Libris Monstrum #5: Skeletons
When I planned on writing this entry of the Libris Monstrum I did so with the idea that we needed more skeletons. I like that we get to see minotaur and warhorse skeleton stats in the Monster Manual and those give us two good stat blocks that could represent plenty more versions, but I wanted more. What about dragons, giants, and other classic monsters? Where are their skeletons?? That was the initial intent, but then I got another idea a few days ago. Undead are often created from extreme or tragic deaths and in a world of magic and monsters there are plenty deaths which might result in nothing but a skeleton being left behind. So let’s split the difference and come up with a couple great ideas from both sides.
This is one creature that would make for a frightening guard dog in the lair of a necromancer. Being a skeleton doesn’t do much to degrade the danger of such a monster. Three heads means three attacks, even in skeletal form and that is something to be feared. Undead also break the rules of normal creatures and, so, we can keep the breath weapon. Though I think it should deal necrotic damage. It probably can’t fly though, since those wings wouldn’t hold anything up.
The desert is a harsh place and not even those made for it are guaranteed to survive it. The sun-baked skeleton of a sphinx would be an interesting guardian of the long forgotten tomb it used to watch over in life. The roars of an androsphinx need no tweaking and can be used as such. It is the magical spells that cause us some issues.
Skeletons are not intelligent, general speaking, and we don’t want to go away from that. I may be changing and even enhancing skeletons but I don’t want them to become liches or some other undead. Still, I think we can keep spells a part of the sphinx’s repertoire, just not the ones they currently have, not all of them. Detecting magic, dispelling magic, and greater invisibility are spells that could be instinctually. The others can be replaced with spells like vampiric touch or blight.
What secrets could such an ancient guardian be hiding??
Now that we have talked about normal skeletons, let’s go over something a little more frightening. Magic-born might not be the best label for what I want to go for, I am open to alternative ideas. That being said, magic comes in many forms not the least of which includes massive balls of fire or dreadful waves of acid. Either one of these and more could cause nothing but a skeleton to be left behind.
The best way to approach such a skeleton, I think, is in the form of a template. I was happy to see them in 5th Edition but there are precious little and it doesn’t look like we will be finding any more of them any time soon. And sure, we could just make a normal humanoid skeleton with new powers but what about the minotaur, the creations above, or the creations of yours? No I think a template works best.
So let’s talk about how to manipulate the skeletons into something fearsome. We can do this in a way that makes the skeleton roughly the same CR. We start with template because 5th Edition ones manipulate almost no base stats which would be the one of the biggest contributors to a higher CR.
Next we’re just going to replace the basic attack of skeletons with a magical based attack that acts and deals damage like the thing that created it: acid, fire, radiance. These skeletons will be less attack sponges and more damage dealing menaces. One thing players might be tempted to do is run up and destroy these things, but let’s make that painful too. I think that we can have the creature’s destruction release the magic that created them in an explosion of energy!
The magic-born skeleton idea gives us a lot to work with, but I had another idea while writing the concept: dragon breath. Like magic, dragons breath power that could reduce the average person to nothing but bone. Why not have undead that are created from these as well? We could just use the above idea, but we could also tweak it into something more.
Imagine a soot-stained pile of bones littering the entry way of a red dragon’s lair. This would deter most from ever trying to sneak in and steal some treasure, but not all. Those undeterred by the remains of previous looters will soon find themselves attacked by those same looters breathing the fire of their creators. Or what of those killed by a blue dragon’s breath acting as lightning rods of a sort, electricity arcing between them to electrocute anyone who would dare steal from the desert tyrant?!
These are just some of the interesting directions we can take your average undead! What skeletons have you fought? Zombies? Ghosts?