Monday 29 September 2014

1d6 Skeleton Encounters [1]

Skeletons are boring. They have no motivation of their own and cannot be reasoned with, so a reaction roll doesn't provide for particularly interesting play. They require no morale checks, so that under-used gem of a D&D procedure is rendered useless. In my games, I have been guilty of encounters with Skeletons that are a bit… programmatic. As the DM, I know how the Skeletons will react, that they will not retreat, and that lacking any creativity they will not do anything inventive. 

But it doesn't need to be quite like that. And I want to do this without rewriting the Skeleton entry from Mentzer Basic (or your preferred cross-compatible OSR game). While I have sympathy for the point of view expressed in LotFP and DCC RPG, which suggests that [nearly?] all monsters should be unique and therefore truly 'monstrous', part of allowing the players and PCs to have ‘agency’ is to allow them to make informed, meaningful decisions. Too much novelty, too little stability in the game world undermines the ability of players to make these kind of decisions. 

Anyway, in the format of my 1d12 collection of Goblin encounters [part one, part two*], here is the first of 1d6 Skeleton encounters to add a bit of variety to another stock low-level Wandering Monster. Again, this text should fit on two sides of an 6"x4" index card when printed in Calibri 11pt.

1. Archeologists

The party enter an area of scattered stones. These are not natural features; though worn largely featureless they were clearly once shaped blocks. Several are piled atop each other, the remains of columns long tumbled. Skeletons (6) work with trowels, brushes and small shovels in a shallow pit, collecting pieces of broken pottery and the occasional golden trinket (just 50GP worth in total) in buckets lining the dig site. They are ‘archeologists’, working for the necromancer-sage Angavel Thurm.

SKELETONS (6) = AC: 7, HD: 1, HP: 4, MV: 60’/20’, ATT: 1 tool, DAM: 1d4, SV: F1, MR: 12, AL: C, XP 13

The Skeletons will pay no attention to the PCs unless they disturb the dig site. If the disturbance is minor, the Skeletons will hurry to the disturbance and, using brushes and trowels, attempt to rectify the disturbance. If the disturbance is major, or if the PCs attempt to remove any of the artifacts in the buckets, the Skeletons will attack.

A powerful magic user, Thurm is likely unsuitable as a direct opponent for low-level PCs. If the PCs follow the Skeletons they will be led to a mostly-buried astrological observatory. Thurm is using the dead of an ancient city as the ‘manpower’ to further excavate its secrets. On a hostile reaction, Thurm will send Skeletons armed and armoured in ancient bronze (AC: 4, DAM: 1d8-1) to drive the PCs away. On a favourable reaction, the bookish, cobwebbed Thurm will be interested in exchanging information on ruins – near and far. He can supply adventuring information such as the location of ruins, likely traps, ancient guardians, the translation of hieroglyphs etc. He will also buy ancient trinkets and baubles that the party recovers. Thurm might have use for a particularly powerful party when, in the future, he awakens some sleeping evil, or, accidentally-on-purpose, he prompts the PCs into doing so. 

 [Image by Leonid Yablonsky, borrowed (apologies) from]

(*I have no idea why everything listed in my Goblin encounters has a Movement Rate of 30' per round. A copy and paste error for sure - I have given it as the Movement Rate of Wolves and Boars as well as Goblins. But which D&D or Clone was I referencing that gives Goblins this Movement Rate? Not Labyrinth Lord or ACKS, which I carry around on my tablet for easy reference...)


  1. I generally feel that Skeletons are about as interesting as whoever raised them. A random skeleton encounter for me would be more like a trapped ossuary; a necromantic room where the furnishings are out to get you. Outside of that context someone's made them and they're doing something. Archaeology's an especially nice touch.

  2. Yes, you're right, and that's part of the problem with the mindless undead as 'monsters' - the range of player choices when faced with Skeletons or Zombies is usually much smaller than even when faced with monsters of animal intelligence, never mind those with the capability to communicate and reason. Dealing with their creator is a different matter, but that puts PCs into contact/conflict with relatively powerful NPCs, at least in most OSR games. That said, my next encounter will feature a low level NPC using the 1st level 'Skeletal Servitor' spell from Gavin Norman's 'Theorems & Thaumaturgy'.