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Black Skeleton (Dread Codex Monster)

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Black Skeleton
Size/Type: Medium Undead
Hit Dice: 6d12 (39 hp)
Initiative: +4
Speed: 40 ft.
Armor Class: 20 (+4 Dex, +6 natural), touch 14, flat-footed 16
Base Attack/Grapple: +3/+3
Attack: Short sword +8 melee (1d6, 19-20/x2 plus 1d3 Strength) or claw +7 melee (1d4 plus 1d3 Strength)
Full Attack: 2 short swords +8 melee (1d6, 19-20/x2 plus 1d3 Strength) or 2 claws +8 melee (1d4 plus 1d3 Strength)
Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Frightful Presence, Strength Damage
Special Qualities: Damage Reduction 10/bludgeoning and Good, Darkvision 60 ft., Turn Resistance +4, Undead Traits
Saves: Fort +2, Ref +6, Will +5
Abilities: Str 11, Dex 19, Con —, Int 13, Wis 10, Cha 14
Skills: Climb +6, Escape Artist +10, Hide +10, Jump +9, Listen +5, Move Silently +10, Search +7, Spot +6
Feats: Two-Weapon Fighting, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus (short sword)
Environment: Underground
Organization: Any
Challenge Rating: 5
Treasure: Standard
Alignment: Always chaotic evil
Advancement: 7-9 HD (Medium); 10-18 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment:

This creature looks like a skeleton with glistening black bones, seemingly constructed of blackened steel. Small red pinpoints of light burn in its hollowed eye sockets.

Black skeletons are intelligent monsters and are not subject to the mindless commands that can be given to such undead as skeletons or zombies. They have a clear mind, and sometimes go against the commands and wishes of those they serve, if it benefits the black skeleton in question. Such treachery is rare, however, since the skeletons know that betrayal likely means a quick demise at the hands of spellcasting masters.

Black skeletons are the remnants of living creatures slain in an area where the ground is soaked with evil. The bodies of fallen humanoids are contaminated and polluted by such evil and within days after their death, the slain creatures rise as black skeletons, leaving their former lives and bodies behind. Black skeletons are intelligent and do maintain some memories of their former lives.

Black skeletons wear any clothes or armor they had in life, and some still carry their gear or weapons (most discard their weapons in favor of two short swords as soon as they can). Black skeletons speak Common and Abyssal.

Combat Edit

Black skeletons attack with two short swords in battle with little more than the intention of cutting their foes to pieces. They are intelligent opponents and will use tactics during battle, often sending several of their number against a foe's front, while the others move into position to flank their adversaries. Black skeletons are smart enough to know when the battle is lost and withdraw from combat, though rarely. Most simply fight to the death, driven by some unseen hatred for the living.

Frightful Presence (Ex): The mere presence of a black skeleton is unsettling to foes, especially when the skeleton shrieks. Creatures within 60 feet and with less HD than the black skeleton that hear it must succeed on a Will save (DC 15) or become panicked for 4d6 rounds. Creatures that successfully save are immune to the frightful presence of the same black skeleton for one day. The save DC is Charisma-based.

Strength Damage (Su): Good-aligned creatures hit by a black skeleton (either by a weapon or natural attack) must succeed on a Fortitude save (DC 15) or take 1d3 points of Strength damage. The save DC is Charisma-based. This effect is a function of the black skeleton itself, not its short swords.

Feats: Because of the black skeleton's magical nature, its Two-Weapon Fighting feat allows it to attack with both weapons at no penalty.

Treasure Edit

Like persistent soldiers, the treasure of black skeletons is found carried by the undead not because of usefulness, but because of an instinctive need to possess a part of their former lives. Loose coin and gems are kept in a belt pouch.

  • Alexandrite [800 gp]
  • Moss agate [10 gp]
  • Elixir of love [150 gp]
  • Feather token, fan [200 gp]
  • 400 gp
  • 4 pp

In Your Campaign Edit

The efficient, if bland, explanation of the black skeleton's origins above leaves little room for expansion. Monsters become far more intriguing with good backstories. Let's explore some possibilities you can mull before introducing these undead into your game.

  • Black skeletons are patterned after the evil dark elves because of that race's distinctive two-handed fighting style (not to mention the black bones). But when drow society becomes aware of these undead, will they see the monsters as flattery, insult, or the source of a myth that should be propagated?
  • Shock troops of a deity of fear and/or darkness, black skeletons are forbidden to be created by any but this deity's clergy. Sometimes a "face" is needed for a religion to be properly noticed and such monsters make for the perfect identifier.
  • After a fighter wielding two blades fell in battle, an enterprising necromancer attempted to add the fighter to his undead force. But the necromancy became somehow contaminated and the fallen fighter rose as a free-willed skeleton, its bones blackened by the evil which birthed it. The two-handed fighting style was retained and passed to all victims of this original black skeleton. For this backstory, those humanoids slain by a black skeleton become black skeletons themselves within 1d4 days unless their corpses are burned.
  • In numerous prophecies, the End Times are heralded by the appearance of "coal black bones wielding the twin blades of pestilence and fear." When a planar portal opens not far from a major city and pours forth dozens of black skeletons at irregular intervals, could prophecy be coming true? More likely it is just a plot by a necromancer using the prophecies and black skeletons to his advantage. But using the skeletons as harbingers of Armageddon makes for a more arresting hook!



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