BFJB 2.0 Now Available in Print

At long last, the print-on-demand version of Babylon, On Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed is available as a print-on-demand product at DTRPG.

In light of this version coming out on the heels of the PDF, and because of everything else going on in the world right now, I’ve reduced the prices on both versions for the time being.

These price reductions aren’t permanent, however, despite what DTRPG might show you right now, the PDF will always be included at no extra charge with the print product, regardless of when you purchase it.

(Accidentally) Omitted Bibliography in BFJB 2.0

I realized in reviewing the bibliography of BFJB 2.0 that several items were accidentally omitted.  I’ve always endeavored to provide thorough bibliographies for BFJB materials, if for no other reason than that bibliographies were a huge help to me in compiling the information on which BFJB is based.

The omitted entires are as follows:

  • De Boer, Rients. (2014) “Early Old Babylonian Amorite Tribes and Gatherings And The Role of Sumu-Abum.” ARAM, vol. 26, no. 1&2, 269–284.
  • Ebeling, E., Meissner, B., Weidner, E., & Soden, W. V. (1994). Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archaologie. Berlin: W. de Gruyter.
  • Fleming, D. E. (2004). Democracys Ancient Ancestors: Mari and Early Collective Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Luckenbill, D. D. (1910). “Some Hittite and Mitannian Personal Names.” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, 26(2), 96-104.
  • Porter, A. (2014). Mobile Pastoralism and the Formation of Near Eastern Civilizations: Weaving Together Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sasson, Jack M. (2015).  From the Mari Archives: An anthology of Old Babylonian Letters. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
  • Speiser, E.A. (1948).  “Ḫurrians and Subarians.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 68, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar.), 1-13. 
  • Stillman, N., & Tallis, N. (1984). Armies of the Ancient Near East: 3000 B.C. to 539 B.C. ; Organisation, Tactics, Dress and Equipment. Devizes: Wargames Research Group.
  • Szuchman, J. (2010). Nomads, Tribes, and the State in the Ancient Near East: Cross-Discipilinary Perspectives. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
  • Wossink, A. (2009). Challenging Climate Change: Competition and Cooperation Among Pastoralists and Agriculturalists in Northern Mesopotamia (c. 3000-1600 BC). Leiden: Sidestone Press.

At this time, I do not plan on revising the PDF or print-on-demand versions on account of these omissions.  In the event that I issue a revised edition (as I did with BFJB 1.0 two years after the initial release) I will probably update the files to include them then.

Finally, speaking of the print-on-demand edition of BFJB 2.0, I should receive (what I hope to be) the final proof this week.  If everything checks out, I think we’re still on track to have that available by the end of March.

Off To The Races: Thoughts on Old Babylonian Chariots

As can be expected from any big writing project, there are quite a few bits and pieces that didn’t make it into the final draft of BFJB 2.0.  Some of these were true dead ends, but many of them represent ideas that I would have probably developed further given infinite time, space, and readers’ indulgence.  Among these was a sub-chapter on Old Babylonian Era chariots, which would have appeared in §12.4 alongside other notes on military organization.  As an accompaniment to that, I’d thought about supporting this information with expanded entries in the equipment sections for chariots.  That done, the inclusion of chariot driver profession seemed the next natural development.

I never got much farther than some very basic research for this information, primarily because chariots were ever-so-slightly too niche for inclusion in the Core Rulebook.  The campaign options for chariots are circumscribed both by the cost of maintaining a chariot, and the logistics of carting it around with you everywhere.  Ultimately, they would have taken focus away from more important aspects of the world of 18th Century BCE.

With the book out and selling now however, I find myself looking back at these underdeveloped pieces of the game.  I’d like to spend some time addressing chariots in this post.

1.0  Old Babylonian Charioteering

Chariots, in less sophisticated forms, have been present in Mesopotamia for at least a millennium prior to the reign of Ḫammu-rapi.  By 1767 BCE, they can be grouped broadly into three major categories.  The first two of these, the four-wheeled “platform” chariot and the two-wheeled chariot can be designed to carry one or two persons.  The third type, the “straddle” chariot carries a single rider.  Most players will find the design of straddle chariots rather novel, however, they are popular among charioteers of the Old Babylonian era, and have notable benefits compared to their other brethren.

Design.  Beyond these three broad categories, this entry does not attempt to distinguish further.  In a general sense, the individual design components of the chariot cars themselves can vary, especially among the first two types.  Several kinds of yoking and control devices with varying degrees of sophistication also exist for each of these.  Again, distinctions between harnesses will be of little interest to players, and result in minimal differences with respect to game mechanics, so they’re glossed over here.

Wood is essential to the construction of a chariot, although metal may be added for protection or ornament, and animal hides for comfort.  By the time of Ḫammu-rapi, most chariot wheels are not solid, and instead have an outer surface supported by four-to-eight spokes.  Spoked wheels are an important development because they significantly cut down on the car’s weight, while saving on material.  These benefits mean that chariots can have larger wheels.

Horse Ass Power.  As discussed in the BFJB 2.0 Core Rules (§13.1) horses are unusual in Mesopotamia during this era.  When encountered, a horse is called sisûm (wr. ANŠE.KUR.RA, Sum. lit. “foreign ass”).  The occasional foreign horse aside, most chariots are pulled by a team of two to four donkeys or onagers (stats identical to the “donkey” entry in §15.3 of BFJB 2.0). Regardless of species, draught animals are living things with their own personalities and needs.  Not only do they have to be watered, fed, and rested, they can be startled, get sick or angry, and sadly, become injured. Players attempting to drive a team of animals will first be limited by the speed of the slowest animal in the team.  The “normal” tactical and strategic “walking” speeds of a team of animals are those given in that animal’s entry in §15.3 of the Rulebook.  For animals harnessed to a chariot and driven by an experienced driver, this base movement rate can be increased to the maximum of the slowest animal’s movement scores times their Body score.  This is in addition to the benefits conferred by the Swift talent.

For instance, the normal donkey has a strategic movement of 4 mph.  With the Swift and Stat Increase (Body) talents, this becomes 8 miles per hour, meaning the donkey’s maximum tactical movement is 24 mph.  It’s worth noting that there’s nothing unusual about a donkey moving this fast.  In fact, they can move much faster over shorter time intervals (times that fall somewhat closer to those contemplated by tactical movement, but too long for the abstract “round”).

That said, with the exception of the straddle chariot, other chariots impose a limit on maximum strategic speeds, irrespective of the maximum speed of the animals themselves.  Larger and heavier chariots mean that animals must labor harder to pull them, and this affects their maximum speed.

For every hour a character operates a team of animals at a speed higher than their base rate, the animals must succeed at a Body check, with an added bonus: the driver’s Soul score.  (Non-critical) failure at this check means that the animals grow tired or annoyed, or for some other reason can only move at their base rate. When a team of animals suffers a critical failure at this check, the GM can determine the results normally, or roll a d6 and consult the following table:

Training.  Like human characters, donkeys and the like have to be trained to the task of pulling a chariot.  Untrained animals will suffer a -3 to any of the checks listed in this post, although this penalty will be reduced by 1 for each trained animal in the team with the untrained animal.  Untrained animals who are in teams with other untrained animals will never suffer more than a total -3 penalty, that is, the presence of another untrained creature does not make them any worse.

Operation.  A character driving a chariot (that is, the character at the reins) is not required to make a check during tactical or combat situations so long as his chariot is moving in a straight line.  In this fashion, the operator of a single-person chariot can use his round to make an attack, cast a spell, or perform another round-type action. Only attempting to control or maneuver the chariot requires the driver to make a check; this includes actions such as stopping a chariot, or trying to turn it.

Turning a Chariot.  When moving at tactical speeds, turning a chariot can be difficult, depending on the kind of vehicle being operated.  Each of the kinds of chariots require a certain distance before they can be turned under optimal conditions.  These are listed in their entries below.  Even so, attempting to turn a chariot during tactical movement always requires the driver to make a check, to which they can add either their Body or Soul score.  Success means that the equids and car follow the desired course; failure means that for their full movement that round they continue in the same direction they were heading.  This check is a full round action for the driver, but he can attempt to turn the team again on his next round.

Damaging a chariot.  Like items, chariots have the equivalent of Body scores, which can be damaged.  When this score is reduced to zero, the chariot is rendered inoperable and must be repaired.

2.0 Types of Chariots

Four-wheeled platform chariots.  These kinds of chariots can have room to accommodate one to three riders, and will be pulled by two to four equids.  In four-animal teams, often only the middle two of the animals are yoked in such a way that they’re performing the actual work of pulling the car.  The unyoked animals will still limit the speed of the team as described above, but they can also serve to encourage untrained “pulling” members of the team.

These chariots first became popular because they served as mobile attack platforms for men engaged in hunting or at war.  That being the case, drivers are rarely provided more than a bar on which to rest while they’re operating.  However, benches or small seats are often included in two-person chariots.

Platform chariots have the least mobility of any of the types listed.  A four-wheel car must travel at least 10 feet before it can turn 45°.  They are also the slowest of these vehicles.

Two-wheeled chariots.  These chariots are usually constructed to accommodate one rider, although larger cars might have space for two.  Like the four-wheeled chariot, they can be pulled by teams of up to four equids, however chariots pulled by two animals are more common.

These kinds of chariots are more maneuverable, and only need to travel 5 feet to turn 45°.  They are also generally faster, and as such are subject to a variety of uses, including messenger-work, hunting, transport, and combat.

Straddle chariots.  The fastest chariot types, these are preferred by mobile couriers and those who have to travel over long distances very quickly.  A straddle chariot is a two-wheeled conveyance intended for one rider.  However, instead of standing in an open car, the rider straddles the middle part of the chariot, which is built in such a way that it emulates a saddle (or a motorcycle).

These vehicles are typically pulled by one or two equids.  A straddle car can turn 90° with only 5 feet of travel.  They set no limit on the maximum speed allowed by their animals, although space is at a premium on a straddle car, and characters who use them will have to travel light.

3.0  Charioteer Profession

(OB. rākib narkabtim, wr. ra-ki-ib GIŠ.GIGIR)

The charioteer is a well-respected member of Mesopotamian society.  As a professional driver, they are responsible not just for the animals under their care, but the expensive conveyance which they drive.

Charioteers can serve various functions, both civil and martial.  Among their non-combat occupations, charioteers often work as messengers or couriers.  They can also undertake the transport of passengers between the city-states, or may serve as hunting guides or game wardens for upper class nobles. Charioteers employed in military operations add combat operations to this portfolio.  Military service can confer an additional benefit on the character, in that the local king can grant them the use of a 2 ikûm (7,200 km2, or 8,611.2 yards2) plot of land, which carries with it the obligation (OB. bīt narkabtim) to field a war chariot.

Allowed Classes:  Awīlum

Relevant Checks:  Charioteers are trained in the use and maintenance of chariots.  In this profession, they also gain knowledge of the care and feeding of draught animals, as well as knowledge of basic chariot construction and repair, even if more complex work (such as complete construction or reconstruction) is the exclusive purview of the Artisan.

Charioteers who are employed in military or hunting operations will be proficient in the use of two of the following weapons: bow, javelin, net, sling, and throwing stick.

Professional TalentDaring.  When a charioteer utilizes this talent, they automatically add 6 to any check they make.  However, they automatically fail the check on a roll of 1, 2, or 3.  This automatic failure is treated as a potential critical failure, and they must make a critical roll.  Results of 1, 2, or 3 on this critical roll result in a critical failure.

Starting Equipment:  A straddle car or two-wheeled, one-person chariot, a team of two donkeys, and 2d6 shekels.  Characters employed in military service gain one weapon with which they’re proficient.

4.0 Conclusion

So there you go. I don’t know if I’ll make this part of a regular series, or if this is a one-off post. As I said above, I have quite a bit of extra material from BFJB 2.0 that I’m not precisely sure how to present. I guess we’ll see.

BFJB 2.0 Released

The PDF for the second edition of Babylon, On Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed is live. You can purchase it now at DTRPG.

I wrote a rather long post a few days ago about this release, and rather than repeat myself, I’ll direct your attention to that. For now, I’m going to enjoy a bit of rest. As anyone who’s ever worked on a months-long project like this knows, the final run up to release is usually a bit stressful.

At this time, I’m probably not in a good place to speculate on what’s next for BFJB, or my own RPG work. I have plans and ideas, a three-fourths finished Ešnunna supplement that just keeps growing, and of course I’m still gaming. But a little break is in order, I think, so that I can get a better perspective on the future.

Release Date Set for BFJB v2.0: March 2, 2020

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The second edition of Babylon On Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed is complete.  I’ll be hammering out a few minor issues over the weekend, but the PDF should go live on DTRPG on Monday, March 2, 2020.

I’m really excited for this release, because it brings BFJB even closer to what I always wanted it to be — a comprehensive overview of the world of the Ancient Near East during the reign of Hammu-rapi.

A couple of notes on this edition, while I have your attention.

The System

The first (and revised first) editions of BFJB used a re-skinned 3.5 d20 ruleset.  While D&D 3.5 remains one of the most popular TTRPG systems ever, it’s outmoded and cumbersome.  Roughly 250 pages of the 383 page first edition of BFJB were taken up with re-hashing this system.  While character creation and game mechanics don’t take forever in 3.5 (I say this as someone who runs a Rolemaster game), I’ve always felt that BFJB would benefit from “faster” character creation and mechanics.  A system where characters live and die quickly, and where players can replace them with little fuss.

BFJB 2.0 is an attempt at that.  Mechanically, characters begin with three stats (each with scores between 1 and 6), one profession, and four talents (three of which the player chooses).  There are no derived stats.  Skill checks, including combat, are determined by a 1d6 roll, added to the relevant stat.  Total results of six or more always succeed, while a total of less than six fails.  It’s a simple system that relies on a healthy dose of GM discretion; that might be a turn off to players who enjoy gaming out complex mechanics, but the longer I play TTRPGs, the more I feel that complex rules systems, while fun in and of themselves, ultimately detract from narrative focus.

By stripping out all of the d20 mechanics, I remove roughly 250 pages from the book.  In its place, this new system itself takes up less than 80 pages, but with the new setting content in BFJB 2.0, the final work is 307.  More about that below.

Since combat and damage are part of the vast majority of TTRPGs, a fair portion of the rules describe the consequences of martial conflict.  Characters, however, are not meant to be limited to fighting roles; in fact, most of the professions in BFJB have little or no weapon training, so that when these characters do engage in armed conflict, they usually do so at a substantial disadvantage.  The reason behind this is that as a player, I find that I enjoy RPGs where combat is only an infrequent element.  BFJB 2.0 is structured in such a way that a shepherd could spend an adventure dealing with issues surrounding herding sheep, rather than trying to stab and kill an enemy.

When combat does occur in BFJB 2.0, it can be quite lethal, even for trained characters.  In short, characters make a skill check to attempt to hit an opponent, who also gets a skill check to try to avoid a successful strike.  If the attacking character succeeds, and the defending character fails, they are hit, and take a fixed amount of damage based on the weapon.  This damage immediately reduces a relevant stat.  When one of the character’s stats reaches 0, they are removed from combat and suffer an injury, which is rolled on a chart relevant to the injured stat.  Results of injuries vary between temporary and permanent disabilities, to total and lifelong incapacity, and even immediate death.

To be certain, the above can be unforgiving.  And that’s the whole point really; life is rough, and there are consequences to putting yourself in situations where someone swings a sword at you, or (in the case of a world with fantasy elements) where a sorcerer bewitches you.

The Setting

In a general sense, the setting of BFJB 2.0 remains the same as that of the first edition: the 25th year of Hammu-rapi of Babylon’s reign, or 1767 BCE (by the Middle Chronology).  At this time in history, various powerful monarchs compete to extend their influence over the city-states of the Ancient Near East, all while protecting their own regimes from internal and external threats.  Of course anyone who half-remembers their high school history knows that Hammu-rapi eventually won out over his rivals in Mesopotamia, cementing the legacy of Babylon for the rest of human history.  But at the start of BFJB this is by no means a forgone conclusion; Babylon is a relatively new power in the world of Mesopotamia, and faces strong rivals in the kings of Mari, Ešnunna, Larsa and Elam, to name a few.

What makes BFJB 2.0 an improvement from BFJB 1.0 is the inclusion of significantly more setting information.  The cultural sections have been reworked, incorporating significant information that was touched on in Tribes and Armies regarding pastoral populations, as well as everything from historical diseases to Babylonian units of measure.

Even more substantial is the upgrade to the geography sections.  BFJB 1.0 features lengthy notes on the three major cities of the Kingdom of Babylon in 1767: Babylon, Kiš and Sippar, along with a few notes on the lost city of Akkade along with Borsippa, Dilbat and Rapiqum.  BFJB 2.0 expands upon this with several paragraphs on 29 additional cities of the Ancient Near East.

In writing all of this content, I discovered a wealth of new material upon which to base all manner of fictional campaigns, both in set in historical Mesopotamia and elsewhere.  The cities of the Levant were particularly interesting, in part because I’d previously ignored them in favor of cities located in Mesopotamia.

The Product

All that said, I’m really glad to get this book out of the door.  As with BFJB 1.0, this book will be offered in PDF at DTRPG on the day of release.  I also plan to offer it as a print-on-demand work at DTRPG, but I need to work out a couple of minor issues with the proof before I allow someone to give me money for it.

As for the original, 1.0 version of BFJB (really 1.5 since it was lightly revised in 2018) and its supplements, I plan to leave them available for purchase at their reduced prices.  A note will be inserted into the description on for the 1.0 Core Book that it’s been superseded by the new edition.  The print-on-demand version of BFJB 1.0 available on Lulu will finally be removed.

Ever since the original release in October of 2016, I’ve always been pleased with the reception BFJB has received.  As I’ve said before elsewhere, I would have written this book regardless of whether or not I actually ended up publishing it or made any money from it.  BFJB was never meant to be all things to all people.  It’s something I’m very proud of, and I hope everyone who has an opportunity to read or play it finds something enjoyable or interesting in it.

Christmas 2019 Update

I’ve been up to a couple of gaming-related things since my last update.
First and foremost, I submitted a scenario to the Ryuutama Holiday Scenario Competition.  All the entries were amazing, but somehow, I came in first place.  I won’t bother rehashing what Ryuutama is here, but if you’re interested in my scenario (Home for the Hearthsdays), or any of the other submissions, you can find all the submissions aggregated into one file here.
After a hiatus, all of the players in my online Star Trek Adventures group, for the first time since we started playing, were physically in the same place.  I ran a scenario of my own creation where the crew has to thwart a temporary technology exchange between the Dominion and the Borg.  The consequences of failure would have not only changed the events of Deep Space Nine‘s Dominion War, but also derailed the events leading up to Voyager‘s “Scorpion”.  My regular players are veterans of the game at this point, but their spouses played as well, so I collaborated with them on their characters and then produced a bunch of handout player cards and tokens.
I’m actually really proud of the way everything turned out, and everyone seemed to have a great time.  You can see some of the tokens I made below (using the Star Trek Miniature Maker 2.0), as well as player, ship and NPC cards which I designed myself using my aging copy of InDesign.

All that said, I’m in the process of finishing the last three chapters of writing on the new edition of BFJB.  Still no release date, but one of the beautiful things about being a small operation is that once it’s done, the road to putting it up for everyone to purchase isn’t that far away.

October 2019 Update

BFJB 2E

The Ešnunna supplement is officially on an indefinite hiatus. Instead, I’ve been working on a new edition of BFJB — one that dispatches with any vestiges of the out-modded d20-OGL ruleset. I’ll write about this more as we get closer to a release, but suffice it to say it’s 95 percent written, and about 60 percent laid-out as of this post.
Because I’ll be deprecating all of the BFJB products that use the 1.0 system, I’m reducing the prices of all of those products on DTRPG today, and pulling the print editions.
My hope is that this new edition can be a more comprehensive framework for adventuring in the Ancient Near East, while making character creation less convoluted and much, much quicker. This second edition also includes much more setting information, with more details about the cities and kingdoms around Babylon.
Here’s a taste:

What I’ve Been Up To (All Aboard for Murder! and Ešnunna Update)

First things first — the Ešnunna supplement continues to be delayed. The manuscript is roughly 75% finished. No ETA on completion, although I don’t anticipate layout to take as long as some other products I’ve made.
In the meantime, I’ve been playing or GMing various other games. My play-by-post Mesopotamian Rolemaster game continues at the leisurely pace of a forum game. My weekly Star Trek Adventures game has gone on a temporary hiatus, after my players once again encountered their favorite NPC.
But the real reason for this update is because today, I released a free scenario for the Japanese RPG Ryuutama. Ryuutama is a popular system for honobono (“heart-warming”) adventures, focused on traveling and discovery; it’s often described as “Hayao Miyazaki’s Oregon Trail.”
Here’s the product description:
All Aboard for Murder! is a free, unofficial scenario for the Japanese RPG Ryuutama.
The PCs board a train bound for a distant land, and travel for several days through the lawless wilderness between stations. When one of their fellow passengers is killed, and another passenger disappears, the PCs are presented with a cast of suspicious characters, and must determine who committed the murder before they arrive at their destination and the culprit escapes.
All Aboard for Murder! has 17 main NPCs and maps for each of the cars. You’ll need the Ryuutama rulebook to play.
You can download it at DTRPG, for free.

Core Book Corrected Edition Now Available

Two years on from the initial release, Šukāmu Press has issued a new version of the core book for Babylon On Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed.  This revision includes multiple corrections and other minor edits.  Of greater significance is the updated timeline, which rectifies any discrepancies with the forthcoming Doom of Ešnunna supplement for the years from 1772 BCE to 1756 BCE.

If you’ve previously purchased the PDF version from DriveThruRPG, the new file is available to you now, at no cost.  Šukāmu is currently in the process of transitioning away from Lulu’s Print-on-Demand service, but for the time being the corrected edition is also available for purchase there.

Once we’ve completed the transition to DriveThruRPG for POD material, we will withdraw the Lulu editions, and update our links to this new service.

Thank you again to those of you who sent in corrections.