Monday, March 22, 2021

Suloise Tomb Architecture

Outside two ruined tomb structures

Today I'm happy to feature a guest post from our friend Angela Black, who wrote to me with what I thought was a clever idea for establishing standard architectural/layout detail for Suloise tombs in the World of Greyhawk. A stylistic notion like this is both (a) realistic to the world as we know it, and (b) jumps-starts the design for possibly many such tombs scattered throughout the campaign world, without needing to come up with a brand new design concept for every one of them. I'll let Angela explain in her own words:


Explanation

In my campaign world, loosely based on Greyhawk, the Suel fill the role of the Roman Empire in medieval Europe - they used to own all this land, but they're gone now, and they've left behind interesting ruins and whatnot. Specifically, I stipulate that the Suel buried important dead people underground in elaborate tomb complexes filled with offerings to glorify the dead, so as to have a handy excuse for "dungeons" more or less where-ever I need them to be (in addition, of course, to the usual adventure-sites, which may or may not be connected to the Suel, like abandoned fortresses and ruined temples and so on).

It occurred to me, however, that such places in the real world tend to have common, identifiable characteristics - that is, buildings intended by a particular culture to serve a particular purpose usually share common features and maybe even a standard layout. And in a flash I realized how useful it would be to have a general notion of these features when it came time to design a dungeon. What IS the "typical" Suel tomb like? I don't have to pick up a blank piece of graph paper and stare at it until drops of blood form on my forehead - I can approach the same way the (fictional) people who (fictionally) built it would have approached it, with a "pre-loaded" set of ideas about what it must include and how those spaces would be connected to each other.

So, as an exercise in world-building and as a tool for future use as a DM, I wrote up a little archaeological-style report on the "Standard Features of a Suel Tomb." I thought you might find it interesting as an example of how a DM might approach such a thing. It could serve not only as a rubric for one's own use, but also, in part or in whole, as lore to give to players whose characters might actually know this kind of stuff. Of course, it could also be fun to watch the players put together over the course of a campaign that there really are certain standard, predictable features to these things!

Outer Tomb

Devotional Sepulcher

A round room, underground but open to the air without a door, that contains a sarcophagus, which itself contains a symbolic representation of the deceased. This symbolic representation may be anything from an item of clothing to the body of one of the deceased’s servants – there is no general rule. The walls of the Devotional Sepulcher are decorated to illustrate the life of the deceased; If the tomb’s occupant was especially important, there might be one or even two Siderooms attached to the Devotional Sepulcher (see below).

The Devotional Sepulcher is where people can come to pay devotion to the deceased, so there are typically small offerings, some of which might be valuable, in this room. Generally, the traffic of admirers to the tomb will keep it from becoming a nesting place for any animals except inconsequential vermin, but if the tomb is forgotten or in a distant location, larger and more dangerous beasts may have taken up residence.

Siderooms

If the deceased was particularly important, additional rooms might be constructed in the outer tombs. These are always smaller, rectangular rooms opening off from the Devotional Sepulcher without doors, decorated with murals or even statuary that reference particularly notable events of the deceased’s life. A Sideroom might likewise have some offerings, as noted under the description of the Devotional Sepulcher.

Inner Tomb

The Outer Tomb exists only to satisfy the need to revere the dead – the dead themselves are hidden in the Inner Tomb. The Suel, however, felt it very important the honored dead receive their due, and the Inner Tomb must always be connected to the Outer Tomb, so that the offerings made in the Outer Tomb are properly directed.

As such, behind one of the walls in the Devotional Sepulcher (or, very rarely, one of the Siderooms) will be the Entry Hall to the Inner Tomb. This Inner Tomb is not intended to be entered by anyone, so the masonry will be solid, but that does not mean it is impassable – tomb robbers are not often deterred by a little work with a pickaxe. The masonry is invariably painted to look like the rest of the wall in the Devotional Sepulcher, but a sharp eye can determine where to start working.

In remote tombs or ones difficult to reach, the masonry wall has likely already been breached, but entry into the Inner Tomb is only the first obstacle, as shall be seen.

Entry Hall

The Suel, always very proper, always build an Entry Hall into the Inner Tomb, even though it was never made to be entered. The Entry Hall is constructed in typical Suel fashion, a wide rectangular space with a high ceiling, decorated on the floor, ceiling, and wall so as to indicate the owner of the abode – in this case, the deceased.

The Entry Hall is also the first line of defense against would-be grave robbers. This typically takes the form of a magic mouth warning intruders to turn back, as well as perhaps some kind of trap, such as a spiked pit or even a glyph of warding. If the deceased was extremely important, there may even be a permanent wall of fire blocking further progress. Undead are never intentionally placed in the Entry Hall, however.

There is always one and only one exit to the entry hall, a portal with no door opposite to the ingress. This invariably opens to a set of stairs going down, which leads to the Hallways. The stairs are a crucial feature, as they symbolize the descent into the underworld, and they are, owing to their ritual function, never trapped.

Hallways

After taking the stairs down from the Entry Hall, would-be robbers enter the Hallways. There must be enough rooms in the Inner Tomb to properly honor the deceased, and these are always connected to a series of winding halls – the Hallways, which provide access to the Devotional Rooms and the Shrine.

However, the Hallways are also part of the Inner Tomb’s defenses against intruders. They are intended to be confusing, decorated with repetitive designs and wind about in no discernible pattern, criss-crossing and sometimes leading to dead-ends. They are also commonly littered with traps of the usual kind – spiked pits, poison darts from the walls, and so forth; for this reason, the Hallways always use a tiled floor, the better to conceal the trigger mechanisms for traps. The Hallways also typically have at least a few secret doors, concealed by the architecture and the patterns of the paintings on the walls, which lead to other sections of the Hallways. The Hallways sometimes incorporate stairs that go up or down, but as these have no ritual purpose, they may be trapped, unlike the stairs descending from the Entry Hall.

Obviously, after so long, some of the traps in the Hallways will be non- or only partially-functional, and some that may have been triggered by tomb robbers will have failed to reset. Likewise, if the tomb has been opened and is remote enough, wild beasts may have made lairs in the Hallways.

Devotional Rooms

In the Inner Tomb, there are always at least two Devotional Rooms – one to honor the deceased and one to honor the deceased’s family. However, there are also rooms to commemorate significant events in the deceased’s life, so for anyone important enough to have a full tomb, there will be at least a few extra Devotional Rooms.

The Devotional Room for the deceased will be treated separately and is more properly known as the True Tomb (see below). The other Devotional Rooms are always alike – large, high-ceilinged square rooms, filled with devotional treasures and featuring not only decorative murals that depict the event or the deceased’s family, as appropriate, but also a stela, in the center of the room, which details the event or describe the family. It may or may not have other exits, concealed or obvious, back to the Hallways, but it never opens onto another Devotional Room. It is possible, however, that access to other sections of the Hallways can only be gained by passing through a Devotional Room.

The treasures are simply meant as offerings to the deceased and will be of value proportional to the glory and fame of the deceased. Sometimes, there might be an item relevant to the event, whether a piece of art, a weapon, or something else. For the family’s Devotional Room, however, there are always a few items that commemorate the family, usually things that were precious to them. There may be statuary depicting the family in the family’s Devotional Room, as well, but this is not consistent. If such statuary is present, it is ornamental and serves no ritual function, and so may well be trapped or even enchanted to animate and attack intruders (though such enchantments are rare and expensive).

What is consistent, however, is that the Devotional Rooms are well-protected. The most basic method is the use of skeletons who will mindlessly attack any living creature that enters the room, but for particularly important people, a few mummies might be found, as well. Such rooms are also sometimes protected by common traps or magical deterrents like glyphs of warding.

The Shrine

Somewhere in the Inner Tomb is a shrine to the god of the dead. This shrine is almost never connected to the Hallways in an obvious way – it may be connected to the Hallways by a secret door or perhaps even connected to one of the Devotional Rooms, either in an obvious way or by secret door. The Shrine is always protected by a glyph of warding at minimum and will usually have mechanical traps and undead guardians as well. It always contains a statute of the god of the dead as well as tablets or stelae with devotional prayers affirming the supreme status of the god of the dead and so on. Treasure is not usually found in this room, but there are rare exceptions – it has been recorded on at least a few occasions that the priests of the god of the dead have stored valuable objects d’art or even magic items in The Shrine. It is unclear why: sometimes the objects are situated in the open but sometimes they are well-concealed and protected. In any case, the Shrine is not intended to be entered, even in a metaphorical way; where the Shrine is connected to the rest of the Inner Tomb with an obvious door, the door is sealed, and where connected with a secret or concealed door, that door is always trapped. The usual caveats apply, of course – if the tomb has previously been breached, and the Shrine discovered already, it’s possible any traps will have been triggered and perhaps not reset, and likewise possible that some animal or monster will have taken up residence therein.

True Tomb

The True Tomb is the genuine resting place of the deceased. It is much like other devotional rooms except larger and more grandly decorated, with murals and/or statuary depicting the deceased in a variety of glorious poses. It will have a stela standing against the wall opposite the entrance that praises the deceased, and in the center of the room will be the genuine sarcophagus. Devotional treasures of the highest value are piled on tables against the walls or in the corners. In some cases, the True Tomb will have a mezzanine level, the better to provide space for depicting the glory of the occupant, but there are never stairs to this level (evidence from unfinished tombs indicates works would use ladders to complete and stock the mezzanine level, which would then be removed along with other tools and materials).

There is always only one entrance to the True Tomb, and it is intentionally very difficult to access, usually behind several series of secret doors in the Hallways. Aside from (possibly) the Shrine, the True Tomb alone in the whole Inner Tomb has a door, and it will certainly be trapped and/or warded. Within, there will be deterrents more deadly than anywhere else in the tomb (except, again possibly, the Shrine) –a contingent of skeletons commanded by a skeleton warrior, a small group of mummies, a clay golem, or perhaps even a demon that has been summoned and bound into service as a guardian. Of course, “more deadly than anywhere else in the tomb” is relative to the status of the deceased; at least a few Suel tombs have been recorded which were, shall we say, “aspirational” on the part of the occupant, with most available funds being spent on the mere construction of the tomb, leaving little for defenses.

The genuine sarcophagus is always trapped and/or warded as well, though with good reason – not only does it contain the remains of the deceased, it also contains any significant items associated with them, such as special weapons. Or rather, it contains such items in theory – in far more cases than the Suel would have been likely to admit, highly desirable weapons and other powerful items were replaced with copies which were buried with the deceased so that the items could be secretly passed to relatives. However, even the most grasping relations would not be so bold as to replace a powerful item with a mere bit of brass; when such substitutions were made, a less powerful but still genuinely magical item was always used. It was not considered wise in Suel culture to tax too greatly the patience of the god of the dead.


Open Questions

Dan back here again -- I thought that was a really interesting piece of fantasy architectural digest. Thanks so much to Angela! And a follow-up idea that I immediately had: How hard would it be to code up an online generator for that particular "style" of dungeon (maybe with selections for small, medium, or large-sized Suel tomb)? Anyone else have an itch to make that happen?

13 comments:

  1. Excellent post. When I have the chance, I think I'll draft one of these tombs out.

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  2. I like this idea very much. I think that I may add it as-is to any future Flanaess campaigns, and I'm probably going to adjust it for my Dawn Isles setting.

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    Replies
    1. Awesome, I'm glad Angela shared it with us!

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  3. Dan - it seems coding it would be pretty straightforward. In fact, I'm gonna send this to a friend of mine who is also a computer guy. Who knows, maybe you to will wind up collaborating! (and thanks for thinking this was worthy to post! I appreciate it!)

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    1. Oooooh yeah I want to see that! Thanks immensely for sending it our way. :-)

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  4. Its seems like a great bit of world building, and a way to reward player knowledge while world building at the same time. I could see expanding it out to These are the ingredients of a dwarf stronghold - Goblin Cave - etc. All the ingredients of a nutritious dungeon.

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  10. I like many of the ideas, the one area I would modify is that WeeJas does not approve of undead, so none would purposefully exist in a Suel tomb.

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