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[SETTING] After the Kingship Descended from Heaven…

May 21, 2010

Enki himself

…the Kingship was in ERIDU.

Eridu was the first city.  Before the Flood, Father Enki established there the Abzu, the Subterranean Lake of Sweet Waters, source of wisdom and gate to the Netherworld, and raised atop it the E-engura, his pure temple. There still among his mumbling priests and in the archives of many tablets knowledge may be sought, for if Eridu now crumbles, in ancient days the fathers of this city’s scribes were taught by the Apkallu fish-sages crawled from the sea laden with the omens of Enki. Knowledge on the ways of the world, the Fates of men, the secrets of ancient tombs and the names of their builders, and many more things beside lost or forgotten or now buried in the desert wastes. And Enki himself may still be moved atimes to whisper to men the secrets of the Seven Who Decree Fate, to tell of the councils of the gods.

This is the city that, like Greyhawk or Blackmoor or Carcosa, lends its name to a whole setting.  This blog is an attempt to sketch out that setting from its beginnings;  I am thinking aloud as I do so.  The system is 1E AD&D (and therefore compatible with OSRIC, or Labyrinth Lord’s Advanced Edition Companion, or, frankly, anything you chose); the place is a savage Bronze Age Mesopotamia; almost all else will be developed as we go.  Here, though, are some general conceptions:

Both grit and pessimism I take from the Mesopotamians themselves.  In Eridu, everything was reduced to ruin, was wrought with confusion, runs the city lament for Eridu; even in the midst of his vainglorious boasting, Shulgi of Ur knows that “whatever is acquired is destined to be lost.” The Egyptians may have considered their stone monuments eternal, defying time; Mesopotamians saw their mud-brick ziggurats decaying into featureless mounds before their eyes. What is lost may however be found again. The world is old, and filled with the remnants of ancient things (Lovecraftian archaeology): a perfect playground for adventurers venturing beyond the city gate!

PC Races: At present I imagine these as human only.  There may be twisted Dwarfs lurking in the Cedar Mountains or elsewhere, and the inhabitants of Blessed Isle of Dilmun be near immortal; but they will not be available as races to PCs as yet.  Humans struggle in their tribes and city-states and temple-towns and villages and in these crucibles forge civilisation; demi-humans would be rendered too mundane as playable races.

Mace head

No more Mesopotamian weapon

PC Classes: Core AD&D (PHB) classes.  Clerics, certainly: many city-states are ruled by their shaven-headed priest-kings. There is no more Mesopotamian weapon than the mace.  Druids are restricted to a minor heretical sect of Bab-Ilani’s Hanging Gardens.  Fighters will be distinguished by their weapons and armour (hinted at below).  Paladins have a place as god-haunted warriors. Rangers, deprived of Aragornian associations, track in the wilderness, hunt wild beasts,  and maintain the few uncertain paths between oases; they are found most commonly among the nomads. Thieves and Assassins come with civilization; and there may even be a place for a (cultic, equestrian) thief-acrobat (!).  Magic-Users and Illusionists are (for now) included – with an eye to more thinking about both clerical and arcane magic systems, particularly demonology, exorcisms, omens, astrology. Their spells are held not in spellbooks or scrolls but in the pure signs of tablets and as skeuomorphs, tokens, figurines and amulets; rarest are papyri of Kemet, scrawled with baneful signs in black and red ink.

Standard of Ur detail

A Mesopotamian Bard

Bards will, perhaps surprisingly, be kept with tweaks.  Gilgamesh had his minstrel Lugalgabangal; the (undying, bureaucracy-obsessed) King Shulgi of Ur boasted of his prowess in music; the Lyre of Ur is a great treasure of the Royal Tombs; and those who must have recited the Epic of Gilgamesh had no less power than the tellers of the Mabinogion or the degenerate lute-strummers of mediaeval Europe.  Clearly they must be shorn of their Celtic or even jack-of-all-trades trappings but the bard will remain in some form.

Of monks I forbear, for the moment, to speak.

Technology will, with some exceptions, be Bronze Age.  No crossbows or plate mail, but stone tools and weapons, copper knives, bronze axes.  The exceptions relate mostly to the experiments of the wizards of Bab-Ilani, and the older things from far away lurking in the southern marshlands – the latter providing elements of science fantasy to the Bronze Age.

Money does not exist in ERIDU; coins have not been invented.  Standard weights of silver are, however, in general use (shekels, minas, talents).  Adventurers in ERIDU will no doubt seek fabulous gems, gold adornments and lavish artworks – but more common are crocks of fish paste, reed bundles, jugs of oil, sacks of grain and even cakes of dung for fuel.  If they’re lucky.

Monsters: no orcs (or many evil humanoid monsters in general, though degenerate bestial Gutians are a possibility) but many demons, howling in the wilderness and whispering at the crowded city gate.  Wild, and demon-infested, animals in the wastes; swamps alive with all the malign frog-things and lizard-things AD&D has imagined. Scorpion men. Golems. Shedu and lammasu in their proper place. Liches and ghouls and vengeful wraiths and revenants enraged at improper burial.

Abandoned cities; crumbling ziggurats; the elaborate and trap-filled tombs of dead dynasts; the barely understood monuments of wandering tribes; and settlements in lost valleys absorbed in their own inward cultic dramas.  Marshland, hiding things older and stranger, in the south; cedar-studded mountains far north; ever-wrangling, politicking, and warring city-states Between the Rivers and the highland territorial kingdoms encroaching upon them. These may all be found in ERIDU.

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