I’m very sorry if you got PTSD just from reading that title; I know many out there have suffered at the figurative hands of this monster, which is why I vow to dig deeply into its lore and statblock to see if we can reach some sort of redemption. Without any further ado, let us discuss the…
For a floating calcium deposit these things have surprisingly good stats; we’re looking at matching +0 CHA and WIS, a +2 CON, and a single dump stat assigned to STR for a -5 modifier. Today’s monster is both incredibly smart and incredibly dexterous with matching +3 scores to DEX and INT.
The Flameskull gets +5 to Arcana checks as well as a nice +2 to Perception for a total Passive Perception of 12. They also get 60ft of Darkvision and 40ft of hovering movement. Thanks to that big head of theirs they can also communicate in Common despite, you know, not having a tongue or any of the other important bits we use for talking.
In terms of combat durability, this thing can probably rival creatures of much higher CR. Its measly AC of 13 and average hit point pool of 9d4+18 might not look like much but today’s monster is immune or at the very least resistant to a wide variety of damages. We’re looking at Immunity to Cold, Poison, and Fire damage… you know, only the most widely used type of damage in the game, but as if that weren’t enough, they also have resistance to Lightning, Necrotic, and Piercing damages and cannot be charmed, frightened, paralyzed, poisoned, or prone.
But even now we’re not quite done yet; Flameskulls also have Magic Resistance for some nice advantage on saving throws, not to mention their Rejuvenation feature that will have them regain all their hit points back after being destroyed unless their magic is dispelled, or they get sprinkled with some of that good holy water. That’s a thing, yeah.
On the bright (ha!) side of things, your party of adventures won’t have to carry torches while they fight this thing because today’s monster does give off 15ft of dim light at a minimum (though it can choose to increase the range and brightness for a further 15ft).
As promised for ranger week, the Flameskull is fully reliant on range spell attacks, its main attack action being a Fire Ray that works with its Multiattack feature. Chances are though, that, before this creature goes down, you’ll want to use up the spells that it gets access to:
Cantrip (at will): mage hand
1st level (3 slots): magic missile, shield
2nd level (2 slots): blur, flaming sphere
3rd level (1 slot): fireball
That’s right, this thing has a goddamned Fireball waiting to go off. Not to mention the fact that it gets the option to use shield on top of all the crazy resistance it already gets. Actual bananas.
Last but not least, today’s monster is considered a tiny undead ans is usually of neutral evil alignment. Although this bit might be a little debatable, it is also technically a CR 4 creature.
The Flameskull was first introduced in volume one of the Monstrous Compendium for 2nd edition. As a monster that has been part of the game for most of its history, today’s monster has been through a handful of changes (mostly to do with the list of spells available to them) but remains the same when it comes to its lore. Speaking of older editions though, despite their very bright presentation, these monsters somehow managed to qualify as stealthy back in 4th edition, don’t ask me how though.
The first thing you should know about these creatures is that they aren’t born and have no way of reproducing amongst themselves. Flame skulls can only be fashioned from the skulls of recently deceased spellcasters or cultists, human wizards in particular, through a dark ritual performed by a powerful necromancer. The skulls themselves are often carved with esoteric runes and symbols.
After being summoned and bound to their master, Flameskulls will listen follow instructions to the letter until their purpose has been fulfilled. Oftentimes they will be used as guardians of particularly important places or treasure, but it’s not completely unheard of for them to be assigned to guarding a living being instead.
While Flamekulls will follow their master’s instructions unlike they can no longer follow them, they do retain a few aspects from their previous life; most notably their intelligence. It is also common for Flameskulls to have a similar spell list to the one they had while alive. The only way for Flameskulls to regain a semblance of autonomy is to complete their task. Of course by the time that happens most of them will have been driven mad by their long years of isolation safeguarding treasure.
Once freed, these creatures would show a curiosity for the world after years of duty. In fact, Flameskulls have been observed to follow adventurers around in search for excitement. In return, Flameskulls might choose to share some of the more obscure knowledge and lore they might have come across in their time as wizards.
Okay, hear me out. I think a lot of the reasons why people dislike this creature so much has to do with CR and level. Yes, fighting a Flameskull should be challenging, but there is a very steep curve for Fireball danger at this level. Which is why I want to put forward the idea that your party should not fight a Flameskull, but instead fight three of them.
If you have a higher level party!
My stance on this is this: Flameskulls should be used as minions against higher level adventurers. Take for example this encounter:
The party finally reaches the top of the evil necromancer’s spire, they trade snarky comments with our heroes, and bam! Our villain smirks and snaps their finger only to have three Flameskulls appear. Heck, it could even be an interesting premise for a villain: a powerful necromancer who is going around killing wizards only to raise them in servitude as Flameskulls.
Keep in mind Flameskulls aren’t only fun in combat situations either! Got a big bad you were fond of only to have your party of aventurers make quick work of them? Why not have them come back as an extra powerful Flameskull under the influence of your next big bad? You could even give them some especial armor or a particularly nasty spell list to toughen them up depending on your party level.
But even if you don’t have a big bad to bring back, Flameskulls can still be plenty fun in social encounters. The idea of luring the party into what appears to be a difficult encounter with a Flameskull only to have the creature start jabbering ridiculous riddles or pestering the party for the rest of the dungeon is extremely fun to me. If done right this creature would very well turn a would be mediocre dungeon into something memorable. Don’t believe me? Give it a try yourself!
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