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Across countless worlds, the concept of the "burial hall" is an oft-used construct for adventurers to cut their teeth. These locations are often teeming with the animated dead or other necromantic entities. They also serve as an excellent place to tell gripping tales, put characters in danger, and similar story points.

For my world, however, there's a problem: There are no corpses.

After a creature is slain, its body breaks down into raw energy which then feeds into the surrounding environment, where it promotes plant growth, coalesces into raw minerals, etc. How long this takes varies depending on how magical a creature is: a dragon's corpse decays in five minutes, while a dwarf's can take twenty days.

Ignoring the cultural and societal implications of the above as much as possible, why would a society construct large/extensive catacombs, tombs, mausoleums, sepulchers, and the like when there are no dead to keep in them?

In Case It Matters: In this world, necromancy is a thing, but is an exceptionally difficult practice because of the way magic works and how fast corpses decay.

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    $\begingroup$ Presumably there are spells that preserve dead things, though the stronger the magic of the corpse, the stronger the spell has to be. For a non-magicaln creature, the majority of people should be able to do it as a form of food preservation and so that they can have leather clothes and other peices of a corpse. Materials that can store magic(like gems) will hopefully exists aswell or you will have to carry half dead corpses around. There could also be really OP materials that could be used for weapons that would get stronger the more they killed, a sword that can grow with the MC for example. $\endgroup$ – Necessity Aug 24 '16 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ Why do people bury an empty casket, or put up a headstone at an empty plot? (When the body is missing or otherwise unavailable.) Presumably your world would (or could) have burial halls for the same reasons. $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Aug 24 '16 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Necessity Actually, that material does exist, but it blows up nine times out of ten when you try to mine it. And, yes, these is magic to preserve a corpse, but necromantic magic is a difficult art. Animals are extremely mundane, so leather is unaffected. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 24 '16 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre The more powerfully something is, the more difficult it is to acquire. As long as people strive to become more powerful through magical means, a preservation spell would become intergral and popular however hard it is to learn. $\endgroup$ – Necessity Aug 24 '16 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ If a corpse decays into energy, that's a lot of energy. 1 gram = 0.75 Hiroshima nukes. 1170 kilo dragon = US yearly energy consumption. $\endgroup$ – dpdt Aug 25 '16 at 5:25

11 Answers 11

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The point of burial halls is not so much for the dead, it is for the living. It's a place where people go to 'visit' the dead, gives them a means of 'talking' to them, and a sense of comfort because they are 'laid to rest'.

As such, I think it's possible that people in your world would erect statues in reverence to the fallen -- memorial statues, like we know in our world. Perhaps have a monument where the survivors would carve their name? Almost like the memorial stone in Naruto. There might be an altar where mourners can bring offerings to the spirits of their loved ones (quite common both in real world cultures, but also in fiction).

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    $\begingroup$ They could bury/preserve/display some belonging of the dead, like clothing. In real world, after a battle it could happen that all what was found about a fallen soldier was a helmet or a boot, so it was used at the burial ceremony. $\endgroup$ – vsz Aug 25 '16 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ religious reasons can play a big role as well. your burial hall can serve as a spiritual place where you can communicate with the souls of the dead. $\endgroup$ – Skye Aug 25 '16 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ I think the memorial angle is ones best bet: a storehouse or repository of everything they left behind; a sort of journal, biography, and museum in one. $\endgroup$ – nijineko Aug 26 '16 at 14:23
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Family tree shrines

A variation on themes already visited in other posts, families or clans have a tree where they bring all their dead and dying members, to be absorbed into the same tree. Clan councils are held in the presence of the ancestors and individuals make offerings and pray for guidance at the foot of the tree.

The tree provides some real or imagined benefits, and when an inter-clan war breaks out, it becomes a prime target. The destruction of a family tree would essentially mean the end of the family/clan in society. That's why the clans build a temple around it, with defenses and traps and a secret safe route all clan members have memorized.

Some widely despised clans have taken up the habit of hunting powerful creatures (even dragons) and sacrificing them at the tree, trying to increase the powers gained by the clan. This is said to have twisted the nature of their trees, guiding them to ever more death and destruction.

... in a larger society

Having evolved from the above clan culture, people have now settled down in cities, nations and generally a more civilized life. The family trees are no longer in danger from rival clans as much, but their splendor as well as the size and splendor of the temple around it determine a family's status in society. Arranged marriages between families depend on visits to each other's Trees. Officially to gain the blessings of the ancestors, but in practice to appraise how rich and strong the potential in-laws are and to guide the negotiations.

The temples now mostly need to defend against treasure hunters and other thieves who are after all the riches on display around the tree. Defensive positions and guard posts are out, booby-traps and mazes are in fashion.

More and more new Trees are being raised as ambitious people seek to establish their own names, hoping to strike it rich and compensate for their tiny... trees with huge opulent temples.

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    $\begingroup$ That's a dark (and awesome!) spin. I may have to add a subculture of this somewhere... It would make for a spectacular and complex villain society. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 24 '16 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder how difficult it would be to create a world tree in that type of enviroment $\endgroup$ – Necessity Aug 24 '16 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ I love the idea of building temples around shrine-trees ! $\endgroup$ – Asoub Aug 25 '16 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Necessity Eventually, all life energy ends up in the world tree or goes through the world tree, or something. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Aug 25 '16 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ This is a very solid answer. There are many potential variations of it that can be very flexible and adaptable to a plot or an area of the world. $\endgroup$ – Anketam Aug 28 '16 at 1:50
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Your society would still construct large/extensive catacombs, tombs, mausoleums, sepulchers, and the like in order to worship great leaders or remember the dead (Which happens to be one of the reasons why they build them now in the first place).

Having no corpses actually makes it easier to do these things, since you can fit more plaques with names in less space.

Expect your graveyards to be spaced out a lot less, and perhaps even just be consisting of several large stone walls on which names are carved out.

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    $\begingroup$ Seems like this would encourage small shrines instead of large ones? If you visit a place where cremation ashes are stored, they are generally much smaller than graveyards because each body takes up about 1 cubic foot and can be built vertically, instead of several square yards of horizontal land. A leader might still want a larger monument though for the sake of leaving a mark on history... waste has never been a reason to not do something. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Aug 24 '16 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 Cremation ashes still take up space - in a world with no cremation ashes either, cremation halls might even be swapped out to be buildings with stone tablets placed like bookshelves, and names inscribed on each tablet - not unlike a high-scores board of a video game. Having dedicated places with these giant stone tablets helps to prettify everything - not many people want to keep an ugly rock with a name on it in their own house (ruining their perfect decor). Large tombs for specific rich people or leaders may still be made (I didn't rule them out, just pointed out the general case). $\endgroup$ – Aify Aug 24 '16 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ That's my point. In a world without corpses, you wouldn't even need 1 cubic foot, and so a shrine for a 1000 people might be the size of a small broom closet. Large shrines with miles of tunnels (large enough for an adventure) would be a little silly $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Aug 24 '16 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 I think you've misread part of my answer somehow (or misinterpreted something somewhere in the question) - Large shrines with miles of tunnels were almost always reserved for single leaders or rich figures (the pharaohs of Egypt come to mind) - my answer says those would still exist, because they want to be remembered. Adventurers hardly visit normal graveyards, my answer simply states that the average graveyard would be smaller (and the world would probably have less graveyards). Shrines are not built for the average person - graves are. $\endgroup$ – Aify Aug 24 '16 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ So, similar to the Vietnam war memorial (just a wall with names carved into it) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_Veterans_Memorial $\endgroup$ – LeHill Aug 24 '16 at 18:56
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One word. Shrines.

They no longer store the dead there, but they do create memorials to them. Giant catacombs extend out with sites dedicated to the memory of those who have passed. Through the winding halls you find places where mementos of the loved ones are left behind, such as vases, small stone figurines, or personal weapons. The rich have life-sized statues of themselves in life, and gigantic carvings depicting their achievements in life. The recently deceased are often visited by their loved ones, who burn incense or leave flowers on the shrines.

Eventually, though, these shrines can hold no more memorials, and are eventually closed, eventually gather dust, and eventually are forgotten entirely.

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    $\begingroup$ I couldn't agree with you more ^_^ $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Aug 24 '16 at 17:53
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Mineral extraction, and magic processing
When someone dies, (and in some cases before you murder them), they are taken into catacombs where they can decay into energy and minerals.

After capturing enemy troops and civilians in battle some evil regimes would force them down into tunnels and such where they would die and become raw minerals to be harvested.

The reasons the tombs have to be labyrinthian is because the magical energy can be channeled and directed toward a place where it can be used, and because of how magic works certain shapes work better than others. These include shaped chambers where magical energy can be stored like a cistern or battery, amplified, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was going to answer 'for agriculture', but you beat me to it! $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 25 '16 at 1:11
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An alternative: Forests

While your people might not explicitly build burial halls (they may build some sort of memorial structure), people will still die. Since people in your world fertilize/nourish the environment when they die, this means that places where lots of people die become very healthy, vibrant environments. As such, beautiful lively forests are the creepiest places in your world.

If you want to go the paranormal route with these locations, it is well within reasonable suspension of disbelief to have these places also be haunted or have the spirits of the dead animate trees and other plants on account of all the people who have died in these locations.

Futhermore, the danger is already heightened by the now flourishing ecosystem which poses an increased danger to your adventurers, while the allure of the "natural" resources contained within invites them to enter to their doom, creating a positive feedback loop that will make your forests grow creepier and more lively the longer they exist.

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  • $\begingroup$ You've hit on an aspect of the death scene in my world: the strong-willed can retain some of their energy from when they were alive and return in the form of spectral entities. The strongest of these can then possess the living, creating extremely powerful mages. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 24 '16 at 19:13
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Maybe they're not mausoleums, but places where a sect preserves the energy of dead beings? If they think that it is a waste to let the energy just dissipate into nature, they might have some sort of "repository of the dead" where they store their energy.

You could then have a conflict with people who want to prevent nature from losing the energy of the dead.

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Ancestor worship.

Dead things clearly transcend beyond this plane as their corpse disappears. Or so the priests say.

The catacombs are places of prayer and worship, where you request favors from those who have passed beyond and become unto gods.

The sick and dying are brought to such halls, sometimes to pray for freedom from pain, sometimes to follow their ancestors. Priests have arranged "magical energy"-capturing devices in the catacombs to capture and channel the energy of the dead, fueling the miracles which are used to maintain the theocracy or benefit the community.

What more, the means for capturing the life energy actually does create a form of awareness in the weave of mana. Memories, especially memories at the moment of death, collect. Prayers, repeated over generations, shape.

The processing of such memories and awareness takes time and repetition, so ancestral tombs full of the same family can generate a fondness and connection with a living line over the centuries, but a single death won't fuel it. Repeated prayers and supplication guide it. Love and admiration keep it from souring.

Catacombs that are abandoned go stir crazy. Such abandoned catacombs are "haunted", and the aware mana weave can even animate and manifest physically when disturbed.

To provide for interaction, catacombs have statues (of the dead, and the guardians of the dead) for the supplicants to interact with, and the mana weave to animate when particularly driven. These animated statues can even defend the Catacomb against defilers. In abandoned Catacombs, the animated statues are going to be hostile to anyone who doesn't carry the cultural markers and behavior of those who "should" be there.

Catacomb robbers thus can learn the cultural signifiers of the dead culture, carrying the holy symbols and learning the prayers and behavior to ward off the undead horrors.

Societies that engage in mass sacrifice to fuel their magics generate a local mana weave that is full of hate and fear and pain. These are scarier places than simply ancient catacombs. The structure tends to be different, where the tormented spirits are forced to do useful work, but the structures will have broken down over the ages leaving you with a hell pit of hostile spirits.

One effective way at least some cultures use to contain the sacrificial spirits is to surround it with friendly spirits. So sometimes you are exploring a merely abandoned catacomb, and you enter the sacrificial region and all hell breaks loose.

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Grieving family and friends most certainly do not want to witness the decomposition process, though maybe in your world it is a beautiful display of magical multi-colored lights dispersing or being absorbed by the surroundings and whispered snatches praise/ reassurance/ love from the deceased. Just about anything else would cause some sort of discomfort, I imagine. Or maybe witnessing the decay at certain stages (and hence, the need for structures to house the bodies during this time) may be cathartic for family/ friends as it offers proof that their soul was good and was not rejected by the world/ nature/ whatever.

Another reason behind the necessity of burial halls in your world could be an attempt to focus the absorbed energies into a (possibly damaged/ polluted?) location in an attempt to revitalize/ super-energize or something similar. Certain configurations of the decaying bodies could be the catalyst for some sort of unseen magical vortex or could just be the most scientifically sound way of evenly dispersing the energies if there is some downside to an over-concentration of the energy.

The lack of dead bodies would probably have a much larger impact on the variance and diversity of creatures that, in the real world, consume the dead. Why would there still be carrion birds/ creatures/ bacteria/ fungi if there is nothing for them to eat?

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I have two ideas:

1) They're burying memories and grief (whether symbolically or, through magic, literally). So they bury things that remind them of the deceased and bring them sadness, but don't want to truly destroy. So they "bury" these items so they can go visit them and grieve on isolated occasions.

2) My second idea is that, when a creature dies they leave behind the energy and minerals, and the material that makes up their heart takes some formal representation of their final thought in a gem or mineral of some sort. Almost like a little statuette or bust. These 'thoughtstones', heartstones maybe, tend to be meaningful to those that are left behind and are "buried" in great display halls. Each put on display for others to come see. There are, however, terrible thought-stones that are buried deeper, never shown, amazed, or mourned over and describe terrible images. They are often made of vile alien materials. None of these stones are magical, but their creation tends to lend them an air tied to the last thought. So if a person's last thought is of their family the stone will be in the family's shape and people looking upon it would get a feeling of love, trust, and/or sadness from its design maybe. Also they could have value in the darker magics or something.

Not sure how those would fit your world, but thought I'd submit the idea.

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In addition to all of above it could be possible in this mystic ginormous buildings (the burial halls) to contain inside statues that could be sarcophagi that encapsulate corpses that will decay only when "the world will reach its end..." (and such things). And they could easily be regarded as veneration idols or as places of flowing energy (the endless one of said corpses of the most magical creatures ever existed).

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