Remember Ghost Rider, that old comic with a biker who rides out of hell and has a flaming skull for a head? The movie starred the greatest actor ever, Nicholas Cage, who really seemed to channel the maniacal-flaming-skull personality with troubling ease.
The flameskull is a bit like that, albeit less scary than Nicholas Cage. It is a tiny undead monster that has a predilection for fire spells and can fly around very quickly.
This post focuses on the flameskull: where to find it, how to fight it, and even how to make one in your game.
We will start with a player’s guide detailing their tactics and yours on the battlefield and then move into a Dungeon Master’s guide to varying up the flameskull and its creation. Finally, we will finish up with a story outline that you can use to frame the flameskull into your next campaign.
What Is a Flameskull in DnD 5e?
A flameskull is a tiny, CR 4 undead that appears to be a flying skull wreathed in flame. It is a dangerously offensive, nearly mindless, undead spellcaster.
A Player’s Guide to Flameskulls
The following is your guide to surviving your next encounter with a flameskull, which, to be honest, could very well be the encounter you are in right now, and you are looking at your phone under the table while the DM is laughing maniacally and rolling fire damage. If this is the case, scroll straight down to the point where I tell you how to kill this thing.
For everyone not facing the reality of making a new character before the next session, take your time to peruse the stat block with me.
Flameskull Stat Block and Breakdown
Tiny Undead, Neutral Evil
The first thing to see is that this creature is TINY, which tracks since it is literally just a flaming head sans skin and muscle. Immediately upon seeing that it is an undead, you should start thinking about your character. Are you a divine spellcaster or a necromancer? If so, you may have some special options.
- Armor Class: 13
- Hit Points: 40 (9d4 + 18)
- Speed: 0 ft., fly 40 ft. (hover)
- STR 1 (-5), DEX 17 (+3), CON 14 (+2), INT 16 (+3), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 11 (+0)
Its physical abilities belie the danger of this monster. With a Strength of 1 and a Dexterity of 17, you can tell this is going to be a quick little thing that flies but probably won’t be able to survive a round of good, solid hits. This is a fair assumption until we get to its abilities.
- Skills: Arcana +5, Perception +2
- Damage Resistances: Lightning, Necrotic, Piercing
- Damage Immunities: Cold, Fire, Poison
- Condition Immunities: Charmed, Frightened, Paralyzed, Poisoned, Prone
- Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 12
- Languages: Common
- Challenge: 4 (1,100 XP)
- Proficiency Bonus: +2
Its resistances and immunities are fairly standard for an undead accepting the immunity to fire. This is atypical of these types of monsters. However, the thing is literally on fire all the time. Its perception abilities are typical. You could easily stealth right by this thing, but any attempt to socialize will probably result in burn scars for you. And a CR 4? That’s a nice little chunk of XP for such a little skull…
Illumination. The flameskull sheds either dim light in a 15-foot radius or bright light in a 15-foot radius and dim light for an additional 15 feet. It can switch between the options as an action.
Magic Resistance. The flameskull has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Spellcasting. The flameskull is a 5th-level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Intelligence (spell save DC 13, +5 to hit with spell attacks). It requires no somatic or material components to cast its spells. The flameskull has the following wizard spells prepared:
- Cantrip (at will): Mage hand
- 1st level (3 slots): magic missile, shield
- 2nd level (2 slots): Blur, flaming sphere
- 3rd level (1 slot): Fireball
One of the best things for you about the flameskull is that it literally cannot sneak up on you. It sheds light everywhere it goes and can not extinguish it. It would have to hide in bright daylight to go unnoticed.
Being a spellcasting monster, magic resistance can be expected. This thing is made and sustained by magic, so there isn’t much we can do about that.
Its rejuvenation ability makes the flameskull a truly annoying but effective guard. If you don’t take measures, you will just have to fight these things on your way back out! Finally, the spellcasting abilities of the flameskull are its primary function. Notice these are all combat spells.
Multiattack. The flameskull uses Fire Ray twice.
Fire Ray. Ranged Spell Attack: +5 to hit, range 30 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (3d6) fire damage.
Finally, the flameskull has another ranged spell attack in addition to its innate spellcasting. This is a fairly powerful attack — stronger than a firebolt cantrip would be for a 5th-level spellcaster, considering it can use the fire ray twice in one turn. However, the range is severely limited, so make sure to take note of that.
The Tactics of a Flameskull
The flameskull, thankfully, is nearly mindless. When created, it will follow the instructions it is given to the letter.
This means that in a dungeon situation, the flameskull will probably have been told to wander a specific path and attack anyone that meets certain requirements — like breathing or something similar.
The flameskull is smart enough to choose its tactics, however. If it gets a surprise round and the entire party is in a nice little group, you should expect a fireball to come your way while the flameskull mage hands a bottle of BBQ sauce.
When you respond with your attacks, expect the flameskull to respond with a shield if necessary and then cast blur on its next turn while it flies out of range. On its 3rd turn, you can expect it to close in with fire ray. When blur wears off, if it is still alive, it will probably cast flaming sphere.
The other tactic it may employ would be to block your path with a flaming sphere. If it can add that obstacle while your party is in a bottleneck, it could make the most of the spell’s damage capability while casting magic missile.
If there is more than one flameskull, you can probably expect a combination of tactics to be used. One flameskull will close in with blur and fire rays to occupy the melee combatants while another manages a flaming sphere to put pressure on the ranged combatants and spellcasters.
By dividing your party’s attention, they will pick you all off one by one.
Tactics When Fighting a Flameskull
After knowing what the flame skulls best tactics are, the whole encounter seems fairly dismal. But no worries! This thing has weaknesses.
It has no resistance to bludgeoning, slashing, psychic, force, or radiant damages. It also has a lower-than-average strength save and no bonuses to Wisdom or Charisma saves. While it does have advantage on saving throws against magic, it is susceptible to a wet blanket being thrown over its head.
Seriously. It has such a low strength that it will need a turn or two to burn through the wet blanket while you all curb stomp it.
If you don’t have a towel (for shame) to use in this situation, you can still rely on cantrips like mind sliver and sacred flame. Also, if anyone can actually catch it (the monk, maybe?), try grappling. Its strength is so low that you will win the grapple. From there, you can point its face away from anyone and slam it against the wall.
A DM’s Guide to Flameskulls
Flameskulls have the potential to make for strange and memorable encounters.
For variations on the standard flameskull, consider varying up what spells the flameskull can cast. Maybe a counterspell or a lightning bolt instead of fireball could provide the basis for a new flameskull and fit the theme of your dungeon/adventure?
Storm Skulls? Abjuration-skulls that cast support spells for a BBEG? Feyskulls that deal psychic damage? The skull of a yuan-ti could have poison-based abilities instead of fire-based ones.
Have fun with it. Get silly. Maybe a wizard makes a flameskull that actually casts detect thoughts at will on anyone nearby (including the wizard) and speaks those thoughts out loud for everyone to hear?
Where Might You Place a Flameskull?
The standard place to put a flameskull is in a dungeon where it can fly around and attack intruders. This tracks; I mean, you wouldn’t want one of these guarding a library. Flameskulls could also wander the nine hells, where fire often claims spellcasting victims.
Another great place for flame skulls is in the hoard of a fire-breathing dragon. They are the skulls of adventures who perished in the magical flames of a draconic breath weapon.
Creating a Flameskull
There are several ways you could have flameskull be created in your campaign. Here are 3 options:
1. Through a Ritual!
In order to create a flameskull, you must have first harvested a skull from a living sacrifice of a person who died from fire damage. The skull must be polished and waxed with an alchemical salve costing 250 gp and set to cure in a kiln for 82 hours (9 is a magical number).
After the skull cures and hardens, you must expose it to all of the spells you wish it to cast, one after the other. Each time you cast a spell, you must succeed on a DC 13 Arcana check or cast the spell again.
Upon completion, you must specify your instructions for the flameskull. After the ritual, it lives until destroyed, following your instructions.
2. Cast a Spell
This 9th-level, homebrew spell will create a flameskull.
9th-Level Necromancy Spell
- Range: 30 ft.
- Duration: Instantaneous
- Casting time: 1 reaction
- Materials: V, S, M (one corpse recently killed by fire damage)
As a reaction, you may cast this spell on the corpse of one creature you have just killed with magical fire damage this turn. When casting the spell, you shout your orders to the corpse.
At the start of its next turn, a flameskull arises and follows the orders given to it. If the creature does not have bones, this spell does not work.
3. With a Magic Item!
The following homebrewed magic item will create a flameskull:
This seed is fashioned from a fire-red ruby. Place this ruby in the skull of a corpse, and speak your instructions.
One minute later, a flameskull will rise from the corpse and fulfill your instructions until permanently killed.
If you happen to really enjoy what we’ve done with the flameskull above, consider using this outline to feature flameskulls in your next campaign.
Libraries all over the country are burning down. While many terrorist groups have taken credit for the attacks, none of them seem to have the logistical or physical capability to actually pull it off.
Eyewitness reports describe small fireballs descending into the building through any windows or open doors, always late at night after everyone has gone home. Shortly after, the building burns down from magical fire that can not be put out by water.
The PCs can get to the bottom of this by succeeding at a DC 14 Intelligence check (history) to determine which library will be hit next. If they do not succeed, simply put them in a different library where nothing happens and they hear about another library being attacked. Make them repeat this process until they finally roll high enough.
Once they are in the correct library, they will soon be joined by several hostile flame skulls that break into the building. While the majority of them attack the PCs and start setting the fires, a DC 12 perception check (have them roll every round) will reveal that a small percentage of the flame skulls are actually using mage hand to drop several books into a bag of holding.
If the PCs manage to destroy all of the flame skulls, they will hopefully look and see which books are being saved. All of the books in the bags of holding are written by the same author, a wizard who is trying to erase himself from history before becoming a lich.
Have the PCs track him down by contacting his publisher and last known employer (a magical university), and then fill his lair with all sorts of flameskulls! Literally fill it to the brim with flameskulls that have all the same spells but do different types of damages instead.
Consider even making the wizard speak through flameskulls that are used to cast clairvoyance and act as weird little morbid drones.
Have fun with this one!