Within the setting, golems fill the role of giant robots, mecha, built minions, malevolent constructs, and even adventure locations. The golem wars serve as a landmark setting element, which can be incorporated in a number of different ways depending on the particular campaign. Golems will also be the basis of at least two upgrade classes, the golem crafter and golem knight. They will likely interface with spell crystals and mana somehow, though I haven’t totally worked out those game systems yet. The “JRPG Basic” project now has a real name: Gravity Sinister.
Golems are constructs fuelled by magical energy. They have dramatically different forms and powers based on the materials used for their manufacture and the skills of their creator. The first golems were originally created by mages as servants. As the art form of creating golems developed, it became more specialized, requiring practitioners to dedicate their entire attention to the crafting of magical automatons, to the exclusion of other kinds of magic. Such mages became known as golem crafters.
The use of golems spread as their power was discovered. This led to the creation of golem armies, used by wizard lords to conquer vast swaths of land. The destruction wrought by these powerful constructs in service of war was great, toppling kings and forging empires. However, the real danger posed by golems came later, as many living mages lost control of their automaton servants, their will usurped by the spirits of long-dead arch-mages. What ended the tyranny of the golem kings is unknown, but in the wake of the golem wars, creation of golems has become anathema and is looked upon with great fear. Golem crafters thus rarely advertise their skills. Many ancient golems still moulder (or lurk) in unexplored ruins.
There are several different types of golem.
The first golems were simple, mindless constructs which could be directed by mages to do specific tasks. They had minimal intelligence, and usually required continual magical attention, like remote controlled robots. Despite this limitation, some puppet golems can be immensely powerful. Puppet golems are still created, but due to the stigma attached to golem creation, they are usually disguised.
The next evolution of golems was as spirit prisons. Golem crafters learned how to prepare a mechanical body so that it could be inhabited by a spirit. The conjuration and binding of this spirit was an elaborate process. Wise mages learned how to strip most of the individuality from the bound spirit, leaving a pliable, but still intelligent, core. Host golems do not require continual direction, but are still mentally inflexible and lack initiative. Hosts continue to follow their programming for eternity if they outlast their creator, which many do.
The golem shell is an animate, motive creation, with will supplied by some external source, such as a mage. However, as essentially platforms for consciousness, golems are also susceptible to other influences, as was learned when the first banished lich spirit figured out that a golem was a perfect foothold in the material world. Though undead mages are the greatest of such spirits, kept alive by pure force of malevolent will, other unquiet incorporeal undead can also occupy incorrectly created (or damaged) golems. Such undead spirit possessed golems are called haunts, and often become slowly twisted to reflect the nature of the undead spirit, such as the bony skeletomaton, haunts possessed by spirits so old they have lost all but the most basic will, or the ravenous, golems possessed by hungry ghosts which seek unending gluttony, despite being unable to digest mortal remains or ever truly derive sustenance from eating. Some powerful haunts have strange necromantic powers, such as the ability to animate corpses or summon other undead spirits.
Most sophisticated golems that remain have become feral, either through hatred of humanity for past servitude, insanity from long entrapment in ancient ruins, or corruption by demonic entities. Sages speculate that the strange energies released by meteorfall have contributed to the aberrant behavior of unchained golems. Some feral golems are engines of destruction, attempting to reduce anything in their path to ash, while others are more devious, hunting conscious beings for their own, inscrutable purposes. All are extremely dangerous. The component parts of feral golems can still be quite valuable to a skilled golem crafter though, so despite the danger, they are still sought out be the reckless and greedy.
Once the creation of more autonomous golems was forbidden, the golem crafters turned their considerable intelligence toward other ends, and carapace golems were born. These golems require a pilot and can do nothing without a conscious driver. Special seals are built into carapaces so that they can only be operated by a particular individual, limiting the danger and creating a special caste of attuned operators. They are similar in some ways to the earliest puppet golems, but do not require magic on the part of their operator to control. Instead, they bond mentally with their users and augment their capabilities. The nature of this connection varies from carapace to carapace. In some cases, the carapace provides little more than an adaptable exoskeleton, but other carapaces interface directly with the nervous system of the pilot, providing access to golem vision and other magical senses. There are stories of pilots becoming lost in their carapaces, fusing with the magical construct, and transforming into a new, hybrid form of biomagical life. Carapace golems are the only form of golems that are not generally considered forbidden, and some golem knights are greatly admired for their skill and bravery.
Husks are golems which retain some of their motive force, but have become otherwise alienated from most of reality. Previous programming has been lost or warped, and if they were ever once conscious, that intelligence has been buried or destroyed. Husks are rarely dangerous, but often have strange fixations, such as arranging rocks in piles, staring at waterfalls, copying the motions of animals, or building intricate structures for unknown purposes. They rarely acknowledge or interact with anything living. Some husks have become integrated into the natural world, such as the great pollenating husks, which serve as a vital part of the mobile forest ecosystem.
Huge, moving war machines were the pinacle of golem creation during the golem wars. Most were destroyed or sealed away by those fearful of their terrible power. Despite their great complexity and power, the basic design of a moving fortress is similar to a carapace, though often requiring many mages and pilots to coordinate the actions of such a titanic construct. There are also stories of moving fortresses possessed by demons, or attaining autonomy through their own complexity. Golem crafters still argue about whether such things are actually possible, or just legends spread by those that fear the use of golem craft.