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The spell Speak with Dead says that we can talk with a dead corpse.

Does that mean it only works with bodies of people who were recently killed? A body that was not yet completely rotten?

I was hoping that a bard NPC would be able to talk with a long dead dwarf who would give some information about his life. Some precisions that the bard is looking for. Obviously, I can just make it work (I'm the DM, after all,) but I am wondering whether the spell is really that limited or not.

P.S. That skeleton has never been an undead. The dwarf just decomposed to a skeleton over the years. We're good on that end.

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Yes, it works with skeletons

Per this answer to another question, Wizards of the Coast has published material that explicitly supports this use:

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.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I did not mention it in my other answer, so just as a comment: this is not even the only instance of skeleton heads talking under speak with dead in that adventure, there are several others too. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28, 2023 at 4:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 great find and supporting your answer with the literature, but I think there needs to be some room for DMs to wrestle with this as the point mentioned by Tashio about "having a mouth" is still important. Maybe a jaw bone is enough... n'est-ce pas? :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Oct 29, 2023 at 21:30
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Corpse is the one aspect you need to consider, the other is.

The corpse must still have a mouth....

A skeleton skull is basically the head bone structure + a jawbone. Whether that is sufficient to constitute a mouth is up to you.

Dictionary defines corpse as the remains of a body. It does not define the state of the body. So the skeletal remains couple be interpreted as a corpse. The jawbone while creating the shape of a mouth is not a mouth, and would therefore limit the spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, at the same time a Litch can perfectly talk and after years may just be a jawbone too... \$\endgroup\$ Aug 31, 2015 at 9:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ A lich is created with a very powerful spell and often maintained by the same level of spells as needed. A big difference. End of the day, DM's call. I've just tried to break it down into components to see limitations as requested but it's still vague in many aspects. D&D is not an anatomy definition book. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tashio
    Aug 31, 2015 at 9:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ the only problem is that skeleton's can't speak "Languages understands all languages it knew in life but can’t speak" \$\endgroup\$ May 30, 2020 at 14:25
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There are a few corpse references we can look at that might help you make an informed decision.

First is the Animate Dead spell, PHB pg.212;

Choose a pile of bones or a corpse of a Medium or Small humanoid within range. [...] The target becomes a skeleton if you chose bones or a zombie if you chose a corpse.

In this case, a pile of bones does not qualify as a corpse for the purpose of reanimation and the two terms are not interchangeable.

Next is the Create Undead spell (PHB, pg.229) which uses the corpses of humanoids to create ghouls, ghasts, wights, or mummies. Each of which is generally depicted as being more than just a pile of bones. Since it doesn't say that a pile of bones (or skeleton) can be used to create these creatures, we can infer that once again just the bones don't qualfy as a corpse.

As such I would conclude that the Speak with Dead spell cannot be used on a skeleton. But hey, if you want it to work than as the DM you have the power to make it work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would anyway argue this is missing 1 part of the equation because I would dissaggree with: pile of bones == skeleton. While a Skeleton can be classified as a pile of bones, the pile of bones isn't neccesarily a skellton. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zaibis
    Aug 31, 2015 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Pile of bones implies strongly "disarticulated"... corpse is almost assuredly articulated. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Aug 31, 2015 at 18:25

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