Many of our fantasy worlds draw inspiration from the real world. Ancient Egypt has captivated the minds of the layman, scholar, and dungeon masters alike. Ancient tombs are one of the most exciting things discovered because much of the civilization they are a part of is hidden beneath the sands. They reveal information about civilizations including their people, customs, and art. These tombs can be an exciting place to explore both danger and wealth for your players.
Who is Buried?
A tomb is incomplete without a person in mind to bury in the tomb. I say in mind because it is possible a tomb does not have a body placed in the tomb itself but was was designed for someone. Whoever the tomb was designed for will say a lot about the tomb itself.
A cruel and paranoid leader who ordered the tomb to be build would be much more elaborate and filled with traps and monsters, while a benevolent and humble individual may have a less elaborate and deadly tomb. Someone with access to magical influences would have much more magic included into the tomb.
Finding the Entrance
Where you place the entrance to the tomb can create an interesting challenge to your players. How do your players make it into the tomb? Here are some examples of tomb entrances:
Buried – Someone either falls into the entrance or digs it out.
Monument – the tomb is found inside or behind a visible monument.
A Tomb in a Tomb – the entrance is a false tomb, where the real tomb is hidden further in.
Magic Oasis – Found in a magical oasis that moves throughout the desert.
These entrances will have ties to who the tomb was intended for. Each of these show unique challenges or ways to tie the party into the dungeon. For example, a scholar stumbles into a tomb that has been buried for thousands of years. Having found the tomb they hire a group of adventurers to explore the tomb.
It can also be the seed of tales and legends in the local area. Stories of a magical oasis can be the lure of adventurers. Finding the entrance to the tomb can be an adventure in itself.
Tombs can be as simple or complex as desired. After looking at several blueprints of tombs there are some general rooms that are fairly common. My main research came from looking at articles on the most famous of pharaoh: King Tutankhamun or King Tut.
This is simply a long corridor that leads to another portion of the tomb. This is a place where booby traps could be placed.
An antechamber is a smaller room that leads to a main room. In a tomb this often leads to the Burial Chamber and can contain treasure and writing. The writings are usually stories and conquests of the individual who the tomb was intended for.
By its name this is an additional room that is off of the normal chambers. This can contain many items like pottery, treasure, and other mundane items.
Often the grandest room in the tomb, this is the location where the individual is to be buried and where the casket or sarcophagus is located. There are often more writings on the walls depicting the buried individual and stories of his or her awesome power and/or great leadership.
The room that most adventurers dream of getting to first. This room contains the most valuable items that once belonged to the buried individual. Sometimes this room is guarded by statues or curses meant to protect the dead’s possessions. The prominent artifacts in here are defined by the culture that the individual lived in.
An obstacle to put in the way of the players is sealed doors. These could be sealed by mundane means or by magic. Having a sealed door leading to the burial chamber could be sealed by a puzzle that the players have to complete. This puzzle could require elements from various annexes throughout the tomb, requiring players to go through passageways and walking into other dangers that can be found in the tomb.
This is a topic that can be an entire series of articles on its own. Booby traps most commonly are used to cause harm to those who would trespass into areas. These can be most effectively used in places that the players need to pass through in order to make their way through the Tomb. Here are some examples of booby traps that would be appropriate for a tomb buried in the sands:
Sand – it’s everywhere, so let it work for you. The most common thing one can think of is a room filling up with sand, suffocating those inside.
Poison Arrows – walking through a passageway, the intruder steps on a pressure plate, causing arrows laced with poison to shoot out of the wall to hit the intruder
Dangerous Arm Hole – a lever needs to be activated and it is located in a conveniently arm shaped hole. When the lever is pulled, large spikes pierce the arm that is in the hole.
What creatures would make their way into an ancient tomb? Tombs can last for thousands of years limiting some of the creatures that would make their home here.
Snakes – making their way through cracks only small enough for small creatures, this may be a home that they use to get away from other predators.
Gelatinous Cube – a classic dungeon monster, this could be placed in an annex to surprise players trying to retrieve a puzzle piece.
Stone Golem – In the form of religious figures or prominent individuals, these would be used for defending areas of the tomb like the Burial Chamber or Treasure Room.
Skeleton – those who trespassed before or those who were buried with their master, these corpses could be raised by an ancient curse or necromantic magics.
Ghosts – like the skeletons, they can haunt the place of their demise or were bonded to this place.
Mummy/Mummy Lord – what everyone expects to find in the burial chamber this is a classic monster to have as a boss. However this could be the common enemy depending on who else is buried here.
The One Who is Buried
The climax of the adventure is the point where the players make their way into the burial chamber and open the sarcophagus. What they find inside could be an epic boss fight, or the seed to yet another adventure or mystery. If the sarcophagus is empty where did the body go? Does the body animate? Does the spirit of the resting place animate some object or statue to attack the trespassing party?
Whatever the party finds, steep the dungeon in lore and mystery to flesh out the older civilizations of your world. Reward them with riches should they succeed. A tomb is a quintessential piece of the traditional dungeons and pulling it off right could bring stories of your players conquests, or of their final resting place.