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Basic Information

Literally an "eater of the flesh" (from the Greek sarx "flesh" and phagein "to eat") a sarcophagus is a box like container for a corpse, generally made of stone and usually highly decorated. Frequently the sarcophagus is only the outer layer of a matryoshka like collation of coffins around the deceased and is intended for prominent display (whether in a ceremonial tomb or in some public place as a shrine), although sarcohpagi have also been known to be buried and be in effect little more than a stone coffin.

In fiction, these tend to be the preferred habitat of mummies, given the media profile of various ornate Egyptian sarcophagi … although most presentations overlook the number of different layers that are typically inherent in such a burial and thus make it excessively easy for the mummy to emerge. This may be why hollywood sarcophagi tend more towards the coffin-sized than the immense. Besides the Egyptian examples, most burying cultures seem to have used them from time to time - the Etruscans and the late period Romans were well know users as well, and similar things pop up in China and South East Asia.

Undead or not, it should be quite common for the external decorations on a sarcophagus to tell you something of the inhabitant - ranging from an account of their life, to spells designed to protect them in the afterlife.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Retrieving, transporting and delivering sarcohpagi can all make good quests for PCs, given that transporting several tons of stonework without damaging it is likely to severely limit their ability to go off on wild goose chases and force them into all kinds of situations.
  • Likewise the injection of a mysterious sarcophagus into the campaign - assuming that you can prevent the PCs going all schroedinger on you and ruining the suspense by opening the damned thing.
    • Having a key will help (as per the cRPG Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines). Also, a lack of any obvious join may work … assuming the PCs don't just get a pickaxe.
  • Generally, PCs that find these in tombs are likely to open them on the assumption that there will be treasure inside. Which per the Egyptian model there often was - or at least a great deal of funeral jewelry and gold plating. Of course, the Egyptians also tended to layer curses and Ward magic onto the coffins as well… the mummy may not be the worst thing in there.
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