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November 23, 2005, 8:28 am

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Cheka Man

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Hiberian Funeral Customs

By:

The simple graves of a folk long gone, these are still favoured by graverobbers.

I am glad to welcome the surviving students of the dungeon-lore. Today we will take a lighter and less dangerous topic: the funeral customs of the Hiberian folk.

The Hiberians were simple people, later marked as barbaric. For a time, they were the biggest threat to all countries near the Great Plains. Their effective raids and fierce warriors earned them a rightful place in all history books. Among the common folk, they are now almost forgotten. It would seem they left nothing behind, just the occasional red-haired man or woman indicate something different. But something remains hidden from the public view: their graves.

On many battlefields they spilled blood, their own and of others. Many songs remind of these mighty warriors, red-haired and unafraid unto their very death. And near to many of these battlefields, graves were made if time allowed, according to their old traditions.

To these days, numerous Hiberian graves were found, opened and looted, so their general layout and equipment is well known. As graverobbers say, these graves are the ‘best dig’, for despite the promise of only mediocre wealth there is little risk. The buried were invading barbarians anyway, so the moral qualms won’t get too bad (...as if there were among graverobbers any), and if caught, the judges are not so harsh. Penalty for defiling of graves is usually five and more years of heavy labour.

About Graves

One thing will be noticed immediately: all chambers are round. Some sages speculate the Hiberians came from far North, where round houses are built from ice (igloos). The little connecting tunnels might be evidence to it.

The most important is the corpse. It is in the middle of the chamber, very often standing (bound with sticks etc.), and equipped as in life, so a warrior would have his weapons at hand, often in hand. Sometimes the trusty horse is arranged so that the corpse is ‘sitting’ on it. ‘Treasure’ is always buried right under the corpse, consisting mostly of the loot acquired, or given from others during the last rites; warriors have it usually between two round shields. It also contains luck-tokens and other private things. Taking these personal tokens or destroying them are believed to curse the grave-robber.

On the walls of the burial chamber are numerous paintings of the deceased and his heroic deeds in life, like fights and wars and slaying of beasts. The moment of death is depicted especially heroically, and it is not unusual to present the warrior on a heap of corpses of enemies, heavily wounded but still fighting. Most of the time the only face clearly drawn on these paintings is that of the deceased. If another face is painted there, it must have had a special meaning, like a good friend, a great hero he met/saved/was saved by in a fight, or some remarkable enemy perhaps. (DM Note: special monsters might be introduced this way, too…)

Alternatively, the common life of the deceased is painted, how (s)he lived, what (s)he did, what was the cause of death. But common people that were not heroes were rarely buried this way.

Besides that, in most graves is pottery with unusable remains of food. Occasionally a well-preserved wine can be found, that can fetch a nice price.

Construction matters

Built out of stones, very rarely out of bricks, the chambers are made with great care for stability, made even stronger through the almost perfect spherical shape. The inner coating is very stable, said to be mixed with a certain kind of herb from the far plains, mashed and ground with clay and other components. Once dried, it is very water-resistant, and according to one story should have a freshly opened grave almost drowned its poor robber with the water that accumulated inside.

The connecting tunnels are always small, enough for a crouching man, but not much more. After last rites were performed and the corpse was placed, these tunnels were closed with stones and partially filled with earth. This causes the chambers to appear singular, and amateurs often forget to search for the tunnels that could lead to more treasure. (Hint: search for hollow spaces behind the walls.)

The outside look depends on how deep the builders digged. In most cases at least the top remains visible, its round shape can betray the location, despite being covered with earth. Rarely, you can find it if the top falls apart, or some lucky fellow fell this way in. The domes are but relatively stable, and once access is created they may serve as a lair for some creatures, humanoids even.

Spiritual matters

Little is known now about their spiritual life. It is sure they believed in spirits and had leaders with shamanic powers, but not much beyond this. As for their afterlife, it is said they continue living on in the spiritual world, and do not keep hold to the items they held in life. Of course this is considered inferior to our beliefs, but one shall notice there come very few Undead of the Hiberian folk (some are mentioned below).

Some say that the grave is home for the spirit in the spirit-world, but once it is complete, and all rituals are done, it is not needed anymore, and the Hiberians left it standing or falling on its own.

Basic grave

Smallest in size, it was intended for simple peasants, or when there is little time for extensive grave-building. Space enough for a corpse, occasionally found ‘sitting’. This type of grave is sometimes found collapsed, unlike the bigger types, which are constructed much more carefully.

Classical grave

The most common type, this features a ‘main’ chamber with the deceased, and a ‘side’ chamber that was smaller and served as the entry if needed. A connecting tunnel was in-between. The side chamber is always on the South, the main chamber on the North. (North was seen as more important.) The side chamber usually contained food and other things, tools of the trade, and not rarely wife, children or other relatives. Sometimes a trusty dog or similar animal.

Note: a man’s highest duty was to protect his family, meaning in those hard times that if the man is killed, the rest of the household is probably killed, too. On the other hand, the grave may be re-opened and closed years later to add the body of someone close to the deceased.

Advanced grave

This grave must house a hero, or someone else of importance. Around the central, main chamber are four smaller chambers, all connected with tunnels. Again, the South chamber has more importance and can house relatives and important items. The other chambers may contain other offerings, or maybe something else…

Shrine

This grave looks at first sight as the Advanced grave described before. The layout seems to be the same, and the offerings, while a bit greater, seem not special. Even the paintings may confuse. While the fights and wars are generally there, the deceased is depicted usually in the background, not in the heat of battle. A small but well-detailed figure will reveal to a careful eye the real grave-user: a mighty shaman.

The person in the main chamber is usually a strong warrior, often the shamans guard. The real grave is located UNDER the main chamber.

Note: needs more research.

Special

Undead
It is rare to find Undead in Hiberian graves, and those are mostly Lower Undead. The spiritual background of these people seems to be the reason. If it is true, where are these from?

Even between such bold warriors, it occasionally happened that someone dropped his weapon, and turned to flee the fight. This cowardly behavior was a great insult to all Hiberian warriors, and was punished in a special way. Once caught, they were put in a cage and displayed for all to see, given no food until they were too weak to move. When the graves of other, bolder, but dead warriors were completed, they were buried too, ALIVE. Cursed to be unable to find a way out of the grave, these unlucky souls shall protect and serve in the afterlife the comrades they betrayed. So you can occasionally expect a Zombie or a Skeleton madly attacking you, usually at some tight spot: while you are still half in the tunnel. These ‘guards’ are always in the side chambers, never in the main or South chamber.

Sometimes, there are two unlucky souls put into one chamber. And SOMETIMES, one of them is still strong enough to move…  Because there is no food in these chambers, and he is cursed not to find a way out, sometimes he turns on his unlucky comrade and eats him. In this case, the grave-robbers will face a weakened but crazed ghoul, that has not eaten for hundreds of years.

As for Higher Undead, only in extreme situations the deceased would rise in persona. Damaging the personal luck-tokens is believed to anger one, and a mighty Skeletal Warrior was once reported to be the result. But this seems only a temporary measure, because once the the disturbers were killed or chased away, the monster turned to skelet once again.

Traps
Luckily, the Hiberians were simple people, not too concerned what happens with a grave once it is complete. Luckily for grave-robbers, for no traps were installed in these graves, as is the custom of some other nations. Despite this, graves are never a safe area, and accidents can have serious consequences.

While a chamber is usually very stable, it can collapse if damaged/digged enough. Note that the ‘Shrine’ is deep under earth, and can be entered only through the top. This can weaken the structure, up to the point of collapsing and burying the thieves. But only one ‘Shrine’ was ever found, so this may be no chance. And when we speak about it:

Curses
Most graves are free to rob, but some, especially the ‘Advanced’ ones seem to bring bad luck to the robber, so they might be cursed from a shaman. Many were later caught, killed in an accident, or simply vanished. It may have something to do with those ‘personal luck tokens’, avoid them!



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Comments ( 7 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted MoonHunter
November 23, 2005, 9:13
0xp
I liked this in the forum. I liked this in version 2.0.

This post, and other "style" posts like it, give the GM a conception, a basis to work from. Dungeons should not just be grids on a map, filled with seemingly random monsters and traps. They should be tombs (and similar things) that people built for specific purposes (some of which are ritual) and with specific defenses they found appropriate.
Voted Cheka Man
November 23, 2005, 20:05
0xp
I like it, and I like the punishment for cowards.
Voted Pariah
December 23, 2005, 22:07
0xp
I like it too. A good place to spend eternity, a nice dry(ususally) round chamber.
Voted Murometz
June 4, 2006, 23:41
0xp
Sublime!
Voted Priv8eye
June 6, 2006, 3:17
0xp
I really liked this. Nice and simple but with wonderful detail that doesnt overshadow.

Good basis for a dungeon, as said they should have a reason for existing. The punishment and reasons for the undead in the chambers was well thought out as well.
Voted EchoMirage
June 6, 2006, 3:18
0xp
Now this is something special - interesting yet scientifically detailed.
Especially the paintings and the vivid description of how the warrior is set to stand even in death has got me...

Two paws up and wags tail.
Voted valadaar
May 22, 2013, 20:55
0xp
A great submission - a nicely detailed piece of culture readily usable. I am happy it was linked to mine.

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