The skeleton is one of the most common creatures in most fantasy gaming systems, and as such I was pleased to see this release from Tricky Owlbear Publishing deal with this quintessential creature. Behind the Monsters: Skeleton is one of a growing number of monster products in this new series from Tricky Owlbear Publishing, by the same author, Bret Boyd, that originally brought d20 the successful Behind the Spells series. This 7 page pdf deals with the origins of the skeleton, and adds some useful new rules and enhancements to your gaming experience.
The Behind the Monster series of pdfs is a series of good, interesting and entertaining pdfs. Monsters are brought to life will some good background flavor and some new elements of game play are added to make dealing with or encountering these creature more interesting. On top of that the pdf provides some good presentation and art from artist, Rick Hershey. The writing is clear and concise, and the editing and layout done to match all the other products in the series and give them an unique identity. For those OGL junkies out there, all the mechanics in the product is OGL and clearly marked as such, although the background information is naturally not.
The skeleton backstory deals with the fall and 'rise' of a powerful priest of the god of protection. The pdf details his life under the god of protection, his battling with his enemies, his eventual almost tragic fall, and the subsequent matters of his rebirth as the first of a new race of undead creatures. The imagery is good, and the prose well written, although as far as enthralling stories go, it's not the best I've seen out there. Nevertheless, it gives a compelling and useful tale to the rise of the skeleton, and it's a tale that can be easily modified to suit your campaign world and pantheon. Like most stories, they can easily be adapted and changed to meet one's needs, or to spice up some of the more mundane aspects of the tale. There is a brief tie-in to a product from the Behind the Spells series (Animate Dead), although this is not required to use the material in this specific product.
The pdf adds a few new mechanics, including a Knowledge check table on the skeleton, ways of weakening the bone structure of the skeleton to give you an advantage in combat, new turning effects when dealing with skeletons, a new magical item and a variant monster called the flesh stealer skeleton. These variants and ideas can add some spice the skeleton, and the flesh stealer skeleton can be quite creepy. Mechanics is generally good, and nothing presented is too outlandish.
Behind the Monsters: Skeleton is a good pdf with some good writing and a number of suitable mechanical variants. It's a good pdf, although there's nothing that jumps out of the page and hits you in terms of fabulous new mechanical ideas, brilliant imagery, or imaginative invention of the skeleton's origin. I think in the old end despite it's good presentation, writing, and overall potential for usefulness, it's lacking in that bit of spark that will grab somebody's attention. With so much new material out there, something really has to shine to allow DMs to take hold of it and incorporate it in one's game. While there are certainly elements of this pdf that can be used, convincing a DM to use them might be difficult, despite the niche this product fills. The flavor is far more useful than the mechanics, and perhaps that's the part that will see more use, in its current form or not.
[3 of 5 Stars!]