Saturday, 18 April 2020

Urban Encounter Tables for BFJB

As a Babylonian scribe needed to be litterate in both Akkadian and Sumerian, the scribal schools made use of lexical lists (as they are now known). These are lists of Sumerian signs with glosses to aid in reading them, or lists of Sumerian words & phrases with phonetic Akkadian translations -- in essence, bi-lingual dictionaries. These latter were arranged thematically.

I was looking at a lexical list of types of people as I drank my coffee one Saturday morning (as you do) and it suddenly struck me that it read like a random encouter table. An excerpt:

Sumerian               Akkadian
--------               --------
[...]                  mukabbûm    =tailor
[lu₂-ni₂-su]-ub-ba      zabbum      =an ecstatic
[SAL lu₂-ni₂-su-ub]-ba  zabbatum    =a female ecstatic
[...]                  sarrum      =criminal
[lu₂] ḫa-lam-ma         ša lemuttim =(person) of evil
lu₂ ḫul                 lemnu       =bad one
lu₂ ḫul                 maskum      =evil one
lu₂ ḫul gig             zērum       =hateful (person)

So I decided to make one out of it. I chose OB Lu₂-azlag₂ B-C as it was both long (~400 entries) and as an Old Babylonian list is co-terminous with the game's set timeframe. I couldn't use all the entries, as some were too broken (one who [...] to his mouth), too often repeated (evil person), too boring (right handed person), incomprehensible (one who lacks a mīru organ), or simply not descriptive enough for an encounter table (living person). Since BFJB only uses 6-sided dice, I narrowed it down to 216 -- 6 tables of 36 entries.

It's condensed to fit on 2 sides of A4. I left the Akkadian words in, but I had to cut the Sumerian both to save space and because a lot of the brackets didn't display correctly.

There's no way to format it for this blog, so grab the PDF here:

BFJB Urban Encounter Tables.pdf

I haven't had time to come up with wilderness encounter tables, but you can pretty much just crib off the ones in Runequest. Just replace trollkin with Gutians or something. You can leave scorpion men as is!

If you want to know more about lexical lists, visit the DCCLT.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

The Ecstatic, a new profession for BFJB 2nd ed.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had some 1st edition BFJB characters I was going to convert and that it would be a simple task. In 7 out of 8 cases, this was absolutley true. The eighth took me, er, considerably longer, since I had picked a Profession that wasn't in the book and I wanted to do a proper write-up for it. So here it is, in the same format as the professions in the rulebook. It's followed by copious notes in the same order of topics as the profession entry, and a bibliography.


OB m. muḫḫûm, wr. LÚ.GUB.BA
OB f. muḫḫūtum, wr. SAL LÚ.GUB.BA

An ecstatic of Dagan
came to me and said,
"Truly, what
of Zimri-Lin's
shall I eat? Give me a lamb
so I may eat it." I gave him a lamb
and he ate it alive
before the city gate.
And I assembled
the elders
before the city gate
of Saggaratum
And he said,
"There will be a 'devouring';
tell the other cities
to give over the sacred things.
The man who does violence
let him be ejected
from the city.
And for the well-being of your lord, Zimri-Lim,
dress me in a garment."

excerpt from a letter of Yaqqim-Addu to Zimri-Lim, king of Mari (ARM 26/1 206: 5-24)

Ecstatic prophets belong to the to the temple personnel of many gods (notably Ištar, Dagan, Marduk, Addad, Šamaš, Ninhursag, and Nergal). Groups of them are involved in the performance of certain cultic rituals, and they also receive messages directly from their god, entering into a furious rapture wherein they shout out enigmatic words and display other bizarre behaviours. Despite being touched by the divine, muḫḫū have a relatively low status and their rantings are not always believed. It is common for them to submit a lock of hair and the fringe of their garment (šārtum u sissiktum) which a bārûm (diviner) may use to verify the prophecy.

Allowed Social Classes: Awīlum, Muškēnum

Relevant Checks: An ecstatic will have a good knowledge of the rites (but not dogma) of their own cult, and will understand some of the less technical aspects of divination. whilst not trained in any weapons, a raving ecstatic may make unarmed attacks without penalty.

Spells and Rituals: An ecstatic can use all manner of spells and rituals, without suffering a penalty. They must still take those spells and rituals as talents.

Professional Talent: Frenzy (Soul). On a successful check, the ecstatic may enter into a wild trance, and proclaim the words of their god. The message will often be cryptic, but should hint at the dangers of the adventure before them. On a critical success, the divine pronouncement will be accompanied by strange and perhaps even frightening actions (see above for an example).

Starting Equipment and Wealth: Clothing -- probably torn -- and 1d6+3 shekels of wealth.

So many notes


Muḫḫûm (OAkk Maḫḫûm) is related to the verb maḫû, 'to become frenzied'. The plural of f. muḫḫūtum is muḫḫātum. There is also an SB/NA adverb maḫḫūtiš, 'like a female ecstatic', which is applied equally to men and women, e.g. in RINAP 5 Ashurbanipal 003 i77-i78: 'The radiance of Aššur and Ištar overcame him [the pharaoh Taharqa] and he became like a female ecstatic' (namrīrī Aššur u Ištar / isḫupūšu-ma illika maḫḫūtiš).


The information concerning prophets and ecstatics is rather fragmentary, and mostly comes from Mari in the Old Babylonian period. The muḫḫûm/muḫḫūtum is the most well attested. Others are the qammatum (possibly referring to a special hairstyle), the zabbum/zabbatum (possibly referring to a self-mutilator), nabû (whose name appears to be related to the Hebrew word for prophet), and an assortment of individuals for whom no title is given.

In places the zabbum is mentioned alongside the muḫḫûm, but in a lexical list (LTBA 2 1 vi 41-44) is given as an equivalent term along with eššebû, parû, and uššuru. Self-injury may be a common feature of the ecstatics, or just a hazard of their wild trance. An Akkadian literary text from Ugarit (Ugaritica V 162:11) contains the phrase aḫḫūa kīma maḫḫê damīšunu ramku 'my brothers are drenched in their blood like maḫḫû-ecstatics'. The tablet dates from c. 1300BC, but the composition is thought to date from about the time of Ḫammu-rapi: "sa graphie, ses archaïsmes, son style depouillé, sa concision même (en face de Ludlul), lui assignent vraisemblablement une date de composition paléobabylonienne ou de plus haute époque « cassite »" (ibid).

At Mari is found another cultic prophet, the āpilum/āpiltum ('answerer'). The āpilum also speaks the words of their god directly, but is not associated with ecstatic frenzy; there is an obscure statement in a letter (ARM 26 207) which hints at an āpilum administering a intoxicating drink to some men and women in order to obtain an oracle, but what the sentence actually means is debated. The āpilum enjoys a higher status than the muḫḫûm, a fact underscored by the preponderance of men in this role. Their prophecies are verified by the submission of their hair and fringe about as often as those of their ecstatic counterparts, though in both cases it should be noted that the prophecy of a woman is more likely to need verification. Some āpilū even write to the king directly. In game terms, an āpilum/āpiltum can be essentially treated as a kind of Diviner, though without the knowledge of extispicy.

Allowed Social Classes

My gut reaction was simply to go with muškēnum, as they are certainly temple dependents. However, some of them could be well rewarded for their prophecies by the king -- one in the UR III period was awarded 18000 litres of grain. Lluís Feliu interprets the unnamed prophetess in a letter to Zimri-Lin (ARM 26/1 210) as a muḫḫūtum. The text describes her simply as 'a woman, the wife of an awīlum (written MUNUS DAM LÚ). The prophetic gift does seem to cut across class lines, so I decided that allowing either class is probably not an inaccurate ruling. Note that there is a recorded instance of a slave girl delivering a prophecy, but such rare occasions are best left in the realm of NPCs, and need not concern us here, as the muḫḫûm and muḫḫūtum are professional prophets (in games terms as well as in the scholarly literature).

Relevant Checks

Their knowledge is situated about halfway between the priest and diviner professions, but should not eclipse either.

Spells and Rituals

This was the most tenuous thread I followed, but spell ability seemed to fit aesthetically. I did lean on the equivalence (cited in the lexical list above) of the muḫḫûm and the eššebû. The CAD defines eššebû as 'an ecstatic with evil magical powers', and notes they appear in the Maqlu amongst other practitioners of witchcraft.

Professional Talent

Not quite as effective as the diviner's, but as it doesn't require any outlay of resources (i.e. an animal for extispicy) it s slightly less restrictive.

Starting Equipment and Wealth

Administrative documents often show the bequest of ordinary or 2nd quality garments and smaller amounts of silver, so I went with a very modest sum.


Feliu , Lluís. 2003. The god Dagan in bronze age Syria. Leiden, Brill.

Fleming, Daniel E. 2004. “Prophets and Temple Personnel in the Mari Archives”. in The Priests in the Prophets: The Portrayal of Priests, Prophets and Other Religious Specialists in the Latter Prophets, edited by. Lester L. Grabbe and Alice Ogden Bellis, 44–64. London, T & T Clark.

Hamori, Esther J. 2012. " Gender and the Verification of Prophecy at Mari". in Die Welt des Orients Bd. 42, H. 1, 1-22, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (GmbH & Co. KG)

Jong, Matthijs de. 2007. Isaiah among the Ancient Near Eastern Prophets, Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

Nissinen ,Martti. 2003. Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East. Atlanta ,Society of Biblical Literature.

Roth, Martha T. ed., 1956-, The Assyrian dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (CAD). Chicago, Oriental Inst. of the Univ. of Chicago.

Schaeffer , Claude Frédéric Armand and Nougayrol, Jean. 1968. Ugaritica. 5, Bibliothèque archéologique et historique, t.80.; Mission de Ras Shamra, t.16. Paris, P. Geuthner.

Stökl, Jonathan. 2010. "Female Prophets in the Ancient Near East". in Prophecy and Prophets in Ancient Israel: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar, edited by John Day, 47-61. London, T & T Clark.

— 2007. "The Role of Women in the Prophetical Process in Mari: A Critique of Mary Keller’s Theory of Agency". in Beiträge zur Erforschung des Alten Testaments und des Antiken Judentums Bd. 55, edited by Matthias Augustin and H. Michael Niemann. 173-188. Frankfurt am Main, Bern, P. Lang.

Ancient texts were also found at

The Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period, The RINAP Project, 2019.


ARCHIBAB : Archives babyloniennes (XXe-XVIIe siècles av. J.C.), Collège de France - Institut du Proche-Orient Ancien.
(specifically: ARM 26/1 200,201,206,210,237 and  M.7160)

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

BFJB : character creation

So I've been meaning to get a game of Babylon on Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed going since I bought the 1st edition, but as usually happens in my attempts at historical gaming, I get too caught up in research to get beyond character creation. I do have 8 PCs rolled up for first edition, and I will be converting them to the new system (a simple task, to be sure) at some point, but for the purpose of this post I wanted to start afresh with a brand new PC, or rather finish the one I started in my previous post.

I'll take the steps in order. The first thing to do is determine the Attributes, of which there are three: Body (zumrum), Mind (ṭēmum), and Soul (bāštum). Body is for all physical activities, Mind is reason, perception, memory, and learning, and Soul is charisma, intuition, and boldness. Starting characteristics range from 1-6, and there are two methods of determining them. One could either distribute 12 points amongst them, or else roll 4d6 discarding the lowest and arranging as desired.

I couldn't resist rolling for it, and got 3,6,2,1. Discarding the 1 gave me the following attributes:


I already had an idea in mind for the character I wanted to make. He's a pretty unassuming physical specimen; as I am thinking of an investigatory-type campaign (at least to start), I think a Harvey Walters-esque physique will do nicely. My PC is only of average intelligence, but  his force of personality is so great that most people he meets think him much cleverer than he truly is; in fact he's even convinced himself of this!

Next it is time to determine where the character is from, either one of the Mesopotamian city-states or a pastoral tribe, or even further afield (Egypt, the Indus Valley, Asia Minor), though much less information is provided about this last category due to the focus of the game. As I want this character in the centre of the action, he will hail from Babylon.

Now that I know where he's from, it's time to pick an ethnicity. Due to the cosmopolitan nature of the setting, there are almost no restrictions on this, and indeed players are encouraged to make interesting combinations, as the PCs are unusual individuals to begin with. I wanted a character from an established, if undistinguished, family so I just made him an ethnic Akkadian, like the majority of Babylonians.

Along with Ethnicity he needs a Social Class. There is a choice of three: awīlum (upper class), muškēnum (lower class), or wardum (slave). Choice is up to the player. Social class will influence which Profession a character may have, and how they get on in the social climate of 1767BCE.

Age, Height, and Weight are next. These can be determined or rolled. 15+1d6 seems a little young for what I have in mind, so I just went with 28; at 35 Mind starts to increase but Body declines. Height for males is 5'3"+2d6". I rolled for this and got 5'8". It seems a bit high, so I wonder if it should be +1d6. Weight can be rolled, but to keep with the Harvey Walters theme I'll just go with 5'5", 170#. None of that has any game affect.

A character's Mind score determines how many Languages they can know, giving one 'slot' per point. Spoken languages take up one slot each, writing systems take two. A PC must first select their native language, which is determined by the interplay of City State (or Tribe) and Ethnicity. As an ethnic Akkadian living in Babylon, Akkadian (specifically the Old Babylonian dialect) is my PC's native tongue (taking up the first slot). He spends the remaining 2 slots (from his Mind 3) to be literate, allowing him to read & write Cuneiform. If he later learns to speak Sumerian, Hittite, or Hurrian, he will automatically be able to read them as they share the cuneiform writing system.

Now that he has an origin, it is finally time to name him. There are substantial lists of Akkadian, Amorite, Elamite, Hurrian, and Sumerian names provided to choose from, so you'll never have to worry about running into Steve the soldier from Uruk or Gemma the Hurrian alewife. But I took a nice theophoric name out of one of my textbooks instead, Mannum-kīma-Adad (written ma-an-nu-um-ki-ma-dIŠKUR), meaning 'Who is like Adad?' (the storm god).

As Mannum-kīma-Adad is a member of the upper class, he has a choice of 16 out of the 23 Professions in the rulebook. A Profession determines the character's general skill set. There is no skill system per se; a character can do (i.e. roll for) all the things germane to their profession, but must roll at a penalty for actions outside it. The Profession also determines the character's access to magic, provides starting equipment & wealth, and grants a Professional Talent --  a special ability unique to each profession.

Mannum-kīma-Adad is a Bureaucrat, of which there are many many kinds. I chose tax-collector (mākisum) with the idea that he would be sent off to the villages surrounding Babylon to collect tribute for his first adventure. He starts play with 2d6+2 x10 = 100 shekels worth of material wealth (a shekel weighs 8.3g, about as much as a 50p coin, and represents the value of a litre of barley, a mace, or about a month's wages for a carpenter)-- Bureaucrat is one of the wealthiest Professions.

The Professional Talent of a Bureaucrat is Authority, which allows them to intimidate citizens of their polity and force them to comply (with a successful roll). A starting character gets three more Talents in addition. As a Bureaucrat, Mannum-kīma-Adad does not have access to or understanding of any magical rituals or spells; were he a Priest he could use his Talent slots for magic. So, our tax-collector is Perfect (auto success once per day), Fleet-footed (to help run away from combat), and has a Tough Mind (making it harder for others to damage his Mind attribute with attacks).

And that's character creation.

Profession: Bureaucrat (tax collector)
Social Class: awīlum
Ethnicity: Akkadian
City-State: Babylon
Level: 1   XP: 0
Body: 2   Mind: 3   Soul: 6
Talents: Authority(P), Perfect, Fleet-footed, Tough (Mind)
Languages: Akkadian, R/W cuneiform
Equipment: stylus, clay
Assets: luxurious clothing & furnishings worth 80 shekels, jewellery worth 20 shekels

My new PC is ready for adventure, just as soon as I copy his stats onto one of my fun new character sheets (grab one for yourself at the bottom of my downloads page).

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

April fools but also not

My print copy of the 2nd edition of Babylon on Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed has arrived! I will write a proper post about it once I've read through it and digested it all, but for now I will say that I'm really liking the new (light, non-d20) rules.

Character creation is really quick, but I have to say it's taking me forever to fill out my character sheet...

OK, I'll be switching to paper. There is a free character sheet to download from the publisher's website. Which will hopefully pick up less cat hair (seriously, that's a new bit of plasticene straight out of the package and 20 minutes later it's got fur stuck in it everywhere).