Checking In

Another year, come and gone. No products published, nothing in the pipeline. Excuses? I have a few.

In many ways, 2022 has been the most chaotic year of my professional life. Within a month of announcing that I was running for judicial office, my long-time law partner ended up in the hospital. Within two weeks, he had caught COVID and died. He was a close friend and mentor, and while we grieved for the loss of him, the situation was made much worse in that we had no plan in place in the event that something happened to one of us.

I spent the rest of the year trying to manage a political campaign, along with both my own and my law partner’s clients and court appearances, while also trying to close down our law practice and open up a new one in my name. All of that took time. It took resources, both financial and those less readily quantifiable.

Frankly, I’m not quite sure how I weathered it as well as I did, except to say that I had amazing people behind me, in every facet of my life: personally, professionally, and in my gaming groups. I even started running a weekly game for my teenage nieces and nephew after the political campaign ended; it’s been incredible to introduce a new generation to the games I loved growing up.

All of that said, I’m not sure what the future holds for Šukāmu Press. It’s been 33 months since we released the second edition of Babylon on Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed, and although sales will never reach the level of that first year, they’ve settled into a steady, reliable trickle. At some point last year we hit electrum seller on DriveThruRPG.

I long ago made peace with the fact that my writing efforts will forever be a side project. My day job is too important and gratifying to set aside, and my personal bandwidth is constrained by those obligations.

I am fully aware, of course, of the ways I could better monetize BFJB. Over the last two years I’ve flirted with the idea of hiring artists to produce a glossier, more modern-looking book. I’ve also considered repackaging BFJB‘s content for 5e and releasing it on DMsGuild. But I always come back to the fact that both of those options feel wrong for my game. I like the black-and-white, public-domain-art presentation of the published book, and I don’t think I’d enjoy the process of dressing it up in 5e’s mass-market garb. While that limits our reach, in the end I greatly prefer BFJB to be a special little indie game.

So, that’s the update. Happy holidays to everyone reading this. I hope 2023 will be a better year for all of us.

Greater Couatl (5e Warlock Patron)

I’m a player in a 5e Eberron group. We’ve played on most Fridays for over a year now, and it’s a great group of folks.

My character is a dwarf1 celestial warlock, whose patron is a couatl. Couatls are prominent in Eberron lore, and last week, our DM had the party travel to the Plane of Irian. My warlock met his patron in the flesh, something I was totally not expecting.

As the encounter progressed, I realized how frustrating it is that the only official couatl stats are for the CR 4 creature that appears in the Monster Manual.2 Searches online for higher-level couatl stats turn up very little in the way of homebrew attempts, besides Keith Baker’s recommendation that DMs reskin one of the higher-CR celestials.

Regardless, I stat’ed up my own “greater couatl” this weekend. I’m posting it here in the hopes I can save someone a bit of trouble down the road.

Design Notes

I’m rather adept with the peculiarities of Roll20’s D&D sheets at this point, so creating this actually didn’t take as long as I thought it would. I spent most of the time trying to figure out how to set the token to be gargantuan-sized on drop.3 Also, you’ll see that the syntax of the first and last sentences of the Legendary Actions description section is incorrect. This text is created automatically when you give a creature legendary actions, and apparently it cannot be edited.

Along with the official CR 4 couatl, I looked at other celestials and fiends in the CR 18 to CR 22 range (e.g., the solar), and then looked at their less-powerful cousins (e.g., the deva) to get a sense for how spell-like abilities scale within the official entries.4 I also considered some of the ancient dragons with respect to reach and damage for bite and tail attacks.

Curiously, both the CR 4 couatl and the CR 21 solar have mere resistance to radiant damage, not immunity. This was a surprise, but it is reflected in the final result. I was also surprised that the official CR 4 couatl did not already have poison resistance or immunity, since it has a poison bite attack. I added poison immunity to my greater couatl, since I gave its bite actual poison damage in addition to the poisoned condition effect.

With respect to healing abilities, solars have a limited-use healing touch action which has always felt to me like it should be replaced with one of the existing healing spells as an innate spellcasting ability. So instead I gave the greater couatl heal as an innate spell three times a day.

This isn’t the first time I’ve created something for the Eberron group. Really, I should do it more often.


1 With very few exceptions, I always play some variety of dwarf.

2 Granted, it’s a strong CR 4.

3 I would say that default token size is “broken” in Roll20, but the fact of the matter is that it’s never worked. I figured out a complicated work around anyway, basically by beating my head against it for thirty minutes.

4 This is the range of CR that most warlock patrons fall into, at least in my experience with 5e games. I think most players and DMs assume that warlock patrons have to be on a level with demigods and similar powers, despite the fact that the two most prominent examples of warlock patrons in D&D canon (viz., Lorcan and Sairché in the Brimstone Angels novels) are both cambions (CR 5). I don’t see anything wrong with lower-level creatures serving as warlock patrons, but it does make things interesting when a patron’s CR is low enough that a determined low-level party could kill them.

Let me be absolutely clear…

I reject any and all forms of bigotry, whether based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, country or culture of origin, or anything else my overworked brain has forgotten among the above.

As it is important to be precise about these things, in this case I am specifically calling out anti-Semitism, Holocaust-denialism, and Nazi apologia. For someone who values an accurate and thorough approach to history, I find ahistorical convictions like these particularly pernicious, irrespective of all the horror and misery people have suffered at the hands of those who espouse them.

For context. Over the years, I’ve written many times about my love for M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel. In light of recent news, I’m in the process of reevaluating those opinions. For several years now, I’ve existed at the edge of Tékumel fandom; I’ve written lengthy show notes for all fifty episodes of the Hall of Blue Illumination podcast.

But this weekend was the first time I’d ever heard anything about Barker’s neo-Nazi affiliations.

I regret that my first post of 2022 has to cover this, but I didn’t want to be responsible for leading anyone to promote Tékumel fandom who wasn’t also aware of this situation. I’ve had some rather significant changes in my professional life since November of last year, and I had planned to post an update in late May, when I expect that my professional life will settle down to an extent that I can determine the future of BFJB and my other RPG writing. For the record, I haven’t written anything with an eye towards publication in many months.

All that said, I barely have time to sleep right now, let alone write something articulate and well-considered about the whole disappointing situation. Instead, I’ll reference this post by James Maliszewski. I think it covers some of what I’m processing right now.

Minor Updates to BFJB 2.0 and CCoM PDFs

I spent most of yesterday going through the original InDesign files for Babylon on Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed 2.0 and the Cursed Colony of Meslamtaea, updating the English language typefaces. This font was exhibiting strange behavior when viewed on an iOS device running the iOS 15 beta. For the most part, this was limited to ligatures like “fl” or modified Latin characters such as “ḫ”. It’s even more bizarre that all of the cuneiform (and the bit of Middle Egyptian in BFJB) displayed normally.

It was a little tedious, but it’s done now. I’ll sleep much better knowing that both of these products will display as intended for all customers.

Also, while I was updating BFJB 2.0, I corrected the measurement errata and inserted the handful of missing citations in the bibliography which I’ve noted over the past year.

For now, these minor changes have not been made to the print-on-demand edition. Without getting too caught up in the way I manage and process the different InDesign files, suffice it to say that modifying the print version would require me to do some of this work over again. More importantly, when I do update the POD file, DriveThruRPG will automatically stop selling the print version until I can verify the new proof, a process that can take several weeks.

Everyone who purchased BFJB 2.0 or CCoM should have received a message from DriveThruRPG notifying you of the update. As always, let me know if you notice any more typographical or display issues, or have any other concerns about Šukāmu Press’s releases.

Mythic Babylon looks even better in print

This post is about Design Mechanism’s Mythic Babylon. Šukāmu Press is not involved with either that company or the creation of this product. Instead, I mention it here because it’s a fantastic resource for gaming in Ancient Mesopotamia, and will be of interest to anyone who has purchased or enjoyed Babylon on Which Fame and Jubilation are Bestowed.

See this earlier post for more of my thoughts on this work.

As both a small publisher and a consumer of RPG material, I love print-on-demand.

When a product is designed with the POD format in mind, the result is essentially indistinguishable from a book with a large, professional print-run. Yes, I own more than a few POD books that are poorer quality than they should be. But most of those are older, or designed by amateur or small publishers who haven’t figured out all of the tricks to making it work.1

Over the past year, I’ve noticed that DriveThruRPG/The Lightning Source’s POD products keep getting better. I think part of this is down to the volume of material they’re now selling in the on-demand format, but also because designers are getting better at adapting to the idiosyncrasies implicit in it.

All of that out of the way, I received the softcover2 of Mythic Babylon on Thursday. It’s fantastic, and comes highly recommended.

If you’ve been avoiding POD material, or if you’ve had a bad experience with it in the past, I’d encourage you to try it.

1I know I’m still learning…
2 I’m also a big proponent of softcover over hardcover for RPG material. But that’s another subject for another post.

Recommendation: Mythic Babylon

In BFJB-relevant news, I wanted to note the release of The Design Mechanism‘s Mythic Babylon for the Mythras System. I’ve spent much of the past 24 hours pouring over the PDF, and I’m eagerly awaiting the softcover. My initial impressions are that a monumental amount of research went into the production of this book, and the synthesis and presentation of information is stellar.

To the extent that my humble oeuvre gives me any authority to pass judgment on Babylon-related RPG material, Mythic Babylon earns the highest rating I’ve ever given, well, anything. Excepting my own output, there isn’t any better treatment of the subject available; Mythic Babylon puts to shame all of the other cursory, trope-heavy, low-density and poorly-researched Ancient Near East or “Bronze Age” RPG material currently available.

Of course, anyone who checks out Mythic Babylon will instantly recognize a significant amount of overlap with the world of Babylon on Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed. Not only do both books deal with the same subject from a historical point-of-view, they’re also both focused on Babylon in the late second decade of Hammu-rapi’s reign. I’ve been aware of the impending release of Mythic Babylon since summer of last year, and I’ve been anticipating it, but not for any kind of cynical reason that it might cannibalize my sales.

In fact, and I’m going to be really frank here, I’m certain that I would have never written BFJB if a product like Mythic Babylon had already been available. It’s precisely what I’ve always wanted as a resource for RPGs set in the world of the Ancient Near East. There’s a wealth of information presented which I, as an essentially one-man operation, would never be able to compile or write-up effectively.

So go buy Mythic Babylon now. If you’ve bought, played, or enjoyed BFJB, then you’ll love it.

That said, you might be wondering how the release of this potentially-competing product effects the future of the BFJB line. I’m actually not sure about that right now, but I’ll note that I’ve seen an uptick in sales over the past week. That seems to indicate that customers share my opinion that there’s room for both products on their shelves. A rising tide…

Moreover, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that the world of Babylon, even in the 1760’s BCE, is big enough that no one can cover all of it. There’s a significant amount of historically-accurate information that is exclusive to one or the other books, like BJFB’s emphasis on presenting the actual cuneiform, or our discussion of pastoral populations, or the diseases, or the smaller cities…

But I digress. Go buy Mythic Babylon, buy (if you haven’t already) Babylon on Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed 2.0, and use whatever system strikes your fancy. Happy gaming.

One of the best things…

One of the best things about writing an RPG set in the Ancient Near East is that there’s always new resources being published…

One of the worst things about writing an RPG set in the Ancient Near East is that there’s always new resources being published…

A Handbook of Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Near East by Douglas R. Frayne and Johanna H. Stuckey was published this month by Eisenbrauns. It’s a much better resource than something like Black and Green’s Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, which most non-academics default to in this area.

The inclusion of Elamite and Hurrian deities is especially helpful to yours truly.

A Brief Update for 2021

Šumma awīlum marrūtim īriš-ma itêšu ubbiršu
awīlum ša marrūtim īrišu iddâk u itêšu marrūtīšu akkal.

I’ve known I’ve needed to post an update for the past few weeks, but I’ve put it off repeatedly. Why? After a prolific year and a half, I’ve fallen into a habit of un-productivity; I just haven’t been able to focus on writing for the past few months.

It long ago became cliche to attribute annus horribilis status to 2020. And that might be a part of what ails, even though it feels particularly ungrateful to complain about it. Unlike many of my fellow Americans, I continue to have a decent, rewarding job, my family and close friends are all healthy and (thus far) Corona-free, and I somehow managed to stay sanguine even as the US political system suffered spasms of disfunction and disorder.

The short of it is that I’m doing fine, but I haven’t made much progress on anything I feel comfortable publishing at this time. And in a way, that’s all right as well; I write because I enjoy it, not because I have to.

In the coming weeks, I’m hoping to reassess the myriad half-finished Scrivner documents I currently have active. Who knows, maybe I’ll be in a place to announce something soon?

The Doom of Ešnunna…still happening?

Those who have been paying attention to Babylon On Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed since the first edition days will know that almost three years ago I began writing a supplement focusing on the kingdom of Ešnunna. The initial drafts of this work — provisionally titled The Doom of Ešnunna — encountered multiple false starts and other delays. Eventually I abandoned it altogether when I made the decision first to revise the original edition of BFJB, then to dispense with the OGL altogether in favor of a new edition with a rule system of my own devising.

Throughout the writing of both the second edition of BFJB and the Cursed Colony of Meslamtaea, I cannibalized the research and my work on the initial draft of this Ešnunna supplement. A significant portion of this contributed to the “gazetteer chapter” of BFJB 2.0 (§14). It also formed the basis for the plot elements that eventually evolved into CCoM.

All that said, several of my favorite bits from the Doom of Ešnunna draft remain unpublished. These include a discussion of the history of Ešnunna, biographies of several important historical personages, and a handful of adventure suggestions. Not a week has gone by since the publication of the second edition of BFJB that I haven’t opened the Scriviner file containing these pieces and tinkered with them.

Moreover, since the release of CCoM in August, I feel that I’ve been floundering creatively. Since 2014, the various writing projects I’ve undertaken (both under the Šukāmu Press aegis and elsewhere) have not only been gratifying in and of themselves, they’ve also provided a needed distraction from the pressures of my work life.

That said, over the past week I’ve resolved to finish The Doom of Ešnunna one way or the other, with the ambitious goal of releasing a completed PDF by the end of the year. Based on its current state, I’m projecting that it will be roughly the same length as CCoM, even if structurally, it will be very different.

So then, it’s time to “get back on this horse” so to speak. Three releases in the span of a calendar year (four, if you count my Ryuutama supplement Ravin’ Under Dark) is a pretty decent track record for someone who is essentially a one-man operation and maintains a law office and trial practice.

Let’s see if I can do it this time…

Now Available in Print: The Cursed Colony of Meslamtaea

The Cursed Colony of Meslamtaea is now available in print. You can read more about it here, or jump on over to the product page on DriveThruRPG.

A few more pictures of the final product: