Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Anything related to personal combat and archaic weapons
User avatar
EinBein
Sworn Brother
Posts: 507
Joined: 03 May 2014, 02:50

Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by EinBein » 02 Jun 2016, 10:50

Dear community,

I'd like to start this new serial for the fantasy gamers amongst us.

In a system like Band of Bastards, where fighting is more than a couple of plain attack roles against artificial defense values, one wonders how creatures fight that have no access to human advanced fighting techniques, like the occasional wolf, bear or - and now comes the purpose of the new serial - skeletons, zombies, beastmen, orks, ogres, etc.

This first topic shall now focus on skeletons.

Image
*Credit: This picture is part of the published concept art made for the Computer game Battle Brothers

Now what is a skeleton? Let’s have a look at one of the most widespread of sources:
Dungeons & Dragons 3.5E Monster Manual I wrote:Skeletons are the animated bones of the dead, mindless automatons that obey the orders of their evil masters. A skeleton is seldom garbed in anything more than the rotting remnants of any clothing or armor it was wearing when slain. A skeleton does only what it is ordered to do. It can draw no conclusions of its own and takes no initiative. Because of this limitation, its instructions must always be simple, such as “Kill anyone who enters this chamber.” A skeleton attacks until destroyed, for that is what it was created to do. The threat posed by a group of skeletons depends primarily on its size.
Let’s have a look at which traits are most commonly associated with our beloved run of the mill servants of evildoers and how they would translate to a BoB fight. Skeletons…
■ …are re-animated bones, held together by magic and the willpower of their masters (most commonly referred to as “necromancers”)
So at least some magic is needed to re-assemble the loose bones of the long-dead. This magic not only aligns the bones to the positions they had in life but also serves to substitute sinews, muscles and cartilage that would normally be essential to execute movements and provide stability. One might question the stability of this magic energy - in comparison to living flesh - when hit with a sledgehammer. Anyways, to avoid unnecessary complexity, I would just say that both are equal in this matter.
■ …don’t show any initiative themselves.
Still, this seems an easy trait. If no order is given, a bastard can disassemble a skeleton without resistance.
■ …can only follow simple orders.
If the necromancer orders a skeleton to “fight”, it does its best to obey. The three gaming systems I have compared on that matter (Dungeons & Dragons 3.5th Edition, The Dark Eye 4th Edition and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game 2nd Edition) list only a few viable orders like “move”, “guard”, “fight” or “wait”.
■ …are mindless.
It is unclear though, how the summoned creatures are able to perform those rather badly defined tasks without any mental ability.
  • In the TDE rule system, simple undead like skeletons have an Intelligence rating of 1 on a scale of 1 to 24. It can be increased if the necromancer invests more astral energy and spell complexity though.
  • In D&D they have no Intelligence at all, but a Wisdom of 10 instead (but I also wonder how skeletons can have an alignment of “neutral evil” while being mindless at the same time?).
  • In WFRP, skeletons have neither Intelligence nor Willpower.
Taking all these really bad mental attributes into consideration, I wonder how skeletons would be able to obey orders at all. Even the simplest of tasks seem impossible to fulfill. And I’m not even speaking of dynamically reacting to opponent’s movements to hit them – or worse: avoid the enemy’s attacks.

Anyways, let’s again assume that “magic” enables skeletons (and other lesser undead) to understand the necromancer’s order and enter a fight with a couple of bastards. If we do that, I can even see a number of skeletons controlled by the same necromancer to cooperate and coordinate their movements and attacks, as they are all controlled by the same source.

Now, how does a skeleton behave in a bout? Do they parry? Do they grapple?

I would argue on the basis of the D&D description cited above, which uses the descriptive word “automatons” for their jerky robot-like movements combined with their inability to feel pain or fear and say that they would just attack without using any maneuvers other than Swing or Thrust, not trying to pre-empt but just doing their same thing until disassembled. They would just half their pool in both Tempos of the Phrase and only grapple if forced to or without options. Shields would only passively protect the covered body parts and neither them nor weapons ever actively used to defend.

Concerning targeting I’d say skeletons should mostly target areas with high level of life (lots of blood) like the neck or torso because assuming that they have a basic “magical” perception that does not rely on eyes (lenses, light, brain) but on some other way to “feel” their opponent. If armor obscured the “lifelines” they would “automatically” (that fits just right) target less protected areas.

If one bastard faces multiple skeletons, they should at least try to coordinate (spend a few dice to oppose in the positioning role) or otherwise they would end being slaughtered one after another.

I believe this could make for an interesting fight for the bastard(s), trying to disassemble the skeletons as quick as possible while having to be as careful as possible about not being hit. The skeletons just need to have enough numbers to provide some challenge. Otherwise they are maybe too easily one-hitted with over-invested killer strokes ;)
■ …so they shouldn’t be affected by any kind of psychological influence either.
And as such no maneuvers requiring the other to be tricked wouldn’t work. This works just fine with Feint because they wouldn’t allocate dice to defend themselves anyways.
■ …are causing fear.
This would definitely be an application for the Steel skill. Maybe you could even ask for a Steel test paid for with CP at the beginning of every Phrase, but I believe this can get cumbersome very quick…
■ …don’t exhaust.
Means no fatigue.
■ …don’t feel pain.
I’d say this is an automatic “Grin and Bear it” all the time. So TN penalty reduced by one. A higher penalty would reflect damage to the material that cannot be ignored.

Additionally they are immune to Knock Out but not to Knock Down.

hector wrote:I would be tempted to ignore impact and TN increases for any wound, but take any broken bones to mean that that limb is no longer usable. The skull would have to either be shattered or severed in order to make the skeleton stop fighting.

■ …don’t bleed.
No Bloodloss ever.
■ …nevertheless are effected by broken or severed limbs.
The relevant outcomes of the wound tables would work as normal. Just eyes, ears and inner organs are not counting.
■ …don’t eat, drink or breathe.
Self-explanatory.
■ …move jerkily.
To be described by the narrator.
■ …have a certain build that makes it difficult to hurt them with pointy weapons or projectiles.
I’d say that thrust damage is converted to blunt, but with halved wound level. This seems easy enough even though you might think about putting pointy weapons at a disadvantage when attacking. But as you count only one disadvantage at every test, this might invite exploitation…

---

I’d definitely like to put together a stat sheet in the near future, but would also like to read your comments on the above analysis and proposal!

@ Moderators: Please shift this topic if you think it wrongly placed!
Last edited by EinBein on 03 Jun 2016, 11:00, edited 7 times in total.
User avatar
hector
Dogged Bastard
Posts: 289
Joined: 01 Dec 2013, 03:26
Location: Aberystwyth University

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by hector » 03 Jun 2016, 01:28

The skeleton would be really, really nasty to fight in Bastards - they don't feel pain, among other things. The only way to reduce their ability to fight is to break their bones, which makes piercing weapons pretty much useless. I would be tempted to ignore impact and TN increases for any wound, but take any broken bones to mean that that limb is no longer usable. The skull would have to either be shattered or severed in order to make the skeleton stop fighting. As for how they fight? Basic manoeuvres with whatever weapon they're using, and they only attack.

Like I said, this makes the skeleton really nasty to fight, because they're always attacking and they're ignoring any wound that isn't a level 4-5. In terms of weaponry, you'd want something that does blunt damage, or maybe something that does cutting damage. You'd probably want to target the arms and legs to reduce their ability to fight, or the head.
User avatar
Korbel
Standard Bearer
Posts: 1147
Joined: 13 Apr 2015, 12:09
Location: Poland

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by Korbel » 03 Jun 2016, 09:12

I didn't expect such a topic! Nice.
hector wrote:I would be tempted to ignore impact and TN increases for any wound, but take any broken bones to mean that that limb is no longer usable. The skull would have to either be shattered or severed in order to make the skeleton stop fighting.
I like this. The skull would be the part that when destroyed, disables the whole skellie. But it must be crushed! If severed only, it could still bite.
taelor
Journeyman
Posts: 150
Joined: 23 Apr 2015, 05:55

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by taelor » 03 Jun 2016, 09:26

Normal people have two priorities in a fight: first, don't die, and second, kill the other guy. Skeleton's generally lack the first one, which simplifies matters considerably.

Skeleton's always attack, and don't defend, even if they don't have initiative. This means that unless you can manage to land a disabling strike on them with that initiative (which should be difficult, given that they're skeleton), getting into melee with a skeleton means getting hit by the skeleton. Unless you have good armor, or can disable them right off the bat, fighting a skeleton is effectively suicide.
GLENDOWER
I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
HOTSPUR
Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?
User avatar
Korbel
Standard Bearer
Posts: 1147
Joined: 13 Apr 2015, 12:09
Location: Poland

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by Korbel » 03 Jun 2016, 09:44

taelor wrote:Unless you have good armor, or can disable them right off the bat, fighting a skeleton is effectively suicide.
You could also try Bind&Strike or Deflect&Strike. Your blows will not be very strong, but with a decent weapon and Strength score you should destroy its skull, while being relatively safe.

And what about initiative? They don't feel the pain. Should they lose initiative when hit?
User avatar
EinBein
Sworn Brother
Posts: 507
Joined: 03 May 2014, 02:50

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by EinBein » 03 Jun 2016, 10:13

If the skeleton does nothing but attack, I guess a single one is an easy target for a properly equipped bastard (large sword or hammer), because he can relatively easy pre-empt and cut the skeleton in pieces with a high number of dice.

If you’re not properly equipped you can at least try to get hold of the skeleton’s weapon arm and subsequently try to Snap its neck.

But of course you have to be ready if you don't succeed :)
Korbel wrote:And what about initiative? They don't feel the pain. Should they lose initiative when hit?
I'd say so, because its also a matter of physical impact that lets the beast struggle.

Now find below my first take on a possible stat set for a generic skeleton:

Skeleton
Attributes
Strength: ●●●
Agility: ●●
Stamina: ●●●
Speed: ●●
Acumen: ◌
Cunning: ◌
Willpower: ◌
Social: ◌

Derived Attributes
Feat of Strength: ●●●●● ●
Balance: ●●◌
Health: auto success
Knockdown: ●●●●●
Knockout: auto success
Memory: auto failure
Reflexes: ●●◌
Perception: ◌◌

Skills
none

Proficiencies
1st weapon: ●●●●●
2nd weapon: ●●●●
Brawling: ●●●
Ranged: ●●●●

What would you say? Is this too low/high? Any better proposals?
User avatar
Korbel
Standard Bearer
Posts: 1147
Joined: 13 Apr 2015, 12:09
Location: Poland

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by Korbel » 03 Jun 2016, 10:38

EinBein wrote: I guess a single one is an easy target for a properly equipped bastard (large sword or hammer),
And what if the skeleton is also properly equipped? :twisted:
I mean, don't forget to give your skeleton king a nice set of armor, he will be much more fearsome.
User avatar
EinBein
Sworn Brother
Posts: 507
Joined: 03 May 2014, 02:50

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by EinBein » 03 Jun 2016, 11:11

@hector: I've incorporated one of your suggestions in my above post in a different color. Just to make sure it is not lost in the wall of text below.
hector wrote:The only way to reduce their ability to fight is to break their bones, which makes piercing weapons pretty much useless.
But would you completely deny any effectiveness for these weapons? Or try to convert their damage type like metal armor does?
hector wrote:I would be tempted to ignore impact [...]
I would at least count half impact, because this also has a physical component in my understanding that forcefully changes the posture of the hit opponent and in this way reduces their combat efficiency.
hector wrote:The skull would have to either be shattered or severed in order to make the skeleton stop fighting.
Agreed. Even though there seems to be no common ground on "where" the magic is located that animates a skeleton. You know the movie "Army of Darkness"? Where severed body parts of skeletons proved to be a nuisance at least :D
Korbel wrote:And what if the skeleton is also properly equipped? :twisted:
You're right :twisted:
User avatar
hector
Dogged Bastard
Posts: 289
Joined: 01 Dec 2013, 03:26
Location: Aberystwyth University

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by hector » 03 Jun 2016, 16:51

EinBein wrote:@hector: I've incorporated one of your suggestions in my above post in a different color. Just to make sure it is not lost in the wall of text below.
hector wrote:The only way to reduce their ability to fight is to break their bones, which makes piercing weapons pretty much useless.
But would you completely deny any effectiveness for these weapons? Or try to convert their damage type like metal armor does?
hector wrote:I would be tempted to ignore impact [...]
I would at least count half impact, because this also has a physical component in my understanding that forcefully changes the posture of the hit opponent and in this way reduces their combat efficiency.
hector wrote:The skull would have to either be shattered or severed in order to make the skeleton stop fighting.
Agreed. Even though there seems to be no common ground on "where" the magic is located that animates a skeleton. You know the movie "Army of Darkness"? Where severed body parts of skeletons proved to be a nuisance at least :D
Korbel wrote:And what if the skeleton is also properly equipped? :twisted:
You're right :twisted:
Half impact works; since it ignores pain but there's also the physical factor. As for piercing, given my thoughts later on regarding the ignoring of wounds (IE the TN increases and suchlike), I might actually be tempted to just use piercing damage as is. It doesn't break bones very often, and it doesn't have much impact - given that the TN increases would be ignored and so would a piercing weapon's instant death results, that makes a piercing weapon used vs a skeleton practically useless with very little modification needed.
User avatar
higgins
Heresiarch
Posts: 1186
Joined: 05 Jan 2013, 08:00

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by higgins » 04 Jun 2016, 02:22

hector wrote:The skull would have to either be shattered or severed in order to make the skeleton stop fighting.
Does this really model the fiction though? Zombie fiction for sure, but skeleton ones? I think I need to re-watch Army of Darkness to get my skeleton-fu up to speed. :)
"You can never have too many knives."
- Logen Ninefingers, The Blade Itself
User avatar
thirtythr33
Editorial Inquisition
Posts: 1236
Joined: 12 Aug 2015, 03:23

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by thirtythr33 » 04 Jun 2016, 03:12

When I think of skeleton fights in fiction, these are the ones I think of:

7th Voyage of Sinbad 1958
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA4zn4qVHME

Jason and the Argonauts 1963
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF_Fi7x93PY Part 1
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOZK4MiIMZM Part 2

In these fights, the skeletons frequently use a shield, parry and dodge. They even use proper tactics such as ganging up, positioning and picking up dropped weapons. They do seem to die to a single good hit though.

So it seems the "old" skeletons are weak and smart and the "new" skeletons are tough and stupid. It's kind of the opposite trend of zombies, who used to be slow and stupid and in modern media are fast and predatory.

I guess with undead, its all about subverting expectations to heighten the "otherness". Your players expect mindless undead? Try pitting them against a super intelligent hive-mind form of undead, and see if that creeps them out.
"O happy dagger!
This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die."

- Juliet Capulet
User avatar
higgins
Heresiarch
Posts: 1186
Joined: 05 Jan 2013, 08:00

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by higgins » 04 Jun 2016, 04:19

thirtythr33 wrote:I guess with undead, its all about subverting expectations to heighten the "otherness". Your players expect mindless undead? Try pitting them against a super intelligent hive-mind form of undead, and see if that creeps them out.
I think you're on to something. In most games, skeletons seem to be "entry level" undead. In our game, they don't feel any pain, so, they're by concept nigh-unstoppable. That alone makes them scary.

Same thing applies to zombies. Entry-level undead becomes a juggernaut.
"You can never have too many knives."
- Logen Ninefingers, The Blade Itself
User avatar
EinBein
Sworn Brother
Posts: 507
Joined: 03 May 2014, 02:50

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by EinBein » 04 Jun 2016, 06:58

thirtythr33 wrote:So it seems the "old" skeletons are weak and smart and the "new" skeletons are tough and stupid.
I guess its more the separation between the different forms of fiction. Undead are tough and stupid in tabletop rpg and miniature gaming but weak and smart in movies/serials. Have a look at the lesser mummy warriors from "the Mummy" and the super fast but very fragile wave of undead servants of the White Walkers in GoT (admittedly, the latter can't claim the smart attribute though).
thirtythr33 wrote:[...] zombies [...]
In classical fantasy (D&D, TDE, Warhammer), the differentiation between skeletons and zombies is just the level of decay, though rules-wise they often get completely different stat sets.

In the OP I tried to focus on those classical RPG's fluff texts (they were suprisingly relatively homogenous) and translated them into BoB rules. If I did the same for zombies, I guess there wouldn't be much difference but that zombies are slower (hampered by stiff, rotten flesh) but come with an increased risk of spreading disease.

Anyways, if you'd take the movie tropes as source, you'd have a complete different creature.
User avatar
hector
Dogged Bastard
Posts: 289
Joined: 01 Dec 2013, 03:26
Location: Aberystwyth University

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by hector » 04 Jun 2016, 12:51

higgins wrote:
hector wrote:The skull would have to either be shattered or severed in order to make the skeleton stop fighting.
Does this really model the fiction though? Zombie fiction for sure, but skeleton ones? I think I need to re-watch Army of Darkness to get my skeleton-fu up to speed. :)
Fair - I've never seen army of darkness. I mostly just felt that there ought to be a central point from where the magic began animating the corpse. Making it so you need to shatter/sever all of the limbs in order to render one incapable of fighting would make skeletons even more dangerous, but would be just as cool. It'd certainly make them dangerous enough for the erstwhile necromancer to actually use them as guards...
User avatar
hector
Dogged Bastard
Posts: 289
Joined: 01 Dec 2013, 03:26
Location: Aberystwyth University

Re: Fantastical creatures and how they fight us - Skeletons

Post by hector » 04 Jun 2016, 16:20

Hive minded and uncaring of their individual well being do not contradict each other - being ganged up on and potentially surrounded by enemies who fight with unceasing aggression and no care for their own existence would not be a pleasant experience...
Post Reply