In pre-industrial times, people lived in perpetual fear that their graves would be disturbed by thieves. Such fears reached a fever pitch in late 18th century England, when gangs of “Resurrectionists” provided the only reliable source of cadavers for doctors who wished to practice their surgical technique. Inspired by such amoral men, the Grave Robber class can make a great way to introduce some gallows humor into a Gothic Campaign. Grave Robbers also figure in Fantasy literature, so they are certainly usable in such milieus. Of course, given the usual activities of the “adventurers” in most fantasy role playing game campaigns, perhaps having a separate “Grave Robber” class is superfluous!
Obviously, what follows is not suitable for all Campaigns.
Tongue, meet cheek.
An opportunist who robs burial sites
Graves are an underdeveloped resource. Of course, most people have irrational prejudices against exploiting the potential wealth to be had by raiding the resting places of the dead. Not so with those intrepid and enterprising people who answer to the name “Grave Robbers”. They understand that the stench of decay is really the smell of money, and if the dead really wanted to keep their treasures they would do something about it. Unfortunately, the dead sometimes do.
Often, corpses are worth even more than the objects with which they are buried! In many places, surgeons are prohibited by law and custom from acquiring sufficient bodies to advance anatomical knowledge through the practice of dissection. In such locales, the brave and selfless Grave Robbers step up, and charitably help medical science. For a reasonable fee, a Grave Robber will provide surgeons with the flesh they need to practice their art. Often, surgeons take up the trade of grave robbing themselves, cutting out the middle man.
It is not only the newly-dead that can be of use to the living. For example, it is well known among alchemists that mummified corpses from certain ancient cultures become a wonderful panacea, when ground to a powder and dispensed by a quality apothecary. Powdered mummy is also used by painters to create certain colors, and as a preservative. Obtaining such “mumia vera” is a major source of income for those Grave Robbers willing to travel to exotic lands, whose populations are only too happy to serve up their ancestors so that some philandering nobleman might be cured of his syphilis.
It must be noted that, contrary to popular belief, not all Grave Robbers are men of low birth. In fact, many are gentlemen, who realize that when certain ancient and primitives people buried treasures with their dead, they meant for those riches to be later claimed by well-bred men from a superior civilization.
The most wonderful thing about many Grave Robbers is their open-mindedness regarding religion. While others may quibble about whether or not a certain god should be worshiped (on account of its predilection for consuming souls), most Grave Robbers will demonstrate their religious tolerance, by providing the god’s worshipers with the human bones needed to make their temple pretty. Similarly, when a maverick physician needs to combine corpses for the advancement of science, a Grave Robber is unlikely ask if the local clergy approve. Instead, the industrious Grave Robber puts to work all those corpses that would otherwise be simply loafing around, taking up space in graveyards.
Those Grave Robbers who specialize in providing bodies for dissection are known as “Resurrectionists”, or simply “Body Snatchers”. Grave Robbers who prefer to requisition the treasures buried with the dead are often called “Tomb Robbers”, and are colloquially nicknamed “Ghouls”. Upper Class Grave Robbers prefer such titles as “Amateur Archeologist”, “Practical Anatomist”, or “Doctor of Corporeal Philosophy”.
Grave Robbers are unfortunately despised by Paladins, Knights, and most clergy. In fact, Paladins often consider themselves duty bound to kill any Grave Robbers they find. Grave Robbers find comrades among Rogues and Bandits, and often work in tandem with Assassins. Many Gypsies will deal with Grave Robbers, so long as the Gypsy’s own dead relatives are respected. Libertines may sometimes rob graves for fun, but are puzzled by Grave Robbers choosing to make a career of such activity. Those Grave Robbers who are not themselves physicians or academics are frequently in the employ of Magicians and Mad Scientists. Any True Innocent who learns of a Grave Robber’s profession will be predictably shocked, and may even faint. Since huntsmen are as familiar with animal bodies as Grave Robbers are with human corpses, Rangers tend to be be unfazed by Grave Robbers.
Human Grave Robbers are well known, but the profession is also found among other peoples. The Dwarves are infamous for despoiling the tombs of other races, often tunneling into them from below. Likewise, Gnomes often require cadavers to enhance their race’s knowledge of dissection , and are not above improving their finances with a little buried treasure to boot. Chronically poor Halflings are sometimes driven to grave robbing. Elves will loudly proclaim that they are above grave robbing as a profession, so they insist that when they raid ancient burial sites it is strictly so that living people will have a chance to appreciate the beautiful buried artifacts. Half-Orcs often become Grave Robbers, and need no fancy justification for it. Among the semi-human Freaks, Cambions, Moon-calves, Dhampirs, and Therianthropes sometimes follow the calling of the Grave Robber. Certain Vampyres also become Grave Robbers, as do desperate Werewolves. Nephilim, on the other hand, are far too haughty to dig up dead bodies as a living. Fairy Changelings consider regular grave robbing to be too similar to having an actual job to be enjoyable. Likewise, the uncivilized Woodwoses are never Grave Robbers.
CANT: Regardless of their social class or pretensions, Grave Robbers always need to be able to communicate with members of the local underworld.
- Grave robbers speak the same Cant as local Rogues.
EXCAVATE (Strength): Grave Robbers must possess the ability to efficiently move earth, and sometimes stone. It is not unusual for a Grave Robber to need to create a new tunnel to escape from a collapsed tomb, for example.
- Grave Robbers can dig dirt or excavate stone at twice the rate of an ordinary person, if using proper tools, or at normal rate with only improvised tools.
- Grave Robbers can likewise excavate for twice as long as normal, before becoming fatigued.
LOW LIGHT VISION: Years of furtively exhuming bodies and violating ancient tombs make Grave Robbers adapted to seeing in dim light.
- All Grave Robbers can see in conditions of dim light as if under bright moonlight.
- Grave Robbers cannot see in total darkness without a light source.
CLIMB (Dexterity): Grave Robbers frequently need to scale walls, or climb out of dark pits.
- A Grave Robber can Climb as a Rogue his same Level.
CARRY (Strength and Constitution): Its no good finding a corpse or treasure to steal if you can’t carry it away! Grave Robbers are masters at carrying heavy loads.
- A Grave Robber can carry 50% more than a normal person of equivalent strength.
- A Grave Robber’s base Encumbrance rating is 15, rather than 10.
- A Grave Robber also enjoys the appropriate bonuses for having a high Strength and Constitution.
MOVE SILENTLY (Dexterity): Grave Robbers frequently need to be able to sneak into guarded burial sites.
- Grave Robbers can Move Silently as a Rogue of the same Level.
HIDE (Dexterity): Sometimes stealthy movement is not enough to keep the Grave Robber safe, so he must hide in the shadows, or behind a grave marker.
- Grave Robbers can Hide as a Rogue of the same Level.
TRAPS (Dexterity): Sometimes those who bury the dead lay unkind traps. Consequentially, Grave Robbers learn to find and remove such inconveniences.
- Grave Robbers have the ability to find, set and remove traps as a Rogue of the same Level.
APPRAISE (Intelligence): Grave Robbers must often make quick decisions regarding which treasures to take, and which to leave.
- With a successful Intelligence check, a Grave Robber can accurately appraise gems, jewelry, trade goods, and other mundane treasures, or estimate the amount of coins in a treasure hoard without needing to actually count them.
DISEASE RESISTANCE (Constitution): Often exposed to putrescent flesh, Grave Robbers develop a resistance to infectious maladies.
- Grave Robbers enjoy a +1 bonus to Saving throws against infectious diseases, including magical diseases such as Mummy Rot.
- At 3rd Level, the bonus increases to +2.
- At 6th Level, the bonus is +3.
- At 9th Level, the bonus is +4..
- At 12th Level, the bonus is +5
- Grave Robbers are always entitled to a Constitution save against disease effects, even ones that ordinarily would not allow it.
IMMUNE TO DISGUST: Since they make their living in constant contact with foul sights and smells, it is impossible to disgust Grave Robbers. Many Grave Robbers are known for their gallows humor, including doing such things as using corpses like puppets, or furtively putting eyeballs in drinks.
- Grave Robbers are immune to any spell or effect that would make others feel disgusted or nauseous.
NO FEAR OF THE DEAD: Grave Robbers see and handle rotting corpses constantly, and frequently encounter the restless dead. Familiarity with such terrors steels a Grave Robber’s resolve when dealing with Undead monsters, and provides a number of benefits.
- Grave Robbers enjoy a +1 to hit bonus when fighting the Undead.
- Grave Robbers are immune to Fear-type effects from Undead sources.
- Similarly, Ghouls cannot paralyze Grave Robbers.
- Most significantly, Grave Robbers can always make a Constitution save to resist any Level Drain caused by contact with the Undead.
PRIME ATTRIBUTE: Constitution (Endurance and a strong stomach are essential to the Grave Robber’s trade. Good Dexterity and Strength also help)
HIT DICE: d6
ALIGNMENT: Any Non-Good
WEAPONS: Hand Axe, Brass Knuckles, Cleaver, Club, Light Crossbow, Dagger, Dirk, Flatchet, Garrotte, Godentag, Light Hammer, Hatchet, Knife, Light Mace, Morning Star, Light Pick, Heavy Pick, Pistol (if used), Sap, Saw, Scythe, Sling, Staff, Sharpened Shovel, Short Sword, Stake & Mallet
ARMOR: Leather Armor, Leather Coat, Padded, Studded Leather, Breastplate (any)
ABILITIES: Cant, Excavate, Low Light Vision, Climb, Carry, Move Silently, Hide, Traps, Appraise, Disease Resistance, Immune To Disgust, No Fear of the Dead
|Level||Hit Dice||Basic To-Hit Bonus||Experience Points|
|13+||+125,000 per Level|
Typical Prices For Bodies, Body Parts, and Grave Robber Services
Fresh Body, Common: 2 -12 sp per foot.
Fresh Body, Unusual: 6 – 60 sp per foot
Rotted Body, Common: 1 cp per foot
Rotted Body, Unusual: 4 – 16 cp per foot
Cleaned Skeleton, Common: 2 -12 sp per foot
Cleaned Skeleton, Unusual: 6 – 60 sp per foot.
Skull, Common: 2 -12 sp
Skull, Unusual: 6 – 60 sp
Hands: 1-4 sp each.
Hearts: 1-6 sp each
Mumia Vera: 50 gp per pound
Human Blood, Fresh: 1-6 sp per pint
Human Hair: 1-4 sp per pound
Human Fat: 1-6 sp per pound
Obtaining A Specific Corpse: 100 gp per Level of the Grave Robber
Obtaining An Object or Relic From A Burial Site: 25-100 gp per level of the Grave Robber
Buyers of corpses and body parts include surgeons, medical schools, artists, alchemists, apothecaries, cosmetics makers, wig makers, magicians, tanners, specialty book binders, magicians, diabolists, demonolaters, vampyres, and of course, hungry cannibals.