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The spell Speak with Dead says, in part:

You grant the semblance of life and intelligence to a corpse of your choice within range, allowing it to answer the questions you pose. The corpse must still have a mouth and can't be undead.

This accepted answer says that skeletons don't count as corpses based on other uses of the terms. While some of this gets into semantics (and this is magic, not strict biology) it's possible the intent of the spell is that the head physically speaks to you, based on what it knew in life.

What if the lower jaw was missing from the corpse, or perhaps the tongue was missing? Both of those would be sufficient to keep a living creature from talking, so it's possible that it would keep a corpse from talking as well. OTOH this is magic.

While this could be up to DM fiat, I (as a DM) am much more comfortable with a supported answer, either based on similar spells or designer conversations.

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A skeletal head is sufficient

There is offical adventure content in Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage p. 40/41 that provides evidence:

Splayed across a broken stone bench in the middle of the room are the skeletal remains of a tiefling clad in rotted leather armor.[...] Casting a speak with dead spell on the skeleton reveals that the tiefling, Savir, was a monk who fell prey to a cloaker.

If the skeleton could not speak, you'd not be able to learn anything from it with speak with dead. So, an intact skeletal head is sufficient for the spell to work. No tongue, lips or vocal cords are required. That also means that a corpse that is just missing some of those parts could still be questioned with the spell.

It's up to you as the DM if you demand that the jawbone is still there, but I think without it, it would be only half a skeletal mouth, and I‘d rule it does not work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So if I'm reading your answer correctly you're saying that in light of an intact skeletal head being sufficient for Speak With Dead, other types of corpse heads missing parts that are also missing from a skeleton's head (such as the tongue) should also work with the spell? \$\endgroup\$
    – mkdir
    Oct 26, 2023 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mkdir Yes, as those are missing from the skeleton head too, and it still works. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 26, 2023 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps you should also answer the linked question with that. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 27, 2023 at 8:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is already a magical effect and therefore no further leap of imagination is required to argue that the "speaking" works magically - despite the receiver being dead, not having working vocal cords or working lungs or working brains or working jaw. He's dead, Jim - but he can talk anyway. I imagine as long as you have something that can be argued to be useful (half a head?), that spell is going to work. You can't cast it on a foot, though. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 27, 2023 at 10:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun I think there is some question, though (which I think Hobgoblin solved here). If you look at the other question I linked to in my question the accepted answer there says that a skeleton would not work with this spell. That answer supports itself with the fact that other spells differentiate between corpses and skeletons and treats them differently. I think hobgoblin's citation of published material allowing this spell ends up being more decisive, but there's clearly different ways to view what's allowed here. - What about the hands of someone who knew ASL? :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mkdir
    Oct 27, 2023 at 14:24

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