Mark S. Cookman
20 Things to Find Inside an Ancient Barrow
Today's post is the first of my October-themed posts for this year. In this article we will delve into a barrow or kurgan, in other words a burial place or tomb, to see what one might find there. Before jumping straight to the list of things, let's first take some time to analyze the structure of the barrow, as well as the types of creatures one might find inside.
Barrows, (also called tumuli, burial mounds, and kurgans), are mounds of earth and stone raised over one or more burial sites and are often marked with cairns or standing stones. Archaeologists have classified many different types of barrows including bank barrows, bell barrows, bowl barrows, disc barrows, fancy barrows, long barrows, and oval barrows. They are classified according to their overall shape, but all have many common characteristics.
All barrows are tombs found under mounds or hills. All barrows are ancient burial sites from a past culture; they are NOT found in community grave yards. The burials found in barrows will be of whole bodies; there are no cremation urns. Most barrows contain grave goods (a.k.a. treasure). Barrows are nearly universally dark, creepy, cold, wet, and moldy. Also, as you have probably already figured out, most barrows are haunted.
When choosing a creature to haunt your barrow remember that banshee, death knights, vampires, and other "social" forms of undead are rather inappropriate to be found locked away in remote, dark, cold, wet, and moldy places far from people. Also, remember that ghouls and ghasts, who feed on living and dead humans, won't be far from their food supply. Some of the traditional undead to use in a barrow would be ghosts, liches, wights, and wraiths. Additionally, you can use minor undead such as crawling claws, flameskulls, skeletons, and zombies as minions and lesser evils. If the barrow is a large one, then it may have constructs such as golems or shield guardians, as well. Don't forget that like all underground places, a barrow should have swarms of insects and nests of spiders regardless of the other creatures in the tomb. Here is my favorite music to play in the background both when I am creating a barrow or tomb and also when I am running a group through exploring a barrow or tomb.
Without further wait, I present to you 20 Things to Find Inside an Ancient Barrow. Happy Gaming!
Funeral Preparation Chambers - Secret places where the holy ones worked while the burials were taking place before the barrow was sealed. Usually small rooms, often found behind secret doors in a tomb.
Tombs of Different Sizes - When a barrow has more than one inhumation under its domed roof, then one tomb will be larger than all of the rest. Often there are three sizes, the largest one for the main burial, some slightly smaller sized tombs for the main burial's family, and a number of tiny tombs or niches in the walls for servants.
An Altar - Altars to the god of death, prepared by the priests and holy ones who oversaw the inhumation. Rotting sacrifices can often be found on them. Great places for bugs and rodents to hide and coming boiling out from.
A Symbolic or Physical Moat - Many barrows have a physical trough that surrounds them or an elaborate depiction in floor tiles of a moat surrounding the burial chambers. The idea is to depict "crossing over" into the land of the dead.
Decorative Stone Fence - Many barrows also have a short, decorative stone fence that surrounds one or more tombs within the barrow. These fences are meant to represent the castles of great lords within the land of the dead.
Evidence of Spell Work - Whether it's a charred bit of wall from an old fireball spell or just an odd smell lingering in the air that the mage realizes isn't the smell of clerical magic, many barrows exhibit evidence of spells that weren't cast by the clerics that sealed the barrow.
A Weapons and Tools Room - Warriors entombed together within a barrow might share a single large room that contains all of their armor and weapons on display or each warrior might have his own room. Those who were not warriors would display the tools of their life's trade(s).
An Entryway that Passes Between Two Columns - More symbolism for passing between the worlds. Each separate burial chamber will have its own entryway. These double-column entryways are often tight places to squeeze through and an EXCELLENT place to hide a mimic, imho.
Evidence of Stolen Sacrifices - There should be many sacrifices inside a sealed tomb. If you see evidence that the sacrifices have been disturbed, then you know that something has been inside the barrow before you. How the sacrifices were disturbed may tell you whether an animal or something else was responsible.
A Firepit - A sacrifice to the goddess of homes and hearths to show desire for the protection of still living relatives.
Stone Statues, Columns, and Poles - Barrows usually look simple on the outside, but exhibit many architectural wonders inside. The culture and personality of each individual buried within the tumulus is demonstrated to the best of the ability of the artists involved.
Grave Goods - Little treasures, like rings and jewelry, fall into this category. As do trinkets and coins. Each individual buried will have a collection of grave goods nearby their decaying body (bones).
Pottery and Household Goods - There may be some treasures mixed in among the common objects of the household that are brought into the barrow with the deceased.
Ancient Coins or Treasures - Sometimes great kings and warlords die without an heir. When this is the case, the grave goods will often contain coins from a much older time, as well as powerful magical treasures that are entombed with the deceased.
A Slimy Patch of Wall or Floor - It's wet, slimy, and slippery. It's green or brown in color. It smells fetid and awful. You don't dare taste it. Probably best to just avoid it. I'm sure it's not a green slime or anything.
A Trap - Remember, no one wants the grave robbers to escape the tombs they are trying to plunder. If traps have not been sprung, then it is possible that they are either still deadly or fallen into disrepair due to age. If the traps are already sprung, then there should be extra corpses lying about. Where are they?!?
A Fountain or Pool - Sometimes the main tomb will contain a reflecting pool or a fountain. Whether these pools are magical, have creatures living in them, or are all dried up is left for you to decide.
Evidence of Grave Robbers Past - Triggered traps, destroyed guardians, oddly placed skeletons, and signs of spell casting are all evidence that the barrow has been explored before. The age of the signs might be able to tell the PC's how long ago it was since the last group was in the tomb.
A Triggered Illusion or Magic Mouth Spell - Some barrow have magics that light the tomb and begin telling you the life story of the person buried here. Others have illusions that play repeating important vignettes from the deceased's life. Of course there are also those that make illusions to harm or confound grave robbers, as well.
An Incessant Dripping Sound - You know the sound that I'm talking about. The one that will drive you mad if you keep listening to it long enough.