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Sea of Thieves guide: Skull clouds and skeleton forts

Rare/Microsoft Studios

You’re just sailing in Sea of Thieves, minding your own business, kidnapping chickens and haphazardly blowing up strangers’ ships (FOR NO REASON YOU MONSTERS) when you see it: an ominous, skull-shaped cloud with green, glowing eyes floating above the horizon. This is a skull cloud, and it’s Sea of Thieves’ invitation to sail to a fort. (You can find a list of every fort in our Sea of Thieves islands guide.)

A sane pirate would sail in the opposite direction, but where’s the adventure in that? Instead, you can gather your crew and head toward that cloud and (if you’re successful) earn a lot of gold.

Approaching the skeleton fort

Rare/Microsoft Studios

The skull cloud will always appear over a fort filled with skeletons. There are several islands where it might appear, but there will only be one active at any time.

You’re going to be in for a fight, so before you go, make sure you’re stocked up on planks and bananas (and cannonballs never hurt). In short, don’t just sail there without preparing first.

As you approach the fort, skeletons will be firing cannons at you with shocking accuracy, so make sure your crew is ready to both help navigate and repair any damage the skeletons inflict. In fact, your first priority should be to kill the skeleton that’s firing on your ship. Forts tend to have towers in the water surrounding them. Sail close, have someone jump off of your ship and scale the tower and kill the skeleton.

Waves of skeletons

When you finally make it to shore, you’ll be met by a horde of skeletons. When you defeat those, you’ll get a short breather — look around for bananas and ammo crates during this respite. Before too long, a horn will sound and another wave of skeletons will emerge. This is the essence of skull cloud forts: Waves upon waves of skeletons overwhelming you.

You’ll face several different kinds of skeletons during the waves. Each type looks a little different, and each type has its own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Regular skeletons. These are the generic skeletons you encounter in Sea of Thieves. They have no weaknesses or strengths, but they sure seem to be stronger than other random skeletons.
  • Gold skeletons. These look like they’re partially covered in melted gold. Cutlasses are mostly ineffective against them, but any type of water will harm them. This includes rain and water thrown from buckets.
  • Plant skeletons. Like the name suggests, these skeletons are covered in plant growth (mostly around their ribcage). They’re the opposite of gold skeletons, in that water strengthens them. Swords deal extra damage to them.
  • Shadow (or black) skeletons. These look and act like normal while skeletons in the light, but they’re nearly invulnerable at night or in the shade when their bones are black. You can theoretically use your lantern to stun them and then deal damage. You can also lure them to torches on the island. When their bones turn white, they’re vulnerable to attack.

Tips for fighting skeletons

The skeleton onslaught is so overwhelming that Sea of Thieves’ typically causal combat becomes serious and deadly. If you run in guns blazing, you’re likely to be overwhelmed. Here are some tips for approaching this unique form of combat.

  • Bring three friends. You could approach solo or with two players, but skeleton forts are so tough that it’s best to bring as many people with you as possible. A four-person team won’t make it easy to win, but it’ll sure make it easier.
  • Block. Skeleton fort enemies are powerful on offense and defense, and your health will suffer because of it. Use your sword to block their attacks. It’s hardly necessary in the rest of Sea of Thieves, but it’s essential in a fort.
  • Buddy up. There is strength in numbers for you and your enemies. Skeletons will often gan up on you. You should do the same. Stick with your crew and fight as a team. Going solo will just get you surrounded and killed.
  • Use your canons. Dock your ship offshore and aim your canons at the fort. Then have your friends get the skeletons’ attention and lead them to your canons’ range in the shallow water surrounding the fort.
  • Kite skeletons into the water. Skeletons can’t swim, so they can’t go far offshore. Convince them to follow you to the water, and they’re usually not smart enough to run back to safety.
  • Assign a sniper. As your friends are kiting skeletons to the shore, have someone on your ship to pick the skeletons off.

Opening the vault

After approximately a dozen waves of skeletons, a named captain skeleton will appear. When you defeat the boss, it’ll drop a vault or stronghold key. That key will open the locked door at the base of the main building in the fort. Inside, you’ll find several chests, artifacts and skulls. Return everything to your ship and sail for the nearest outpost as fast as you can.

Remember that any other players on your server can see the same skull cloud as you. This might mean that you have new friends that will help you fight off the skeleton hordes. Or it might mean that a crew will wait until you do all the work, then attack you and steal your hard-earned loot.

You can sell the valuables find inside the vault to all three factions — skulls to the Order of Souls, gold to the Gold Hoarders and good for the Merchant’s Alliance. You should earn about 10,000 gold and plenty of reputation with the factions for all your hard work and life-risking.