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In the Monster Manual on page 272 it says that skeletons are lawful evil and in the passage of info it gives on them it says

Skeletons arise when animated by dark magic. They heed the summons of spellcasters who call them from their stony tombs and ancient battlefields, or rise of their own accord in places saturated with death and loss, awakened by stirrings of necromantic energy or the presence of corrupting evil.

I have a player who wants to play a skeleton paladin. I am adapting the NPC skeleton race for him to play (per page 282 in the DMG) but I'm unsure if he can play a good paladin since they are made from dark magic and their alignment is evil. Is this true or is there a way around this?

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Since you are adapting this race it is your decision

You are adapting the NPC rules for character creation so you are essentially in homebrew territory here. The rules for creating PC and NPCs are completely different and adapting the NPC rules for use with PCs is going to involve at least a bit of modification on your part.

As part of this modification, it would be completely within your purview to determine what alignment the PC could/could not be and if there were any restrictions that went along with that.

This also fits with Rule 0 in D&D 5e which is that the DM has complete authority to run the world and to interpret the rules as they see fit.

As a note, no other official PC race to my knowledge has a strict alignment requirement. At most they provide guidelines for how members of the race usually are. So, I consider that approach when tackling this.

The alignment in the Monster Manual is not binding

The Monster Manual has this to say about the alignment of monsters:

The alignment specified in a monster’s stat block is the default. Feel free to depart from it and change a monster’s alignment to suit the needs of your campaign. If you want a good-aligned green dragon or an evil storm giant, there’s nothing stopping you.

So even if you decided to hold strictly true to the Monster Manual entry for describing how skeletons' traits are, you still have wide latitude to have the PC choose what alignment to be.

I would be very cautious using the example NPC skeleton race as-is

I mentioned above how the rules and thought behind the building of NPCs and PCs were different and there is at least one instance of this that you should be very cautious about when trying to adapt this race.

If you want to take an NPC stat block and adapt it for a specific monster race, apply the ability modifiers and add the features listed in the NPC Features table.

Note that the process for creating the NPC based on this table assumes you are already starting with an NPC stat block and then basically dropping a monster template on top of it.

Thus, the features listed in the table are not intended to be used as simply standard racial traits for a member of this race. Instead it is how to modify another stat block to be part of the race.

For example, for the skeleton it lists the ability modifiers as:

+2 Dex, -4 lnt, -4 Cha

You should highly consider not basing the ability score modifiers you give your PC race on this. Those negatives are huge and would really really set a player back. Especially considering that your player wants to play a paladin, that Charisma negative could hamstring their entire character.

Note that very few PC races (and no standard PC races) give negative ability score modifiers to any ability. The reason was that the designers determined that players did not find it fun to have those. In this case, it would even go beyond that to making this character idea mechanically less rewarding for the player.

So, when you are making this race, you should find some other basis for deciding the ability score modifiers. Choose something that makes sense, but will still be fun for the character and puts them around the same power level as the other races already in the books.

I will also add that the NPC feaures table also says that NPC skeletons:

can't speak but understands the languages it knew in life

I don't think I need to tell you how inconvenient and pretty not-fun having a PC that can't speak at all would be. Especially for a paladin.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Getting the racial modifiers straight out of the monster description is so 3.5e. 5e has a guideline for building characters that does not bite into this: +2 to one ability, +1 to another based on the subspecies pick. All the races I've seen and most of the homebrew ones use this setup. There are no ability score penalties. A skeleton PC doesn't have to follow the skeleton monster's restrictions. Rules meant for monsters are not meant for PC use. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Aug 31 '18 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin To be clear, you are agreeing with me here yes? Because that is very much what I say in my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Aug 31 '18 at 18:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought some clarification was necessary. People too often skim the text and don't get the small details. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Sep 1 '18 at 12:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin Orcs in VGM are a playable race, and they have a -2 to Intelligence. There is the usual caveat that the races in there are a bit off-kilter, but there are non-UA published races with ability penalties. \$\endgroup\$ – Pilchard123 Sep 3 '18 at 7:56
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Alignments are not a straight jacket.

Per the Monster Manual section on Alignment:

The alignment specified in a monster’s stat block is the default. Feel free to depart from it and change a monster’s alignment to suit the needs of your campaign. If you want a good-aligned green dragon or an evil storm giant, there’s nothing stopping you.

Player Characters are almost always exceptional; alignment should be no different from any other extraordinary trait a player character might have.

Paladins do not have to be good.

Per the PHB on Creating a Paladin (emphasis mine):

As guardians against the forces of wickedness, paladins are rarely of any evil alignment.

Likely to be good or neutral, but could be evil.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You may want to cite Rule Zero in your answer. The asker is the DM, so they could simply choose to allow a nonevil skeleton in their game. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Aug 31 '18 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MikeQ I won't for two reasons... The first being there's no need - the Monster Manual is a DM resource, and it says right there to change things if you like. The second being that I simply don't like to. The DM can always do whatever the DM wants to do, even (or perhaps especially) when the rules say not to. I think citing Rule Zero makes most answers weaker. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Aug 31 '18 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is also material (in previous editions at least) covering undead creatures created by good magic for good purposes (guardians, protectors, racial knowledge repositories, etc.) So there's no reason your world couldn't contain lawful-good skeleton paladins. (They're probably a member of some order bound to serve for a specific purpose, even beyond their death or something like that.) \$\endgroup\$ – Perkins Aug 31 '18 at 19:34
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The decision is yours

It sounds as though you, the DM, have graciously supplied a DM fiat solution for your player for a Skeleton race request using optional variants from the DMG, at this point it is still entirely up to you as to what you can play for alignment, class, and everything else.

Understand the setting and reactions

My advice to you would be to understand the setting you are playing in and NPC reactions. I understand the appeal of playing all these wondrous and monstrous races and classes, but it is important for a believable setting and role-play to have the NPCs react appropriately. Some of us don't allow race choices like this specifically to eliminate derailment of the overall story, like say most published modules have in mind, in favor of lynch mobs and monster hunting.

This isn't limited to the predominantly evil races either. I had a player want to play a Half-Celestial from 3.X. I decided to let him do it based on what was happening in the world at the time. He was upset because all the common folk were following him around and providing offerings and praying to him and asking for blessings and everything else you might expect when a commoner would meet a bonafide angel, wings and all.

Deities are Deities

As for the deity and alignment issues. I have strong opinions on what they did to paladins but deities being what they are a decent enough story could be had by having a deity of non-evil alignment choose to give the fallen creature a second chance and raise them as a skeleton, for now until they redeem themself.

For better or worse alignments have taken a really nominal meaning in this game so you can go wild regardless of how awkward they might be and not break any rules. So long as it works for your setting and world feel free to do it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If you read my question @Slagmoth I said that I have an official skeleton race. It is not home-brew. \$\endgroup\$ – Perrin Tealeaf Aug 31 '18 at 16:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PerrinTealeaf There is no official skeleton race I'm aware of. You should provide a reference to it on your question. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Aug 31 '18 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Page 282 in the DMG. Edited the question to provide it. \$\endgroup\$ – Perrin Tealeaf Aug 31 '18 at 16:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PerrinTealeaf I think you are confusing "official" races with DM fiat and optional variants. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Aug 31 '18 at 16:03

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