Unearth the Evil!
Whispered tales speak of an eldritch tome crafted by necromancers and filled with spine-chilling facts about a vile menagerie of undead horrors - unnatural things known to haunt the gloom-filled corners of the world and beyond. Beware! This is that tome.
This supplement for the Dungeons & Dragons® Roleplaying Game explores the origins, tactics, myths, and lairs of undead creatures. Along with encounters and hooks for your campaign, it presents a host of undead threats, including new varieties of ghouls, skeletons, vampires, wraiths, and zombies. It also introduces new kinds of undead and provides statistics for unique undead villains such as Acererak and Vecna.
Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead (2009), by Bruce R. Cordell with Eytan Bernstein, Brian R. James, Robin Laws, and John Snead is the second monster splatbook for D&D 4e. It was published in January 2009.
About the Cover. Classic arch-villain Vecna glares out from the cover, recognizable by his vividly glowing eye socket.
Continuing the Monster Splatbooks. Following Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons (2008), Wizards'second monster splatbook focused on another popular category of critters: the undead. Open Grave is organized exactly like its predecessor, featuring undead lore, DM's information, lairs, monsters, and NPCs. However, it would be the only 4e monster book that wasn't an "omicon". That's probably because "the book of the dead" would have been the "Necronomicon", and Wizards probably though that would send the wrong message.
A History of Undead Sourcebooks. Undead adventures had been with D&D since the start, beginning with the demilich at the heart of S1: "Tomb of Horrors" (1978) and the vampire at the core of I6: "Ravenloft" (1983). Undead came even more center stage in adventures like Mayfair's Lich Lords (1985) and the Forgotten Realms anthology REF5: Lords of Darkness (1988). This trend would continue into AD&D 2e with the Ravenloft line (1990-2000), which was full of undead adventures.
The earliest undead sourcebook was probably Mayfair's Undead: A Reference Work on the Land of the Undead (1986), which detailed a "bubbling caldera" full of undead and ruled by lich lords. Unsurprisingly, TSR got into the act with the Ravenloft line, which included a long line of undead splatbooks, starting with RR3: "Van Richten's Guide to Vampires" (1991). It ran through the '90s and was then continued by White Wolf in the '00s with Van Richten's Guide to the Walking Dead (2003).
However, there was just one core D&D sourcebook for the undead prior to Open Grave: Libris Mortis: The Book of Undead (2004), which was coauthored by Open Grave author Bruce R. Cordell. Where Open Grave is purely a DM's book, Libris Mortis was more mixed, including prestige classes, spells, and equipment (alongside monsters and campaign notes).
Expanding the Undead. Open Grave features dozens of undead monsters. Some of them are new takes on classic undead types — such as the spirit vampire and the drowned zombie. Similarly, a new demilich repeats Cordell's ideas from Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), which suggested that the demilich skull in the "Tomb" was just a construct.
However, there are plenty of new monsters as well. Some are "body horror" monsters such as the skin kite; it was a category that rarely appeared in D&D. Others are Asian-influenced, most obviously the Oni and the drowned ghosts. Finally, some are callbacks to the Ravenlof linet, most obviously the popular brain in a jar, which references the living brain from MC15: "Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Children of the Night" (1993).
It doesn't seem likely that many of these monsters will influence the future history of D&D, but they're nonetheless a nice and evocative collection of horror that highlights how good 4e was at creating diverse and colorful monsters.
NPCs of Note. As with the other 4e monster splatbooks, this one highlights several NPCs of historical note.
- Acererak is the classic demilich from S1: "Tomb of Horrors" (1978), whose background was considerably expanded by Bruce Cordell in Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998).
- Ctenmiir the Cursed is a lesser-known vampire who appeared in S2: "White Plume Mountain" (1979) as the wielder of the warhammer Whelm. He returned in Bruce Cordell's Return to White Plume Mountain (1999).
- Kas the Betrayer is the bodyguard and betrayer of Vecna, first mentioned in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976). His full history was revealed in WGA4: "Vecna Lives!" (1990) which also saw his return as a vampire. His re-return in Die Vecna Die! (2000) as a deathknight was revealed to be a fraud.
- Kyuss was first hinted at in the Fiend Folio (1981), which featured the putrefying, worm-filled Sons of Kyuss. Hints on the evil priest himself appeared in the From the Ashes-era Greyhawk supplements (1992-1993). However Kyuss only came to real prominence in Paizo's "Age of Worms" adventure path (2005-2006) and in related articles such as "The Ecology of the Spawn of Kyuss" in Dragon #336 (October 2006). He was then prominently featured in Elder Evils (2007).
- Osterneth, the Bronze Lich is a new villain, most notable for possessing the heart of Vecna.
- Stahd von Zarovich is D&D's archetypical vampire, originating in I6: "Ravenloft" (1983) and I10: "Ravenloft II" (1986). He later was an important part of the Ravenloft setting line (1990-2000).
- Vecna also first appeared in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976), which described his famous hand and eye. He came to greater prominence in a trilogy of 2e adventures: WGA4: "Vecna Lives!" (1990), Vecna Reborn (1998), and Die Vecna Die! (2000).
Future History. "Legacy of Acererak" in Dragon #371 (January 2009) and "Secrets of the City Entombed" in Dragon #372 (February 2009) both supplemented this book.
About the Creators. Cordell has had a long history working with many of the most evocative elements of D&D's cosmology. His creativity here built on past work like Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), Return to White Plume Mountain (1999), Die Vecna Die! (2000), and Libris Mortis (2004). At the same time as writing Open Grave, Cordell was also coauthoring most of the "HPE" adventure series (2008-2009).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.