The skeletons in the Monster Manual are differentiated only by size. While simple, that system makes skeletons of very different creatures turn out the same. To give Dungeon Masters more options (and player characters more terror!) this article features a new template for creating skeletons. The template enables DMs to preserve some of the base creatures' features; thus, a fire giant skeleton is different from an umber hulk skeleton.
In general, this template produces much more powerful skeletons than those found in the Monster Manual. This increase in power allows the DM to challenge the PCs without having to use really large skeletons. Humans become the Medium-size skeletons found in the Monster Manual, with a few differences. First, the skeleton in the Monster Manual is unarmed and unarmored, while a human skeleton made from the template may be armed and armored. The template version, therefore, has a slightly higher Challenge Rating. (Sample skeletons that span Challenge Ratings from 1/2 to 8 are included.) Another difference is that these skeletons have neutral evil alignments. The alignments for skeletons in the Monster Manual were assigned at a time when we made all nonintelligent creatures neutral. Since nonintelligent creatures can (albeit rarely) have an alignment, it makes sense for skeletons to be neutral evil.
Creating a Skeleton
"Skeleton" is a template that can be added to any non-undead corporeal creature (referred to hereafter as the "base creature") that has a skeletal system. The creature's type changes to "Undead." It retains most type modifiers (such as "Fire" or "Aquatic"), but loses alignment type modifiers (such as "Good") and type modifiers that indicate kind (such as "Goblinoid" or "Reptilian").
The new skeleton uses all the base creature's statistics and special abilities except as noted here.
Hit Dice: Drop any Hit Dice gained from experience and raise remaining Hit Dice to d12. If the creature has more than 20 Hit Dice, it can't be made into a skeleton by the animate dead spell. (Exception: A 20th-level cleric with the Evil domain casts animate dead at caster level 21, so such a cleric can create an undead creature with 21 Hit Dice.)
Speed: Winged skeletons can't use their wings to fly. If the base creature flew magically, so can the skeleton.
Armor Class: Natural armor changes to a number based on the skeleton's size:
Attacks: The skeleton retains all the natural attacks, manufactured weapons, and weapon proficiencies of the base creature, except for attacks that can't work without flesh (such as a mind flayer's tentacle attacks). A creature with hands gains one claw attack per hand; the skeleton can strike with all of them at its full attack bonus. (If the creature already had claw attacks with its hands, it can use the skeleton attack format and damage, if they're better.) Recalculate the skeleton's melee and ranged attack bonuses based on its new type (Undead) and abilities (+2 Dexterity). Undead creatures have a base attack of HD ' 1/2 (same as a wizard).
Damage: Natural and manufactured weapons inflict normal damage. A claw attack deals damage depending on the skeleton's size. (Use the base creature's claw damage if it's greater.)
Special Attacks: The skeleton loses all special attacks the base creature once enjoyed.
Special Qualities: The skeleton loses all special qualities the base creature once had, except those associated with any subtypes it retains (such as the Fire subtype). All skeletons gain the Undead type (see the Introduction of the Monster Manual) and this special quality:
Skeleton Immunities (Ex): Skeletons have cold immunity. Because they lack flesh or internal organs, they suffer only half damage from piercing and slashing weapons.
Saves: Base saves are the same as those of a wizard: Fort +1/3 HD, Ref +1/3 HD, and Will +2+(1/2HD).
Abilities: The new skeleton's Dexterity increases by +2, it has no Constitution or Intelligence score, its Wisdom changes to 10, and its Charisma decreases to 1.
Skills: The skeleton loses all skills once possessed by the base creature.
Feats: The skeleton loses all feats once possessed by the base creature, but gains Improved Initiative.
Climate/Terrain: Any land and underground.
Challenge Rating: Depends on Hit Dice:
Alignment: Always neutral evil.
Advancement: Hit Dice are based on advanced Hit Dice, if applicable.
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