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In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game, the skeleton is an undead creature. In the third edition of the game, a skeleton's statistics are usually created by applying a template to those of another creature.

First appearancethe Dungeons & Dragons "white box" set (1974)


Publication historyEdit

The skeleton was one of the earliest creatures introduced in the D&D game.

Dungeons & Dragons (1974–1976)Edit

The skeleton was one of the first monsters introduced in the earliest edition of the game, in the Dungeons & Dragons "white box" set (1974), where they were described as acting under the instructions of their motivator, usually a magic-user or cleric of chaotic alignment.[1]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977–1988)Edit

The skeleton appears in the first edition Monster Manual (1977),[2] where it is described as a magically animated undead monster enchanted by a powerful magic-user or cleric of evil alignment.

The animal skeleton was introduced in Dragon #66 (October 1982) in the "Creature Features" column by Gary Gygax, and soon after appeared in Monster Manual II (1983).

Several skeleton variants appear in Dragon #138, in Tom Moldvay's article "The Ungrateful Dead" (October 1988), including the bloody bones, the dry bones, the gem eyes, the shock bones, and the skleros.[3]

Dungeons & Dragons (1977–1999)Edit

This edition of the D&D game included its own version of the skeleton, in the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977, 1981, 1983).[4][5][6] The skeleton was also later featured in the Dungeons & Dragons Game set (1991), the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991),[7] the Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game set (1994), and the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game set (1999).[8]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989–1999)Edit

The skeleton and animal skeleton appear first in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989),[9] which also introduces the monster skeleton. All three are reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993).[10]

The Strahd skeleton for the Ravenloft setting appeared in the Ravenloft: Realm of Terror boxed set (1990), and later appeared in Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (1994). The giant skeleton was introduced in Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix (1991), and later appeared in the Monstrous Manual (1993). The Strahd's skeletal steed also first appeared in Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix (1991). Several new skeleton variants appeared in Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix III: Creatures of Darkness (1994), including the archer skeleton, the insectoid (giant ant, giant tick, stag beetle), the skeletal cat, and the skeletal hound.

The skeleton undead dragon appears in Dragon #234 (October 1996), which later appeared in Cult of the Dragon (1998).[11] In the same issue of Dragon, the "Dragon's Bestiary column features the defiling skeleton, the dust skeleton, and the spike skeleton.[12] The dust skeleton and spike skeleton later appear in Monstrous Compendium Annual Four (1998), which also includes the obsidian skeleton.

The crystal skeleton appeared in Dragon Annual #2 (1997).[13]

Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 edition (2000–2002)Edit

The skeleton appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2000).[14] Described are skeletons of several size categories, including tiny, small, medium-size, large, huge, gargantuan, and colossal.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition (2003–2007)Edit

The skeleton appears in the revised Monster Manual for this edition (2003), as a template. This book also featured a number of sample skeletons, including the advanced megaraptor skeleton, the chimera skeleton, the cloud giant skeleton, the ettin skeleton, the human warrior skeleton, the owlbear skeleton, the troll skeleton, the young adult red dragon skeleton.

The skeletal dragon template appeared in Draconomicon: The Book of Dragons (2003)[15]

The fiery skeleton, the nimble skeleton, the soldier skeleton, and the vicious skeleton appeared in Libris Mortis: The Book of Undead (2004). This book also featured a number of sample skeletons, including the athach skeleton, the crocodile skeleton, the deinonychus skeleton, the dire badger skeleton, the dire bear skeleton, the dire rat skeleton, the elephant skeleton, the glabrezu skeleton, the gnoll warrior skeleton, the halfling warrior skeleton, the heavy warhorse skeleton, the kobold warrior skeleton, the minotaur skeleton, the nine-headed hydra skeleton, the ogre skeleton, the roc skeleton, and the tyrannosaurus skeleton.[16]

The Strahd's skeletal steed appeared again in Dragon #359 (September 2007), the final print issue of Dragon.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008–2014)Edit

The skeleton appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2008).[17]

Variant skeletonsEdit

  • Bone Creature – a skeleton that retains knowledge and skills it possessed in life
  • Crystal Skeleton
  • Dust Skeleton
  • Fiery Skeleton – burns with never-ending flames, it is immune to fire
  • Frost Skeleton – is immune to cold and deals cold damage with its attacks
  • Lightning Skeleton – is immune to electricity and deals electricity damage with its attacks
  • Nimble Skeleton – more agile than standard skeletons and able to climb as fast as it can walk
  • Obsidian Skeleton – also called defiling skeleton
  • Skeletal Dragon – created from dragons and retains some of their deadly abilities
  • Skeleton Warrior
  • Soldier Skeleton – often arising from the sites of massive battles, these skeletons gain benefits when fighting cooperatively in groups
  • Spike Skeleton
  • Vicious Skeleton – able to rend flesh and deal horrific wounds with their claw attacks

In the Forgotten RealmsEdit

Faerûn hosts a number of the variant skeletons listed above, as well as the following:

  • Baneguard – First developed by priests of Bane, these skeletons can phase in and out and hurl bolts of magical energy.
  • Blazing Bones – Fiery skeletal undead created when a spellcaster's contingency spell goes wrong, these rare undead can be found in Myth Drannor.
  • Direguard – Baneguards improved by the Red Wizards of Thay, these skeletons are wreathed in a shadowy field of force that functions as armor. They can also see invisible foes.

Critical receptionEdit

The skeleton was ranked second among the ten best low-level monsters by the authors of Dungeons & Dragons For Dummies. The authors state that the skeleton "introduces players to the special advantages and weaknesses of undead monsters; they're immune to the rogue's sneak attack, they're immune to critical hits, but they're vulnerable to the cleric's turn undead power." They also thank Ray Harryhausen for people knowing what fighting skeletons ought to look like.[18]

Other publishersEdit

The skeleton is fully detailed under the "walking dead" entry in Paizo Publishing's book Classic Horrors Revisited (2009), on pages 52–57.[19]


  1. ^ Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson. Dungeons & Dragons (3-Volume Set) (TSR, 1974)
  2. ^ Gygax, Gary. Monster Manual (TSR, 1977)
  3. ^ Moldvay, Tom. "The Ungrateful Dead." Dragon #138 (TSR, 1988)
  4. ^ Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson [1974], edited by J. Eric Holmes. Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (TSR, 1977)
  5. ^ Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson [1974], edited by Tom Moldvay. Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (TSR, 1981)
  6. ^ Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson [1974], edited by Frank Mentzer. Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules (TSR, 1983)
  7. ^ Allston, Aaron, Steven E. Schend, Jon Pickens, and Dori Watry. Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (TSR, 1991)
  8. ^ Slavicsek, Bill. Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game (TSR, 1999)
  9. ^ Cook, David, et al. Monstrous Compendium Volume One (TSR, 1989)
  10. ^ Stewart, Doug, ed. Monstrous Manual (TSR, 1993)
  11. ^ Donovan, Dale. Cult of the Dragon (Wizards of the Coast, 1998)
  12. ^ Thauberger, Rudy. "The Dragon's Bestiary: The Necromancer's Armory." Dragon #234 (TSR, 1996)
  13. ^ Ashley, Belinda G. "Arctic Monsters." Dragon Annual #2 (TSR, 1997)
  14. ^ Cook, Monte, Jonathan Tweet, and Skip Williams. Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2000)
  15. ^ Collins, Andy, James Wyatt, and Skip Williams. Draconomicon (Wizards of the Coast, 2003)
  16. ^ Collins, Andy and Bruce R. Cordell. Libris Mortis: The Book of Undead (Wizards of the Coast, 2004)
  17. ^ Mearls, Mike, Stephen Schubert, and James Wyatt. Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2008)
  18. ^ Slavicsek, Bill; Baker, Rich; Grubb, Jeff (2006). Dungeons & Dragons For Dummies. For Dummies. p. 373. ISBN 978-0-7645-8459-6. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  19. ^ Jacobs, James, Rob McCreary, and F. Wesley Schneider. Classic Horrors Revisited (Paizo, 2009)

Further readingEdit