D&D Monster Monday: Giant Skeleton

You take the MacGuffin off of its pedestal. No traps, what a surprise! As you wipe the sweat from your brow, you hear a loud scraping of metal and bone on the stone floor behind you. Giant skeleton. Of course. There’s always a trap.

Here at Dungeon Solvers, I pride myself with selecting the most interesting creatures in D&D 5e to analyze every other Monday. That’s why today I’m bringing you the giant skeleton. You know what a skeleton is, right? Well this one is bigger.

Trust me though, the giant skeleton is actually a pretty great creature. I’ve used it as a boss creature along with a few zombies and taken out a group and done some serious damage to a group of 5th-level characters.

It’s also a solid choice replacement for regular skeletons, zombies, and other weaker undead for a high-level undead adventure. It’s a creature with a lot of scalability which is always appreciated.

So let’s trudge through the Tomb of Horrors from Tales from the Yawning Portal and face this enormous undead monstrosity head-on!

skeleton monster manual 5e
The giant skeleton doesn’t have its own artwork, so we’re just going to use the skeleton’s. Credit: WotC.

Giant Skeleton Lore

The giant skeleton is sorely lacking in the lore department, but honestly what more is there to say about it? It’s not a super unique creature, it’s just a skeleton of a giant.

With that being said, a giant skeleton is understandably both towering in size and extremely strong. This makes sense just from its biology. It’s a skeleton of a hulking, strong creature.

However, a giant skeleton is a bit different from an average undead in that they are actually imbued by whatever necromancy has brought it back from the dead. They have enhanced abilities and magical protections that most undead minions don’t have the honor of receiving.

The giant skeleton is a featured creature in Tomb of Horrors as part of (one of the many) elaborate traps that would take a few kobolds to get past. 

Giant Skeleton Stats and Abilities

You can find the giant skeleton’s statblock on page 236 of Tales from the Yawning Portal.

Stats

Size: Huge undead
AC: 17 (Natural Armor)
HP: 115 (10d12 + 50)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR: 21 (+5)
DEX: 10 (+0)
CON: 20 (+5)
INT: 4 (-3)
WIS: 6 (-2)
CHA: 6 (-2)

This is the epitome of a min-maxed creature. The two ability scores that the giant skeleton uses are cranked out to a +5 modifier. Everything else is either in the dumpster or breaking-even. So based on what we can tell from its ability scores, the giant skeleton is going to be a hardy creature that hits pretty damn hard.

Conversely, the giant skeleton is severely lacking in the saving throw department. Thankfully, though, it does have Magic Resistance and a couple of other traits that assist it in bearing the brunt of the damage from spells and saving throw-based attacks.

The giant skeleton is a big creature with an unsurprisingly large health pool. They also have a high AC despite not wearing any sort of armor. This definitely ties into that magical enhancement that I mentioned previously. This is a solid, hulking, wall of bones that can lay a serious smackdown to an unsuspecting adventurer.

Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills

Damage Vulnerabilities: bludgeoning
Damage Immunities: poison
Condition Immunities: exhaustion, poisoned
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8
Languages: understands Giant but can’t speak
CR: 7 (2,900 XP)

Like other skeletons, the giant skeleton is vulnerable to bludgeoning damage. This is cool because it gives the party’s martial characters a reason to potentially switch-up their weapons. There aren’t many situations where they get to do that in 5e after all!

To balance this out, they have immunity to all poison damage and the poisoned condition, as well as the exhausted condition. To be fair though, this is standard undead stuff. It’s still a nice addition to their statblock though.

They’re not particularly wise creatures so they’re not going to make the most attentive guards, but at least they have darkvision!

CR 7 might actually be a little low for the giant skeleton. While their ability scores aren’t fantastic, they hit pretty damn hard and are hardy creatures despite having a damage vulnerability.

Abilities and Traits

Evasion. If the skeleton is subjected to an effect that allows it to make a saving throw to take only half damage, it instead takes no damage if it succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if it fails.

Magic Resistance. The skeleton has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Turn Immunity. The skeleton is immune to effects that turn undead.

The rogue and monk’s version of Evasion is already a sweet feature, but the giant skeleton’s takes that and makes it even better. Unlike the rogue and monk, the giant skeleton takes half damage on any saving throw that forces it to save to take damage and has a chance to take absolutely no damage from the ability.

So, while the giant skeleton’s Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma may be godawful, they at least won’t have to suffer the damage-based consequences of failing saving throws.

To make things even spicier, you can pair Evasion with Magic Resistance to give the giant skeleton even better odds at coming out Scot-free.

Turn Immunity is just mean. But, we’ll take it considering this is a creature with a -2 Wisdom modifier. Sorry clerics, not today!

Actions

Multiattack. The skeleton makes three scimitar attacks.

Scimitar. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 15 (3d6 + 5) slashing damage.

The giant skeleton’s Multiattack is phenomenal. Instead of the typical two attacks that most Multiattacks seem to grant, the giant skeleton gets three! That’s some nice action economy value right there.

Not only that, but their giant Scimitar attack hits like a damn truck already. It’s a whopping 15 slashing damage per hit on average thanks to its +5 Strength modifier. That’s nothing to scoff at. Plus, this attack has an extended reach of 10 ft. thanks to the creature’s size, and I’m assuming the size of the weapon.

Having a +8 to hit with three attacks is solid. It’s even better when you can deal an average of 45 slashing damage per turn with an extended reach.

Giant Skeleton Strengths

A Whirring Dervish of Destruction

A giant skeleton hits hard, fast, and uh, long? Seriously though, a Multiattack that includes three separate attacks made with reach is nothing to scoff at. Especially when this averages out to 45 damage per turn.

This is the reward that the giant skeleton reaps for foregoing all of its “unnecessary” ability scores and boosting its Strength to the roof. Well, that and +8 to hit with each of these attacks.

The party is going to have to be careful with that extended reach. Add in the fact that this is a Huge size creature and you have an enormous range to make opportunity attacks on unsuspecting foes. There’s a solid chance at being able to dish-out an additional 15 damage in any given round.

skeleton 3e
Pretty sure that’s not going to pass the NFL new helmet regulations. Credit: WotC.

Well-Fortified Tank

A common trend in D&D 5e seems to be that creatures have either high AC or high HP. The giant skeleton has both, so we know already that this creature is not going to be easy to take-down. It’s going to take a few rounds at minimum to deal with this behemoth.

Not only that but with Evasion, the giant skeleton has the ability to minimize or handwave damage from an effect that forces it to make a saving throw. Keep in mind, this isn’t just for magical effects. Your giant skeleton could cause a minor cave-in and take half or no damage from it while the party takes heavy damage.

And this isn’t even counting the anti-magic defensive traits that the giant has. Those require their own section because they’re that powerful!

It sucks that they have a vulnerability to such a common damage type, but besides that, they’re seriously hardy creatures!

Bane of All Magic-Users

If you looked at the giant skeleton’s ability scores alone you’d probably think that it’s going to be absolutely tormented by any spellcaster. This is a pretty reasonable take considering the fact that only its Strength and Consitution modifiers are positive values.

However, the giant skeleton’s traits take this would-be cannon fodder and change it into an irksome troublemaker for any magic-user reliant on spells that require saving throws.

First off, we have old, reliable, Magic Resistance which betters the creature’s odds of passing a saving throw imposed by a spell. But not only that, it has an improved version of Evasion that presents a very real chance for a giant skeleton to avoid taking any damage from a saving throw.

And don’t even think about turning them. Turn Immunity takes that off the table outright. Don’t bother wasting your time with this one, clerics!

The only magic that’s guaranteed to be effective against a giant skeleton is a spell that requires an attack roll. Well, provided that you can hit its 17 AC. Oh, and as long as the spell doesn’t deal poison damage.

Good luck.

Giant Skeleton Weaknesses

Lack of Offensive Variety

While the giant skeleton’s Multiattack is fantastic, it definitely is limited. If the giant skeleton is slowed or has their movement hindered in some other fashion they’re going to be fairly easy to kite. Their huge size and 10 ft. reach certainly makes this more difficult, but it’s a possibility nonetheless.

They have no real answers to ranged attacks outside from “move closer to kill them”. With only 30 speed it’s going to be a bit difficult to do just that if your target has any sort of room to maneuver themselves about the battlefield.

Magic Resistance will get your giant skeletons through quite a bit, but difficult terrain or other slowing effects can expose the glaring weakness of the giant skeleton’s statblock – a severe lack of ranged options.

it was me skeleton all along
I’m not sorry.

How to Play a Giant Skeleton

Crush Your Enemies

A giant skeleton has two modes. One where it’s smacking the hell out of its enemies with its giant scimitar, and one where it’s waiting for new enemies to show up. They don’t require sleep, they don’t require food, hell they don’t even need air to live. They exist to fight, and they fight well!

With this in mind, your giant skeleton should be moving toward whatever enemy they pick as their target and focus on that one. They’re not bright creatures, so they’ll probably go for whoever is closest unless there’s someone that’s a super obvious threat.

Ideally, they’ll want to move towards the backline, but let’s be real, they probably won’t get the chance to do so unless they can take out the frontline and whatever obstacles are preventing them from moving towards the ranged attackers.

They’re not fast creatures, but they have reach, so it is possible to catch up to targets far away provided that they don’t take a Dash action.

Cleave through your enemies, big skeleton! You don’t have any other options.

Protect Your Master

A particularly skilled necromancer would be able to raise one of these monstrosities. Gods help the party if they do because having to deal with multiple giant skeletons at once is not going to be an easy task.

If you’re going to use a giant skeleton as a henchman or bodyguard for a powerful necromancer in an encounter you should have it run interference. Keep any melee attackers away from the necromancer so that the necromancer can focus on decimating the party’s backline characters.

This is actually a really effective way to utilize a giant skeleton as this helps mitigate the giant skeleton’s major weakness. It doesn’t have to chase after ranged attackers if they have another creature that’s able to take care of them.

So keep your master alive and they’ll keep you, well, sort of alive.

5 Giant Skeleton Plot Hooks

  1. The Terror of the Church – A group of necromancers has infiltrated the church’s holy catacombs. They have locked themselves inside to pilfer the holy relics guarded within. The church’s military force cannot push past their hulking beast of a skeleton that guards the entrance.
  2. Giant’s Bane – A community of hill giants was massacred after one of their ancestors mysteriously rose from their ancient grave.
  3. Foolish Townspeople – After hiring a necromancer to get rid of the local “giant problem”, the townpeople are faced with a pack of giant skeletons making their way to crush the town.
  4. Prehistoric Swamp – The tar pits in the Sulky Swamp are reknown for preserving ancient artifacts and biological specimins. Unfortunately they may be a bit too good at preserving creatures from the past.
  5. Greedy Collector – “I want that scimitar, it’s big and shiny… No, I don’t care that the blacksmith can make me one just like it. I want that one.”

Conclusions

I have a confession to make. The first time I looked at this creature I thought it was just an abnormally-large skeleton, not a skeleton of a giant. I mean, the creature can understand Giant so you’d think that would be a clue for me to pick up on, but nevertheless, it’s a solid creature.

With that off my chest, I’m actually a huge fan of this creature. It’s pretty damn strong, but it has a couple of weaknesses that a party can exploit if they’re clever enough. It’s a great upgrade to a regular skeleton that you can use for high-level campaigns. Just be sure you can find a room large enough for it to be in.

It’s a hulking pile of bones that hits like a truck and can shrug off some potentially-devastating hits. What’s not to love?

Previous Monster Monday – Roc

Next Monster Monday – Quaggoth

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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