Towers of Silence are a form of funerary architecture associated with the practice of sky burial. Their exact form varies depending on the age and location in which they are built, but most real-world ones are associated with the Zoroastrian civilisations of pre-islamic Persia and central Asia (the English name being more or less a direct translation from the Persian1).
As the name implies, these are basically towers on which the dead are exposed (often having been dismembered) so that their remains can be consumed by carrion birds and other appropriate scavengers. Often the centre of the tower is a hollow pit into which anything the birds leave behind (typically fragments of bone) can be disposed of to make room on the tower roof. The anthropological interpretation for these buildings relates to sky burial originally being performed on mountaintops and the bones cast down a convenient cliff - when a civilisation with these practices moves to the lowlands, it is necessary for them to create their own peaks and cliffs.
Traditionally a tower is either a distance from the settlement it serves or, failing that, surrounded by parkland - this is both to give the relatives of the dead some space to grieve and to keep the squabbling carrion birds and smell of rotting flesh away from civilisation.
Adventure Hook - See below.
Game and Story Use
- Useful cultural colour for a fictional civilisation, especially as quite a lot of players are unlikely to have encountered these things in real life.
- Could be very confusing if the civilisation that built them is extinct: a large, windowless tower with an external staircase, open roof and single internal void full of bones is potentially very hard to explain.
- Will need to be heavily guarded if there are ghouls about.
- Not as good a source of skeletons as you might expect given that the majority of the bones in the well will have been comprehensively smashed by scavengers looking for marrow.
- For all the horror that these places might induce in a modern westerner, bear in mind that these are sacred, consecrated places and most unlikely to be the bad place they would otherwise appear to be.
- …unless desecrated… speaking of which:
- The Adventure Hook linked above suggests a (possibly supernaturally) desecrated Tower - the "Ahriman" mentioned is the evil anti-deity of Zoroastrianism (his exact status varies depending on which branch of Zoroastrianism you might belong to). The tone of the article is sensationalist and sort of tasteless (and probably a hoax), but the idea of evil powers infesting a sacred place is a good hook.
- For those who want to provide a mundane explanation: the bodies were the result of a fradulent funeral firm fly-tipping, the blood was also fly-tipped abbatoir waste (possibly infected with something nasty such as anthrax) and there were no birds about because the vultures had died of diclofenac poisoning and the approach of a noisy mob of investigators had scared away everything smaller.