Crack open that Monster Manual, because it’s time for another deep dive into weird and wonderful world of D&D creatures! Our topic today: animated objects!
Alright, so, this is another one of those situations where there are multiple stat blocks for variations on a given monster type. Unlike angels, though, I’m just going to cover all three animated objects at once. Why? Because with angels, each of the three variants had a specific function: some were messengers, some were warriors, etc. That meant there were different ways to use each of them. With animated objects, though… I mean, they all have pretty much the same shtick: they look like a normal object, but–twist!–they’re animated. Not a lot of variety in how to use them, is what I’m getting at.
That said, they’re still a fun creature, so let’s check them out!
Lore-wise, animated objects are basically one rung down the ladder from golems. They are magically-animated constructs, but they are basically automatons; they don’t have the intelligence to do more than a few simple tasks. Think about the broomsticks from Fantasia.
The Monster Manual presents three different types of animated objects: the animated armor, the flying sword, and–my personal favorite–the rug of smothering.
Of these, the animated armor is of course the most iconic. Living suits of armor are a classic fantasy trope; what’s spookier and more magical than an empty suit of armor suddenly attacking? Animated armor isn’t too tough, clocking in at CR1, but I can tell you from personal experience that they still pose a threat to a low-level party. They don’t have many fancy moves (their only real trick is the ability to appear mundane when standing still), but they’ve got a decent amount of health and a fairly high AC. One interesting facet of this monster (as well as the other animated objects): it will fall unconscious when in an antimagic field or when targeted by a successful dispel magic, meaning a physical fight may not even be necessary.
The obvious thing to do with animated armor is to sprinkle a suit or two of it in with some more mundane armor. We’ve all seen shows or played games where a castle hallway is lined with innumerable suits of armor; turn a few of those into animated armor and bam, you’ve got a murder hallway. But why not think outside the box a little?
What if some terrifying figure has been stalking the town at night, killing people? There’s been a murder every night for the last week, and the guard can’t find the culprit. Witnesses describe a hulking man in a suit of demonic armor. All the potential suspects have alibis. The party begins to investigate, probably assuming they’re on the trail of a powerful warrior, but it turns out that it’s actually some animated armor being controlled by an evil wizard! It could serve as an interesting red herring, and perhaps you could even make the armor a cool magic item to reward the party with (once the spell animating it is broken, of course).
Alternately, what happens when a character wears a suit of animated armor? Are they trapped within when the suit begins to move? Do they perhaps have to wrestle against the armor, with the winner of an opposed check getting to control the combined entity for that turn? Does animated armor function piecemeal–for instance, could there be an animated gauntlet? There’s a lot to do with these guys if you’ve got an open mind!
Next up is the flying sword. Flying swords aren’t as impressive as animated armor; they’re just, you know… swords. They can’t do anything fancy, and there aren’t as many cool roleplay options for them, either; I suppose an enemy mage could use them as backup, but that’s really all I’ve got. The nice thing about them is that they’re only CR1/4, so if you want to surprise your players with animated objects but don’t want to kill them with the more powerful animated armor, flying swords provide an avenue to do so.
Finally, there’ the rug of smothering. This is the toughest of the animated objects (CR2), and also the one your players are the least likely to see coming. We’ve all heard of flying carpets, but smothering rugs? Whole different kettle of fish. They don’t attack in as straightforward a way as the animated armor of flying sword; instead, they grapple their opponents and try to suffocate them. Depending on how good your character is at breaking out of grapples, that could be a lot worse (or a lot better) than a regular attack! The really insidious thing about them, though, is that while grappling someone, they transfer half the damage they take to their prey. It makes sense: if Doug the cleric has an evil rug wrapped around him and Bonnie the fighter starts smacking the rug with her mace, Doug is probably going to feel it. It’s an added layer of danger that makes the rug that much trickier to deal with.
Now, there aren’t a ton of clever ways to use the rug of smothering. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s just a scary carpet; there’s not a lot of sneaky ways to slip it into the game. “Just then, the rug beneath your feet shifts and enfolds you!” is pretty much the only arrow in your quiver here (granted, that is one heck of an arrow, in my opinion). Here’s my suggestion, though: don’t do anything halfway. It’s like the old saying goes: when all you want to do is suffocate your players, turn everything into a rug. Have the players investigate, say, the king’s bedchamber or some such. That rug in front of the bed? Rug of smothering. The tapestry on the wall? Rug of smothering. The bed sheets? You know those are rugs of smothering. The doilies on the bedside tables? Little baby rugs of smothering. Anything that can be a rug of smothering should be a rug of smothering.
From what I can tell, the 5th Edition Monster Manual marks the first time animated objects have appeared with their own specific stat blocks in D&D. That said, the spell animate objects has been around since 1st Edition. Bizarrely, the rug of smothering also appeared in a set of trading cards based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the early ’90s.
While animated objects might not be the most intricate or interesting monsters out there, they can certainly add a bit of flavor to low-level games. And remember: it’s never a bad time to bust out a rug of smothering.