Thursday, June 25, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Skeleton Warrior

The Quest for the Skeletal Warrior is perhaps my favorite episode of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. The antagonist of the story is Dekkion, a fallen Celestial Knight who betrayed his companions for a king’s treasure horde. This act of treachery came with a terrible curse which made Dekkion walk the realm as a skeleton. It was a fantastic background showing what a fallen paladin may be like. You can read the entire script of the episode here.

When I became the proud owner of the AD&D Fiend Folio the skeleton warrior immediately jumped off the page at me. The instant comparison to Dekkion and other monsters featured from the tome in the cartoon was great. The first paragraph of the skeleton warrior description is as follows:

These are undead lords of the 10th-15th level, formerly powerful fighters (and will have psionic abilities if possessed in life). They are only affected by magical weapons and have 90% magical resistance. Their appearance is similar to that of a lich (see ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS MONSTER MANUAL) - skeletal creatures clad in the rich, but faded and rotting trappings of a powerful fighter. It is said that the skeleton warriors were forced into their lich-like state ages ago by a powerful and evil demigod who trapped each of their souls in a golden circlet. A skeleton warrior's sole reason for remaining on this plane is to search for and regain the circlet which contains its soul.

What an epic monster for any party of adventurers to encounter and interact with. That being said, they really are on the far end of the power spectrum. Growing up I was inspired to use skeletons as foes in my low level games quite liberally after seeing such classics as Jason and the Argonauts. Unfortunately in most RPGs skeletons have become trivial foes to be bashed apart easily by adventurers.

I have been marinating on ways to make skeletons more fearsome opponents. I think there needs to be something in between just animated bones and a skeleton warrior. I have no problem with undead that is easily defeated because it is held together with the sinews of minor necromancy. I just want something more terrifying because it feels no pain or fear. The T-101 from the Terminator series comes to mind and its relentless pursuit of Sarah Connor until it’s completely destroyed. I envision a skeleton doing the same thing so long it can still move a limb or snap its jaw.

Attempts have been made to do this via game mechanics in various editions by adding caveats. Some examples include damage reduction, only hit by magic weapons and extra hit points. While these are helpful I’m not sure they completely convey the sheer terror animated skeletons with weapons and armor. The approach I’m considering is very intelligent skeletons which use strategy and tactics. These are not your grandfather’s shambling hordes of mindless undead.

No, these are skeletons which have retained their martial knowledge from life completely. They would be mid-level opponents so I could fill the gap between the animated skeleton and the skeleton warrior. I will probably coin the new creation Soldier Skeletons since they use both equipment and stratagem to defeat their opponents. Perhaps there is a mercenary company of them lead by a skeleton warrior? The possibilities are really endless. What are your suggestions for making the classic skeleton more of an unforgettable opponent?   

The classic Fiend Folio Skeleton Warrior

Ray Harryhausen was the ultimate necromancer!

It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear!

Cory Hamel's awesome Skeletal Warrior