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Top five reasons for breaking open a grave

November 4, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Bones Don’t Lie has a serious and sensible list of the top 5 (most common?) reasons for disturbing a burial. It comes down to:

1. getting stuff out (grave goods, bits of bodies*, political capital)
2. keeping stuff in (bad luck, spirits, undead**)
3. investigating the past (includes archaeology)

And in another post, 4. honoring the dead (not desecration but reconsecration).

I’ve never seen (4) in a game. Aside from this list the only thing I think games commonly add is:
4(g): necromancy/raising armies

Surely we can do better than this? If you’re running a tombraiding game, what other reasons could there be for cracking open that pyramid?*** Here’s another 5, but consider this a challenge: there’s a world of possibilities out there. What would nobody else ever have thought of?

1. opening/closing a gateway to another realm (tomb as psychopomp, perhaps, or just wardrobe, or physical dungeon entrance, or hallucinatory dream quest).
2. signaling to some otherworldly entity (includes aliens, time-travelers, seraphim, possessors of the dead, E.A.Poe). Or demonstrating that they won’t be answering such a signal because (a) they don’t exist or (b) you’ve overmastered them (a common wartime propaganda move, BTW).
3. accident, natural disaster or hubristic/archaeologically ignorant building programs. This runs from misrecognition – you thought the tomb was a house or other common structure, up to digging railway tunnels through mass madhouse graves and plague pits.
4. you’re getting out. This needn’t be some lame 60’s mind-fuck trick ending – “oh look, you were dead all along – dead and asleep to your true potential!” Maybe you started somewhere else and the smugglers’ tunnels come out in a graveyard. Or maybe you are (un)dead, following your capture by the pixies/cultists, and now the game takes a strange turn.
5. to get rid of something. The classic version of this is return to the stones to the temple and lift the curse, but what if you really just want to put something beyond reach? What if there’s no Mount Doom to go with the One Ring? What are you going to do now? Maybe the Lich God makes a good guard dog after all?
Bonus 6: to make it your new home. Not necessarily because you’re undead; maybe you want to bathe in the energies of the Ancients, or you’re hiding from foes, or you know the ground better.

* she doesn’t mention the Tonton Macoute practice of taking kneecaps from graves as protection against shooting, which seems like it might cut across a few categories here.
** or less metaphorically/metaphysically, poison.
** check out this megadungeon onionskin: imagine these outlines are buildings actually nested inside each other, the levels increasing as you work toward the central nugget. Or turn the whole thing upside down: level 1 is under your point-of-light village; outer levels are more dangerous, and have doors back to the surface on lands or islands or undersea realms farther away from your home base.

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  1. Jon Hendry
    November 6, 2011 at 3:01 am

    Another reason: overcrowding.

    Aren’t Paris graveyards so crowded that many plots are only leased, after which the occupant is removed so another person can be buried there?

  2. tom m
    November 12, 2011 at 12:04 am

    I lose track: are they in Providence? If so, I’ve been to that tunnel–the street car route goes right through there…

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