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[LOCATIONS] Some of the City-States, Settlements and Ruins of Sumer and Akkad

September 26, 2010

Ur: (pop. c. 15,000) here dwells Nanna-Sin in his shrine E-kishnugal; ruled by the undying ensi Shulgi, who seeks by recording all things to become a god.  Bureaucracy pervades everything in the city (and fuels the resultant flourishing black markets); all transactions, all goings out and comings in, are recorded and archived. In Ur the Assembly of Old Men are shuffling priest-accountants; the Assembly of Young Men content themselves with games, absorbed in courtiers’ intrigues and atimes agitating for more expansionist policies and the final destruction of old enemies, Uruk, Larsa, Assur, Bab-Ilani. From the great gipar or cloister the royal princess Ennirziana, En-Priestess of Nanna, meddles in the dynastic policies of the city-states of Sumer and Akkad, using both her ritual authority and a vast network of spies, assassins and nuns. Mooring at the Radiant Quay and the Quay of Life, Ur’s boats ply both the Lower Sea and the myriad watercourses of the Land. Much of the city now extends over the forgotten buried riches of earlier Royal Tombs, interlinked chambers housing dead dynasts, their treasure and their murdered servants. Widow Geshtinana’s rambling, multichambered Alehouse, called the E-bursigsig, “House of Beautiful Bowls”, is a place of refreshment, worldly delights, rumour-mongering and the hatching of adventurous plots.

Eridu: (pop. c. 8,000) Home of Enki himself, his temple the E-engura, and the Abzu, Subterranean Lake of Sweet Waters (source of wizardries; the remnants of a dead god; the entrance to the Underworld). A crumbling city. Eridu lay once next to the Gulf of the Lower Sea, a great port, but after the paroxysms of the Deluge languishes inland, its pitch-caulked hulks grounded on the mud of its hollow harbours. Mere canals now serve Eridu’s Quay of the Crescent Moon.  But sages still seek its libraries and archives extending to before the Deluge, and entry into secretive sorcerous and priestly societies; adventurers attempt lucrative consultations with the Abgal sage, or exchange strange ingredients for news of forgotten treasures.

Ubeyid (pop. c. 5000) is a wretched temple-town sequestered in the lower marshlands of Sumer.  Surrounding the temple complex on its higher mound are mudbrick shacks tenanted by herders of kine and harvesters of reeds and grain so wretchedly poor they shear their crops with sickles of clay. Further shacks are built of reed bundles plastered with mud where peasants squat and moan their dirges, weaving reed baskets and matting; the marshy hinterland controlled by Ubeyid contains a shifting population of floating reed islands of fishermen and pastoralists, and all bring fish-offering to the temple in Ubeyid. This temple town is ruled in secret by shapeshifting lizard-headed overlords, the Ophidians. These reptilians came from far stars or the void between them, and are now stranded, or have forgotten their way home, or unfathomably linger. Once (before the Flood) their empire stretched to the far north, and they meddled freely in the genetic makeup of the men and things they found around them; but Ubeyid is their last enclave, where they remain in the temple-palace complex demanding sacrifices and calling themselves Anunnaki. The temple complex is served by grey-clad shuffling priests, emaciated and with strange elongated heads (results of childhood cranial modification and head-wrapping) – on some moonless nights they go sniffling through Ubeyid removing newborns for induction into their order. The shrouded temple cult-statue is an ophidian figurine; the peregrinations of the cult-statue from Ubeyid are always at night (and never to Eridu) and sometimes it is an emaciated barely moving Ophidian itself that sits in the palanquin, gesturing feebly but enough to awe the people at the near presence of their terrible gods. The temple’s lower labyrinthine halls are of damp brick, in patches haphazardly glazed with sickly greens, patrolled by the long-headed priests, disfigured lizardmen, weird eels and frogemoths. Lowest are the inner chambers of the Ophidians, walls green-grey plastic clad, and chambers both swampily humid and coldly functional. A dispirited underground cult of Enki attempts some resistance to the priests, while in his hypostyle hall the chief of Ubeyid’s main tribe, the Beni Samak, dreams futilely of bloody insurrection.

Badtabira: lost, ruined, of evil rumour, an Antediluvian city once great, recorded in the King Lists as exercising hegemony over all Sumer and Akkad, now a waste of heaps, ghoul-haunted, stirge-infested, clouded in flies. Within the overthrown city walls lies the pitchy slumped mound of Badtabira’s black ziggurat. Recrudescent cults of Dumuzi, it is said, seek his shrine and treasure here; agents of the Ophidians slink about intent on incomprehensible missions, while a few tomb-robbers and treasure-hunters comb the heaps and subterranean chambers in search of Antediluvian relics and the grave-goods of the perished.

Lagash (pop. c. 8,000): The estates of the god Ningirsu on the eastern fringes of Sumer; lately abandoned or disfavoured by the god, Lagash is infested by usurping Amurru nomads under Shagarakti-Shuriash their chief.

Girsu (pop. c. 5,500): twin city to Lagash and since the Deluge a part of the same state; now the rebel refuge of Lagash’s dynasts-in-exile, beseeching Enlil to restore their kingship; a hive of mercenaries.

Nigin (pop c. 3000): a cult centre of the goddess Nanshe, the Lady of Sirara, near Girsu and Lagash. Nanshe is an interpreter of dreams, and here in hostelries, ale-houses, lightless dens and temple dormitories pilgrims linger in hopes of oracular dreams or enlightenment as to their meaning, seeking the occluded will of the gods in the visions of sleep or in stupors enhanced by the hallucinogenic fumes of desert lotus distillates. Priestesses of Nanshe, lukkur priestesses, prostitutes, con-men, alewives, assassins, ecstatic visionaries, mercenaries, peddlers and priest-kings, beggars and thieves all mingle in Nigin.

Larsa (pop. c. 10,000) demesne of Utu-Shamash, the solar god of justice and travel; to his temples and courts disputes are brought. In a certain temple with certain prayers and sacrifices it is said the aggrieved may move the hand of the Saw of Shamash: a fraternity of assassins who claim some sort of priesthood of retribution of the god. Warad-Sin is the ensi of Larsa.

Uruk (pop. c. 12,000): one-third gardens, one-third houses, and one-third temples, they say of Uruk-the-Sheepfold, Inanna’s own city. If Gilgamesh raised her walls, and Enmerkar once brought tribute and treasures out of Aratta, Uruk now broods over her imperial past. Two sacred precincts lie at its heart: the massive Eanna temple complex honours Inanna, while Kulluba contains Anu’s ziggurat and his White Temple. But in Uruk too are the myriad shrines of a thousand foreign gods brought back by Uruk colonists and traders in past days. Its ensi, Mesh-he the metal-worker, is rumoured to be a sorcerer. In Uruk is the E-mush, House which is a precinct, a guild-house of the rangers of Uruk.

Nippur (pop. c. 8,000) site of the E-kur, the Mountain House that is Enlil’s shrine; Enlil grants the kingship and any aspirant hegemon of Sumer and Akkad makes obeisance and offering at this temple.

Agade: “Inanna be praised for the destruction of Agade!” runs the Curse of Agade; this city of great Sargon and divine Naram-Sin – who once and for the first time brought all Sumer and Akkad under their net, who ruled the Land and all Subartu from Lower Sea to Middle Sea as their Empire – is a mound of ruins prowled by ‘alert snakes,’ its very location, and the nature of the treasures it may house, now a matter of rumour and speculation.

Bab-Ilani (pop. c 120,000), the Great, the Gate of God: what city is like unto this great city? Clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet and decked with stone and precious metal and pearls! Her slave-markets most eclectic; her spice markets most choice; her ziggurats most lofty, temples clad in lapis lazuli and alabaster where fragrant incense ceaselessly rises! The noble houses of Bab-Ilani vie in the lavishness of their feasts and in their intimate courts entertain strange counsellors, while astrologers, diviners and wizards ever refine the acuity of their speculations. The Hanging Gardens, a past lugal’s gift to a foreign wife, is a fevered dream made manifest, containing strange flora and weird beasts, and is an occasional amphitheatre for hunts of slaves or enemies of the king’s household.

Merodach-Baladan is called lugal in Bab-Ilani, King of Kings, King of the Four Quarters, King of Kish; but most power is exercised on his behalf by the Sage of the Assembly, for the king angered some god and as a result paws the palace-garden grounds in a state of bestial imbecility. Court wizard-priests have since developed a novel system of divination by which they calibrate the pitch of his howling whines to the putative will of the gods.

Kish (pop. c. 2500) is a dream-soaked village huddled in the remains of past glory.  A cadre of scholarly priests maintains The King List and the temple in which any hegemon of Sumer and Akkad must have the lugal Kish, the Kingship of Kish, conferred by the god.  Beyond the few scattered huts and temple complex lie the mouldering mounds of the greater city, including the tombs of the Great Lugals of Kish’s past. Kug-Bau the Alewife is the ruler of Kish.

Kutha (pop. c. 7,000): Nergal’s own terrible estate, site of the E-Mesalem, his shrine, an open maw to Erkalla, the Great City, the Land of No Return, Kurnugi, the Underworld where Ereshkigal wails. A haunt of necromancer-priests and mercenaries without hope.

The Muriq-Tidnim (“Fender off of Tidnum”), a great Wall raised by Amar-Sin of Ur against the threat of marauding Martu nomads. The Wall, now collapsed along great stretches, runs north of Sippar from the Euphrates across the fringes of the alluvial plain to the banks of the Tigris; scattered settlements are huddled in its shadow, and along it are dotted fortresses, bastions and caravanserai abandoned or the refuge of bandits.

Igi-hursaga, a rambling, concentric fortress constructed by Ur-Nammu in defense of the cities of the plain against Amurru tribes, now the chaotic seat of Kara-hardash a bandit-warlord and his bands of mercenary nomads, Elamite assassins, and bestial Gutian henchcreatures.

[MAGIC ITEMS] The Clay Sickle

August 25, 2010

Inanna's Crescent

A crude, fired clay sickle, about two hands-span long, weathered but with a sharp edge and faintly incised all about with ancient, wedge-shaped sigils. Unutterably old, the Sickle, sages say, was in the beginning borne by gods in the reaping of the first harvest before Men. Father Enki, maybe, caused it to fall into the hands of the hero-king Utu-hegal who used it in driving the bestial Gutti from the Cities of the Plain. Thereafter, it enters many tales called by many names (Inanna’s Crescent, or Utu’s Axe, or Tiamat’s Tooth, or the Fang of Burnt Earth), always in times of war and when it seemed as if the civilisation of Man verged again on the brink of annihilation, wielded by those who defended City against the horde, or the Sown against the Desert. Though appearing delicate, in battle it apparently acts a +2 Scimitar of Speed; its further powers are rumoured to further the governance of kings and the arts of civilisation:

2 x I:   ______, ______

1 x II:  _____

1 x IV: _____

For Jeff Rients’ Open Call for Minor Artifacts & Relics…

[SETTING] Money: ERIDU’s Silver System

August 22, 2010

Hullu: Rings of Pure Silver

There is no coinage in ERIDU: it has not been invented yet (or again?). Many common exchanges are through barter, the swapping of goods for each other.  Measures of grain (wheat or barley) are often used in this regard: the gur (300 litres) and sila (1 litre). Wages, especially those given out by palace and temple institutions, are most often paid in rations of grain rather than currency. In the city-states, however, most particularly in Ur, among the mercantile Assyrians, and in Bab-Ilani, there is in place a system of relatively standardised weights of precious metals; and silver is used as a measure of accounting as well as units of exchange.  These units are silver shekels, minas and talents, such that

3600 shekel [ss] = 60 mina [sm] = 1 talent [st]

60 shekel [ss] = 1 mina [sm]

By weight,

1 shekel = c. 8 1/3g (= c. 1/3 oz; 5 1/3 troy pennyweights)

1 mina = 480g (= 16.9 oz.; = 15.43 troy oz.)

1 talent = 30kg (= 66.22 lb; 80.37 troy lb)

For game and exchange purposes, in ERIDU silver often appears in standardised, coil-shaped rings, called hullu or seweru (pictured above), mostly commonly in 1, 5 and 10 shekel coils, as well as 1/2 mina and 1 mina coils. 1 talent ingots are used by the very wealthy; some city-states issue miniature axe-shaped silver ingots of the same denominations, called hashshinu.

Silver forms the basis and standard. For smaller transaction, copper shekels [cs] and mina [cm] also exist. The copper to silver ratio is 180:1; thus

180 copper shekel [cs] = 3 copper mina [cm] = 1 silver shekel [ss]

Another commonly used unit is the gerah, or 1/20th of a shekel.  As 180 cs = 1 ss, a gerah is equivalent to 9 copper shekels.  Throughout ERIDU copper shekels and mina are usually crude lumps, carefully weighed by any merchant engaging in a transaction as he calls upon Shamash to witness his honesty…

In ERIDU the ratio of silver:gold is 1:20 (as it was, among other ratios, in the Ur III period); thus 20 ss = 1 gold shekel.

As silver is the standard, values for treasures, gems, and all other loot will normally be given in ss, and, in ERIDU,

1 ss = 1 XP

for all treasure gained by PCs.

The law-code of the city-state Eshnunna provides a list of commodities, all worth or equivalent to 1 silver shekel:

1 gur (=300l) barley

3l of best oil

1.2 l vegetable oil

11/2l pig fat

40l bitumen

6 mina (3kg) wool

2 gur salt

3 mina copper

2 mina worked copper

And some hireling wages, from which further hireling and henchman wages may be derived, from the Codex Hammurabi:

Hire of a day labourer: in summer, 6 gerah/day; in winter, 5 gerah/day

Potter: 5 gerah/day

Tailor: 5 gerah/day

Ropemaker: 4 gerah/day

Ferryboat hire: 3 gerah/day

Freight-boat hire: 21/2 gerah/day

Hire of oxen: 4 gur grain [i.e., 4 ss]/year

Cattle/sheep herder: 8 gur/year

Farmer/field-labourer: 8 gur/year

These wages then can form the baseline from which equipments lists, upkeep costs, further hireling rates, etc., may be calculated. Assuming that a day labourer may work 150 days in the summer period (from the akitu New Year’s festival in April to August), and some 210 days in the winter period, a living wage appears to be about 97 shekels; a potter or tailor working 350 days would earn 90 shekels a year.  Therefore a baseline of a living minimum wage could be set at about 100 shekels per annum.

Given that a labourer may be earning just under 100 ss a year, adventurers will remain, relatively, fabulously wealthy (until they pay their training costs, of course); but this system may have the benefit of both making gold relatively rarer, while still allowing adventurers to roister, feast and squander in proper heroic fashion.


August 16, 2010

Inscribed with pure signs; cunningly inscribed with the pure signs of Nisaba!

Godeyes, or eyestones, once formed the eyes of the cult image of a god, now taken and incised with arcane signs of great potency, and perforated to form a bead or amulet.  Few are larger than 1” in diameter, and are composed of precious and semi-precious stones, often with an obsidian pupil. All Eyes grant their bearer infravision and the ability to detect invisible 3 times/day for 3 turns. Hallucinations are common among those who bear the Eyes for a lengthy period, as is temporal confusion: seeing things, people and places as they were, might have been, or are to come. Owners will however refuse to give up the Eyes unless subjected to an exorcism.

The Eye of the Storm, Adad’s Eye: An orb of mottled agate with a lapis lazuli iris and a deep green serpentine pupil.  Adad’s Eye allows the bearer to transform into a whirlwind as does a djinn; fly once a day for 10 turns; and to control weather once a week. Each activation has a 1% cumulative chance of forcing an involuntary gaseous form (equipment and clothing not affected) which is permanent unless countered with dispels or remove curse.

Inanna’s Eye: An orb of purest azure lapis lazuli flecked with iridescent gold, a gold sign-inscribed band for the iris, and a depthless pupil of polished obsidian blackly radiant. Her Eye grants the bearer +2 to Charisma but –1 to Wisdom; +2 to hit and damage; haste in melee (only and automatically; no ageing or SS rolls apply or required); and allows the bearer to cast charm person once a day, with, however, a 5% chance on each activation that the effect is reflected, charming the bearer to become enamoured of the intended victim. Those wearing Inanna’s Eye tend to become petulant and impulsive, quick to fall prone to ecstasies of both love and war.

Eye  of Nergal: a sphere of polished grey haematite, red coral iris-inlay, and obsidian pupil. Its bearer may cast cause fear once a day, a finger of death once a week, and attempt to control undead as a 12th level cleric once a day. It grants 18(00) strength to fighters only. Nergal’s Eye forces upon its bearer ever more frequent visions of the Great City, the Underworld of the Dead, where Ereshkigal lies prone and wails, until even the world around seems little more than the endless grey plains of the dead.

Utu’s Eye: Any Eye of Shamash (as Utu is known among speakers of Akkadian) is a boon to travellers: upon request, the Eye will unerringly face towards a desired destination or object. While borne, it reduces chances of surprise to 1 in 6; both a light and detect lie spell may be cast once a day. Holders of such an Eye tend to begin to perceive the injustices around them and are moved to rectify apparent outrages.

Enki’s Eye: purest white gypsum orb, an iris of green serpentine and a pupil of black pearl. This Eye grants trueseeing once a day; wizards bearing the eye gain a bonus of 1 hp per die of damage to their spells, and opponents save at –2. Intelligence and wisdom are both raised by 1 and strength and dexterity lowered by 1. Once a day the bearer may polymorph into a carp or a coherent stream of water for up to 10 turns. The bearer will become increasingly interested in obscure lore and hidden mysteries.

Eyes of Shulgi: When a provincial priest sent tablets to Ur begging the undying ensi of that city leave to construct a temple to his divinity, Shulgi acquiesced and caused his own palace craftsmen to create the cult statues for the holy of holies. Shulgi paid especial attention to the creation of the images’ eyes, imbuing them with virtues and abilities related to his own obsessions of gathering and cataloguing information. Succeeding tumults have overthrown and scattered these cult images, but the eyes remain abroad in the world, delivering to their bearers strange benefits – and still, perhaps, somehow connected to undying Shulgi himself. The Eyes of Shulgi arrest ageing so that 5 years are as 1 and magical ageing effects are 50% likely to be completely ineffective. The bearer may cast detect magic, ESP, read languages and identify each once a day. A bearer of an Eye of Shulgi if slain will rise immediately as a zombie and shuffle remorselessly to the courts of Ur, there to mumble endlessly to Shulgi of all that it has so far seen.

[SETTING] On Marduk and Tiamat

June 23, 2010

Marduk vs. Tiamat; Or, Bel and the Dragon

The priests of Bab-Ilani tell how in those far-off Antediluvian days Tiamat with Apsu were First. Tiamat brewed the great gods in her womb but disturbed by their noise Apsu plotted the murder of their sons.  They tell that Enki slew the old god Apsu and raised on his body his shrine and therein begat Marduk, the champion.  These priests say that Tiamat, prodded to anger, birthed monsters, and raised an army, and waged war on the gods to their destruction.  Marduk, granted all power on behalf of the gods, marched against this oldest goddess and slew Tiamat; and from her body he created the world that is, mountains of her udders and the sky and plains of her body and the mighty rivers Tigris and Euphrates of the effluvia of her eyes. Then Marduk oversaw the creation of all the races of Men; he ordained time and decreed fates.  The gods in assembly granted Marduk the Enlilship, the kingship of the gods, and they call him Greatest, and Creator, and Lugal-Dimmer-Ankia, King of Kings, and fifty pure names of power.  They lie.

In the Tablet House ordained by undying Shulgi in Ur is archived a fragmentary tablet.  In pure signs it tells of the reign of Sumu-la-el of Bab-Ilani, an ensi of Bab-Ilani claiming the Kingship of Kish, calling himself King of the Four Quarters, lugal of all Sumer and Akkad. At his courts harpers harped and singers sang his praises unceasing and Sumu-la-el reckoned his city secure and sat at his ease and the debauchery of his court was very great.

Then shining Tiamat crawled from the mountains and in her train a brood of monsters.  Luminous Tiamat coiled at the gates of Bab-Ilani, a poison, an ill-wind, a plague. Sumu-la-el, the warriors of Sumu-la-el quailed, they stuffed their mouths with their cloaks, they were weak with fear.  Sumu-la-el cowered against the wall like a dog, the warriors of Sumu-la-el cowered against the wall like dogs. Who will save Bab-Ilani, he cried, who will save the Gate of the Gods? Enlil was silent, Enlil did not open his mouth.  Inanna-Ishtar was silent; by night, Ishtar left the city.  Father Enki did not speak, Enki did not open his mouth; far-seeing Enki remained silent.

Then sorcerers came to the court of Samu-la-el and in secret rooms whispered with his ministers, in hidden chambers conferred with the king Samu-la-el. They departed with promises of the king written in clay and sealed with his seal. In secret places these sorcerers then made a weapon, they constructed for themselves an instrument of war, they, like gods, molded a warrior, fashioned something like a man. Into this hollow violent shell they poured a dim intelligence and they dressed it and gave it weapons and they called it Marduk.  This they sent out to the plains before the Gates of Bab-Ilani, they sent it out to fight coiling Tiamat before the Gates.  To it her poisons were like honey; her enchantments like the evening breeze.  She fell before the thing Marduk.

With great rejoicing the men of Bab-Ilani took Marduk within their walls and they washed the dust from it and poured libations and dressed it in shining clothes and they called it a god.  Samu-la-el built a new shrine, hallowed a new temple, raised the Esagil and installed Marduk in it and decreed new songs sung and new tablets writ, and priest-scribes wrote, beginning Enuma Elish, When skies above were not yet named… But Samu-la-el in his heart feared Marduk and decreed also the forging of chains as his garland and his restraint, burning fragrant offerings of thanks for every day Marduk remained motionless in the Esagil’s inmost chamber.

Witless Marduk (Bash-Chelek by Kay Nielsen)

Thus the witless golem Marduk sits chained in the cella of his temple.  An ancient and troublesome solution to a local difficulty. If his priests knew in full the incantations for his obedient reanimation the temptations to send him out to war against the Assyrians, the nomadic plagues of Amurru tribes or the very city-states of Sumer and Akkad itself would be stronger perhaps than they could bear. To rouse the god! And have it pliant on the end of a chain… The boldest have experimented with the priestly incantations of the opening of the mouth; their fates are unrecorded but Marduk does not move. Ever haunting the desires and plots of the chief priest of Marduk are the tablets, surely in existence, rendering to the bearer absolute control.

The account in Shulgi’s Tablet House gives no indications of the names, fate or provenance of the sorcerers who so saved Bab-Ilani, nor the promises vouchsafed them by Samu-la-el, long dead King of Kings.

[CLASSES] Illusionists

June 13, 2010

Illusionists draw their magic from the manipulation of shreds of the divine melam, that awesome radiance which is the manifestation of a god’s power. The formulas for this control are written on their tablets in the specialised tongue intelligible only to members of the class. Using these formulas and incantations illusionists able to remould the world after the fashion of gods; but as they employ proxies and their understanding is not complete this modelling of the world is often partial, transitory – illusiory.

To understand the art of the practitioners of the manipulation of the divine radiance, it is useful to outline briefly the creation of man and something of the nature of the gods. In those far-off Antediluvian days the gods had tired of their work and desired slaves for the clearing of canals, the digging of ditches and the work of the field. To quell the brewing rebellion of the gods far-sighted Father Enki decreed the creation of such slaves, humankind. Enki said:

“One god should be slaughtered.
Nintu shall mix clay
With his flesh and his blood.
Then a god and a man
Will be mixed together in clay.
Let us hear the drumbeat for ever after,
Let a ghost come into existence from the god’s flesh
Let her proclaim it as her living sign
And let the ghost exist so as not to forget the slain god.”
They answered ‘Yes!” in the assembly,
The great Anunnaki who decree fates.

With a joyous unanimous shout the Anunnaki in assembly decree the slaughter of their fellow god Geshtu-e. His essences are mixed with clay and therefrom humans are created and in that act the divine radiance, the melam, was entrapped too in both men and all the multiple things that move about the surface of the earth. The melam shimmers about all creatures of power and is a source of their awe. Gods are enrobed in it; the demon Humbaba sent seven auras of radiance against Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the mountains; and even Gilgamesh, two-thirds god and one-third human, was alight with a fearsome radiance on the walls of Uruk.

Inanna cloaked in melam

Some illusionists call themselves priests of the slaughtered god. They have refined techniques for the capture of that brilliant glamour which inheres in all intelligent life since the sacrifice of Geshtu-e. In order to cast spells, therefore, an illusionist must murder a sentient being (a creature of animal intelligence or above) with a ritual knife. For first level spells, a creature of 1 HD must be killed for spells to be normally efficacious. For second level spells, a sentient being of two hit dice must be killed, for third, a 3 HD creature, and so on. The illusionist may be aided in this but must personally deliver the killing blow. The ritual knife employed must be composed of a highly reflective material: obsidian (most prized), quartz, flint, copper, silver or gold; this knife entraps the melam of the dead creature and must be carried at all times for spells to be effective. Slaughtering a creature of animal intelligence results in a 25% chance of spell failure and grants +2 on saves to the illusionist’s opponents. Semi– to low intelligence sacrifices result in a 10% chance of spell failure and +1 to opponents’ saves. Average to very intelligent sacrifices allow an illusionist to cast spells as normal. Exceptionally intelligent sacrifices mean the illusionist’s spells are of increased power; opponents’ saves are at –1. Genius and above sacrifices cause saves to be at –2. Creatures of a lower hit dice than that required are considered one intelligence category worse for determining the efficacy of spells. An illusionist who fails to slaughter a creature of appropriate hit dice may still advance but will be unable to cast spells of the requisite spell level. The killing and capture of melam must be done only once for each spell level, thus normally sometime at 1st, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th, 12th and 14th level.

Illusionists have accordingly developed a slight ability in assassination. Using only the ritual knife – no other weapons are permitted – a starting illusionist may attempt to assassinate as a 1st level assassin. This ability increases at 4th level to be equivalent to a 2nd level assassin’s abilities, and increases by one assassin level every three levels thereafter.

It is whispered (often among the cloistered priests and nuns of the gipar) that the most powerful of these sorcerers attempt the entrapment and slaughter of some of the myriad Anunnaki and Igigi themselves, seeking to leech and entrap these gods’ greater melam and weave from them ever more compelling enchantments. Others venture willingly into the Abominable Desolation to ensnare the whispering spirits roaming there or hire mercenaries to do so for them, and likewise launch expeditions into the mountains both for their shining materials and the lingering monsters and spirits crawling in shadowed valleys.

[CLASSES] Paladins

June 10, 2010

Enlil's Paladin

Paladins are instruments of war and justice, incarnations of the City Militant. They are wholly dedicated to their city: which means to its temple, the palace and estates of the god.  Their duty to the city is absolute: to its defence, the prosecution of its wars, the enactments of its justice and laws, the destruction of its enemies.  The paladin is the temple armed. They are utterly opposed to the inchoate Chaos of the wilderness. Only three gods raise up paladins: Enlil, Inanna and Nergal.  They do so rarely, if and when they chose to perceive that their shrine faces some grave danger.

Enlil’s paladins are most noted for their inflexible honour, martial brilliance and extremes of courage. These heroes Enlil appoints; great Enlil who decrees fates sends them out so they become like an image of Ninurta, like the shining warrior Ninurta: they are called Deluge. And if they are the incarnate Flood sent against enemies in the field of battle, also are they enjoined to uphold justice, be mindful of the weak.

Enlil’s commands are by far the loftiest, his commands are holy, his utterances are immutable! The fate he decides is everlasting, his glance makes the mountains anxious, his decrees reach into the interior of the mountains. All the gods of the earth bow down to Father Enlil, who sits comfortably on the holy dais, the lofty dais to Nunamnir, whose lordship and princeship are most perfect. The Anuna gods stand before him and obey his instructions faithfully.

[The Temple of Enlil] cuts short the life of those who speak too mightily. It permits no evil word to be spoken in judgment. Deception, inimical speech, hostility, impropriety, ill-treatment, wickedness, wrongdoing, looking askance, violence, slandering, arrogance, licentious speech, egotism and boasting are abominations not tolerated within the city.

The borders of the city form a great net, within which the urin eagle spreads wide its talons. The evil or wicked man does not escape its grasp. In this city endowed with steadfastness, for which righteousness and justice have been made a lasting possession, and which is clothed in pure clothing on the quay, the younger brother honours the older brother and treats him with human dignity; people pay attention to a father’s word and reap the benefits; the child behaves humbly and modestly towards his mother and attains a ripe old age.

— Enlil in the E-Kur, ETCSL translation t.05.01 (adapted)

"Make for me a monument of corpses!"

Inanna’s paladins may be her lovers; and as Gilgamesh observed in rejecting her advances, all her lovers have come to unfortunate and early ends (though never without glory). She delights in war – the ‘playground of Inanna’ – and in her anointed warriors, commanding them to a stern martial discipline. Her paladins are ever urged to victory, conquest, the furtherance of her whims, from obtaining precious lapis lazuli for the adornment of her cult statue to the destruction of those who have aroused her ire. Her personal warriors move towards their own ecstatic apotheosis in violence as Inanna laughs, as great Inanna dances in heaven.

The paladins of Nergal are particularly terrible.  Nergal, the Lord who imposes silence, consort of Ereshkigal, Queen of the Great City, she who lies prone and wails unceasing in the Underworld; he ushers enemies into his kingdom with great glee. He is plague and death and war.  His paladins live remorselessly for war and the utter annihilation of their enemies. A city vouchsafed a paladin of Nergal may lament his presence as a curse while rejoicing in the mounds of their slain opponents he raises.

Paladins are most often temple oblates, or the offspring of Sacred Marriages (the most famous of which the city ruler and high priestess of Inanna celebrate at akitu festivals) – particularly if the child so conceived could pose a dynastic threat to the ruling ensi. Paladins of Sacred Marriages may have the divine determinative applied to their name during their career and after death and be depicted wearing the horned cap of divinity. They normally reside in the temple complex, among if separated from the cloistered priests and nuns of the gipar, often provided with a lukur priestess, a substitute wife dedicate to Inanna.

The pious sword is indeed sharp; the pure mace, surpassing heavy.

Class Abilities

Paladins of Enlil and Inanna

Detect evil within 60’

Save at +2

Are immune to disease

Lay hands, healing 2hps/level, once/day

Cure disease once per week for every 5 levels of experience

Emanate a protection from evil effect

Turn undead and demons at 3rd level as a cleric two levels below current paladin level

At 4th level, may avail themselves of a fine chariot pulled by onagers, onager-equid hybrids or kunga-equids of superlative strength and intelligence

Cast clerical spells at 9th level

Paladins of Nergal (“Lawful Evil”) have the same abilities with the following amendments:

They detect enemies within 60’.

They have no ability to heal others; they are able to regenerate damage to themselves, at 2 hps/level per day.

Themselves immune to disease, they are able to cause disease once per week for every five level of experience attained.

They may banish (turn) but not control undead and unclean spirits; their protection from evil is efficacious against any demonic or protective spirits irrespective of their alignment.

At 9th level, the ability to cast clerical spells, though never any of healing.

[SETTING] The Second-Oldest Profession

June 5, 2010


The world’s second-oldest profession may have been tomb robbery, a practice that threatened social order, for it allowed wealth to be recycled. Tomb robbery has obvious parallels in the looting of temple treasures and other practices, which demonstrated that ideologies and legitimations were not completely persuasive or coercive.

— Yoffee, Norman (2005) Myths of the Archaic State. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 36.

There is something very pleasing about the thought that the profession of dungeon-crawler is not only the second oldest in the world but practically inevitable. The psychology of tomb looters may be rare, but adventurers will appear as surely as wealth, inequality and sex.

The accumulation of wealth by adventurers, and the consequences of vast amounts of treasure entering the local economy, is also sometimes seen as a problem or a unrealistic consequence of D&D’s 1 gp = 1 XP mechanic. Yoffee’s observation, though, reminds us that this influx is another opportunity to make the sandbox dynamic.  Recycling the wealth plundered from tombs threatens the social order: the existing rich and powerful in a settlement will not be pleased at the arrival of wealthy adventurers. Their own positions are put under threat. Those the gods grant wealth will also garner power and influence, wholly illegitimate and disruptive to existing hierarchies.  Men who plunder sealed and cursed tombs clearly fear nothing.  They deny the right of rulers even to keep their own possessions in death, and thus throw doubt on all other privileges of rulers living, dead, or in ghastly state of necromantic lingering. This should provoke responses from those in power – from harassing lawsuits, attacks on slaves and property, assassination, to political intrigue rendering the PCs’ place in the community increasingly untenable. At the same time, the PCs may form the nucleus of political ambitions of others who have not yet gained an entry to the halls of power, or used as foils to further private ambitions. Apart from providing roistering opportunities, then, the very treasure adventurers bring back is disruptive, able to cause a cascade of events – further adventure – as precarious political relationships are upset.

[CLASSES] The Ranger

June 4, 2010

Sargonid Rangers

Uruk has produced the greatest Rangers in Sumer and Akkad, relics of that city-state’s expansionist and imperialist past, when rangers accompanied Uruk trade- and war-caravans far into the north to exploit the timber, metals and precious stone of the Cedar Mountains. Now in Uruk they form a pseudo-tribe, a society secretive and mistrusted, claiming descent from Enkidu and the prostitute Shamhat, into which rangers are adopted. Rangers also revere Dumuzi the Shepherd and their great training house in Uruk is called the E-mush, “House Which is the Precinct” in honour of the temple of Dumuzi in lost Bad-tabira. They consider themselves hunters of the wild animals and demons of the wilderness in emulation of Enkidu, more at home in the Wild than any city-dweller should be. Rangers may also found among the pastoral nomads and wandering tribes throughout ERIDU – the tent-lands of the Martu and Amurru – who often require arduous initiation rites as a part of attaining entry into the class.

Minimum Ability Scores: Strength 13, Intelligence 13, Wisdom 14, Constitution 14

Ranger vs. Bull

Race: Human only

Hit Dice: d8 (2d8 at 1st level; max 11)

Alignment: Any

Armour/Shield: Any (except reed/tower shield)

Weapons: Any

Weapon Proficiencies: 3, +1 every 3 levels

Non-Proficiency Penalty: -2

Attack/Saves: As fighter

Magic Items: As fighter

Class Abilities

Surprise opponents on a 1-3 on a d6; are surprised only on a 1 on 1d6.

Fighting Wild Opponents: Rangers add a point of damage for every level of experience attained when fighting wild and giant animals and corporeal demons.

Tracking: rangers are able to follow trails with a base 20% chance of success, increasing by 10% for every level after 1st; ground conditions, numbers of creatures being tracked, time elapsed since their passage, and other such factors, will modify this chance as the referee dictates.

Identify plants: at third level, a Ranger may identify plant types as does a druid

Identify animals: at fourth level, a Ranger is able to identify animal types

Identify pure water: at fifth level, a Ranger is able to identify potable and non-poisonous water

Locate pure water: at sixth level, a Ranger is able, through scrutiny of the surrounding landscape, to locate a source (possibly buried) of pure water within 24” should any exist.  This ability functions underground only in natural caverns.

Ranger Table 1.

ADDENDUM: In Uruk the E-mush is an e-gal, a “big house” provisioned with kitchens, beer-breweries and storehouses, and a shrine of Dumuzi, Utu-Shamash and Inanna with its attendant lustration and purification priests (classed and leveled clerics) and a lukur priestess, a cultic prostitute honouring Shamhat. The support staff are on the whole 0-level types, with a few low-level fighters and 0-level guards.  Of the Imru-Enkidu, the society itself, most are classed and leveled rangers. A few outstanding fighter-types may rarely be adopted into the clan as an honour for feats accomplished in the wilderness or services rendered to another Ranger. There are also, however, – particularly in Uruk and Ur – mentions in the accounting tablets of people called “Rangers of the Precinct” or “Rangers of the City”, who appear to be possibly hereditary prebendaries attached or associated with the E-mush. A much-loved ale-house song recounts the misadventures of a buffoonish ‘Ranger of the Precinct’ of corpulent aspect and no martial ability whatsoever and his pursuit of one of the “women of the city gate” – suggesting that the Rangers so designated are not masters of desert survival but rich landowners’ and traders’ sons somehow associated with the ribald feasting and beer-festivals of the E-mush (0-level socially powerful NPCs)…

[CLASSES] The Mesopotamian Bard

May 30, 2010
Standard of Ur detail

A Mesopotamian Bard

In ERIDU, most bards subsume the roles of lamentation priests (Sumerian gala, Akkadian kalum), temple singers and musicians, court minstrels, heralds and those who recite the great Epics of gods and heroes – the so-called nar.  They are masters of a wide variety of compositions: ‘lyre-song’ hymns of praise; ‘harp-songs’ of lamentation; and the ‘lamentations of the metal drum’. Entertainments in the ale-house are better served by the irtu, “breast-songs”, ditties of love and romance. They benefit from some scribal training, allowing access to archives, epics, and even magical tablets. Bards are thus at home at any lugal’s court with its intrigues, at festivals and rites solemn or orgiastic in the temple, and at revelry in the ale-house; as singers of royal and godly praise they are crucial to legitimising the rule of kings, but are simultaneously disruptive, ambiguous figures, mercurial heralds singing the songs of the Anunnaki.

Bards must be proficient in at least one instrument: tigi, great lyre; zami, lesser lyre; the balag harp, the adab drum or metal shem drum; the sabitum, a horizontal harp of Elam (Sabum); flute or double-flute. Their songs have the power to bind, banish and beguile; and as they are most often temple-trained, they are considered a sub-class of clerics. Bards must also speak Sumerian and Emesal (the “fine tongue”, sometimes called the “womens’ language”, a special dialect of some temple hymns), as well as Akkadian (Common).

Minimum Ability Scores: Strength 12, Intelligence 12, Wisdom 15, Charisma 15

Silver Lyre of Ur

Race: Human only

Hit Dice: d6 (max 12)

Alignment: Any

Armour/Shield: Any

Weapons: Any

Weapon Proficiencies: 3, +1 every 4 levels

Non-Proficiency Penalty: -4

Attack/Saves: As cleric

Magic Items: As clerics and fighters

Class Abilities

Just before or during melee, a bard may chose to chant either a hymn of praise or a diatribe.  Both require two rounds of uninterrupted recitation. The hymn raises the moral of associated creatures by 10%, and gives a +1 bonus to hit.  The diatribe requires a morale check at –10% by the bards’ enemies at the close of the second round, and delivers a –1 penalty to their to hit rolls.  Both effects last a turn.

The song-based attacks of some monsters are negated by a bard’s playing.

The bard’s music has a chance (given on the table below) of casting a charm person or monster spell with a range of 40 feet (yards outdoors); the bard must play uninterrupted for at least one round, and if the chance to charm roll is successful the recipient is entitled to a saving throw vs. magic. A failure indicates the hearer is charmed; the effect will persist after the bard ceases play, with further saving throws possible, determined by the charmee’s intelligence as detailed under the charm person spell.

At third level, the bard’s playing and singing also has a chance of exorcising, or driving away demons, unclean spirits and the undead (or “charming” in the case of evil bards, controlling undead as does an evil cleric). This is equivalent to a cleric’s turn undead ability; bards do so as a cleric two levels below their bard level (e.g., a fourth level bard turns as a second level cleric).

Also beginning at third level, bards gain the ability to cast clerical spells (see table below).  They benefit from Wisdom bonuses to number of spells available per day as do clerics.  Spell casting requires the bard’s instrument as well as a holy symbol as material components.

Legend Lore and Item Knowledge allows a chance of identifying items, places or persons, as given on the table below.  The chances shown are for normally obscure items; the DM may adjust these up or downwards according to the particular character of the item or person in question.

At 1st level bards have a 20% chance of reading any language encountered, a chance which increases by 5% per level until 80% is reached at 13th level. They are also able to speak and understand additional languages as given in the chart below.

Bards’ scribal training also allows them to employ magic-user scroll-tablets at 10th level as do thieves, that is, with a 25% percent chance of misunderstanding and chances for mis-casting.

Bards Table 1.