They fought for you in the Demon Wars. They died for you. The thanks they get is an eternity in demon-corrupted caves. They live on, of course, in a cursed way. Colonel Martin Severus, bone king, has taken charge of them. He was always something of an evangelical in life, and he’s convinced the restless dead that they are striving through a limbo between heaven and hell. The fact that they’ve been granted a physical body makes them blessed. The bodiless undead are the true failures, and their weak souls are to be harnessed and used. In this philosophy, he with the most bones wins; you’ll never get to heaven with just the skeleton you have, so the bone people are always adding on, trading and fighting for more bones. Imagine a skeletal behemoth who’s been adding to himself for 60 years of ritual combat.
Without a tongue, the bone people can’t speak, so they keep copious records of bones bought and sold and battles won and lost. Discarded notes abound in their territory. Blank paper is a rare and costly thing, and it’s to be used until there is absolutely no room left.
Travelers may be challenged for their bones, or they might be offered contracts with immediate payment for receipt of their bones upon death. Anyone dressing in extra bones may be given extra respect.
|art by Kevin Budnik|
Skulls skittering on hands or wheeling about on a circle of four legs. Human-like skeletons missing a leg or rows of ribs. They trade or fight amongst themselves for their favorite kinds of bones. They silently wave their banners that signal their intentions to buy bones, giving out large electrum coins that originated in a northeastern duchy 60 years ago.
Use stats for skeletons, crawling claws, and various animals. All are resistant to slashing and piercing damage. At any time, there are between 10 and 40 bone people in the main thoroughfare that is the entrance to their lands. They range from small and weak (minion or ½ HD) to monolithic giants made of numerous bodies’ worth of bones (8 HD or more). Through careful construction, they can replicate almost any physical attacks that other creatures possess.
Colonel Martin Severus
Through the years, the reigning skeleton king has become something of a bony serpent or centipede. He’s almost 20 feet long, all ribs and hands and feet along his “stomach.” His head is a hodgepodge of skulls and hip bones in the shape of a crocodile skull. Two long claws rise up from just behind his head, swinging the misty axe he’s made with the spirit of Jillian the Unfleshed (see below). Use stats for a giant alligator or small dinosaur.
Selling Your Bones
Most skeletons have pouches of large silver-looking coins that they use to barter for bones. Once adventurers begin trafficking the tunnels, the skeletons draw up contracts for them—if the living will their bones to the skeletons, collectible immediately on death, the skeletons will give them 50 to 150 silver coins (depending on perceived bone quality) with another 50 going to a beneficiary upon the signatory’s death.
What the bones don’t say is that they’ll also mold and shape the signatory’s spirit into a weapon, which is a very painful process for the newly minted ghost. Additionally, if the bone people find out their agreement wasn’t honored (perhaps circumvented by a raise deadspell), they’ll set out to get what is rightfully theirs.
Alternately, the bone creatures may be challenged in one-on-one combat, winner take all (of the loser’s bones). Most of the creatures are very weary about accepting, since a loss reduces them to a bodiless spirit that will undoubtedly be turned into a weapon.
|No idea where I got this from or who drew it.|
The Spirit Underground
Those who oppose the bones can find allies in the Spirit Underground that seeks to free their spectral kind from enslavement as weapons. These weapons are normal hilts, but the blades are like indigo fog, shaped by runes discovered by Colonel Severus. When they taste flesh, they scream in sympathy.
When a bone creatures is killed, the ghosts enslaved in their weapons might escape. The ghosts search out the best hiding spot they can find: the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Wall. At night, they rise to the surface to bemoan their fates to the heavens, and they dance. Naturally, this might spook some ship captains. Sailors might refuse to leave or enter port, which screws up just about everything.
The ghosts are more than happy to move elsewhere, but only if all their number are freed from the skeletons. If freed, they offer a final boon: using a method similar to how the skeletons enslaved them, the ghosts can imbue a weapon with a bit of ectoplasm, effectively turning them into magic weapons +1 that also have the ability to hit intangible creatures (even if a more powerful weapon is normally required). Each ghost can only do this once.
In a combat situation with the ghosts, use stats for ghosts. Duh. Only they’re sort of purple.
Jillian the Unfleshed
The leader of the Spirit Underground has been enslaved in Colonel Severus’s axe. She’s an ex-priestess of the sun, burned at the stake for a supposed heresy. If the weapon she’s bound to hits a PC, they’ll receive vague clues to the true state of the ghosts along with calls for help.
The day may come when the bones of a giant or a dragon or something weirder get introduced into the skeletal ecosystem. Like a savage predator introduced onto an island of quiescent herbivores, whichever skeleton creature buys these huge and dangerous bones becomes an unstoppable beast who defeats all challengers.
An example: over ten feet tall, its shins and forearms reinforced by a wrapping of smaller bones, its joints protected by pelvises, it is hung with ragged scraps of paper. Its rib cage is full of fingers, toes, and oversized silver coins that thunk lightly together like a macabre windchime. Atop its shoulders, around a great, sloping skull, sits a conical mound of smaller skulls facing all directions, the eyes glowing purple-gray.
In addition to swinging its two ghostly swords, the giant skeleton has a number of special attacks:
animate minions: it throws one of its many skulls at nearby pile of bones to animate 2 skull-less wheeling things with 1 hp, +5 to attack, and 2d4 damage
ribs uncaged: at half health, it shoves a skull up its rib cage, causing finger and toe bones to explode 20 feet outward like bony buckshot, dealing 3d6 damage (½ damage on successful Dexterity save)
grasping hands: once per encounter, skeletal hands form and hold the players immobile until the end of their next turn; other skeletal hands claw and grope at them for minimal damage)