Thursday 9 May 2013

Ray Harryhausen celebration: how to make skeletons cool

I applaud the Ray Harryhausen blogfest - statting up some of his creations for RPGs. Mostly old school, and WFRP 1 is about as old school as I get.

So here’s some general advice on making that classic, the animated skeleton, more like the skeletons that he animated. Which are probably the ones we’re thinking of anyway.

1: Take a Skeleton statblock. WFRP skeletons are slow, mindless and not much trouble. That’s not good enough.

2: Boost it a little. Particularly in speed and smarts. In the case of WFRP 2, remove the Mindless and Slow special rules and give them 25 Int, as well as a sword and shield or a spear. Maybe add the Intimidation skill for when they advance in lockstep and then shriek and charge, +10 to their first attempt to cause Fear? Kick it up from Routine to Average in Slaughter Margin.

3: Play it smart. Like a swordfighting opponent, not a machine. They’ll flank you, corner you, jump after you, chase you at a run, blindside you.

4: To be fair, add a weakness. They think like skilled living warriors, so they respond to threats like the living, and take actions their skeletal bodies can’t sustain. Note the failed attempt to block polearms with their ribcages, or diving off cliffs after the Argonauts which causes them to fall apart. The one who got his skull knocked off was still stumbling around, “blind”, but the one with the cut on his arm cradled it like he was wounded, not wanting said arm to come off. They’ll fight to the (return to) death, but they’ll fight smart while they do and sometimes fight defensively even though they’re in no real danger.

5: Make these faster, smarter, generally more badass skeletons rare. But hey, animated skeletons should be rare anyway, unless you’re playing a fantasy wargame. One was plenty to freak Sinbad out, he just brought his friends because the Argonauts came along en masse.

6: Consider what else they can do. You don’t set these guys to guard a tomb, you send them out to hunt down your enemies. They might be able to pop off their arms and send them scuttling off by themselves. And they probably aren’t great conversationalists, but I bet they play a mean game of chess.

If the PCs have met bog-standard animated skeletons before, give them a hint of what they’re up against this time. No puppet-like shuffling but a determined march, skulls tilted so they’re obviously looking right at you - and then the charge. This isn’t some zombie-level mook. This is a battle worthy of a hero.

Skeleton Warrior (WFRP 1)

Psychological Traits: immune to the psychology rules, but can be forced to leave combat. Cause fear in living creatures, with a -10 modifier to the resistance roll if they take an action to intimidate.

Special Rules: Skeleton Warriors are subject to instability beyond a 20’ range of their summoning. They need not be controlled. Hits from a Skeleton Warrior have a 35% chance of causing infected wounds. Removed bones become inactive, but the body will continue to act without them - this includes the skull.

M  WS  BS  S  T  W   I   A  Dex  Ld  Int  Cl  WP  Fel
4    33   17   3   3   6  25   1   18    29  29   29  29    ---

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