First and foremost, a golem is a construct, but a construct isn't necessarily a golem. Constructs have one fundamental difference between D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder: players cannot critically hit, and rogues cannot sneak attack a construct in 3.5, while they may do so in Pathfinder.
This distinction obviously made a lot of rogues happy when switching to Pathfinder, but I feel golems lost a bit of what made them unique. Where exactly is a magically constructed and imbued automaton's weak spot? Of course, I can understand the game designer's thought process. Without sneak attack, a rogue is stripped of his most damaging attack. Combine it with a golem's damage reduction, and the rogue is quickly without much to do in a golem fight. Obviously players don't want to be stuck doing nothing.
To define a golem in game terms, they are automatons that are specifically infused with the essence of an elemental, making them permanently attached to the body of the golem. From a point of view, a golem is an enslaved or captured elemental. Which is in its own right a rich source of potential adventure ideas. Golems are also bound to their creators, obeying without question the orders they are given, even after the creator's death or disappearance. That said, not all golems are hostile, even if created by a hostile person. Some are used for menial tasks or labor, though all will defend themselves if attacked.
Players can create golems as well. In fact, my brother is playing a conjurer wizard with all the requisite feats to create golems of his own. He's still too low-leveled to really do much with it, but we hope to see how it works out in the coming months, and I'll readdress the topic eventually. While a costly venture, we're both confident it will be incredibly fun. We imagine a small squad of golems used to attack enemies and make scout runs.
Golems are a fantastic enemy type to throw at players. They are hard to kill, are naturally resistant to most magic, immune to Fortitude saves, and will never back down from their mission. They have no morale, and because of their automaton nature, do not understand taunting, or attempts to befriend them. As a reoccurring villain, while they leave a lot to be desired in original thought, they can be used effectively if their last received orders were quite complex and grand in scope. I try to come up with a 'last received order' script for every golem I create, to make sure they are working within the scope of the rules. Perhaps in the future I should attempt to create a golem villain that is attempting to follow their master's last orders, like opening six seals leading to the Abyss. The master is foiled by the players, but his golem continues his dark purpose. Do the players have what it takes to stop this unwavering foe that needs neither food, water, air, or sleep?
I enjoy using golems as mechs as well. Weaker enemies that may need a bit more time to stay alive can exist within a golem, controlling it with a series of complex levers and switches. I once had a weaker imp familiar villain control a Hellfire Engine, and invented some rules for breaking open the hatch that he was in, and for grappling him within it. It made an otherwise easily killed enemy quite difficult, and gave my players some pause before they ultimately decided to opt for striking a deal with the imp rather than attempt to fight it. Golems are fun, and can be the bane of any party, when used with a bit of imagination. Thanks for reading, stay tuned tomorrow for "H is for Homunculus".
D&D 3.5 Golem