“Abel the Minstrel is generally considered to be the first artisan to have crafted a manikin. It is said that he was quite talented and had made a reputation for himself as a master puppeteer and an accomplished entertainer. His work was said to border on the simply fantastic. Unfortunately, such fame often attracts the attentions of people who envy or covet such things for themselves. Abel the Minstrel and his family were brought to the court of the Duke of Monteparte and the aging entertainer was told he would be the exclusive entertainer of the Duke’s court. His family was kept locked in the Duke’s tower to ensure the minstrel’s best behavior. Most scholars agree, this was a bad idea. It was a worse idea for the Duke to force his attentions on the minstrel’s beautiful eldest daughter. Sources disagree on what method Abel used to animate his creations, but whatever it was proved to be effective at giving life to the puppet he crafted with vengeance in his heart. His first manikin, Grinning Jack, whose actions since his emancipation have become the stuff of infamy, brought about the downfall of the Duke of Monteparte. What we do know, is that whatever their origins, they seem to be spreading across the kingdoms of man through the propagation of Abel’s original formulations, a simple pamphlet titled ‘Thee Artefice of Poppetrie‘, stolen by Grinning Jack upon taking his leave of his master.”
-Excerpt from Magister Tyr Andronicus’ Book of Heresies and Abominations
No Strings Attached
Manikins. Poppets. Puppets. Woodkin. Toymen. Abominations. Their names vary depending on where you are in the world and what the guiding opinion is of living things crafted by the hand of man rather than the hand of the gods. Whatever the belief the stark truth is these beings are now extant among the lands of men and they appear to be growing, if not exactly thriving. Their creation is laid firmly at the feet of wizards and witchcraft and the meddling in affairs not meant for mortal man. Manikins are creatures of artifice crafted from wood and wire, wax and cloth, porcelain and paint that are given life through esoteric (and possibly heretical) means. They come in all shapes and sizes and are purpose built for the duties they are expected to perform. A manikin outwardly resembles the species it was shaped to resemble, but possesses none of that race’s natural abilities. A manikin doesn’t choose a class, it is crafted specifically for it. While it is not unheard of for a manikin to choose a different class than it was intended for, it is rare enough to be considered unusual. Their personality is literally painted on their faces and they rarely deviate from that personality or purpose. It has been known to happen, but it is rare. manikins range from Small to Large in size (rumors of even larger or tinier manikins persist, but appear to be very hard to craft properly) and may be either male or female based on their design. Gender is merely a cosmetic consideration for a manikin as they do not reproduce naturally. Unlike golems manikins have free will once they have been awoken by their creator and while they may feel an initial loyalty to the one who crafted them, it is by no means guaranteed.
(Un)Real Boys and Girls
The source of a manikin’s vitality is their heart, buried deep in a manikin’s chest, and bathed in the vibrant blue glow of the creative force that animates them. The nature of this energy appears to most scholars to be a deep wellspring of nameless power that has some connection to the fey wild. If this is true, no one knows the source of the enigma. Some claim this force is the source of all life, others say it is a gift of the Muses, and still more believe the force has diabolic origins. A few hold out that the manikins are possessed by the souls of children taken too soon from the mortal world. Whatever its true nature, this strange fey light is what gives the manikin animation and vigor. Manikins can heal naturally, but much more slowly than than normal (it takes a manikin twice as long to heal naturally than a human does). It is this mysterious motive force that also allows a manikin to create a “child” once it reaches the 20th level of experience assuming it can find a skilled craftsman to prepare the body.
A People of Artifice
A manikin, being a created thing, has a few limitations and a few notable advantages. Once their attributes have been assigned, there is no way for the manikin to change these unless they are physically reworked by a magic-user skilled in the craft of making manikins (or a magic-user and a carpenter). They are generally lighter, faster, more nimble, and more flexible than a natural born creature. They are immune to poisons and disease and are resistant to piercing damage. Fire is their greatest enemy and can rapidly destroy a manikin. Manikins do not suffer from exhaustion, paralysis, poisoning, or unconsciousness and they do not sleep, eat, or drink. A manikin must be repaired by a carpenter or healed by a Mending or Restoration spell in order to rapidly repair damage sustained in combat.
The Show Must Go On
Manikins have no nation, no true culture and no homeland. They are created to serve a purpose, and once that purpose is served they tend to wander off seeking…something. Most cannot give name to this yearning, but they are a restless people and wander as they will across the lands, trying their best to blend in with the folk around them but knowing all too well that this isn’t to be. Manikins can be found as part of a troupe of entertainers, among a group or highwaymen, and even hidden deep in a city’s thieves’ guild. Most of the other races of the world regard them with suspicion at best and loathing at worst, and a manikin is welcome in very few places. They enjoy adventuring, performing, and being generally useful wherever they go and some simply live to please others. Whether this is driven by the mysterious energy that enervates them or is a remnant of their origins as playthings even they cannot say. There are rumors that in some isolated places the manikins of the world gather to form communities mimicking those of the civilizations around them, but these are probably just rumors.
Manikins share naming conventions with the folk of their native region when allowed to do so. Most are named by their creators, in fact a name is integral to the magic that animates them.
“Something just ain’t right with that boy.”
Manikins are unsettling. There’s always a few little things that make people around them uncomfortable. They tend to be preternaturally still, moving only when necessary. Their facial expressions are just slightly off. Their voices tend to be strangely exaggerated, like an actor delivering the lines of a play rather than having simple conversations. Maybe its just the weird way they study everyone and everything around them, trying to place them in context. Whatever the strange tics and tells they give off, they make people uncomfortable. Some people are relieved when a manikin reveals its true nature, others are outraged or terrified. They try very hard to fit in wherever they go for as long as they can with varying degrees of success.
Your Manikin character has a number of traits in common with other Manikins:
Ability Score Increase. A manikin receives a bonus of +1 to any two ability scores depending on its purpose. A Manikin intended to be a fighter would add +1 to both its Strength and Constitution scores.
Age. As living constructs, manikins are effectively ageless and are created fully formed and developed. Manikin’s bodies do suffer the ravages of time through wear and tear on their materials, requiring regular maintenance from a skilled craftsman. A manikin that keeps itself in good repair can last conceivably for centuries.
Alignment. Manikins can be of any alignment, but chaotic alignments seem to dominate.
Size. Manikins typically share the same size characteristics as humans, being of Medium size. But Small and Large Manikins are not uncommon.
Speed. Being lightweight a manikin’s move is 40 feet.
Flexible. A Manikin is effectively double-jointed and can bend and fold itself into spaces one size level smaller than their actual size. A Large Manikin can fit through or in spaces that could accommodate a Medium creature, for example.
Living Construct. Even though a manikin is constructed of wood and wire and cloth, it is considered a living creature. Granted animation and consciousness by the creative force that drives it, manikins are immune to disease. They do not need to eat or breathe, but can ingest food and drink if it wishes. Instead of sleeping, a manikin enters an inactive state for 4 hours each day. It does not move or dream in this state; however it is fully aware of its surroundings and will notice approaching enemies and other events as normal. It requires 1 action for a manikin to emerge from this state and untangle itself.
Damage Immunity. Manikins are immune to poison.
Damage Vulnerability. Manikins take double damage from fire attacks.
Condition Immunities. A Manikin is immune to exhaustion, paralyzed, poisoned, and unconscious conditions.
Slow Natural Healing. It takes a manikin twice as long to heal from injuries as it does a natural creature.
Nimble Escape. The manikin can take the Disengage or Hide action as a bonus action on each of its turns.
Standing Leap. The manikin, due to its lightweight construction, can long jump up to 30 feet and its high jump is up to 15 feet, with or without a running start.
Lifelike. A manikin is indistinguishable from a living being while it is in its active state as a result of the magic that animates it, allowing them to blend in with other members of the species it is crafted to resemble. When a manikin is inactive the illusion is dispelled and it can be easily identified as a puppet. Beings with True Sight can see a manikin for what it is.
Uncanny Visage. At will the manikin can drop its lifelike visage and reveal itself as a living construct. Manikins generally feel “wrong” subtly to those around them for any length of time, but this reveals them for what they truly are: animated puppets. This unnerves any creature within 30 feet of it that sees it, the target must succeed on a DC 11 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened until the end of the manikin’s next turn.
Natural Performers. Manikins, having their origin as things of entertainment, gain advantage on all Performance skill checks.
Fires of Creation. All manikins can cast Dancing Lights at will as an extension of the mystical creative force that animates them.
Languages. A manikin speaks the common tongue of its nation of origin.
Variant Manikin Traits
If your Dungeon Master allows it the manikin player can choose to replace any two of its built-in traits with other abilities that emphasize the artificial nature of the manikin. Examples include:
Hidden Compartments. The manikin has hidden compartments and hollows carved into its wooden body.
Hidden Weapons. A manikin can have any simple melee or ranged weapon built into a hollow within its arms that could conceivably be concealed within the space.
Exaggerated Physical Traits. Variations of form can be easily crafted as part of the manikin such as claws, longer legs (giving the manikin a greater move), longer arms (increasing the reach of its attacks), etc. Imagination is encouraged.
Other Innate Magic. Such as Poison Spray, Light, Vicious Mockery, or Acid Splash.
Plot Hook: The Council of Dolls
Rumors have been circulating of a mysterious organization called the Council of Dolls, which has supposedly been recruiting, kidnapping and even murdering manikins for unknown purposes. It is up to the players to discover what the true nature of the Council of Dolls is before they strike again.
Plot Hook: The Toymaker’s Army
A mysterious army has been quietly striking towns, villages and fortifications around the capital, most alarmingly this army appears to be made completely out of manikins. Handbills found at the scene claim they are persecuting the king for his crimes, but no specifics are given. Who is making this army? Why are they intent on punishing the king? The players need to find out and stop them before they march on the capital itself.
Plot Hook: Who Made Marian?
A local lord discovers he has unwittingly been married to a manikin, which is just as much a surprise to the manikin herself. Marian has all the memories and experiences of the woman she claims to be and no knowledge of being a manikin. Is this a trick by the lord’s enemies? Is the real Marian a prisoner somewhere? Or is this something even more sinister? It is up to the players to discover the truth.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If you end up using manikins in your campaign, please let me know what you thought. Do you and your players love them? Hate them? Feel a vast burning indifference? Do you want to know more about them? Do you have unanswered questions? Do you have suggestions for variants or a worked example? Let me know, gentle readers.