Creature Feature (5e): Skeletal Powder Keg

A nefarious combination of necromancy and black powder, a skeletal powder keg is a strange yet straightforward design. By taking a blindly loyal skeleton minion and placing within its ribs a large container of black powder and shrapnel, an expensive yet utterly devastating suicide bomber is formed.

The efficiency of such creations is yet to be determined; if the practice becomes common, so will the counter: fire shot from a distance.  However, so long as the practice is rare (especially if the skeletal powder keg is kept robed), they may well end up serving the ultimate in final defenses for many a necromancer. 

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Skeletal Powder Keg 

Medium undead, lawful evil

Armor Class 12
Hit Points 13 (2d8 + 4)
Speed 25 ft.

10 (+0) 14 (+2) 15 (+2) 6 (-2) 8 (-1) 5 (-3)

Vulnerabilities bludgeoning
Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities exhaustion, poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft.; passive Perception 9
Challenge 4 (1100 XP)

Special Traits

  • Powder keg. If a skeletal powder keg takes any fire or lightning damage, its “Explode” trait immediately activates.
  • Explode. A skeletal powder keg’s gunpowder barrel explodes, launching the shrapnel within in a devastating explosion. All creatures within a 30-ft. radius must make a DC 17 Dexterity saving throw. A target takes 45 (10d8) fire damage and 7 (2d6) piercing damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. A skeletal powder keg is obliterated in this explosion. If a skeletal powder keg dies without using this ability, the powder keg remains and can be exploded identically as described above if exposed to fire or lightning. 
  • Ruined by Water. If quickly exposed to a significant amount (5+ gallons) of water, a skeletal powder keg’s Explode trait is permanently disabled. The gunpowder in its barrel is ruined, becoming virtually useless and inert.


  • Torch. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) fire damage. 
  • Self-ignite. Using its torch, the skeletal powder keg ignites its powder keg. This immediately activates its Explode trait as if it were exposed to fire.


Skeletons, in general, are almost completely without tactics. A skeletal powder keg will do exactly as it was ordered to. Usually, their orders are simply to run in the middle of groups and self-ignite as quickly as possible. 

The skeletons are relatively slow and not especially sturdy; if they fail to ignite themselves before being defeated, a necromancer has essentially just given their enemies 1,000+ gp worth of gunpowder, in the form of a fairly massive bomb.

Potential Uses

Skeletal powder kegs, robed so that their nature is not immediately obvious, make an excellent last line of defense. They can also be used to devastate large forces if the force can be caught unawares or the skeletons can be sent in large quantities. 

The explosive within a skeletal powder keg weighs about 200 pounds and generally costs between 1,000 and 1,500 gp to produce.  If the skeleton is defeated before exploding, so long as it was not doused in water, the gunpowder can then be recovered. The gunpowder from the powder keg can be used to produce up to what would normally be an amount of Powder & Shot, Cartridges, or R. Cartridges equal in value up to the gunpowder’s total value (1,000-1,500 gp), producing the rounds instead at only 25% cost.  Alternatively, the powder keg can be used for an effect identical to the skeletal powder keg’s Explode trait.


A local gunpowder magazine has been robbed, the corpses of its guardsmen all missing. Some in the primarily human community are throwing accusations at a dwarven barony that neighbors them; the politics between the two already quite tense. The whole situation is really not unlike a powder keg ready to explode, one might say.

About Quin Callahan

Quin Callahan is a freelance writer and college level English and economics tutor of over four years experience. He has written for a variety of gaming, technology, and economics publications. His favorite animal might be the squid but he is rarely certain.

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