img020_zoom1[1]Have you ever wondered what could you do with skeletons in your adventure?

Let’s face it, skeletons are handy in pretty much any campaign. They are easy to prepare, familiar and can be anywhere, either because something died in the place, or because they’re being summoned by whoever needs a handful of disposable minions. The problem with skeletons is that we’re used to them being mindless creatures that it is difficult to find any originality or creativity in the use we give to them.

So below you’ll find a list of 101 ways to use your skeletons to provide inspiration for your adventures.

Enjoy!

Have you ever wondered what could you do with skeletons in your adventure?

Let’s face it; skeletons are handy in pretty much any campaign. They are easy to prepare, familiar and can be anywhere, either because something died in the place, or because they’re being summoned by whoever needs a handful of disposable minions. The problem with skeletons is that we’re used to them being mindless creatures that it is difficult to find any originality or creativity in the use we give to them.

So below you’ll find a list of 101 ways to use your skeletons to provide inspiration for your adventures.

Enjoy!

  1. Watchguards. — Come on, even the most moronic of skeletons can ring a friggin gong. Get real… They are much better than a simple tripwire or magical spell.. after all any adventuring party worth their salt knows to detect magic and detect traps… but do they remember to detect for undead? And even if they do, a paltry 1 yard of earth or a foot of stone or a couple inches of steel can block the spell’s detection abilities. And even if they can find out your guards there… what are they going to do take him out before it can ring a friggin gong.
  2. Backup watch guards… ok, so turning undead can have a minor effect if you aren’t a dark lord living on a sinkhole of evil. Big deal. Chain the buggers up so that if they run, a gong sounds… or put frigging bells on them. The other thing you can do is have a backup zombie whose only job is to watch the first zombie… but who’s successfully out of site of the cleric and can’t be turned. Back up zombie rings the gong… giving you time to get out of the bath and dry off before you have to deal with those meddlesome interlopers.
  3. Monkey pile… even the most stalwart adventure cannot hold against a sudden rush of skeletons. Attacking in groups of 20 with no intent other than to pin the inter-operates to the ground, 20 zombies acting in tandem would receive a +20 to their hit roll… able to bring down even the toughest warrior under a wave of bones. Pile up enough bones on top of a guy and he’ll die… or at least suffer some very memorable mental scars… bragging rights at any local Dark lord Watering hole.
  4. Sneak attack… Sure skeletons aren’t much to talk about… but their hidden symbionts can rock any gatecrasher’s world. Yellow mould skeleton, rot grub zombie, brown mould skeleton (a hit when air conditioning’s broken, too), russet mould… heck, darn near any mould.
  5. Bring interesting gifts, be the life of the party. A zombie can be used as a special suicide bomber. Just send one down the hall with a barrel of smoke powder and a lift fuse. Watch the PCs go nuts trying to get away. Lots of laughs. (Send a few duds first). For those dark lords in non-technological domains, just locate your nearest “Gas Spore” Have the nice skeleton pop the gas spore when in range of the PCs… same effect.
  6. _MG_3092white[1]Decorations… animate spare body parts and leave them lying around… chattering skeleton teeth are a hit at local party favour shops in Darkon…watch those pcs JUMP when they pick up the arm… And it springs to life in their hands!
  7. Approach things from a different direction… have the skeletons lying dormant in shallow graves as the PCs approach. Since they are dormant, detect undead won’t work! When a PC steps over the grave, the skeleton comes to life… grabbing the PC and dragging him under the earth… right into your choice of fungus/mould/slime… or even down a drop chute several feet down… too narrow to manoeuvre or defend… then have another skeleton start dropping rocks from above.
  8. Water sports… little known fact… humans require air… undead don’t. Great fun in any swampy area where the PCs have to wade through… or even you’re run of the mill flooded dungeon. I recommend putting some strange looking sword/weapon at the other end of a flooded room and seeding the town with rumours of the ‘great sword’ which is your only method of destruction. Zombies grab the PCs, pull them under water. They are so busy trying to breathe; they don’t have time to fight.
  9. Makeup… any number of relatively simply tactics can help the undead pass for a more fearsome foe. A simple crown and robe on a skeleton can lend the impression of a lich… Some plate mail allows them to emulate doom guards. Make skeletons look like regular folk… (Takes a LOT of makeup and perfume)
  10. Kamikaze. Any number of animals can be animated as skeletons. Keeping some fraction of their normal abilities. Skeletal bats can fly (despite logical scientific facts). Good for sending notes, messages, flaming oil coated bad kamikazes… you know the drill.
  11. Whoa… get a load of that suit! Undead squids and octopi (recommended, zombies only) can provide and interesting self defence… wear one for a cloak and watch the PC’s surprise when it comes to life to defend you.
  12. A pressing situation. Undead anacondas are lots of fun… has them wrap themselves around a PC, immobilizing them… then push the offending PC off a cliff.
  13. Flying aces… Some tree snakes, such as Jaculi can launch themselves from poles or similar objects to spear/bite the pcs. Littlie bony spears flying at the PCs from all angles.
  14. Let slip the dogs of war… Hey, hunting dogs get tired… let loose a bunch of these… They never give up.
  15. Wall defence… ever animate Giant Spiders?
  16. Fake out… animate a carrion crawler. From a distance, the PCs won’t know.
  17. Poison… another unknown fact. Undead are not affected by poison. Gas poisons, contact poisons on claws/weapons.
  18. Oohie, smelly. Undead also don’t complain about odour. Make’em stink to high heaven with Troglodyte sweat or retch plants. Insert a few retch globes into the throat of either zombie or skeleton… if the PCs hit, the globe brakes… smelly.
  19. Gardeners… Tend to your favourite species of flesh eating plant… choke creepers, yellow musk creepers, hangman’s tree… etc..
  20. Special weapons… hey, make cool weapons for your undead. Knives that break off in the victims are a hit.
  21. Military. Pikeman style lines work well… so do skeletal archers. Skeletal knights on skeletal warhorses using heaven lances.2105114_com_skeletons_[1]
  22. The Rook. Elephant skeletons… troop transport, crush your foes underfoot.
  23. Swarm… a whole bunch of really small animals. Creepy, crawly, send them all over your PCs.
  24. Playground: Mental aversion. Nothing like a room full of little kid skeletons to give your enemies the willies.
  25. Mouthy brats… add a few magic mouth spells to the brats. Make them say things like… “Help” “Where’s my mommy.” “Are you her to save us from the bad man?” “I’m so glad you found us”. Dressing them up cute helps.
  26. Living Bridge. Build furniture, walls, bridges out of the lesser undead… functional and self repairing in case of earthquakes.
  27. Equipment — Staff… human or python skeleton and skull. Head bites upon a successful to hit… comes off the spine… and chews on the target. (Non-detachable head version also available).
  28. Equipment — arrows. Take your favourite dead pet snakes and make them into undead arrows. Affix arrow head to snake’s mouth and let them start biting once they hit their mark.
  29. Armour… Not enough armour for your skeletons (or yourself). An ogre ribcage/skull cap absorbs quite a few blows and makes an attractive fashion accessory. Normal skeletons can be placed inside some larger zombies for extra fun.
  30. Spitting… fill the bellies of your zombies with oil, poison, or any noxious substance. (Acid doesn’t work well, however).Have them puke on the invaders. Looks cool and sometimes induces vomiting in the victims as well.
  31. Deadly embrace… coat a zombie in pitch, light them, and have them embrace a PC. Loads of fun… especially if you fill their tummies with oil first.
  32. Reserves. Scare the bejebes out of your PCs. In a room full of cluttered bones, have the PCs be attacked by 10 skeletons. Each time one is slain, bones fly together… reforming the undead. In the heat of battle, it will appear that they same skeletons keep reforming… when in all actuality; you have 50 or so reserve skeletons lying around in disjointed pieces… ready to fly back together at a moment’s notice. The PCs think they are fighting an inexhaustible foe.
  33. Ettins… An interesting take on the skeletal armour allows you to put two heads and 4 arms on the same ‘skeleton’. Lots of fun. Simply keep the head and arms intact on your skeletal armour and cover with a cheap set of leather. PCs think they are facing some Monster… and you get twice the attacking rate in the same unit space. (Note… some people might leave the legs attached as well… giving 2 kicks and 4 claws from the undead conglomerate.)
  34. Windows95. Since each skeleton can remember up to 12 words… use them to store information/archive retrieval. Give each zombie a binary on/off status then create a programming language… Undead holding coloured squares on a far away hill can function as the display terminal. Useful for games like Solitaire.
  35. Psych… Chop out a few normal folks tongues… torture them a bit and let them go as the PCs approach. They run for the PCs with outstretched hands… hoping for a rescue. A good makeup job, however, convinces the invaders that these poor folk are undead. The cries of grief and apology from the interlopers are loads of fun.
  36. Backup spell books. Tattoo your skeletons with copies of your spellbook contents… when given the proper commands, they line up in the right order… allowing you to read your backup copy.
  37. Primitive telegraph. Communicate with distant areas of your kingdom with telegraph lines made of undead. Each undead copies the signing of the skeleton to its right… conducting the sign language gestures of the original mage all the way down to the other end. A version of Morse code may be simpler, but slower.
  38. Kablamo! Fire trap the skeleton’s mouths. Make them laugh when the PCs get close or they are turned.
  39. Watch what you read. Symbols, glyphs of warding, explosive runes on the skeletons…
  40. Assembly line… set up and assembly line where each undead performs one task of the construction of some item. Allows for mass creation of battlements… from where you can have the skeletons attack with ballista, etc…
  41. Look ma, no hands. Attach Crawling claws to the skeleton’s hands. That’s the PCs approach… they throw the hands at them. Cool shock value.
  42. Doh! Fakeout… Fake bad guy escape. Skeleton dressed in rich garb (your favourite suit) gets into carriage which speeds away… PCs chase the ruse while you make good your escape.
  43. Nonstandard Weapon: Garrotte, mancatcher, weaponbreaker, drow crossbow.
  44. Quiet in the Library. Write necromantic spells on the zombies… tattoo them with spell formulae. Mages run around trying to keep warriors from hacking the zombies to bits. Scribe scrolls, cursed scrolls, etc… Also useful for yourself… call over your fireball squad and start reading their backs. Keeps down the burden of carrying multiple scrolls on your person. Also useful for backup spell books… “OK, Fireball, Magic Missile, and Death ray… report to my chambers.”
  45. Find a home for those cursed weapons. Load those cursed items, weapons, rings etc on the undead of your choice.
  46. Help in the kitchen… have the zombies pour the additives for those tricky magical experiments.
  47. The pantry… keep spare spell components on your zombies.
  48. Noisemakers… by clanking, clicking, clammering, and moaning to their utmost… banging pans and etc… They undead can make a caterwauling of painful levels… especially in acoustically friendly rooms. Disturbs the concentration of spellcasters.
  49. Mantic%20Games%20Skeleton%20Regiment[1]Darkness/light. Undead aren’t affected normally by low/high light levels. A cornucopia of darkness spells in an area will be to the undead’s general advantage. Remember, if they cannot see the cleric, they cannot be turned. The undead do have numbers on their side. Painfully high light levels can be generated by magnesium fires… too bright for the PCs… Who must shirk away in pain… but having no real effect on the lesser undead.
  50. Lightshow… by having continual light spells on certain undead and continual darkness spells on other undead… a complex display of light/no light/normal light condition areas are created. This change in light levels from full darkness to full light can be a painful shock to the eyes… remembers waking up in the dead of night and turning on the lantern? Continual darkness negates continual light, but the spheres of influence overlap with the multiple undead… sometimes more ‘light’ than ‘darkness’ effects will occur in a sliver…generating an area of light. Sometimes the contrary. The random milling about of undead in combat makes a chaotic mix.
  51. Bait – stick that bony skeleton on a pressure trap, a good spiked pit that only opens once fifty pounds or more is placed on it. The skeleton himself won’t set it off, but when a PC rushes forward to take care of your scrawny guard, whoosh! Into the pit with ‘them (but don’t expect your skeleton to survive…)
  52. Spellslingers – Imbue with Spell Ability is a nice addition to your skeleton cohorts. Sure, you’ll be out of the spell until he uses it, but the crafty priest can use it to even the odds…
  53. Tough Enough – Powerful clerics have the nasty habit of being able to turn your undead. Enchant them with Revenance, making them resistant to the first attempt to turn them. For a second level spell, it sure can help undead.
  54. Silent Ambush – When they’re still, the undead don’t make a sound, and they aren’t visible to infravision in the darkness. A sudden skeleton looming out of a dark recess to attack a character may give the undead the edge it needs to land a telling blow
  55. Poison – Skeletons aren’t phased by poison, and have no qualms about using it. Further, even if the PC’s try to get smart and take their poisoned weapons, the undead up ahead won’t need fear it.
  56. Trapspringer – So that precocious thief has sidestepped your trap’s tripwire, eh? Well, don’t let him get away with it, send your skeleton down the hall tripping every trap the party has just avoided – maybe catching the party in it, maybe just sealing them into a corner with no way out!
  57. Mask of Iron – Put a skeleton in a full suite of plate mail – surely that’s got to better than AC 6, and with the visor down, the PC’s won’t know it from the lifeless suits of armour they expect to see in a manor
  58. Cackling Madman – want to make the PC’s jump? Send a skeleton to follow them at a distance, howling with mad laughter (thanks to a Magic Mouth spell), preventing them from surprising anyone and making them nervous to boot!
  59. Deadman’s switch – Skeletons don’t tire, they don’t get bored, and they’re fairly easy to kill. Hand one a chain, holding up 10 tons of ceiling block, and tell him to wait there. If the party offs him or turns him, they’ll find the walls caving in around them
  60. Blind Alley – skeletons don’t go very far when they are turned if they are protecting a locked door at the end of a long haul. If the PC’s have to go through the door, all the better…
  61. Bone Locks – a shaped and animated bone lock won’t stay open when struck by a knock spell, or if picked. It’s the same result if you unlocked a door and someone then went and locked it behind you! A password is always good to let the lock know when to open, and when to shut.
  62. Bone Balls – these little surprises designed by spelljamming mages can be quit handy. Simply roll your skeleton into a ball, commanding it to wait until someone passes (who doesn’t know your command word), and watch them unfold and fight!
  63. Bags of Bones – Using the idea above, a good necromancer should always keep a bag of his skeleton henchman nearby. If the bag gets too heavy, just pull one out and command him to carry it!
  64. Nuke Them Till They Glow – Shroud your skeletons in faerie fire, and fool your opponents into thinking they are on fire! Also saves on the candles in your laboratory!
  65. Bowling Time – Ancient Celts used to stuff the cloven heads of their slain opponents with foul-smelling herbs and other items, and toss them at the enemy. Besides great shock value (and the overcoming stench), your undead now get at least one missile attack!
  66. Flying Finger Bones – who says skeletons are made of sturdy stuff? A good sling of the arm and specially prepared skeletons may be able to sling off their fingers, much in manner of darts. Really good if coated with some sort of poison agent!
  67. One from Many – Powerful enchantments may allow you to reform skeletons from the bones of others that have fallen in battle. Perhaps for every 10 destroyed, a new one can be formed!
  68. Insect Pests – use a cloudkill or other magic to kill all the insects in a hornet’s nest or other such pesky insect lair. Animate them to you will, and sic ‘them on those do-gooders. With about 10 insects to the HD, a good swarm of 600-1200 insects ought to be able to reproduce the effects of Creeping (or Flying?) doom. This, of course, may take several applications of the spell to reach
  69. Holding – Skeletons are unaffected by hold magic; imagine skeletons in a room trapped with stone tiles cast hold person on those who pass over them? Can we say sitting duck?
  70. They’re dead – when using command phrases or triggers for magic spells, items, traps and whatnot, and easy addition to keep from or to activate a trigger is the key word – “when undead pass by…”
  71. Toughen the ranks – stronger undead can keep the weaker in line, at least they could in 1st edition. Skeletons led by a ghoul or Wight would turns as the stronger undead, and as long as the presence of the stronger is about, the lesser will not falter.
  72. Never tiring – Skeletons don’t tire, they don’t eat, they don’t sleep. They can follow characters to the end of the earth, and won’t give up, slow down or show mercy. Just tell a skeleton, “Follow the warrior until he dies, but attack him only at night!” – Only 12 words to getting your revenge
  73. Fill their head with gems – simply cut of the top of their skulls and fill with your favourite material – chocolates, coinage, gems, and spell components. If you are on the brink of being captured, simply send your “treasure” elsewhere.
  74. Bridgeguards – hand several skeletons a guidewire to a rope bridge you have spanned over a chasm. Now you can cross safely, and when the enemy approached, the skeletons can let go, only to clamber down the deadly cliffs to retrieve the rope ends and resume their positions once danger has passed.
  75. skeletons[1]Servants – you don’t have to pay them, you don’t have to feed them, you don’t have to house them. They may not be the best cooks, but they should be able to keep you fell tower neat. Make them sweep up the nasty stuff; dust your shelves and whatnot. Just keep them out of your lab, unless you want them to pour that half-empty potion down the drain…
  76. Pseudo-servants – Where did that skeleton who is sweeping the carpet just get that sword? Sprinkle your “harmless” servants with one or two “maids” who have swords or other weapons concealed on them by an item spell.
  77. Transport – An undead horse never did a wizard any harm, and can help make that fast getaway. Best if kept buried where you’re most likely to need it, but only shallowly.
  78. Tar and Feathers – coat your skeletons in tar or pitch, and then sic them on the PC’s. A lot of fun to see them grab those torch-wielding PC’s.
  79. Strong Bones – dried bones are often hollow somewhat in the inside. Filled with lead or other molten, hard material, may make your skeletons a little tougher
  80. The High Ground – An attack from above, preferably with spears, can give an extra edge to any attacker. Make sure that the opponent won’t be able to leap up to his attackers, perhaps by serrating the top of the precipice with sharp spikes
  81. Archery – Most skeletons are given a club, sword or some other weapon to bash their opponents in. Give skeletons bows instead, and orders to keep their distance from foes. Now watch the PC’s howl in anger as they get peppered from afar, and can’t get close enough to turn the skeletons
  82. Doomsday Skeleton – if you’re willing to part with a magic item, give a fireball wand or other such item to a skeleton with orders to destroy the item if PC’s approach too close (appropriate use of a Magic Mouth may even allow the skeleton to get off a few shots before he goes boom). You’ll lose the item, but the blast will likely deflate the heroes quite nicely.
  83. Fog – use of fog cloud or the Guards and Wards spell to hamper vision gives advantage to skeletons, whose sight is magical. As they strike in the confusion, they can quickly hamper a party’s ability to protect itself.
  84. False Guardian – set your easy-to-kill skeletons to guard over a cursed item or two. The PC’s lose hit points to get to the treasure, only to find it worthless anyways!
  85. Puzzle – inscribe a series of skeletons with different Wizard Marks. When the skull of the correct skeleton is pressed to the door to your antechamber, it opens (when you’re not in your room, this particular skeleton always follows you around, and so you don’t have to track him down). The others set off nasty spells that don’t affect them, but everyone around them.
  86. Past Victims – scatter your undead’s bones about your treasure horde. When greedy PC’s bend down to steal your treasure, your guardians reform and animate, attacking to drive the PC’s off
  87. Chain Gang – Even a measly skeleton can hoist a shovelful of dirt, mine stone or carry quarry stones. Such untiring work crews don’t have to be watched either, and can help build imposing defences for your tower or fortress.
  88. Range Finders – Painted bright colours, such skeletons make excellent target markers for your siege engines. “Just aim for the neon skeleton, George”
  89. Catapult shot – why toss measly stones into your enemies’ fortress? Toss lightly bound skeletons into their yard, and let them unfold in the midst of the enemy
  90. Forward Observer – using clairvoyance, view your enemies from afar through your skeleton’s eyes. A lot of fun if all that remains of your observer is the skull near the entryway. Clairaudience can be mighty helpful as well
  91. A real screamer – cast SkullWatch or Improved SkullWatch on your skeleton’s skull. Watch the character’s reactions when its skull suddenly rises and begins screaming at the top of its lungs!
  92. Take That! – trap one of your lone skeletons with SkullTrap. Watch it explode when the PC’s finally hit it, and see how many of them are left standing afterwards
  93. Wickerize – to strengthen the frame of your skeleton with minimal fuss, weave the bones with wicker. Guaranteed +2 bonus to AC and an extra HD to boot.
  94. At your beck and call – Little do they know what the forest of dead trees, just outside your gate, actually is!
  95. MassMorphed skeletons waiting at your beck and call. Let a couple free just to give them a taste of your power!
  96. Quick Sand – what’s the dangers of quicksand, mires and other bogs to skeletons? Hide a few at the edges of these dangerous places, and let them drag PC’s in to join their ranks
  97. Dead Look Like – take that skeleton and use magic to alter its appearance to resemble a PC. The moment of hesitation may be all it needs to land a telling blow
  98. Glitter bones – enmagic your skeleton with a variation of Hypnotic Pattern. The scintalling colours will bedazzle your foes as they fight to keep their mind on their task
  99. Fake a death – give one of your skeletons a collapsing weapon and keep a feign death spell handy. At your command, he “stabs” you, and you fall “lifeless” to the floor. A good idea is to make sure the spring in the collapsing weapon keeps the weapon taut after the fake stab, so PC’s don’t get suspicious
  100. Dance with death – Manacle weaponless PC’s to animated skeletons in your dungeons. Great scare factor, if they are enmagiced to talk or moan.
  101. Delusions – Why does that skeleton have fangs? Give your skeletons odd features that remind PC’s of other, more powerful beings. What would PC’s think if they saw a shadow-wrapped skeleton with bony bat-like wings strutting from it? A shadow fiend perhaps?

Disclaimer: I have no idea who the author of this article is. I found it in a treasure trove of documents from long ago, it doesn’t have any credits and I can’t find the article when I make a search on Google. If you know the author (or if you are the author), please contact me.