Skeleton Dance

A family-friendly adventure for characters 1st to 4th levels

Dancing Skeletons Photo: Copyright Steve Fareham and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.This adventure is intended for up to 4 characters of 1st to 4th level. This adventure relies on role play, exploration and problem-solving. There is the opportunity for combat or creative avoidance of combat at the end of the adventure. Should the party prefer more combat, feel free to add bandits on the road to the festival.

This adventure was inspired by the sculpture Can We Stop Now, see the photo, and the Mexican holiday Dia Los Muertos. While the adventure features skeletons and ghost, the focus should be on how the living have come to love and celebrate them.

Adventure Hook

The party encounters multiple groups of travelers and merchants along the road, all of whom are on their way to the town of Skelerberg for the annual Skeleton Dance Festival. The travelers are very excited to attend. Each year, for five days an entire army of skeletons rises from their graves to dance. Merchants are bringing many kinds of skeleton themed products, including sugar skulls, tombstone cakes, skeleton beads, pretzels, costumes and much more.

The central attraction of the festival is the large field outside the castle where dozens of skeletons will rise from the ground and dance together every night from sunset to sunrise for 5 days. The skeletons are the remains of an invading army that once laid siege to the castle and were cursed by the king’s wizard. The wizard and his apprentice cursed the soldiers to dance non-stop for five days. After five days, the entire army was dead. Now the army is cursed to rise and replay the macabre dance on the anniversary of the battle every year.

In the generations since the battle, the two kingdoms have become friends and people from both kingdoms come to watch the dance and remember the fallen warriors. Children and adults dress in skeleton costumes and join the dance in hopes that one day they will find a way to break the curse and allow the warriors to rest in peace.

Party Goals

The party must find a way to remove the curse and set the skeletons to rest. Speaking with locals will reveal clues from the list below. The party must infiltrate the castle and find a way to dispel magic on the casting circle at the top of the wizard’s tower and destroy the wizard’s focus that was used to cast the spell. The focus is a crystal sphere stored with the king’s jewels, under heavy guard.

Destroying only one of the two artifacts during the festival will create un-unforeseen consequences. Waiting until after the festival to destroy the artifacts would be easier, but would cause disappointment at the next year’s festival when the skeletons failed to rise and dance.

Rumours and Information

  • The wizard’s magical focus, a ruby red crystal ball, glows with magical energy for the entire five days of the festival.
  • A guard once touched the glowing red orb and was cursed. The guard is said to be imprisoned in the castle’s dungeon.
  • The wizard’s tower has been sealed for years because it is said to be haunted.
  • A guard from the castle once told me that there is a circle of magical runes in the wizard’s tower that glows when the skeletons are dancing.
  • The wizard’s apprentice told the secret of how to break the curse to the king shortly before he left.
  • Both the wizard and his apprentice left the castle because they feared the evil power they used to curse the army would one day turn on them and curse them too.
  • The king is very ill and may die soon. His only child, Prince Henry will inherit the throne.
  • The prince is said to use a disguise and attend the festival every year.
  • A guard overheard the king and the prince had an argument shortly before the festival started. The king was heard shouting, “The festival must go on!” as the prince stormed out of the king’s bedroom. 

Complications & Opportunities

  • The prince knows how to break the curse; however, he does not know how to get the Orb of Mel from the treasury to the Circle of Mel in the wizard’s tower.
  • The king is adamant that the curse must not be broken so the festival will continue. This is because it brings in a lot of money to the kingdom.
  • The prince is attending the festival. A very perceptive character may recognize his royal signet ring or spot him drastically overpaying for items in the vendor area.
  • If the characters offer to pay for information about the castle, it will attract the attention of both the prince and the royal guard.
  • The king has doubled the guard on both the wizard tower and the treasury during the festival. There will always be 2 guards patrolling and 2 cards stationed at the entrance of both locations.
  • The prince has been forbidden to enter either the wizard’s tower or the treasury until after the festival. Patrolling guards will take him to his father’s chambers, if he is caught anywhere near either location.
  • The festival attracts all manner of pickpockets and thieves. The party may find themselves the victim of a stealthy pickpocket or even being accused of stealing.
  • If there is a mid to high level wizard in the party, the prince will seek him out and ask for help/advice in lifting the curse.
  • The wizard’s tower is haunted and guarded.
  • The wizard’s workshop has lead lining, which prevents teleportation, scrying and many other forms of magic from penetrating the walls. The door is made of heavy, reinforced steel.
  • The wizard’s focus is cursed and any character that touches it with bare skin will be cursed.

About Skeletons

While the monster manual lists skeletons as lawful evil, these skeletons retain their original alignment. The curse compels them to dance, even if attacked. If they are attacked, they will fall to pieces and the bones will disappear into the ground.

The skeletons are as intelligent as they were before they died and understand any languages they knew when living, including Common. Once released from the dancing curse, the will be surrounded by the spectral energy of their ghost and will be fully capable speaking with PC’s and NPC’s.

These skeletons were once well-trained soldiers and are able to use any martial weapons that they may find to defend themselves if they are attacked after the dancing curse is removed.

Removing the Curse

Removing the curse requires that the Orb of Mel be placed inside the Circle of Mel. Then the orb must be crushed and the circle must be broken to completely remove the curse. If this is done while the skeletons are dancing here are three suggestions for how to roleplay the scene and wrap the adventure:

  • The skeletons stop dancing and for a brief time, the ghosts can be seen as bodies around their bones. During that time, the ghosts will seek out loved ones, friends and family. They will thank the people at the festival and express how much they appreciated the company while they danced.
  • There is a dramatic light show as the spirits swirl and the skeletons float into the air as the curse is being broken. An Aurora Borealis hovers over the grounds and the castle as the skeletons and their ghosts disappear into the sky. every year after that, the Aurora Borealis appears over the castle for 5 days and people continue to come and dance in memory of their fallen heroes.
  • A blinding flash of light appears in the wizards’ tower and a brilliant column of light shoots into the sky. The column of light shines like a lighthouse drawing the spirits of the fallen warriors to it. At the festival, the skeletons stop dancing, fall to the ground and the ghosts can be seen smiling and a few are heard to say, “thank you,” before they float up and disappear into the column of light. 

Destroying the orb without out destroying the circle breaks the dancing skeleton portion of the curse; however, the spirits of the soldiers will still be trapped in the Circle of Mel. 

Destroying the Circle of Mel without destroying the Orb of Mel will release the spirits of the soldiers. After the dancing stops, the ghosts will haunt the castle and surrounding grounds.

Appendix: NPCs

Prince Henry is an idealist who believes that the power of the king is derived from the people he rules. He wants very much to end the curse on the skeletons, but his father has forbidden it. The king has also forbidden the prince from revealing the secrete of removing the curse to anyone. Only after Prince Henry is convinced the party is capable of succeeding will he reveal the secrete to them.

King Malovar is old, sickly, and very stern. He is determined to fill the kingdom’s treasury with as much gold as possible. He believes his son is weak and will need as much gold as possible to raise an army to defend the kingdom when his son becomes king. While he is very abrasive and short with people, he is a loving father who wants to leave his son with a stable kingdom.

Appendix: Random Encounters

The party will encounter 1d6+1 merchants or groups of tourists on the road to Skellerberg per day.

The large number of merchants and travelers on the road to Skelerberg attracts bandits. There is a 25% cumulative chance of encountering bandits or thieves for every day the characters spend on the road to the festival.

The castle grounds are heavily guarded and patrolled during the festival. There is a 25% chance that the characters will encounter one or more guards for every ten minutes they spend in the castle. Guards are posted at all of the gates and entrances to the castle.

There is a 5% cumulative chance per hour that the party has a run-in with a pickpocket or thief while shopping/walking at the festival.

Appendix: Treasure / Magic Items

Below you will find a description of various magical and non-magical items the characters will likely encounter during the adventure.

Orb of Mel
The wizard Mel once used this crystal orb as a magical focus. The evil necromantic energy he used to curse an invading army corrupted the orb and turned it ruby red. Any character that touches the orb while it is glowing (5 days encompassing Halloween and Day of the Dead) will be cursed. Cursed characters will hear the voices of the dead and ghosts will be attracted to them. The non-stop pleadings of the ghosts for help to resolve their earthly problems will slowly drive the character insane. If a dispel magic or remove curse is used on the orb, it will stop glowing until the next anniversary of the battle. A remove curse is require to cure the character of the curse.

While glowing the orb can be crushed using normal objects such as a hammer or rock. See the section on removing the curse form more information on what happens next.

When the glowing stops, the orb is protected by a permanent Resilient Sphere spell, which requires a Disintegrate spell to remove. Placing the Orb of Mel inside the Circle of Mel at any time will temporarily disable the resilient Sphere spell on both artifacts. 

Circle of Mel
Within the wizard’s tower of the Skelerberg Castle is 5 foot iron circle with magical ruins inlaid with silver. This is a permanent Magic Circle created by the wizard Mel, which he used to capture the spirits of an invading army of soldiers. During the 5 days of the skeleton dance, the spirits are forced to rejoin their skeleton bodies. At the end of the 5 days, the spirits are drawn back to the circle and trapped there.

While glowing, the circle can be damaged or destroyed using normal objects such as an ax or crowbar. See the section on removing the curse for more information on what happens next.

When the glowing stops, the circle is protected by a permanent Resilient Sphere spell, which requires a Disintegrate spell to remove. Only the Orb of Mel can penetrate the Sphere while the Resilient Sphere is active.

Appendix: Maps

Below you will find links to various sources for maps that could be used for this adventure. Feel free to make your own maps or integrate this adventure into your own homebrew setting.

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