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I'm specifically looking for a way for an arcane (probably demented) NPC caster to create animated puppets for an adventure. I'm aware of animate object, but I'm looking for something more akin to a doll golem (which I've found rules for, but seem to not fit the general scenario I'm drafting up due to golems being CR 5+).

What I'm trying to figure out are methods or rules for possessed/animated dolls or puppets - having a creepy/scary factor is a plus (think Chucky and crew from the horror movie series Child's Play as a good template, but weaker, more like a CR 3 creature).

This is partially to prepare for Halloween, so total kudos if you can throw in a way to animate a pumpkin/jack-o-lantern/scarecrow using the same rules.

Preferably, the solution should either already existing or be a cobbled solution using existent game mechanics/rules/spells/etc. - while new creatures are fine, I'm trying to avoid making new material/powers/processes that could be unbalancing during play.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, these are all spectacular answers. I'm torn between deciding on which one is the best answer (since I can only pick one), but so far the first three answers are superb, and all deserve up-votes (in IMHO). \$\endgroup\$ – William M-B Aug 17 '15 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ You never have to pick a best one. You also have the option of going away, playing the game, and then coming back much later and accepting the one that ended up most useful in practice. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 17 '15 at 18:41
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Was someone watching the same doll-serial-killer episode of Miami Vice that I was this weekend?

The traditional Pathfinder creepy-doll is the Soulbound Doll originally from the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path (Edge of Anarchy) but now in the Bestiary 2, which can be created for 4300 gp and is CR2. Or its CR7 buddy the Soulbound Mannequin. Creating these does require the 4th level spell Lesser Geas but casters can sub in item creation spell requirements from scrolls/items so it's easy to handwave their ability to make some without being able to cast the spell routinely (and the creator doesn't even need to be present).

The PRD has a bunch of other options, including the CR1 doll devil (third party), the CR3 Guardian Doll (used as creepy border guards in Irrisen), or the CR 11 Witch-Doll Golem (is this what you were referring to in your question?). Really you can reskin about any construct as a doll though, or anything else for that matter (undead -> dead toddler in a porcelain mask, for example). Give the guy a custom feat for either animate dead or summon monster that makes them "doll-y" (like Summon Evil Monster would be Summon Doll Monster, and their type is just changed to construct). You could also just use haunts and have them create doll-themed manifestations.

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Existing answers resolve the core question regarding the mechanics of creating an animated puppet. However, a bit of GM-magic could handle it also.

Hand-Wave or Invent the Arcane Details

You could scour every Pathfinder book ever to find the perfect match, but why? You don't need to justify magical puppets or a villain's powers using the game's mechanics. If you want a spell caster who has magic puppets, create a some puppet-like monsters and use a spellcasting class to create the puppetmaster.

If players ask for details, they are magic puppets. You can fill in the exact flavor to fit your campaign world (souls who couldn't reach the afterlife inhabit the puppets, they are mechanical constructs created by demons, etc.). Describe the puppets and villain as being linked

Re-Skin Existing Monsters

Animated objects, as mentioned in the questions, are a close fit. Skeletons are good too. Not doll-like enough? When you describe them to your players, describe them as living dolls. Don't feel that you need to stick to the stat block explicitly. If your dolls need to talk, give them a language. If they need certain skills, just give it to them.

This approach is great for theme-games, such as a Halloween game. You can open up the monster manual, find a monster that has generally the CR and stats you want, and re-skin it to fit your game.

Both Puppet and Puppeteer are Characters

If existing classes have the features you want, consider creating the Puppet as a creature with PC classes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hand waving is the traditional method for solving such problems. Much like setting the mood by making the players roll dice for no apparent (or functional) reason \$\endgroup\$ – Jim B Aug 18 '15 at 20:40
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The simplest approach would be to make the puppeteer a summoner unchained with an inevitable eidolon. While the eidolon is technically an outsider, the inevitable subtype makes it “construct-like.” You could also pretty easily use the summoner’s summon monster ability refluffed as puppets. This is an easy solution, but the summons are not actually constructs (and making them react like constructs would dramatically improve their potency, since constructs have many powerful immunities).


For the actual construction of magic dolls or puppets, the Craft Construct feat is the relevant way to do so, but Caster Level 5th requirement is a bit tough. If you want a lower-level puppeteer, I recommend porting a concept from the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting: there, the artificer class got “Craft Homunculus” as a class feature; this was equal to Craft Construct except that

  1. The artificer got it early, and

  2. It only allowed the construction of homunculi, which are much smaller and weaker than other constructs. Eberron Campaign Setting and other Eberron supplements also supplied quite a selection of homunculi that one could build.

So my suggestion here is to give this character a Craft Homunculus ability, which is a limited form of Craft Construct but available at a lower level. Furthermore, this ability would waive the spellcasting requirements for homunculi creation: primarily, this removes the need for arcane eye, a 4th-level spell. For example, you could add this feat to the game:

Craft Homunculus

You can create homunculi, small construct creatures.

Prerequisites

Caster Level 3rd

Benefit

You can create homunculi, and you can supply magic which replaces the required spells of creating a homunculus by making a Use Magic Device check of 15 + twice the replaced spell’s level (a failed check on any of the required spells means that the day’s work is wasted). All other requirements of homunculus-creation must be met as normal. The act of animating a homunculus takes one day for each 1,000 gp in its market price. To create a homunculus, you must use up raw materials costing half of its base price, plus the full cost of the basic body created for the construct. A newly created homunculus has average hit points for its Hit Dice.

This is very similar to the artificer’s ability to create homunculi; the 3.5 artificer was an overpowered class, but not because of the homunculi. I have played in games where an artificer decided to focus on the homuculi, and that focus tended to result in a better game than games where an artificer focused on some of the more powerful things they could do.

Alternatively, and now we’re getting into territory that I have not yet personally tried, this could be part of an archetype for the summoner, one that also perhaps gives the base evolutions of the inevitable eidolon to any outsider summoned with the summoner’s summon monster ability. In return, the summon monster abilities of the summoner could be slowed one step: the summoner gains no ability to summon a monster at 1st level, and only gains summon monster I at 3rd level, and so on.

Either way, if you have Eberron Campaign Setting or other Eberron books, porting the homunculi to Pathfinder would expand the puppeteer’s repertoire in a reasonably-safe way. Alternatively, classifying some of the lower-CR constructs that mxyzplk mentions (guardian doll, soulbound doll) would also likely be fair.


Another approach I have used for a puppeteer, which you will probably want to use in conjunction with one of the options above, is to invent a new “weapon” type, the doll.

The doll is a ranged weapon with a 15-ft. range increment and a 30-ft. max range. The weapon consists of a Tiny (for a Medium wielder; in general two size categories smaller than the wielder) automaton which moves to the target and attacks, and then returns. Thus, there must be a path for the doll to walk to the target, but the doll can go around obstacles so long as the path is not longer than the weapon’s range. Cover and concealment are determined from the wielder’s position, however, making the weapon difficult to use around (opaque) corners. The weapon’s damage is equal to the weapon used by the automaton. Most dolls are capable only of using a single light or one-handed melee weapon appropriate to their size.

The doll does not provoke attacks of opportunity for its movement when used to attack. It is not an independent creature and is targeted as an object.

Therefore, a doll sized for a Medium wielder would wield a Tiny weapon, e.g. a tiny longsword that deals 1d4 slashing damage with 19-20/×2 criticals.

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