Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque: Funeral Customs

After the introduction of a death cult and the heroes' first encounter with undead in my "Time of the Tarrasque" game, I felt it necessary to give more thought to some of the funeral customs that the characters might witness in the campaign.


The Sultanate of Asasor is composed primarily of humans and halflings that worship the Javanian Pantheon (the original religion of the halflings). The central conflict of that mythology is the eternal war between Talitar, the good god of the sun, life, and healing, and Asmolon, the evil god of death, destruction, and the undead. Apart from them stands the moon goddess Yaziel, whose duties include guiding the dead (whether good, evil, or neither) to their final homes in the outer planes.

Funeral rites for the dead help both the living and the dead make peace with their loss. These rituals purify the dead and prepare them for their journey to the afterlife. In most of Asasor, bodies are buried in the ground or, for those who can afford it, in family monuments (usually of stone). Worshipers of the Javanian pantheon prefer to be buried in specially consecrated ground near a temple, in order to benefit from the protections of the gods and their priests.

Cremation may be an option if a city becomes too overcrowded to allow burial of complete bodies, or if the deceased's remains needs to be transported a great distance. An outbreak of undead often results in more widespread use of cremation, for the duration of the immediate threat and some time afterwards, because the burning of bodies prevents most forms of reanimation. (It also makes returning the dead to life by more benevolent magic more difficult, but only the wealthiest can afford such miracles anyway.)

In the Lokoran Desert and other inhospitable places, a burial might not be as simple a task as in fertile farmland. Sandy dunes shift over time, and are vulnerable to digging animals, while rocky badlands might lack sufficient earth to cover the remains. In these regions, a tomb might be excavated from bedrock if time and wealth allow, or a natural cave or hollow might be used as a crypt. Alternately, a well-made cairn of stones provides at least minimal protection from scavengers.


In the human Empire of Thovalas, military expediency has done much to influence funeral customs. The bodies of slain soldiers are frequently burned on pyres, often sharing a fire with fallen comrades from the same unit. Such cremations help curb the spread of infection that runs rampant near battlefields, denies the enemy the chance to dishonor the fallen (whether to erode morale, or perform black magic), and saves the army the burden of having to transport the bodies home. In the case of a fallen general or other distinguished officer or hero, the funeral pyre will be larger, so as to burn longer and brighter, and the charred bones are sometimes recovered for return to the deceased's next of kin or liege lord. If the army finds itself in a place lacking sufficient fuel for burning, they will resort to earth burial, cairns, or other means to dispose of their dead respectfully.

Among the civilian population, burial is common where space allows. In most farming communities, the dead are buried in fields and orchards so that their remains will nourish the crops. (The wise will invest extra labor into burying the dead deep enough to not be disturbed by plows.) Large urban areas that lack room for cemeteries will build crematoriums outside of the city, where the constant smoke and stench will bother as few as possible of the living. Many urban families hire special porters to transport their dead to the crematorium after memorial rites are concluded; for many poor families, this fee represents the bulk of their funeral expenses. (In a prosperous, lawful city, these collectors are well paid and carefully monitored; in a poorer town with lax authority, they are easily corrupted.)

The Elves

Most elves, including those of Fendorlis, believe in returning the dead back to the natural world from which they came. For most, this means an earth burial, often beneath a tree or in a meadow, or near a powerful fey site. If the deceased had sufficient status, the location might be marked with anything from a carving in a tree's bark to a ring of standing stones, but normally the community simply preserves the knowledge of grave sites as part of its oral traditions.

Elves who have left their homelands often attempt to make arrangements for their remains to be returned to that native land. Failing that, burial in some other fey-haunted woodland is the next most acceptable alternative.

Orcs and Half-Orcs

The orcs of the Lokoran Desert (and many other places) revere the memory of their worthy dead, but rarely enshrine their remains. Many tribes are unrepentantly savage barbarians and cannibals. who consider their fallen enemies--and sometimes their own dead--to be a valid food source.

Those that worship the Tarrasque often look to that beast as a model, claiming that anything that they are strong enough to kill and eat is theirs by right. The stronger the creature killed, the more glory earned, and the more strength received from consuming it. Even those tribes who have turned away from outright cannibalism still find their hunting and warfare influenced by this philosophy--warriors seek suitably dangerous game to prove their worth, and after defeating a challenging foe (whether intelligent or not), many take a trophy from the body. Any dead bodies not collected for food are left where they lie for the scavengers to devour, unless the body is too close to the tribe's lair or camp (in which case they will remove them to a safe distance, to avoid polluting water sources or attracting undesired animals to their homes).

Half-orcs raised among the humans and halflings of Asasor often adopt their ways--sometimes even worshiping the Javanian religion (see Asasor, above). Others alter their old traditions to be more palatable to non-orcs, such as abandoning all rituals that involve mutilating or consuming any sentient being's corpse. Some desert settlements, consisting almost entirely of half-orcs, engage in sky burial: carrying the deceased to an exposed height for scavenger birds to pick clean, then collecting the bones for storage at a sacred site.

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