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Dungeons & Ruins Spotlight: Go down to ruin in burial sites

Dungeons & Ruins Spotlight: Go down to ruin in burial sites

This excerpt from the upcoming book from Kobold Press, Campaign Builder: Dungeons & Ruins, discusses burial sites as one kind of ruin. It includes a sample adventure-filled burial site you can include in your game.

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The shattered tombs of ancient civilizations, crumbled temples, lost cities, and other ruins are a staple of adventures. Similar to dungeons, ruins offer the perfect opportunity for PCs to practice their skills. The reason for delving into a ruin depends on the adventure, but the rewards can be great: forgotten knowledge awaits in moldy libraries, powerful relics or artifacts rest in web-shrouded tombs, and glory and renown can be plucked by those who survive. And as for those who don’t survive, theirs will not be the first corpse to find their final rest among the ruins.  

Burial Sites

Burial sites are areas of land where the remains of living creatures are interred. Most often the bodies in these sites were buried long ago, and at some point, the location itself was forgotten. The size of burial sites can vary from small plots of land or open fields to raised mounds, towering pyramids, or even whole cities. Depending on its size and composition, the exterior of a burial site might be full of overgrown plant life, marble columns, decorative statuary, and weather-faded metal or stone markers. At night, low wisps of mist might rise to drift between the graves, creatures lurking half-seen as if waiting for intruders. No matter the type of burial site, the magical and spiritual scars from the interred attract supernatural and undead creatures, haunts, and other hazards.


Found both aboveground and below, the weather and environment of burial sites can vary, but certain elements are common to all such locales. The presence of death lies close to the living world, and the entire area has an unsettling presence, almost a weight. Travelers exploring a wilderness burial site might experience an unusual frequency of rain, overcast skies, and fog or mist. The flora in the region might be unhealthy or dying, poisoned by the necrotic aura emanating from the dead. Underground burial sites might feel like a dungeon with roots dangling from the ceiling, condensation or seeping runoff from above dripping down the walls, a pungent smell of fungus, and stale air leaking from previously undisturbed tombs. GMs can use weather and terrain features to emphasize a looming dread over what’s around the next corner.   


Burial sites often feature paved stone paths between tombs and clear passages, though these routes might become choked with overgrown flora in places, blocked by collapsed tunnels, or made difficult by broken masonry. The type of burial site determines its style and contents. The tombs might be of stone construction and iron doors, gates, and locks. Or they might have rectangular recesses that hold the decayed remains of the interred, still holding their burial goods in skeletal hands. The burial site might be decorated with marble statues or carved grave markers with inscriptions now faded by time.

Creatures and Other Dangers

The primary threat in burial sites are the undead—reanimated by broken oaths, tasks left undone, meddling cultists, or simply the necrotic corruption often generated by the close proximity of so many bodies. Travelers in such locations might encounter ghosts, ghouls, skeletons, zombies, and similar creatures. The more mindless undead linger in burial sites as eternal guardians. More intelligent foes might view these locales as a source of power or resources. A lich, mummy, vampire, or necromantic fanatical cultist might use them simply as good sources of flesh and bone, whether to build minions or conduct dark rituals.

Some creatures venture into burial sites to search for material wealth, rare components, or lost relics. Call them grave robbers, treasure hunters, or resurrectionists, these intrepid individuals face horrors—and possibly the law—to dig up those bits and bobs. Often fiercely territorial and unwilling to share in their plunder, they are not averse to resorting to violence to protect their interests. Other threats might include dangerous fauna or flora corrupted by necrotic emanations or attracted to the stench of death, such as shambling mounds, sporeborn, and various types of hazardous fungi. 

Aside from the creature threats, burial sites often contain features meant to safeguard the dead. Physical and magical traps on tomb doors and sarcophagus lids dissuade or punish those who would open what they should not. Those who manage to surpass such defenses might still need to contend with curses and other lingering effects.

Notable Site

Any burial site can serve as an adventure location. This is but one example.

Mortuary of Memories

This cathedral-like structure might be found in any wilderness or underground environment. Faded scars on the nearby landscape suggest a mighty war or cataclysm, bringing a once-thriving city to an end. Despite this disaster and the passage of centuries, the stone of the aged structure still appears solid, though crumbling remains of decorative towers and spires indicate it was once far grander. The walls are overrun by pale-blue crystalline growths. Touching the crystals triggers telepathic emanations, echoes from the memory spheres found within.

The interior is a single, massive chamber with a vaulted ceiling. Strangely, there are no remains of furnishings, just the mostly intact mosaic floor, depicting scenes of humanoids and strange, floating orbs. In fact, there are many—hundreds, if not thousands—such orbs floating at various heights within the chamber, each a pale-blue crystal about 1 foot in diameter. They drift at glacial speeds throughout the interior, and when two gently collide, a beam of blue light arcs to the nearest surface, creating a patch of moss-like crystalline growth.

In truth, the former inhabitants stored their memories within the orbs. If a creature interacts with one, their mind is drawn into the memories stored within, forcing them to relive others’ lives. Lost within the spheres is the truth behind the destruction of the city. 

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