Last updated: 200411, 200704
As my groups level up, they acquire more magical gadgetry. Through no specific design, they’ve acquired a concentration of constructs and transmutation devices. As written, the devices are all wildly different. As I work through the edge cases questions, I find a similarity in questions, yet provide inconsistent answers. As my thought process evolves, the answers are different. There’s value in everything being unique, but inconsistent answers means items won’t work consistently—my players hate that! There are enough edge cases even if they are all similar. Despite my love of complexity, these magic items add a level of complexity all their own. I should put all of those answers in one place, and smooth out the edges.
Constructs and Shape Change
Magical constructs are items (staff, bean, statue, etc.) that turn into a creature. By default:
- It takes the round of activation for an item to assume the form of a creature and prepare to take action.
- Constructs cannot be healed by magic. At a campaign and game-mechanic level, I want healing to go towards PCs, not items.
- A construct heals when reverting to an item (therefore fully healed when resuming the form of a creature).
- A construct dying destroys the item. Much as a wand fails when out of charges, the item fails when out of hit points.
- A construct is not truly monster or animal. Example: Snakes to Sticks will not affect a Staff of the Serpent.
- A construct in almost all respects conforms to the normal creature specs: AC, attacks, encumbrance, movement, endurance, stamina, saving throws, breathing, etc.
- Items save as a magic item. Constructs save as the creature.
- Mental and verbal commands are issued at the beginning of a round, prior to initiative. Mental commands can be modified once the PC has initiative.
- Constructs are not sentient. They will follow (typically mental) immediate commands of an active nature (“go there”, “hit that”, “go left”). However, “caw twice if a halfling sneaks past in purple shoes”, or even “stand watch” will not be effective.
- Constructs will defend themselves if attacked.
- Items transform a limited number of times each day, where each transformation might (or might not) include duration. An item that permits “up to 12 hours” is not 12 hours’ worth of otherwise unlimited multiple transformations, but one transformation of up to 12 hours—generally avoiding the minutia of tracking how much of each transformation has been used. All items should include “works [n] times /day for a duration of up to [y].”
- Items with a usage limit will reset every day (generally in the middle of the night). If in construct form at that time, the construct will not automatically revert. Instead, the item reactivates for the next day. PCs don’t have to worry about suddenly reverting at midnight, or planning their attack at just the right moment for the item.
- All constructs radiate a strong magic; a successful Dispel Magic will return the construct to their item form.
Characters and Shape Change
Magic items can assist PCs in assuming another form. The following are generally true:
- Changing form requires mental effort but no casting time, and cannot be disrupted.
- Changing form takes one round; a change will not happen fast enough to prevent a PC from hitting the ground.
- The creature in almost all respects conforms to the normal specs for the creature: AC, attacks, encumbrance, movement, endurance, stamina, breathing, etc. Hit points and saving throws do not change.
- Equipment melds into the new form and becomes nonfunctional; when reverting to normal, objects reappear.
- New items worn in animal form (such as a saddle or halter) fall off and land at their feet; any carried in a body part common to both forms (mouth, hands, or the like) are still held the same way.
- Reverting back to original form will prompt some partial amount of healing (method-dependent).
- Spell-casting in another form is only possible if the form permits completion of verbal and somatic components (note material components are normally not available). At-will abilities will function. Psionics will not.
- Items work for a specific number of transformations each day, where each transformation might or might not also include duration. An item that permits “up to 12 hours” is not 12 hours’ worth of otherwise unlimited multiple transformations, but one transformation of up to 12 hours—generally avoiding the minutia of tracking how much of each transformation has been used. All items should include “works [n] times /day for a duration up to [y].”
- If “the day” ends, the character will not revert to their own form, but instead will apply the next available transformation.
- Assumed forms cannot: be extra-dimensional, draw on extra-dimensional powers, be non-corporeal, have innate spellcasting ability, be undead, or possess magic resistance.
- Assumed forms radiate a strong magic. A successful Dispel Magic will force returning to natural form.
- If slain, the assumed form reverts to its natural form—still dead.
- Self-change will not require a System Shock check. External change (such as Polymorph Other) will.
- Permanent or long-term transformation risks losing oneself, and permanently becoming the creature, including mental state.
Days “end” at a varying, unpredictable time, based on varying factors including but not limited to ley lines, phase of the moon, astrological imports, and PC sleep cycle (when does a new day start, anyway?)
As always, exceptions can apply for specific items.