D&D Monster Monday: Skum

You hurridly make you way out of the sunken ship, narrowly escaping the aboleth that decimated your allies. A wave of relief washes over you as you make your escape. That is until you see a flash of white appear beside you and the piercing pain of the skum’s trident in your side.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a book I’ve been itching to dig into more, but unfortunately don’t have an excuse to add ships to my current 5e campaign. I do, however, have some ideas for our next campaign or a mini-campaign between the two big campaigns after this one wraps up.

There’s a lot of fun stuff in the book. Unsurprisingly, there are also a lot of fun creatures in the book as well. One such creature is the skum, a creature that has been turned into an aberration by the awful magical powers of an aboleth.

This painful transformation comes at quite a few terrible costs to the skum. Chiefly that they are forced to have almost constant exposure to water or else their bodies begin to decompose and explode.

There is no upside to this transformation for the skum. However, the aboleth is rewarded with a very powerful new servant to do their bidding.

Let’s dive into Ghosts of Saltmarsh and take a look at one of its exclusive creatures, the skum!

skum from Ghosts of Saltmarsh. It's a translucent-white eldritch horror-looking creature with long dangly arms and four tentacles for legs.
They’re not the most photogenic creatures, but they’re at least unique. Credit: WotC.

Skum Lore

A skum was once a creature, typically humanoid, that have been the unfortunate targets of an aboleth’s disease-baring magic. This magic specifically transforms the creature into a skum which is a disgusting-looking aberration with slimy, translucent skin and tentacle-shaped limbs.

Needless to say, a skum bears practically no resemblance to their original form. A creature that undergoes this transformation becomes nothing more than an unfortunate servant to a powerful aboleth with whom they have a permanent telepathic link.

If that doesn’t sound bad enough, the skum is also cursed to be very close to the water for the rest of their miserable lives. Their flimsy, slimy skin needs to be exposed to water at least once every 10 minutes or else their body begins to break down.

So basically, if you’ve been turned into a skum, you’re now the unwitting slave of an aboleth with a body that is constantly trying to destroy itself. Sounds fun.

Skum Stats and Abilities

You can find the skum’s statblock on page 254 of Ghosts of Saltmarsh.

Stats

Size: Medium aberration
AC: 14 (Natural Armor)
HP: 93 (11d8 + 44)
Speed: 20 ft., swim 40 ft.
STR: 19 (+4)
DEX: 11 (+0)
CON: 18 (+4)
INT: 7 (-1)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 9 (-1)

All in all, this isn’t a bad spread of ability scores. Particularly in the case of the skum’s combat stats. They have awesome Strength and Constitution scores which is their bread-and-butter. These creatures will hit hard and take quite a few hits.

Their major weakness is that they only have one “good” modifier with regards to the common saving throw abilities. Plenty of spells and features call for Dexterity and Wisdom saving throws, and the skum has to rely solely on the dice to make these saves.

Their Intelligence and Charisma are their worst abilities by far, but quite frankly, these are not creatures that need to think all that much. After all, that’s what the aboleth that is controlling them is there for!

14 AC is mediocre for a CR 5 creature. At this point in a 5e game, they’re going to be quite easy for the party to hit. However, they are saved by their beefy 91 HP. Skum can soak up a fair bit of damage.

Their 40 ft of swim speed is above-average in the water, which due to the nature of their bodies they should almost always be fighting in. The 20 ft. of movement speed on land is mediocre. That said, this is an aquatic creature it’s just a nice perk on the off chance they’re dragged out of their preferred environment.

Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills

Skills: Perception +4
Damage Resistances: psychic
Senses: darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 14
Languages: Common, Deep Speech, telepathy 60 ft.
CR: 5 (1,800 XP)

Skum make for spectacular guard units due to their high perception and 120 ft. of darkvision. Not only that, but they also have 60 ft. of telepathy to convey information silently to nearby allies. If you’re an aboleth, having a few skum minions to boss around will surely make your home base considerably safer.

Resistance to psychic damage is a very flavorful damage resistance to give the skum considering whom they serve. Mechanically-speaking, though, it’s not the greatest resistance to have due to it being such a rare damage type to have in 5e. Depending on the party’s composition, this may be an entirely useless resistance.

Keep in mind though, any creature that is engaged in underwater combat has resistance to fire damage. This makes our skum friends a bit better in the survivability department since they now have a resistance to a very common damage type and a very rare damage type.

All in all, I think CR 5 is a solid rating for this creature. I’d say that this is a well-balanced CR 5 creature. They hit appropriately and they have decent defenses, especially in the water.

Abilities and Traits

Abolethic Vassal. The skum is permanently charmed by its aboleth master.

Amphibious. The skum can breathe air and water.

Psychic Conditioning. The skum is immune to the frightened and charmed conditions unless they are from effects created by an aboleth.

Water Dependency. The skum takes 6 (1d12) acid damage every 10 minutes it goes without exposure to water.

Abolethic Vassal is a flavor trait first and foremost, but it does give the DM some advantages. Since the skum is permanently charmed by their aboleth they can never attack the aboleth or target the aboleth with harmful spells and abilities. This acts as insurance for your encounters. The party won’t be able to find a way to play skum against their master in the middle of a fight.

Amphibious is generally a great trait for a creature as it provides a lot of versatility to where you can place them in your adventures. However, for the skum, this will only be useful for a few minutes at a time before Water Dependency kicks in.

Sure, Water Dependency will not quickly kill a skum on its own, but I’d imagine that a creature whose body is in the process of breaking down wouldn’t be keen on not finding a solution to the problem.

Psychic Condition is a fantastic trait for the skum. Their mediocre Wisdom made them susceptible to both of these conditions originally so having immunity to being frightened or charmed is an enormous boon for these creatures.

Actions

Multiattack. The skum makes three attacks: two with its trident and one with its Mind-Breaking Touch.

Trident. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d6 + 4) piercing damage.

Mind-Breaking Touch. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 18 (4d8) psychic damage, and the target has disadvantage on Wisdom saving throws until the end of the skum’s next turn.

A three attack Multiattack is certainly above-average regarding the action economy. In total, the Multiattack deals 32 damage spread between piercing and psychic damage which is a respectable amount for a CR 5 creature in my opinion. Their +7 to hit gives them a solid chance to land all three of these attacks.

Trident is as basic of a melee attack action as you can get.

Mind-Breaking Touch, however, is a very powerful attack. It deals the brunt of the creature’s damage per turn. Seriously, it deals more than both of the Trident attacks. Not only that, it’s psychic damage so even the Bear Totem Barbarian needs to respect this terrifying attack.

The best part about Mind-Breaking Touch, though, is the debuff that it imposes on the target. If you are hit by this attack you have disadvantage on Wisdom saving throws for a whole round. This can be devastating if the encounter has a skum or two and a creature that has some powerful Wisdom saving throw-based crowd control.

Skum Strengths

Respectable Damage

32 damage per round is a respectable amount for a CR 5 creature in 5e. It’s not amazing by any means, but it’s nice.

The +7 to hit is, however, above-average for a CR 5 creature. I think this is necessary for the skum considering their role of “minion” to an aboleth master. Consistently landing Mind-Breaking Touch will ensure that the aboleth has at least one target every turn to target with their mind control abilities.

Mind-Breaking Touch is the MVP of the skum’s kit due to the Wisdom saving throw debuff. I also would like to reiterate that it deals psychic damage which is a very rare damage type for players to have resistance or immunity to. This action hits hard and hits often.

a short fish-like creature that is hunched over on all fours. It has a spiny fin on its back and a long tail
The original skum art from AD&D looks more like a kuo-toa. Credit: WotC.

Solid “Minion” Creature

A skum or a couple of skum on their own can make for a fine basic encounter in any dungeon or adventure. They’re solid picks for guard creatures due to their excellent darkvision and +4 Perception as well. Plus, with their 60 ft. of Telepathy they can work as a short-range communication network.

A boss creature, particularly an aboleth, could make excellent use of a few skum around their base of operations.

Mind-Breaking Touch is a fantastic tool to pair the skum up with a creature like an aboleth or really any boss creature that can make use of the Wisdom saving throw debuff.

If you’re feeling like using skum as minions for a creature other than an aboleth, have no fear! Abolethic Vassal and Psychic Conditioning are ripe for retooling. Swap out the mentions of the aboleth for your creature of choice and voila you have a skum for any scenario!

Skum Weaknesses

Lack of Ranged Attack Options

Skum are great melee brutes to throw at the party. They’re solid bodies to have on the field in a boss fight. They can even be solid guards or patrol creatures in an underwater dungeon.

However, they’re still one-dimensional when push comes to shove in combat. Their max range is 5 ft. These are melee creatures through-and-through.

Skum have no answers for ranged combatants outside of their excellent swim speed. While it’s true that martial ranged combat is less effective underwater, a party with a few spellcasters can do some hefty damage to these creatures without much concern for their safety.

If you can force the skum to emerge from their watery comfort and fight you on dry land, it’s a finished fight. They have no way to catch up with the party’s ranged units as they pummel them from afar with their 25-30 ft. of movement speed.

Volatile Resistances and Immunities

Resistance to psychic damage is flavorful for sure, but it’s niche. This can be effective for some parties, but I’d wager that the majority of the parties won’t be impacted by this damage resistance.

Everyone has resistance to fire damage underwater which is a great common damage type for the skum to have resistance to. Though there’s a good chance that once the party realizes this resistance is universal they’ll hold off on using their fire damage spells and abilities. Regardless, it does limit the party’s options so it’s not all that bad.

Immunity to the fear and charm conditions thanks to Psychic Conditioning is a fantastic perk. However, there are still plenty of conditions that the skum are easy targets due to their poor Dexterity and Wisdom modifiers.

How to Play a Skum

Pair With a Creature That Uses Wisdom Saving Throws

I swear I’ve stated this a million times in this article, but the skum are fantastic minion creatures. Particularly so if they are minions to their canon masters, the aboleth! Who’d have thought?

For a CR 10 creature, the aboleth’s Enslave action has a piss-poor DC of 14. Sure it’s a very powerful ability and this is trying to balance everything out, but you’re forgoing 3 attacks just to attempt an Enslave.

Throwing a few skum on the board to utilize their Mind-Breaking Touch will give your aboleth’s Enslave a much higher rate of success. The same can be said for any creature that regularly calls for their enemies to make Wisdom saving throws too.

Reflavoring or retooling a skum to be a perfect minion for a boss creature is super simple. Swap out mentions of an aboleth in their statblock for your creature of choice and voila! You’ve got the perfect minion. You can even swap their psychic damage resistance for a more flavorful option for bonus points.

Aboleth are the perfect choice for an aquatic minion creature. They take up space on the board, absorb a lot of damage, and come with a substantial debuff that can be used in tandem with a powerful boss creature.

aboleth from the Monster Manual. It's a short-bodied fish-like creature with four tentacles it uses to propel itself in the water. It has a huge, gaping mouth full of teeth
Yeah, aboleths are pretty damn terrifying. You can see the resemblance between them and the skum too! Credit: WotC.

Keep Them Near Water

The skum’s statblock is practically begging to be used in the water. They have an exceptional swim speed, one that more than doubles a typical player character in the water. They also are missing a common damage type resistance which underwater combat also solves, or at least entices the party to limit their fire damage attacks.

At the very least, Water Dependency limits your options to place your skum on land for long periods. They will begin to take extra damage if they aren’t exposed to water frequently. It’s not enough to kill them by any means. If we do the math out and assume an average of 6.5 damage per 10 minutes, a skum could potentially survive for just under 2.5 hours.

Just because they can though doesn’t mean that they will not expose themselves to water for that long. That’s an extremely painful 2.5 hours for a skum and I can’t think of a reason why a creature would do that to themselves unless they have been specifically ordered by their aboleth master to do that.

Their 20 ft. of movement speed also limits the creature as a hybrid land/water combatant. Honestly, their poor movement speed outside of the water coupled with their lack of ranged attacks should be reason enough to keep them in the water.

Simply put, you should place these creatures in the water. That’s where they’re best suited. They have a few key advantages against the party when they’re gleefully swimming about. Taking them out of the water will turn these same advantages against them.

5 Skum Plot Hooks

  1. A Mysterious Body – The city guard found the body of an otherworldly creature in an allyway. Rumor has it, the creature’s skin was almost translucent and the body looked unbelievably dehydrated. What is this creature and should the city be concerned for its safety?
  2. Disappearing Trade Ships – A once-thriving trade route has recently become the source of trade ships being lost at sea. There is one point of this route in particular that ships are now avoiding due to it being considered the origin point of “captain’s madness”.
  3. Sunken Treasure – You’ve come it posession of a treasure map that leads to a shipwreck on the ocean floor. Oddly enough, the ship captain you purchased the map from as eager to get rid of it…
  4. Skum City – The largest port city in the continent has recently discovered that it has an aboleth problem. This creature has stayed hidden and is slowly transforming drunken sailors and merchants into its unholy slaves.
  5. The Perfect Soldier – A wizard’s tower was raided due to allegations of them conducting illegal experiments on living creatures. One such experiment involved a ghostly-white tentacled creature stuffed in a tank of water. The research notes dictate that the wizard was attempting to utilize this creature’s physical prowess to further their goals.

Conclusions

If you’re in the market for some odd-looking muscle for an aquatic adventure, skum are a great choice. Pairing your skum up with an aboleth or any other creature that calls for Wisdom saving throws will be a frustrating hurdle for the party to overcome.

Their fast swim speed will be a nightmare for the party to deal with. However, take the skum out of the water and they become easy to kite creatures. Water Dependency also incentivizes the skum to stay close to the water so their bodies don’t breakdown.

The skum’s statblock is also ripe for being reflavored so that they function well as bodyguards, henchmen, or muscle for any boss creature that can utilize the benefits of their Mind-Breaking Touch.

All in all, the skum are creatures that live an unfortunate and painful existence, but don’t let that stop you from utilizing them in your seafaring campaigns!

Previous Monster Monday – Shadow

Next Monster Monday – Clay Golem

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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