'And upon the city walls fell a terrible scratching and clanking, and the city folk were afraid, for they knew what awaited on the other side. Iron, and bone.'
- Excerpt translated from 'The Army of the Night' - Dagon Heironos, 1432 First Age
Let's face it - skeletons are weak. Puny little shambles of scraping bones that crack under hammers, snap under swords, and crumble under magic. Yet they are popular with necromancers for the reason that they are so common in crypts and graves, as they are the part of the body that takes the longest time to decompose. 99% of skeletons encountered will be animated by a necromancer rather than intelligent undead, as any lich so old as to consist of naught but bones will not be throwing himself into the paths of swords so readily.
At the end of the age of Founding, the armies of darkness gathered their forces, of men and dark beasts, in what would be a prelude to the Mage Wars that would soon shake the lands. Many among them, drawn to the Dark Gods' call, gained the talent, or curse of being able to make bones walk. Yet while before them lay hosts of crypts, graves, and battlefields to be raided for bodies, most survived in the form of crumbling skeletons. It was up to the Hands of Darkness to forge these moldering bones into a tool that would strike fear into the hearts of their enemies. It is fair to say that they were quite a success.
An ironbones is a fearsome opponent indeed, almost as frightening to behold as it is to confront. It has the form of a human skeleton, which it was made from, but rather than showing dry bones, it gleams with the dark luster of burnished metal. As it walks, the sharp sound of metal on stone can be heard, as can a faint metallic scraping, as its metal limbs grind against one another.
Ironbones are in essence skeletons that have been animated and covered in a dark alloy of steel that has been magically bonded to the bones. This steel covers their entire bodies, from their skulls to their feet, and is about as thick as a quarter. This plating has also been used for offensive capabilities, turning finger bones into knife-sharp metal blades, and crumbling jaws into dagger-filled maws. Ironbones also are much stronger and faster than the average skeleton, as they were created by the finest and most powerful of the army's magi.
Following the end of the Mage Wars, many of the Ironbones were either destroyed completely or imprisoned in caverns with no escape. Those remaining dwell mostly in caverns and ruins, protecting the lairs of their old masters, or even retaining a bit of their master's will, and seeking to hunt down good characters and creatures.
Ironbones are divided into four classes - Swords, Fists, Claws, and Hoods. Pack up on potions before facing these guys!
Swords are the standard run-of-the-mill Ironbones, created in great numbers by mage circles to serve as shock troops to supplement armies of Death Walkers and Hobgoblins, and also used in packs to 'clean out' small areas of resistance.
They appear as human skeletons covered in a darkly gleaming metal, usually seen roaming in packs. Their fingers end in long pointed spikes, and their mouths are filled with solid metal teeth, which can snap down hard enough to bite through bone. They usually carry longswords, rapiers, or clubs - always one-handed melee weapons. They do not wear armor, as their plating is enough, but may carry a shield of the same alloy that covers them. Although their gait is somewhat jerky and awkward, they move with surprising speed, and are exceptionally strong, which is usually a surprise to adventurers expecting them to crumble under their swords. They are not intelligent in that they cannot create or avoid traps, but are fairly skilled in fighting, and have a decent knowledge of group fighting formations, which they will use to their advantage if part of a pack. They are quite hard to destroy, even more so than normal skeletons, for even severed into several sections, snapping jaws and stabbing claws can pose a danger. Also, their metal plating seems to serve as a kind of spiritual barrier, making it even harder to free their souls and take the 'life' out of them (see 'On Death and Undeath' for more explanation).
Fists are much less common than Swords, created as the tanks of the ranks of Ironbones.
Standing over seven feet tall due to magical enlargement, their plating is much heavier and thicker than that of the swords. They lack the sharp claws and teeth of their lesser counterparts in favor of heavily plated club-like knuckles and almost an inch of plating on their foreheads. They never carry shields, instead wielding massive two-handed hammers, clubs, staves or axes, any weapon that does not require finesse to deal a brutal blow. They often supplement groups of Swords, rushing headfirst into battle to scatter and immediately weaken the enemy. They are immensely strong, and have relatively the same intelligence as Swords, albeit a little less strategically intelligence. They fight mercilessly, dealing swift and powerful blows left and right in a frenzy. If they should lose their weapons, they will use their massive fists and pound opponents into oblivion, and can crumple an enemy's helmet with a well-placed head butt. However, they pose much less of a danger when dismantled.
Claws are the assassins and rangers of the Ironbones, lithe and agile creatures used as scouts by the Armies of Night.
At first glance, a Claw may appear quite similar to a sword - it is the same size, and has the same metallic plating. However, even if one cannot see it quite clearly, there is definitely something different. It moves with a slinking gait, much smoother than the jerking shuffle of a Sword, and no scraping sound can be heard as it creeps along. If one survives long enough to see it in full, the difference becomes immediately apparent. Instead of a sword and shield, a Claw has its hands, with fingers ending in claws almost eight inches in length, retractable, and as sharp and deadly as ten daggers. Its mouth is crowned by wickedly sharp teeth, with two prominent fangs reaching down past the chin. On its back it carries a bow and quiver, and moves with an uncanny intelligence for a dead of its kind. Claws were used as scouts and rangers, to infiltrate cities, using their claws to climb over walls, or to pick of enemies in secrecy from afar with the bow. They are much quicker and agile than their counterparts, and their limbs do not scrape against each other due to a special lubrication and polishing treatment in their creation. They fight in bursts, leaping off walls to attack with their claws, then running off to loose arrows from the shadows. They have an almost living intelligence, and can sense traps, assess tactical situations, and use the area to their advantage. While they are much more elusive than their heavier counterparts, the lubrication procedure also makes them slightly easier to dismantle. However, this is balanced by the fact that their natural weapons (the claws on their hands and feet and their teeth) are still quite dangerous alone.
Hoods are the rarest of the Ironbones, created for the sole purpose of eradicating magi of the light.
Many seasoned adventures, though they have faced many Iron denizens in their lifetimes, have never come across a Hood. They are reclusive, and the rarest of the Ironbones, created by the finest of the Night's magi in limited number. They are fearsomely intelligent, even more so than Claws, and are the most dangerous of the entire ranks. At first glance, they can immediately be distinguished from their 'lower' brothers. Firstly, they are clad in a dark hooded robe, inscribed with the runes and insignia of the Night. And unlike their fighting brothers, the metal plating a Hood is not the same dark steel, but a lighter, silvery metal that glows faintly. But perhaps the most frightening difference is that, where Swords, Fists and Claws have only gaping sockets, a Hood has twin gems inset where eyes once rested, that sparkle with a dark inner light. The most astonishing aspect of these creatures is that they were imbued with enough intelligence and power to cast elemental spells, and powerful ones at that. The gems in their skulls hold vast reserves of the power, and Hoods are quite adept at using spells skillfully and effectively. Since their sole purpose was to combat the mage-warriors of the army of light, many their spells are geared towards weakening and disabling spellcasters. And as if that were not enough, their alternate metal plating has an added advantage - it serves to dispel and reflect a portion of all spells cast at it. However, while it can still enter into melee combat fairly effectively, it is much weaker than Swords or even Claws, and its magically resistant plating is much weaker against swords than the dark steel of its brothers. For this reason, if a Hood senses the battle is not in its favor, it will cast spells of shadow or illusion, and flee to a safer area. Hoods realize their value to the Night, and will not waste themselves needlessly. Hoods are becoming quite sought-after by necromancers hoping to control them, but as many an unfortunate spellcaster has learned too late, their loyalty is to the Night, and to the Night only.
wings are the most dangerous form of ironbone
wings incorporate all the abilites of ironbones + wings
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? Responses (9)
Ow. A very dangerous upgrade of the boring skeleton. For a world with many undead in its history, this is a very solid addition, along with their types, behaviour and abilities.
Now these are skelitons that are really scary.
Definately an interesting idea but wouldn't the time and energy that goes into plating and magically enhancing the skeleton defeat the primary value of the shambling skeleton, their sheer abundance and the low cost of creating them? I might suggest a drone skeleton that works the anvil and forge for the plating of these bad boys. Also, how does a Claw with 8 inch claws use a bow?
Hmmm - that's a good point about the claws and bow - never though about that! I'll make them retractable, how's that? As for the other point, the purpose of making Ironbones was not to have a low-cost, expendable warrior, but to forge up a real heavy-hitter for the armies.
I am commenting on this to test something for spark... I will gladley review his submission shortly.
so nice, that i'm about to use it in my game. At the risk of sounding lame, its BRILLIANT!
How did that game go btw?
A nice change of pace for skeletons in general. Very useful in upping the stakes against the players.
Yet another of those useful ideas that never got voted on. When I think of magically-enhancing minions, my attention immediately comes back to this sub. It's straightforward, but extremely influential in my thought-patterns.