Why “animated” doesn’t mean “lively”

Today’s monster from the Pathfinder Bestiary falls into the category of Everyday Objects That Want to Kill You.

Now, this general idea was covered very well in Head Injury Theater’s Celebrating Thirty Years of Very Stupid Monsters article, which I originally linked to back in this blog’s debut post. However, I think there’s another way of looking at these kinds of creatures – below, I group them into three types.

The first and most respectable are actual monsters who are able to camouflage themselves as manufactured things. The mimic is probably the best-known example of this. I can respect this kind of creature because it seems like the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a fantasy world with so many different kinds of monsters. In nature, some animals survive and even hunt by blending in with their surroundings. In a magical world, this is true also…just taken to a much greater degree.

The second gradation is intelligent magic items. These are oft-forgotten, but can be insidious because if played right, they’re right under the PCs noses the entire time but are never suspected. After all, a magic item is a magic item…until it starts using its powers when not commanded to, speaking to you, or even taking over your body. Done correctly, and your PCs will be suspicious about every new magic item they come across, all too aware that the very treasure they covet could be plotting against them

And then…then we have these guys:

ANIMATED OBJECT

The animated object is a catch-all monster for ordinary objects which have been magically imbued with locomotive abilities and can lash out at people. That’s it. And I have to tell you, unto itself that’s pretty lame. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I stood in my living room and thought “god damn…if my couch could move, it would totally kick my ass.”

The major reason why animated objects suck is because they’re really just robots made out of furniture. There’s no cognitive ability there whatsoever. So if you’re hoping to get something like this:

You’re going to be disappointed.

I do, however, have to give Paizo props for the artwork they commissioned for this particular monster. This is the first picture in the Bestiary thus far that truly conveys a thousand words on how best to use the depicted creature. Let’s go over it in detail.

The immediate thing that you notice is the skeleton in the center, so much so that it takes a second to realize that the manacles are flailing about of their own accord. That’s the first major hint over how animated objects are best used: as support monsters for other creatures. After all, a walking cage is bad enough…a walking cage that shoves you into it where a bloodthirsty skeleton is waiting is worse.

Conversely, the picture at left also hints at the idea of using an animated object as a sort of surprise monster. Imagine entering a room where a major encounter is awaiting the party. After several rounds, they decide to flee, only to find that the door won’t open for them – worse, when they try to force it, it suddenly swings open to slam them in the face before closing again. That’s right, it’s the old animated door trick, and now the PCs have to stay and fight (or get creative about getting out of there).

So yeah, animated objects may be the least inspirational of the monsters that look like ordinary things, but maybe the lesson here is that even the lamest monster, when used creatively, can still be an effective challenge for your party.

In the meantime, whip up a kitchen-full of deadly animated objects and let your PCs be their guests.

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