The “animate statue” that appeared in the Dungeon Beneath Tour Toriel’s first version got apotheosized into the erdgeist, this week’s entry from the Gazetteer of the Speaking Lands. These rocky creatures are both intimidating and hard-working, making them a popular summoning of wizards the world over.
These hulking characters are a recognizably common trope of fantasy games, where they are often and unfortunately called a “golem.” That word is lifted directly from Jewish religious practice and is, quite frankly, not okay for us gentiles to use, especially in games.
By constrast, “erdgeist” is an old german word from multiple folklore sources and not associated with any one religious practice. It’s also got that nearly-transparent etymology (erd = earth, geist = spirit) that I enjoy seeing in fantasy stuff. I’d really love if erdgeist catches on as a general term for these guys—they deserve a good and unproblematic name, because they rock.
Let’s dig in!
A summoned creature of stony construction, the erdgeist embodies the strength and resilience of the land. Wizards have long used erdgeists for heavy labor and especially construction; many of the tunnels beneath Kharzan were excavated by erdgeists. In fact, nearly all of the titanic structures that litter Ipieros were constructed with erdgeist labor.
Erdgeists are constructed from local earth and stone; most summoning methods begin by pulling that material out of the ground. The earth and stone is usually formed in a large but roughly human shape, but other shapes and sizes are possible. An erdgeist can be made in the shape of an ox to pull a cart, for instance. Once constructed, the erdgeist is animated by summoning the genius loci and asking (or demanding) it imbue the construct with a fragment of its essence. Once so imbued, the erdgeist’s eyes alight and the construct becomes animate.
Erdgeists are intelligent enough to follow the spoken commands of their summoner and anyone the summoner directs them to obey. They are not capable of speech (and are thus not one of the Speaking Peoples), and their capacity for reason is limited. When used for construction, they require constant supervision of a craftmaster mason. They are uniformly strong, durable, and slow. The last makes them poor combatants, but when they connect, they hit hard. Erdgeists cannot leave the domain of their animating genius loci, which generally means they cannot step onto land made of different material than themselves.
The animating essence that keeps the erdgeist moving is technically a will-o-wisp and it is only ever on loan. The erdgeist will only remain animate for a certain portion of time, often until sundown or until the next new moon. Master summoners might secure the animating essence for a year and a day, but will pay a high price for such a benefit. After this time has elapsed, the will-o-wisp returns to its genius loci. The wisp can also be recalled by the genius loci prematurely if it is angered, or if it requires the essence back and doesn’t mind angering the summoner. The loss of animation is an obvious transformation, as the light in the erdgeist’s eyes leaps out of its head and zips away.
Not all erdgeists are summoned. The most well-known “natural” erdgeists maintain the Road of Heaven. These erdgeists are animated by the genius loci of the road itself, and as such they are animated whenever the spirit of the road requires them to be. This is usually when the road requires repair, but the road has roused its erdgeists to defend itself, as well. Because the erdgeists are constructed from the same material as the road—they are essentially made out of cobblestones—they can traverse the road wherever it goes; they just can’t leave the road.
Please don’t forget to vote for next week’s entry from the Gazetteer. We’ve got four really juicy options and I’d love to hear which one sparks your interest!