Thursday, October 27, 2016


Many bogeymen exist and persist because they illustrate a certain theme or fear.  The wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood,” for instance, is a symbol of Stranger Danger to the young, and a smooth-talking stealer of virginity for the not-so-young.  He looms large because he’s a potential villain in our lives as well as Little Red’s.

For a long time, one of the main things vampires represented was the fear of being buried alive (and/or the fear of accidentally burying a loved one too early).  It’s all there in the early folktales: the grave dirt under the claw-like nails; the gaunt, hungry features; the thirst for blood, particularly the blood of those the victim knew in life; and so on.

But as vampire legends became codified and romanticized around the Dracula and Lestat models, they’ve become symbols of other things: fear of death, the lure of immortality, the horror of sexually transmitted diseases (attention, post-AZT kids: AIDS was a nightmare and you need to learn your queerstory), eternal love, and so on.  In the process, dirty fears of the grave fell away.  When your pop culture portrays every vampire having Spike’s looks and Christian Grey’s bank account, the fear of having to smash open your casket and then dig through six feet of earth just doesn’t compute.  Meanwhile, other candidates for the theme are also too burdened with cultural weight of their own: Zombies stand for pandemics and the breakdown of the system, while ghouls are much more about fears of grave robbing and cannibalism.

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that we needed an undead to fill the thematic void left by vampires—and the gravebound is a perfect candidate.  Not only is it obsessed with its own unfair death, but it’s got some nasty mechanics to inflict that death on others.  It can make a pit appear under a victim as a standard action, and then fill the pit up with grave dirt the following round as a full-round action.  Even if a gravebound’s victim escape its clutches on the initial encounter, he could well contract a disease that sends him into a coma almost indistinguishable from death…dooming him to an unfair live burial despite his best efforts.

Whoever created this monster also gets points for a nice bit of flavor as well: the gravebound’s dirt body has a shovel sticking out of its back.  Not only does this detail feel very true to folklore—I can especially envision such a detail appearing in a Japanese ghost story—but it gives PCs who vanquish the gravebound some in-the-nick-of-time assistance in recovering their buried comrades.  All in all, this is an excellent monster and a great example of how to make a new creature feel as authentic as one from folklore with just a little attention to detail.

After losing his gold to a devious country parson, a leprechaun became consumed with hatred for humanity.  Most leprechauns who give in to such feelings murder the objects of their ire and become redcaps, but this particular fey went unrevenged when the parson died unexpectedly.  The leprechaun still lurks in the graveyard by the parsonage—he has knocked over the cleric’s headstone so often the burial society has stopped resituating it—so he was first on the scene when a premature burial caused a gravebound to rise from the earth.  The leprechaun now has a new revenge plan: lure as many people as he can to the graveyard and then aid the gravebound in sending them to an untimely rest.

A doge protected the location of his treasure vault in the most efficient way possible: He buried alive everyone who worked on it.  When the workers arose as gravebound spirits, the callous doge was unconcerned, as he could dimension door into the next chamber past the atrocity.  His son, however, does not have such magical talents.  Having taken his father’s place, he hires adventurers to open the vault so that he can claims his legacy.  (Of course he pleads ignorance when the gravebound manifest.)  He also fails to tell them—because he does not know—that his father survived the assassination attempt and secretly plans to retaliate against his son and all his allies.

A kami asks a party of adventurers for aid.  A gravebound has arisen in his ward, and he lacks the power to dispatch the creature by himself.  If they aid the kami and slay the gravebound, he rewards them with an old prayer scroll that hides a secret on its reverse side.  However, doing so complicates their social lives and possibly their honor.  First, a rival of theirs spots them with the gravebound’s shovel and spreads rumors that they are doing menial labor below their station; second, the kami’s ward is devoted to the Turtle God, whose worship is despised by the current regime.

Pathfinder Bestiary 5 128

Looking for the goliath frog?  We covered that a few days ago.

Get ready for Halloween with this week’s radio show!  New music, a Phantogram spotlight, and close to an hour of songs about ghosts and hauntings for you spook fans.  Stream/download it here till Monday, October 31, at midnight.

1 comment:

  1. There was a Dragon magazine from the mid-80's. Unfortunately the only one from that time period that I've lost, that gave origins for the Undead that were available at the time. That issue gave being buried alive as the cause of wights spontaneously forming.