A mummy is a corpse that has been sufficiently embalmed that it may now be stored in normal conditions exposed to the air without further rotting or decomposition. The term is especially relevant to corpses that have been deliberately embalmed by evisceration (the removal of those internal organs most likely to rot), drying and/or chemical treatment with preservatives in the Egyptian tradition. Deliberate mummification of the dead was also performed in Southern and Central America, particularly by the Incas, who often used the natural freeze drying effects of high altitude cold to aid in embalming. Some cultures, especially the Egyptians, also mummified animals, either as pets to accompany the deceased into the afterlife or because the animals were sacred to one of their deities.
Accidental mummification can also occur in corpses buried without being embalmed, either by hot drying (if buried in a hot desert), freeze drying (as in the case of Otze the Iceman) or pickling (common in peat bogs).
Deliberate mummification was usually an expensive and time consuming process and hence usually reserved for those of high status, as a result the corpse may also be swathed in expensive grave clothes (high quality linen bandages in the Egyptian style, cloth coccoons for the Incans) and/or dressed in the sort of high quality clothing that they would have worn in life. Accidental mummies tend towards the opposite - those hastily buried in a harsh environment, or otherwise disposed of in adverse conditions.
In speculative fiction the mummy is a common form of undead - traditionally an Egyptian mummy risen from its sarcophagus in response to the violation of its tomb. Subsequent subversions have added the mummy as the victim of a curse - denied access to the afterlife either because of its sins in life or because it is forced into eternal servitude (possibly to guard someone else's tomb or treasure vault). The accidentally mummified may return for other reasons - as hungry or angry dead unable to rest because they were denied proper burial or to seek revenge on those who drove them out into the wilderness to die.
- Alexander's Mummy
- Composite Mummies unearthed in the Hebrides - news article about mummies that were made from a mix of part of different individuals
- Incorruptibility - corpses of saints (and other religious figures) whose decomposition is prevented by supernatural or divine intervention
- Mummia - a medicine that might be used in mummification, or extracted from ground-up mummies, depending on the era (and which source you believe)
Game and Story Use
- The traditional RPG mummy is solidly Egyptian in character - shambling, wrapped in bandages, guards treasure, delivers curses … but fortunately very easy to identify and to set on fire due to the bandages and all that naptha used in the embalming.
- The cruel GM can subvert this - remove the banadages and watch the fun as the "zombie" beats the PCs like red-headed stepchildren, or remove the vulnerability to fire and watch them identify the mummy correctly but find the usual tricks don't work because it was embalmed with something that doesn't burn so well.
- Also, remove the treasure for accidental mummies, particularly ones that pop out of a shallow grave in the dunes.
- Ignorant players may well not expect a mummy up in the high mountains … they only come from the fantasy counterpart culture to the Egyptians right? And they live in the desert right? Right?
- A bog mummy will be a very different beast - fireproof, probably treasure free and quite possibly faster and more flexible given that its bones have been stripped of calcium by the acidic bog. Laugh as it squeezes through an arrowslit that the PCs thought didn't need blocking up…
- Might not be treasure free; treasure can be sunk in peat bogs as an offering to the gods, and the mummy has whatever was on it when it fell in.
- Animal mummies are an interesting subversion, as would be the combination mummies described in Lovecraft and Houdini's Entombed With the Pharohs - although these approach tupilak status rather than being true undead.
- In a non-magic campaign, a mummy can be an interesting McGuffin.
- Rival adventurer archaeologists might be seeking to recover an important mummy, or seeking the treasure buried with it.
- Fanatics have stolen a mummy from a museum for religious reasons
- Then there's always the ever-popular Guy Dressed Up Like a Mummy to Scare People.
- And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you player characters and your dog!
- Invert it: A Mummy Dressed Up as a Guy to Pass Among People. Since mummies don't decompose and can go forth by day, is anyone going to expect one without bandages to be undead?
- As mentioned on the soul jar page, a deliberately-made mummy might be indestructible as long as its canopic jars or something similar (like a death mask) remain intact.
- Deliberate pickling of the dead might also be an interesting funerary practice for a fantasy culture - not much observed in real life (with the obvious exception of Alexander the Great, as noted above) - but could easily occur, with the dead preserved in jars of oil, alcohol and/or vinegar1 (today one, tomorrow the other), potentially pretty much for ever as long as the jar holds out.
- Much as historical mummies were desecrated for all manner of uses, so the pickling fluids from these mummies might be stolen by grave robbers at some later point.
- The undead mummy can also been seen as the exotic foreign cousin of the more European wight, both being grumpy tomb dwellers, easily provoked by burglary.