It often seems skeletons end up as nothing more than generic, bland enemies. That’s a shame as their appearance and accoutrements could provide clues as to their fate and inject more flavour and detail into an otherwise standard combat encounter.
Use the tables below, to add some depth, flavour and—dare I say it—life into the skeletons encountered by the PCs.
A standard skeleton appears thusly:
This animate skeleton staggers toward you, its bony, claw-like fingers reaching for your throat.
To this basic description, apply one of the descriptions below:
- Scraps of hair grow from patches of decomposing flesh yet clinging to the skeleton’s skull.
- Several bones are missing from the creature’s rib cage.
- The entire left side of the skeleton’s skull is crushed and broken—no doubt the result of a massively heavy blow.
- Dirty, torn rags cling to the skeleton’s frame. Covered in matted dirt and dried blood they reek of death and the grave.
- Ending in a jagged stump, the skeleton’s right arm is missing below the elbow.
- Incongruously, this skeleton’s skull—minus its jaw—is wedged inside the creature’s ribcage.
- Clad in faded but serviceable clothes this skeleton seems more recent animated than its brethren. Its bones are clean—perhaps even polished—and lumps of ebon coal fill its eye sockets.
- One of the skeleton’s legs is horribly smashed; the lower leg hangs from the undead’s kneecap.
- This skeleton’s bones are stained a mottled black. (The skeleton was immersed in oil long ago, which impregnated the bones; it burns easily—and brightly!)
- This tall skeleton’s body is tightly wrapped in strips of mouldering cloth; however its skull has not been so wrapped. To the uninitiated, the skeleton could appear to be a mummy of some sort.
In battle, some skeletons fight differently to their brethren:
- This skeleton is slower than its companions; reduce its speed by half.
- This undead is faster than its companions; increase its speed by half.
- Every time, the skeleton lands a successful hit, a few small bone fall away from its body.
- This skeleton walks particularly loudly and the click click of its bony feet on the floor are audible from a goodly distance.
- After the first time it misses in melee, the skeleton drops its weapon and reaches toward its foes with claw-like fingers.
- Every time it strikes a foe in battle, the skeleton throws back its head in silent exultation.
- With one leg badly damaged this skeleton literally hops into battle.
- With no legs, this badly damaged skeleton crawls into battle. It doesn’t use a weapon, instead trying to rip its target’s feet and lower legs to shreds.
- This skeleton has no proper weapon. Instead, it beats its enemies to death with a mouldy arm ripped from a previous victim.
- A glimmer of sentience remains to this skeleton. A thief in life, it dimly remembers the worth of striking from behind and manoeuvres accordingly.
Sometimes, skeletons yet have some small trinket or treasure about their person. Roll on the table below, if you determine the creature has a small item of personal treasure:
- The skeleton wears a worn and stained broad leather belt which holds up the remains of a ragged pair of trousers. The belt has a secret compartment, which holds 3 platinum coins. (Only perceptive PCs find the secret compartment).
- In life, this skeleton was a rich person; several of its teeth have gold fillings. Extracting the gold yields 1 gp worth of scrap metal.
- The hilt of the skeleton’s weapon has a small black gem (an onyx) in its handle. The gem is worth 15 gp.
- The skeleton yet wears a leather necklace around its neck. The beaten copper and bronze locket hanging from the necklace is hopelessly wrapped around the skeleton’s rib bones.
- Worn gold coins are wedged into the skeleton’s eye sockets.
- Eldritch symbols are etched into one of the skeleton’s leg bones. The fell writings are a curse on the living, and are worth 2 gp to a collector of such macabre things.
- An arrow is wedged in the skeleton’s ribcage; it has a silver tip.
- The skeleton wears a small silver ring on its left-hand little finger. The ring has the stylised image of a spread fisherman’s net. The ring is worth 2 gp, but might belong to a well-to-do local family (and therefore be worth more to them).
- Bizarrely, this skeleton wears a ludicrously over-sized fur hat sporting a wide brim. The hat is worn, blood-splattered and essentially worthless; however, a secret pocket in the hat holds a tightly folded scroll of cure light wounds.
- This skeleton’s skull contains a largish iron key wedged into its brain cavity. The key unlocks a nearby door.
This articles appears in 20 Things #16: Necromancer’s Lair.
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