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Cloudkill says only breathing creatures are hurt:

You deal 6d8 poison damage to each breathing creature that starts its turn in the spell's area.

Do characters with the Skeleton ancestry need to breathe?

  1. On the one hand, they have no lungs, no larynx, so how could they breathe?
  2. On the other hand, they have no tissues to be poisoned either, still they are not immune to poison

Nothing is mentioned in the ancestry description, but again, this can have two conflicting reasons:

  1. It is obvious they do not need to breathe, so why write it?
  2. Every other ancestry needs to breathe, and only the exceptions are listed (unarmed attack other than Fist, senses other than Sight, etc). As nothing is written, there is no exception
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Undead Don't Breathe

The Book of the Dead where the skeleton ancestry comes from also goes into substantial detail about how undead creatures exist in the world, and broadly describes them as possessing, "Biology Without Breath". While a lack of breath isn't mentioned in the ancestry itself, this would cover the skeleton ancestry as well as any other undead that doesn't have an explicit exception.

This is consistent with a lack of immunity to things requiring breath for all skeletons, and even more broadly when considering things like animated objects (unless you're worried about your broom drowning).

While there are a few (13) creatures possessing an explicit No Breath ability, these are mostly aberrations and other living creatures which could reasonably be assumed to have breath. The one construct creature in that list is the wyrwood sneak, which was likely included because it was a playable race in Pathfinder 1e.

Requiring an ability for a lack of breath would mean that every undead creature and every construct (other than the wyrwood) needs to breathe, not just the skeleton ancestry, which is contradictory to established lore.

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Depends on the type of skeleton

This differs if by skeleton you mean something that just has skeleton ancestry, or an actual skeleton from the bestiary.

The reason for why the ancestry works differently from how undead work in general is given in Playable Undead Options as

These are somewhat different from the normal undead creature abilities to better fit player characters.

and Running a game with undead PCs further explains

The rules for undead PCs make some adjustments for playability. The main differences are reducing the undead immunity to disease, paralyzed, poison, and sleep to bonuses, and not having the undead destroyed when they reach 0 HP. If you want something more similar to standard undead for the PCs, you can give them the immunities fully. This means quite a few spells, enemies, and hazards could become useless.

While it does not talk explicitly about breathing here, the same reasoning would apply -- not needing to breathe reduces the array of obstacles the DM has at their disposal. (Thanks to @Ifusao for pointing out these passages).

Skeleton ancestry

There is nothing in the description that says a creature with skeleton ancestry does not need to breathe. Instead,

You have basic undead benefits. For your undead hunger, you don't eat flesh like ghouls or drink blood like vampires, but you do collect bones you can use to help yourself mend.

The basic undead benefits also don't state you do not need to breathe (unlike Pathfinder 1e, where the undead type said "Undead do not breathe, eat, or sleep."). They merely say that your are immune to things like death effects, and you have

Disease and Poison Protection: You gain a +1 circumstance bonus to saving throws (or any other defense) against disease and poison.

This is weaker than outright immunity to cloudkill's poison damage. So, while you could make an argument based on verisimilitude, just by the rules as written, skeletons with the skeleton ancestry can totally be poisoned, and would be affected by cloudkill.

Bestiary skeletons

Most actual skeletons from the Bestiary actually have better protection. For example, even the lowly skeleton guard and the simple skeletal soldier both have:

Immunities death effects, disease, mental, paralyzed, poison, unconscious

So these skeletons are indeed immune to the damage from cloudkill, and you can narrate that with them not having a metabolism, if you like.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So basically what you are saying is that characters with the Skeleton Ancestry are really skinny guys with a slightly better immune system? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 11:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FrancescoRogo The undead rules seem to say that. As a DM would rule they don't need to breathe, no matter what the rule says. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 11:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Might be worth adding the line from Playable Undead Options/Basic Undead Benefits that explicitly states you're not receiving normal undead benefts. "These are somewhat different from the normal undead creature abilities to better fit player characters." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or Running a game with undead PCs "The rules for undead PCs make some adjustments for playability. The main differences are reducing the undead immunity to disease, paralyzed, poison, and sleep to bonuses, and not having the undead destroyed when they reach 0 HP. If you want something more similar to standard undead for the PCs, you can give them the immunities fully. This means quite a few spells, enemies, and hazards could become useless." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso both excellent suggestions, will add them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 18:33

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