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A golem is an artificial, magical being that has been created by casting an animating spell on a model of a creature, usually humanoid. A golem is not alive; it is animated by magic. The model may be constructed using any raw materials and techniques, but clay is a very common choice for material because it has ideal properties for sculpting. The shape of the final model is very important since without fingers, for example, a humanoid golem would have trouble grabbing things. Once the spell is cast, the model becomes animated - it gains the ability to move on its own - but it must be provided with instructions before it actually does anything. Normally the spellcaster has complete control over the golem by means of verbal communication (spoken words) and can issue commands or instructions which are immediately followed without afterthought, remorse or reason.
A common problem with golems is their inability to comprehend or deduce. Many spellcasters will make the mistake of not being specific enough or trying to imply rather than clearly state what the golem is supposed to do. Golems cannot detect hidden meanings and will therefore react to what is literally being said, not what is being meant. For example, there was once a Great Wizard who was tired of tending to his garden and wanted to be able to perform his experiments freely without having to be bothered with such things. Rather than affording a gardener, he chose to create a golem to do this work. All went fine until one day the wizard told his golem to dig a pit for the new pond in the center of the garden while he went off to the woods to gather herbs. When he came back the whole garden had been completely dug out, and because the foundation below the house was ruined, his home was falling apart. He had forgotten to tell the golem that it should stop digging at some point. The following evening the wizard revoked the golem spell as best he could and donated the golem's clay body to the local pottery. The pottery eventually made a fortune and became renowned for selling walking pots.
Golems are ideal as guards in hard-to-reach places where visitors are rare - say, one group of adventurers every few centuries - because they require no food, will never get bored and will never give up doing their job. They cannot be bribed, threatened or otherwise convinced. However, they can be tricked by acting illogical enough, smashed to pieces such that the pieces are unable to do the intended job and/or magically altered or disabled should a well-educated spellcaster with a good grasp of golem spells happen to be around.
The most secure way to permanently destroy golem clay waste is by burning, preferrably in dragon fire.
On the more serious note, according to one version of the classic myth Rabbi Löw is supposed to have created the first (and only?) Golem and given it life by writing the hebrew word "emeth" (which means "truth") on its forehead. When he erased the first letter so it said "meth" (which means "death") the golem would no longer function.
-much thanks to [Simuir
] for the description
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