Posted in Menagerie

Concerning Skeletons

Jason Morningstar, creator of Fiasco, proposed an interesting challenge on the Story Games forums a few days ago.

Posted By: Jason Morningstar

OK, Story Games global brain trust, let’s make skeletons cool and unnerving. What are the key components in skeletonry? What will make them badass and memorable? I want players to pee their pants when they hear that dry rattling down the corridor, not snicker and pull out their blunt smashing tools.

It’s a great thread, full of inspiring posts. Check it out. People offered up some very cool inspiring ideas. I was struck with a new take on skeletons, which I wrote up and posted on the forum. I’ve talked about reskinning monsters before; this thread focused on revamping and reimaginging them instead. Click that link or read on for the forum post in full, a cool reply from Jason Morningstar and a Dungeon World move for these new ‘Mockingbardian Skeletons’, as Jason has dubbed them.

First off, my forum post (I go by Mockingbard on the forums):

Here are the posts I drew inspiration from:


Skeletons with eyeballs. Some of them do not match. They have many blind friends who are eager to recieve a fresh pair. Some skin, a heart, intestines and genitals would be nice as well and a brain for those trixy plans.

Posted By: ivan

You will find skeletons stuck in a loop of repetitive obsessive painfully pointless behaviors, while at the same time trying to preserve a mockery of humanity by wearing fine clothes and trying to fill themselves with the entrails of their victims to look alive.

Posted By: C. Edwards

Skeletons can see only the past and any living thing they encounter appears as a vision of horror, hatred, or pain from their former lives. They speak among themselves in a complex language of clicks, clacks and scratches. Gathering in long-forgotten places, skeletons have grand balls where they parade, spin and cavort to music only they can hear.

Posted By: Jason Morningstar

I like the idea of personalizing them.

Then I posted…

I love all the comments here, but these ones fit best with an idea I’ve had while reading this inspiring thread.

Skeletons constantly recall the happiest (or most memorably emotional) moments of their lives, and while no living creature is around they can indulge in this fantasy. Once adventurers arrive in all their fleshy glory, the skeletons’ lack of life becomes clear, the dream is shattered and the skeletons blame the living intruders. Skeletons attack with their hands and teeth, even if using weapons they try to grab you.

Upon being touched by a skeleton, their memories flood into you: playing with their children in a park; marrying their wife; the satisfaction of a hard day’s labour and drinks with friends at the tavern. Their touch also saps the flesh from your bones; it crawls off your bones and onto the skeleton, restoring it to a semblance of life but in your guise (or a strange mongrel mix of many people it has sapped). It’s disguise is nowhere near perfect. It holds up as human from a distance, but close inspection reveals some irregularities, and it begins falling apart within hours or days. They can’t talk, but make rough, throaty noises and their eyes are unfocused or work independently. They can look sort of normal but always kinda wrong or creepy. Like they’re wearing an Edgar suit.

If the skeleton saps enough flesh to become whole again it seeks out living people and tries to recreate its memories. It approaches children in a park; it crashes a wedding, believing itself to be the groom; it pulls up a chair at a tavern and joins the living there, pouring a drink down its disconnected throat. In close proximity it doesn’t take long for others to realise something is wrong. In defence or in anger at the spoiled recreations of its memories, it attacks, drains more flesh and moves on to find another place where it can try again to relive its memories. Hopefully those adventurers it attacked but didn’t kill will use the flashes of its memories they saw to work out where it would go and track it down.

Jason liked the idea…

Posted By: Jason Morningstar

Now that’s what I’m talking about! Super cool. I like the way you’ve synthesized interesting ideas from this thread.

…and extrapolated on it:

I’d also point out that Mockingbardian Skeletonsknow stuff– they remember important details of their lives and transmit that to their victims. So it is easy to imagine circumstances in which a seeker of knowledge might hunt down the living skeleton of the ancient King of the Nau Tuchaninut Dwarves and willingly accept his dry embrace…at least for a little while. But the meat-head who smashes the old King to bits isn’t just destroying a threat, he’s erasing vital and irreplaceable knowledge of the past. Which of the Three Elven Regents was given the Rod of Selka the Arbiter at the old Dwarf’s coronation five hundred years ago? The fate of a kingdom rests on knowing.

Marhsall Miller made a Dungeon World move for “Mockingbardian Skeletons”:

Posted By: mease19

When a skeleton touches your skin, roll+WIS. On a 10+, you see this place as it once was and the skeleton shows you why it is here and what it wants. On a 7-9, the GM will write down why it is here and what it wants on a sheet of paper, tear it in half, and offer you one of the halves.

This was a great thread and I’m happy my contributions were so well received. People are still adding cool stuff to it, so make sure you head over, check it out and add to it if you’re so inclined. Feel free to use the Mockingbardian Skeletons in your own games. And check out the related Concerning Sirens thread that has just started up.