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Golems and other constructs have a long history in Dungeons & Dragons and its spinoffs, but, almost invariably, it's extremely difficult for PCs to create them, and they often have varying requirements that don't seem to follow any logical progression, such as the iron cobra in Pathfinder.

This is a construct that requires (according to the Pathfinder Bestiary) 1000gp in materials for its normal iron variant, despite iron only costing a few silver per pound, and several constructs in multiple editions costing gold even when you're constructing them yourself, far beyond living expenses or materials.

Is there a reason for this difficulty? Perhaps buried in the game's history or lore?

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It has nothing to do with lore and everything to do with design philosophies.

Players should not be able to create golems.
Developers don't want players to be able to create golems, because it throws all kinds of things out of balance. Golems are quite powerful: they're usually immune to a huge number of things, and many of them can put out reasonable amounts of damage. Furthermore, they ignore most of the restrictions that would normally apply to the players adding combatants on their side: you can only attract so many hirelings with gold or charisma, and you can only command so many undead, but you can have as many golems as you can build and they tend to last for a long time. Together, these mean that if players can have golems then encounters have to somehow be balanced (or balanceable) for both parties that build zero golems and parties that build a lot (hundreds? thousands?) of golems.

The design philosophy demands that there be rules for building golems.
With the exception of 4e, pretty much every edition of D&D has been primarily simulationist; that is, the rules (claim to) provide everything you need to simulate the reality in which the game takes place. In particular, in simulationist games everyone operates by the same simulation rules, so if it's possible for an NPC to do something then it should be possible for an appropriately-built PC to do that thing as well. Thus, if NPCs can build golems (and clearly they can, because golems exist), then there should be rules covering how golems are built that are also available to the PCs.

Therefore, the golem construction rules should be designed to discourage/prevent their use by PCs.
The designers feel compelled to include rules for the construction of golems, but they really don't want the PCs to actually use those rules. Therefore the rules are structured so as to be complex/difficult for PCs to use, since the GM can always use handwaving to provide their NPCs with whatever the construction rules require.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Worth noting that golem-building was originally included not really for simulationism but as an end-game (“domain level”) option for powerful clerics, based on the original real-world mythology of the golem. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 29 '15 at 16:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't buy that they literally didn't intend for players to build constructs. They could have just omitted this entirely, in the same way there aren't (as far as I know) official rules for a PC becoming a liche or a god or any number of other things that happen in various fluff text. I'd say it's more likely their intention that the rules be used, but only as a major part of the story, rather than (eg) to solve a one-off puzzle. It's hard because it's meant to be a Big Deal. \$\endgroup\$ – Blue Footed Booby Oct 29 '15 at 18:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BlueFootedBooby Except 3.X does have rules for becoming a lich and for becoming a god. Give it time and 5e probably will as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Oct 29 '15 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ New questions go in new question posts, as do answers to new questions. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 29 '15 at 19:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there any RAW or citable truth to this assertion? \$\endgroup\$ – Nemenia Oct 29 '15 at 23:52
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These things were rare in myth (there's one Frankenstein's Monster; there's only one famous clay golem) and I would guess the intent is for them to be rare in the game too. By making them expensive and difficult to make, only the rare super-rich adventuring classes can even try.

Make it cheaper and you have the beginnings of the golem culture in Terry Pratchett's Discworld.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ But the monster was sentient. And the clay golem, like most, went berserk and dies alot faster than it takes to be built and costs to be created. Apparently intentional \$\endgroup\$ – Nemenia Oct 29 '15 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ The monster is semi-intelligent, which is a fair reconstruction of the movie version, I think. And the clay golem of legend went berserk too. \$\endgroup\$ – Nagora Oct 30 '15 at 9:20

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