I am currently developing a tool which hopefully will allow me to choose a monster and a template. The tool will then automatically apply the template to the monster and change its stats accordingly.

I thought I'll start with something fairly simple so I chose the Dire Rat and the Skeleton Template to begin with. The template states:

Special Qualities: A skeleton loses most special qualities of the base creature. It retains any extraordinary special qualities that improve its melee or ranged attacks.

This got me thinking. What exactly are Special Qualities? I tried to find an official definition but I couldn't find one. Are they only the abilities listed under SQ? This doesn't seem correct, as for example the Owlbear Skeleton loses his low-light vision as well. I also don't believe that Special Qualities are everything which is SP, SU or EX as we already have a name for that: Special Abilities.

To give a summary of my question: How exactly do you define Special Quality? What falls into this category, what not and how do they differ from Special Abilities?


Thanks to annoying imp's answer I looked at the DnD rules and found the following definition which supports his point:

Many creatures have unusual abilities. A monster entry breaks these abilities into special attacks and special qualities. The latter category includes defenses, vulnerabilities, and other special abilities that are not modes of attack.

This leaves me with one final question: The template clearly states:

A skeleton retains none of the base creature’s special attacks.

The grab special ability defines itself as a special attack:

If a creature with this special attack [...]

Yet the Owlbear Skeleton I mentioned above retains its grab ability for his claw attacks. Something still doesn't seem to fit. My personal opinion is that the owlbear statblock is just wrong but I would be happy to hear another person's opinion on that.


3 Answers 3


In D&D 3.5 Special Qualities are Special Abilities which aren't Special Attacks. I bet Pathfinder duplicates that.

Special Attacks are listed under Offence section of creature's entry, so you may more or less easily sort them out. They also frequently use word "attack" in their description and must be harmful to others by nature.

As for skeleton specifically, it loses all Special Attacks, including Grab. In your example creature's "melee" entry most likely got copied from regular owlbear as a line without sufficient change.

To begin with an example confirming my point, troll skeleton loses Rend.
It is a bit tricky to provide complete list of examples with the access to PFSRD only since PFSRD entries of skeletons seem to be a mess.
You may look D&D 3.5 section on skeletons wich is much more consistent. But if it may or may not be provided as an example is mostly up to you. "Special Attacks" and "Special Qualities" lines in skeleton template at least are the same through editions.

Why PFSRD is a mess? Because neither troll's Rend nor cloud giant's Oversized Weapon are mentioned in entries for their skeletal counterparts. With nothing in statblocks we can hardly say what "extraordinary special qualities that improve [skeleton's] melee or ranged attacks" actually are.

Most consistent example I can provide is Skeleton, Multiplying T-Rex. It has no Grab Special Attack while it's base creature has it. And, unlike cloud giant, it retains Tyrannosaurus' Powerful Bite Special Quality.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1! While I am inclined to believe that your explanation is correct, is there any official ruling which supports your point? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 21, 2017 at 22:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Nevermind I found it already. However this doesn't seem to clear things up 100% (please see my edited question) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 21, 2017 at 23:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras How exactly must it mention a template applied? It has all and every feature template gives, and it's stats are exactly as if skeleton template would've been applied to tyrannosaurus. It also is listed in PFSRD among other creatures with said template, even a link to the template is given above smaller "parts'" stats calculations. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25, 2017 at 19:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras Well, I can't say anything about books. But my other points stand, even if a link theoretically may be a mistake. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25, 2017 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras Also, to refer moss troll. It has different HD and other stats, as well as different name (it then should be Skeleton, Moss Troll) so I can't see why you say Moss Troll is a base creature for Skeleton, Troll. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25, 2017 at 19:18

Special qualities are special abilities (Ex, Su, Sp) that are not special attacks or special defenses of a creature

In pathfinder, special abilities are divided between Extraordinary, Supernatural and Spell-like, and on creature's stat blocks, they are futher divided for the sake of organization on a creature's statblock as:

  • Special Attacks: special abilities that enhance a creature's attack (regular attacks), such as poison, paralyzis, drain energy, constrict, etc.

  • Defensive Abilities: special abilities that enhance a creature's defense (normally AC and saves), such as energy resistances, spell resistance, damage reduction, creatyre's type immunities, etc.

  • Special Qualities: special abilities that usually do not qualify as attack or defense, or abilities that are unique to that creature.

Extraordinary abilities are often mundane (and not "special" enough), so those are hardly listed as any of those subcategories, but there are lots of examples of that, like special attacks such as pounce or constrict.

You will notice, however, that the terms special quality and special ability are used interchangeably, with no special meaning to difference one or the other. For instance, check the zombie template stats:

Special Qualities: A zombie loses most special qualities of the base creature. It retains any extraordinary special qualities that improve its melee or ranged attacks. A zombie gains the following special quality.

Staggered (Ex)

Zombies have poor reflexes and can only perform a single move action or standard action each round. A zombie can move up to its speed and attack in the same round as a charge action.

But on the creature's stat block, staggered (an extraorindary ability) is shown under Special Qualities.

According to James Jacobs (Paizo's Creative Director), when asked about it the meaning of the term, he replied with:

As a general rule, something goes in the special quality line if it's not something that a monster uses to defend itself or to attack. They're usually things that don't have significant impact on combat. Think of "Special Quality" as a place to list monster powers and abilities that don't quite fit well anywhere else in the stats.

However, as he said, those are "generally" not significant on combat, but don't take that literally, as there are multiples examples of creature's special qualities that do have impact on combat, like the previously mentioned zombie's staggered ability.

Why the skeleton owlbear has grab?

That is an error on the SRD. The published ownbear skeleton has no statblock, it was published back in 3.5 and the SRD authors converted to pathfinder. The original creature entry was simply:

The skeletons lurk in the bone pits—six human skeletons to the west and an owlbear skeleton to the east.


Owlbear Skeleton CR 2

hp 32 (MM 226)

Which means the GM would have to do the templating himself, so it's not surprising that someone maintained grab as a mistake on the statblock.

On the anniversary edition of the curse of crimson throne, you will see that the officially published owlbear skeleton does not have grab.

  • \$\begingroup\$ (A skeleton owlbear has grab because a skeleton "retains any extraordinary special qualities that improve its melee or ranged attacks," just like skeletons did in 3.5.) \$\endgroup\$ Dec 28, 2020 at 22:53

Special Qualities and Special Abilities aren't the same.

If you look here in the Universal Monster rules and do a Ctrl+F search for "Special Qualities" or "Special Quality" specific abilities are in fact singled out.. Furthermore all of the abilities singled out under Special Qualities are all labeled (Ex) which leads me to believe they are in-fact different from Special Abilities.

Those abilities are in question as follows:

  • Compression(Ex)
  • Freeze(Ex)
  • Hold Breath(Ex)
  • Lycanthropic Empathy(Ex)
  • No Breath(Ex)
  • Sound Mimicry(Ex)
  • Undersized Weapons(Ex)
  • Fast Healing(Ex)
  • Frightful Presence(Ex)
  • Resistance(Ex)
  • Scent(Ex)
  • Amphibious(Ex)
  • Capsize(Ex)
  • Change Shape(Su)
  • Channel Resistance(Ex)
  • Damage Reduction(Ex)

It appears Special qualities mostly have to do with creature-specific methods of movement, states of being, or abilities granted by anatomical differences.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How about DR? It's description starts with "A creature with this special quality..." text. It also may be Ex or Su. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 23, 2017 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hold on, some are listed as "Special qualities" and I was using Ctrl+F to find "Special Quality" so I have to add to the list, sec. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sandwich
    Apr 23, 2017 at 19:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ It appears Special qualities mostly have to do with creature-specific methods of movement, states of being, or abilities granted by anatomical differences, for lack of a better term. The only one above that falls outside the norm of being (Ex) is Change Shape(Su) which is specific to doppelgangers and their unique anatomy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sandwich
    Apr 23, 2017 at 19:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are lot of creatures that have abilities called out as "special qualities" that are supernatural or even spell-like abilities. To name a few: Zombies, skeletons, graveknight, adherer, animated objects, some kaiju, dire corby, boreal creature template, tsukugami, phoenix. And im only on page 2/10 of my search. Am i missing something about this answer? I did search for "special quality" under the bestiaries. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Apr 24, 2017 at 18:53

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