells that only work on living creatures, and as such come up against immunity when cast on undead or constructs.
Even giving warforged the additional typing of construct would cause a lot of unbalance, which is why we don’t see the creature type feature in the races description like we do with hexbloods or faeries.
Animate Objects; 5th Level Transmutation
For spellcasters out there who dream of becoming Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, this spell has your name written all over it. This powerful transmutation lets you bring inanimate objects to life, ten of them in fact.
The way this works is that burning a 5th level spell slot gives you 10 objects worth of transmutation, with any higher level spell slots giving you 2 more objects per level after 5th.
Tiny and small objects count as 1, medium objects count as 2, large objects count as 4, and huge objects count as 8. You can’t animate objects larger than huge.
Animated Object Statistics
- Tiny – HP: 20, AC: 18, Attack: +8 to hit, 1d4 + 4 damage, Str: 4, Dex: 18
- Small – HP: 25, AC: 16, Attack: +6 to hit, 1d8 + 2 damage, Str: 6, Dex: 14
- Medium – HP: 40, AC: 13, Attack: +5 to hit, 2d6 + 1 damage, Str: 10, Dex: 12
- Large – HP: 50, AC: 10, Attack: +6 to hit, 2d10 + 2 damage, Str: 14, Dex: 10
- Huge – HP: 80, AC: 10, Attack: +8 to hit, 2d12 + 4 damage, Str: 18, Dex: 6
Objects with “legs” or some other way to generate movement have a speed of 30 ft., while ones without any form of locomotion have a flying speed of 30 feet and the ability to hover.
The only exceptions are objects that are firmly secured to a location, which have 0 ft. of movement.
The damage type is bludgeoning unless determined otherwise by the DM. Typically this refers to piercing or slashing damage, but I have ruled other damage types where I deem them appropriate, i.e. an animated torch deals fire damage.
As you can see, huge objects are a lot stronger, but it might be beneficial to create 10 small objects to really maximize attacks. Unlike conjuration spells, this entirely depends on what’s around you.
Some casters can even make this spell the basis for their whole spell list by carrying around several puppets… terrifying right?
You can give these constructs commands as a bonus action on your turn. Once issued a task, they will continue until their job is complete until they are given a new command, or until they are dropped to 0 hit points.
Once they do drop to 0 hit points they revert back to their inanimate form, with the object taking any extra damage.
If they don’t receive any commands, objects just defend themselves from hostile creatures. This suggests that they can make all forms of actions such as dash, dodge, and hide, along with the reactionary opportunity attacks.
DM Tip: Action Economy & Balance
A player can easily create 10 tiny animated objects just by carrying around some things in their backpack. With a bag of holding they might get into even more shenanigans.
This creates a problem we see in a lot of conjuring spells where one player suddenly is making a great many extra attacks. Luckily, the command portion of this spell suggests that they issue a single command as a bonus action.
Giving a player the ability to make that single command towards one or all of their constructs but to not give separate commands in a single bonus action is the best way to deal with this.
A command like “attack the ogre” is now a simple procession of rolls, instead of a 5 minute dissertation on Sun Tzu’s art of war from your tactically minded player.
You can also give the other players the opportunity to play as a few of the creatures each if the caster is okay with that. This spreads out the enjoyment while allowing just as many tactics to come up.
There’s then the question of balance. Those tiny creatures are pretty damn strong. They have just as much chance to hit and are going to be dealing 6 damage each on average. That’s 48 damage (for 8 tiny objects, not all 10) compared to an average 18 damage for the huge object. There’s a very clear choice for what I’d be transmuting.
As a DM, it’s up to your discretion what you allow. You can also change the stats. I’ve seen some DMs go as far as giving tiny objects a -2 to hit, making it much less of a draw for players.
For me, I try to just get it to the point where on successful hits each grouping of creatures is going to be dealing the same damage. These are my homebrew adjusted statistics.
- Tiny – HP: 20, Attack: +4 to hit, 1d4 + 4 damage, Str: 4, Dex: 18
- Small – HP: 25, Attack: +6 to hit, 1d8 + 2 damage, Str: 6, Dex: 14
- Medium – HP: 40, Attack: +4 to hit, 2d6 + 8 damage, Str: 10, Dex: 12
- Large – HP: 50, Attack: +6 to hit, 2d10 + 6 damage, Str: 14, Dex: 10
- Huge – HP: 80, Attack: +8 to hit, 3d12 + 4 damage, Str: 18, Dex: 6
You’ll notice I did not include the AC. I determine AC off of the object’s fragility and material rather than its size.
- Cloth, paper, rope – AC 11
- Crystal, glass, ice – AC 13
- Wood, bone – AC 15
- Stone – AC 17
- Iron, steel – AC 19
- Mithral – AC 21
- Adamantine – AC 23
The monster manual includes a pretty detailed entry on shield guardians that, perhaps unsurprisingly, feels like it’s missing something. Namely, how on abeir-toril does one get one?
Starting with what we know, they’re large constructs that are controlled and animated by an amulet that takes one week to craft and requires 1000 gp worth of materials.
They’re also pretty impressive creatures at CR 7 with the ability to regain hit points at the start of each turn, store spells and cast them for its spellcaster master, shield its master, and hit with a pretty solid punch. They’ve got a stat block that I would not want to come up against as a character.
The monster manual says that wizards and other spellcasters create them, so it makes sense that we should be able to in the game. The solution is that of course you can let your players make one, and it’s pretty much up to you.
Here’s how I would do it, with a bit of influence from 3.5e and a bit of 5e mechanical knowledge to back me up.
Creating a Shield Guardian
In order to create a shield guardian, a character must obtain 61,000 gp worth of wood, iron, and bronze. Included in those materials must be 10 gp of copper wire, a diamond worth at least 500 gp, and a strip of oak bark.
The final ingredient needed is dust from a modron that is at least a duodrone. A character can find a modron on the plane of Mechanus, or be lucky enough to find jarred modron dust from the last Great Modron March.
The guardian itself takes 30 days to complete. Once it and its amulet have been built, a number of spells and incantations must be cast over the course of an hour.
Animate Objects, Mage Armor, Command, and Wish must be cast, with at least one of the spells being cast by the wearer of the amulet, who the Guardian will know as its master once it is animated.
After each spell is cast, the wearer of the amulet must make an arcana check to properly bind the magic to the guardian. The checks are either pass or fail, with a higher than a 10 being a success and 10 or less treated as a failure.
Three successes and the guardian automatically comes to life, potentially requiring one less spell. On the other hand, three failures is an automatic failure, causing the amulet to break and be rebuilt over the course of a week.
Rock Gnome’s Tinker Toys
Rock gnomes are allowed to make cute little toys with their tinker ability. While these are not specified as constructs in RAW, I’ve got some fun ideas about them that I’ve just got to share.
Typically, you can make small clockwork toys which make sounds appropriate to what they’re modeled after, firestarters, or music boxes. It does mention that you can make similar items with your DMs discretion and that using Prestidigitation as a reference is a good idea.
That’s nice and all, but I want my gnomes to be able to make tiny little creatures. So here’s how I think about it. Cantrips have various ranges of power, and this should only be about as powerful as a cantrip, or a 1st through 3rd level spell that could be cast once a day following tiefling spell rules.
I stick with cantrip though, using the character’s level as a bit of balancing. Also, since you can typically create up to 3 clockwork devices at a time, my clockwork construct device takes up 3 uses in an attempt to provide a bit more balance to the equation.
Without any further adieu, here is my fourth option for a rock gnome’s tinker ability.
AC – 10 + Proficiency Bonus (Natural Armor)
HP – 1d6 per Proficiency Bonus (i.e. +3 proficiency equals 3d6 HP (12))
Speed – 15 ft.
STR 12; DEX 14; CON 13; INT 1; WIS 0; CHA 2
Clockwork Movement – The construct moves its full movement speed in a random direction (d8 for each cardinal direction and the 4 diagonals) until it comes into contact with a creature or is otherwise impeded. The clockwork toy can occupy the same space as another creature of size small or larger.
Automated Attacker – If the clockwork ends it’s turn in the same space as another creature it makes a single attack against that creature. When you create the clockwork you can choose a number of creatures equal to your proficiency bonus that the construct will not attack.
Clockwork Varieties – This clockwork comes in two versions; dragon, and knight. The dragon deals 1d4 + proficiency bonus fire damage, while the knight deals 1d4 of either slashing, piercing, or bludgeoning damage. The actual appearance of the clockwork is not restricted to these options.
Look at that! We’re back to Gollums. Oh wait, I mean golems. That’s right, there’s another way that you as the character can interact with golems other than just attacking them.
If you happen to be lucky enough to come across the wondrous item called the Manual of Golems, you’re in for a treat.
This very rare book has the incantations necessary to bring a specific type of golem to life, along with instructions on how much materials you need to construct the golem.
You construct the golem, say the incantations as necessary, and then the book bursts into flames, leaving you the final ingredient. Sprinkle the ashes on the golem and it comes to life completely under your control.
The normal table for golem types is below.
|1-5||Clay||30 days||65,000 gp|
|6-17||Flesh||60 days||50,000 gp|
|18||Iron||120 days||100,000 gp|
|19-20||Stone||90 days||80,000 gp|
If you want to provide your players with the opportunity to create other forms of golems, just look at the CR list in the creatures section of this article and fill it in accordingly.
While I would let any artificer, or really any character, with the right tools and drive create a clockwork mechanism or some form of construct if they really wanted to, the battle smith artificer has a built-in stat block for its steel defender.
At 3rd level they get this bad boy, for which they get to determine the appearance and number of legs. The source material says 2 or 4 but that limitation is for the week. I say make a steel octopus if you want.
AC 15 (natural armor)
HP 2 + your Intelligence modifier + 5 times your artificer level (the defender has a number of Hit Dice [d8s] equal to your artificer level)
Speed 40 ft.
STR 14; DEX 12; CON 14; INT 4; WIS 10; CHA 6
Saving Throws: Dex +1 plus PB, Con +2 plus PB
Skills: Athletics +2 plus PB, Perception +0 plus PB x 2
Damage Immunities: poison
Condition Immunities: charmed, exhaustion, poisoned
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10 + (PB x 2)
Languages: understands the languages you speak
Proficiency Bonus (PB): equals your bonus
Vigilant. The defender can’t be surprised.
- Force-Empowered Rend. Melee Weapon Attack: your spell attack modifier to hit, reach 5 ft., one target you can see. Hit: 1d8 + PB force damage.
- Repair (3/Day). Restore 2d8 + PB hit points to itself or to one construct or object within 5 feet of it.
- Deflect Attack. The defender imposes disadvantage on the attack roll of one creature it can see within 5 feet of it if the attack roll is against a creature other than the defender.
If you’re excited by constructs, this is the way to go. Pick up Animated Objects once you get 5th level spells and you just became lord of the mechanical beings.
I hope this article has made you more excited to bring constructs into your campaign or to come across them as soon as you tell your DM how cool they are.
As always, happy adventuring!