Welcome to Returned Week, a weeklong celebration of the new player race I am about to introduce in today’s article. The returned are a race of skeletons which stalk the world, trying to fulfill their lives’ desires and letting nothing stand in their way. But why are we creating a skeleton race? After al,l you can just be a skeletal champion or something, right? Well the answer is that players want to be a skeleton in a surprising amount of circumstances, whether it’s a skeleton pirate captain, a dread knight, or something kind of like a lich, but without the entire extra headache. The other answer is that skeletal champions are a fair bit more powerful than the standard human, and so to include one in your game you have to either dole out similar boons to the rest of the party, or hold back the skeletal champion’s level behind the rest of the party. Either solution is less than idea, and can really screw things up over the course of the game. With those things in mind, we decided our next player race would be the returned, intelligent skeletons with unfinished business.
The returned are not a race in the traditional sense, but rather a form of skeletal undead which arises when individuals with a strong desire for life die with that vision unreached. The desire to achieve the dreams they were denied in life causes the will of the deceased to inhabit their bones, which move like a skeleton animated through typical necromantic processes. The resulting entity is a returned. While these creatures are driven by the will of a deceased humanoid, they are actually separate and distinct individuals, unlike ghosts or other undead. Returned are animated by a desire to fulfill some unfinished business. Though driven by an individual’s desires and wants, they actually lack any connection to their bones’ previous owner’s former life, and that individual’s spirit still passes on to the afterlife as normal, with the returned living on as a sort of echo of the deceased.
Physical Description: Returned appear as human skeletons, with exact details being determined somewhat by the life of the individual that gave rise to them. For instance, taller individuals create taller returned, which those that spent a large amount of time in combat might have obvious injuries to their bone structure (scars, bruises, fractures, or the like). While returned lack muscular organs of any kind, they can speak perfectly well and have voices unique to the individual returned. They also see with great clarity, even in the dark. Returned move with grace and surprising speed, and possess a great deal of strength—considering they have no muscle mass to drive their arms and legs. Differences between male and female returned are difficult to determine by those unfamiliar with bone structures, but are readily apparent to others and to the returned themselves. While most returned are born from humans, occasionally other humanoid races give rise to a returned. Returned are effectively immortal, enjoying eternal life so long as they are not destroyed.
Society: While the returned have no society of their own, with each being given rise in disparate geographical areas, general attitudes and tendencies of the returned are largely common from one member of the group to another, and each shares certain traits and common behaviors, though in general returned do their best to fit into whatever society they emerge in. This in itself can be extremely difficult and is a common challenge shared by nearly all new returned, just to survive in the infancy of their existence. With their obviously undead appearance, all manner of people believe the returned to be monsters that must be put down. A lucky quirk of their supernatural power allows the returned to survive these processes, at least in the short run. Even so, without friendship and understanding, a newly risen returned has to fight for her very survival right after her genesis, a struggle that tends to shape her future behavior and color her attitude and approach to life in general. While many returned quickly learn to either use their form to their advantage, frightening others into the respect that is owed to every living creature, or terrorizing the world in order to get what they want, most learn to hide their form and disguise their appearance to escape violence.
Beyond the need to merely survive, most returned are faced with other problems. They are imbued with a strong guiding principle that they must strive towards, which prevents them from living quiet lives. Because they are given life by a desire to live life to its fullest, no returned is ever content with the ordinary, and they are driven to explore the world and live life on the edge. Some returned have such specific desires leftover from their former lives that they are forced into a certain path, but they typically make the most of their path to live fulfilling, exciting lives.
The returned’s other common problem is immortality. A returned is extremely difficult to destroy, and the desire for life keeps them from every being able to find rest or comfort in oblivion. Over time, this makes the returned long for simpler life, free from desire, and causes some who are unable to find rest to go mad, becoming the very monsters they are thought to be.
Relations: Returned are almost universally ill-received by other races; after all, as living skeletons, it is hard not to think of the returned as anything other than a monster. Beyond that, their unique abilities and lust for life sows envy in most living creatures, and making friends with other members of the civilized races is difficult, but nevertheless worth it to many returned, who find that anyone who accepts them and treats them as other than a monster is a rare treasure that makes life more worth living. For the returned’s part, they tend to view other races as exciting challenges: enemies to be fought, allies to be won, or obstacles to be overcome. Most commonly, returned fall in with more savage or evil humanoid races, as they are rejected by the rest of the world. Those that can disguise themselves with magic most commonly make friends with humans and halflings, as they tend to be more sociable races. They are also known to find a natural alliance with gnomes, who share their natural disposition towards living a full life.
Alignment and Religion: While for many races, alignment can be a murky issue, bound up in local philosophy, for the returned it is a matter of course, a gift from her bones’ former owner, whose will power animates her. While a returned doesn’t share her predecessor’s intellect or past, her predecessor’s general attitudes and personality, as well as ambitions, fill the returned from inception, causing her to adopt the alignment of the creature that gave rise to her. Over time, some returned go mad or are forced to crime, and so some returned become chaotic or evil due to circumstance, while others eventually find acceptance and some measure of peace in their life, abandoning evil ways and seeking atonement. Returned have no religion of their own, but typically worship gods of life or death, and especially gods of undeath.
Adventurers: Because of their unique circumstances, nearly all returned either become adventurers from the outset, as they strive for a rich, fulfilling life, or because they are forced by a violent set of circumstances to pursue a more dangerous lifestyle than they would otherwise like. Returned adventurers are most often bards, rogues, or sorcerers, taking advantage of their natural talents. In adventuring bands, returned tend to gravitate towards leadership positions and like to be the center of attention.
Returned names: Returned tend to take on exciting nicknames, sometimes reflecting their profession, skill-set, or desires. Examples include Bloodaxe, Fade, Ivory Skull, Killingblow, Rattle Box, The Living Drum, or White Orchid. Other returned use names common to their region. Returned almost never choose the names they had in life.
Standard Racial Traits
Ability Score Racial Traits: Returned are graceful, but lack strong intellects. They gain +2 Dexterity and -2 Intelligence.
Size: Most returned are Medium creatures and thus receive no bonuses or penalties due to their size. Some returned are formed from Small humanoid races; in such cases, the returned suffers a -2 size penalty to Strength and is a Small creature, thus gaining a +1 size bonus to her AC, a +1 size bonus on attack rolls, a –1 penalty on her CMB and to CMD, and a +4 size bonus on Stealth checks.
Type: Returned are undead creatures and gain all the benefits and drawbacks of being undead, with the following exceptions: a returned is not immune to mind-affecting effects, and does not gain complete immunity to any effect which requires a Fortitude save. Returned are also subject to ability drain, energy drain, and damage to physical ability scores.
Base Speed: A Medium returned has a base speed of 30 feet; a Small returned has a base speed of 20 feet.
Languages: Returned begin play speaking Common. A returned with a high Intelligence score from among the languages that could be chosen by members of the race of her original body.
Defensive Racial Traits
Undead Traits: A returned possesses the following traits due to its undead nature:
Strong Mind: Returned have a+2 bonus on saving throw made to resist mind-affecting effects.
Returned Healing: Returned do not regain hit points naturally as a result of resting, but do recover hit points from magical healing. An evil returned is healed by negative energy, while a good returned is healed by positive energy. A neutral returned must choose whether to be healed by positive or negative energy at character creation, and this choice cannot later be changed.
Fragile: A returned is very fragile and is prone to becoming disassembled. A returned suffers a -4
penalty on saving throws made to resist effects which specifically affect objects. Additionally, whenever a character confirms a critical hit on a returned, the returned disassembles, falling prone in her square and being unable to take any actions until she reassembles.
Reassemble: A returned which is disassembled, either as a result of being reduced to 0 or fewer hit points or being struck by a critical hit. If the returned later regains hit points to bring her current hit point total to 1 or higher, she reassembles 1d4 rounds later. When the returned reassembles, she returns to standing as a free action which does not provoke attacks of opportunity.
Difficult to Destroy: A returned is not destroyed when she is reduced to 0 or fewer hit points; instead, she disassembles, falling prone and being unable to take any actions until she reassembles. A returned cannot reassemble until she has received healing which brings her above 1 hit point. Whenever a returned is reduced to -100 hit points or fewer, she is destroyed.
Feat and Skill Racial Traits
Fearsome Appearance: A returned gains a +2 racial bonus on Intimidate checks against humanoid creatures and suffers a -2 penalty on Diplomacy checks made to interact with humanoid creatures.
Senses Racial Trait
Darkvision: Returned can see perfectly in the dark up to 60 feet.