Sunday, 17 May 2020

BFJB solo - Part 1: the summons

20 Simānum
The Year in Which the Destroyed Great Wall of Sippar was Rebuilt for Šamaš and Šerida
~5 June, 1767 BCE

Iqīš-Sîn is going to sweep the street before his master's home one morning when he opens the door finds an unkempt young woman standing before him. The sight of her tattered dress and wild eyes makes him grimace, and he raises his bundle of rushes menacingly.

"Be off with you, vagrant!"

The threat elicits only laughter. Then, "you don't recognise me do you? no matter: tell your master there is a fine lady to see him. Bearing this." She shows him the letter in her hands. Its clay envelope is smooth save for the impression of a cylinder seal, and appears to not be completely dried.

"I'll take it to hi--"

"I give it to him directly or not at all! Do you not see whose seal it bears?"

"I, er, don't recognise..."

"Shall I leave then? I'm sure it's nothing. And there will be no repercussions when your master fails to do his duty. And--"

"I'll get him," sighs Iqīš-Sîn. "Wait here."

"A fine lady: don't forget to tell him."

Iqīš-Sîn shrugs and disappears into the house. The woman waits a few moments then slips in after him. She hides behind some furniture in a dark corner of the entrance hall. A minute later Iqīš-Sîn returns with his master, Mannum-kīma-Adad the tax collector, who has hastily thrown on a fine linen garment. The slave opens the door, and both men look out into the empty street. Confused, they step outside.

"Why didn't you fetch me sooner?" asks Mannum-kīma-Adad.

A sudden screech fills the air, like that of an ill-omened eššebum-bird. Iqīš-Sîn and Mannum-kīma-Adad both freeze in terror. A shrill voice comes from the shadows, "Destruction! Ruin! You are on the road of no return!"

Mannum-kīma-Adad instantly regains his composure. "Very funny," he says. "You can come out now, Damiqtum. A fine lady indeed! I should have realised it was you." Damiqtum emerges, and all three proceed into the open central courtyard of the house. She hands over the letter.

"Will there be anything else?" asks Mannum-kīma-Adad.

"Open it and read. Now."

"It's sealed..."

"I already know what it says. It concerns us both. The high priestess herself had me take dictation."

Mannum-kīma-Adad breaks open the envelope and removes the fired tablet inside. "I hope you wrote all the characters correctly, woman of Mari" he sighs, then begins to  read aloud.

To Mannum-kīma-Adad, say as follows,
Thus says Taqbim, emtum of Ištar:
"I have written to Warad-Amurrum saying, 'where is the tribute for my temple? I sent you a messenger, but you did not respond, nor did my messenger return. Where is my messenger? where is the grain you owe in tribute?' But there is still no response. I have written to the chief tax collector, and he bids you go on mission. Also, you shall take Damiqtum with you to speak on my behalf."

"Really, she said that?"

"She did," says Damiqtum. "She had a dream--"

"Of course she did. You didn't just add your own ending to the text?"

"Why should I? I hate the countryside."

"Hm. But just why, then, did she send you, and not one of the priests?"

"The goddess has spoken through me. There will be great danger ahead."

"And just how are you to protect me?"

"I? Don't be a fool! But I do know someone..."

[I like to start off adventures (& posts generally) with a bit of narrative that isn't broken up by game mechanics or notes. This little proœmium could really benefit from some further explanation, so I'm putting it all here in place of my usual introductory remarks (which were covered sufficiently in the character creation posts. Right, then...

the date
This is a good a way as any for me to learn Babylonian date formulae. I beg the reader's indulgence, but I will at least be sticking to just the short month&day forms from here out. And one should always be mindful of the 283rd law in the Code of Hammurapi: "YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT."
Simānum is the third month of the year, corresponding to May-June. 1767BCE is the date of the setting in the rulebook. Barley is harvested about the 16th of the first month, Nisānum (March-April), so I picked a start date ~60 days after that when it seemed like the tribute of grain would be late.

the seal on the envelope
Iqīš-Sîn is actually literate, so there was a chance he'd recognise the seal. However, recognising the owner of a seal on sight seems like something that only a Scribe would be able to easily do (in game terms, be a Relevant Check for their Profession), so there was a -3 penalty to his Mind check. He has Mind 4, and rolled
1d6=5 +4(stat) -3 (non-professional) = 6, failure.

a fine lady
'sinništum damiqtum' means 'a fine/good/noble/etc. woman'. Alternately the name Damiqtum is in apposition to the noun: 'the woman, Damiqtum'.
Did Mannum-kīma-Adad catch the reference? A simple Mind check with no modifiers would decide: Mind 3 + 1d6 = 5, fail.

the house
The map  made of Mannum-kīma-Adad's digs is based on House F from Nippur (18th c BCE). I guessed about where to put the stairs to the upper storey, but the oven is where one was really found.

Being stealthy requires Contested Checks. Damiqtum needed a Body check (no modifiers) to conceal herself well. Body 3 +1d6 = 6, fail. If this were an ambush, it would have actually mattered that she failed the check.
Mannum-kīma-Adad and Iqīš-Sîn resist with Mind checks, but at penalties: -2 as Damiqtum has ~50% cover, -1 for darkness: Babylonian houses have no windows.
Mannum-kīma-Adad rolled a natural 1, which is potentially a critical failure. He then rolled a second die, hoping it also did not come up a 1: 1d6=2, a normal failure.
Iqīš-Sîn rolls 1d6=5 +4 (Mind) -3 =6, failure

You are on the road of no return!
'ūmka u šīmtaka umašširūka' (lit. your day and your fate (i.e. the date of your natural death) have abandoned you)

"I hope you wrote all the characters correctly, woman of Mari"
For some cuneiform signs, the Mariotes used different phonetic values than the Babylonians. Mannum-kīma-Adad is just being a jerk about it.

the letter
The picture is of a Sumerian letter, but shows a tablet in its clay envelope.

My toolbox for the game will be:

Rather than randomly generating the adventure itself or choosing one of the myriad adventure seeds scattered throughout the BFJB rulebook, I decided to go with the germ of an idea for an adventure that I've always wanted to run but never managed to do.

Speaking of adventure, let's get to it:]

Damiqtum departs to look for her associate, and Mannum-kīma-Adad is left to worry the rest of the day. It isn't so much that he doesn't trust the madwoman -- he doesn't really, but that's beside the point -- but he's never had cause to doubt her prophetic gift. If the Foremost amongst the Goddesses is concerned enough to trouble herself with her temple's missing grain, there is probably more behind this than a wayward merchant or even raiding Ḫurrians.

The muḫḫūtum returns at sunset, as Mannum-kīma-Adad is brooding over his half-eaten meal.

"What took you so long? Where's this friend of  yours?"

"I looked all over the city, and cannot find him anywhere."

"The goddess didn't reveal his location to you?"

"Don't blaspheme!"

"Forgive me. I've had all day to worry about where this was headed."

"Just now it's headed out of the Šamaš gate. Come quickly, we must get out before they close it for the night."

"You can't be serious!"

"Oh, but I am. The one we must find is a foreigner! He daren't remain within the walls at night."

Scene 1

Chaos: Average (d10)

Setup: getting across town

NPC List: emtum, Warad-Amurrum who owes grain, overseer, farmers

Threads: retrieve the missing grain, find 4th party member

Mannum-kīma-Adad bids his slave fetch an evening cloak, for they must cross nearly the whole of the city to get to the gate, and there's no telling how late they'll be out, or if they'll even be permitted to re-enter. He has him fetch a cudgel as well; one can't be too careful amongst foreign types! The three set out into the evening streets, which are still a-bustle with the day's business.

[They must cross through 4 neighbourhoods: Kullab > Eridu > Kumar > Tuba. I rolled one encounter check per neighbourhood (1-2 on d6) :1,4,5,2 = encounters in Kullab & Tuba

For the first, I rolled d6=5 & d66=22: chatterer]

They've hardly progressed to the end of the street when someone grabs Mannum-kīma-Adad by the shoulder from behind.

[He got a Mind check to notice, but d6+3=5, fail.

NPC Relationship: peaceful
Conversation Mood: sociable
scheming - arrangement - equipment]

"Mannum-kīma-Adad! Just the man I need to see. I was just passing down the street, thinking of you, and who should appear right before me!"

"Oh. Abi-eqar. This is a surprise."

"I was hoping you'd had time to think over my, er, proposal. I understand if you haven't come to a decision yet, but then I'd not be surprised if you had. Such a decisive one you are--"

"This is hardly the proper time. Or place..."

"No, of course not! But I need an answer very soon. As soon as you possibly can, not that I think you'll take too long, you see, but it's just that the, well, the business arrangements must be concluded quickly. Before the--."

"Before the 'merchant' leaves town?"

"I was going to say, 'before the end of the month'. But you're right, too."

"Ah. Of course. But we'd really ought to discuss this later. In private."

"Certainly. But may I add, if you agree to the proposal, you'll be able to afford better, um, companionship of an evening." The man disappears into the crowd.

"Did he just--?" starts Damiqtum.

"I am afraid he did, my dear. Pay him no mind. But you do rather have the look of the gutter about you."

"I was going to say, 'offer you a bribe'. Just what sort of person have you become?"

"No! nothing like that."

[Mannum-kīma-Adad needs to pass a Check to dissemble. He rolls against Soul, his best attribute: 1d6+6=10, success. Damiqtum resists with Mind, at -3 since lie detecting is not a feature of her Profession: d6+6-3=5, fail.]

"Then I am sorry for having doubted you."

They continue on through the crowded streets, Mannum-kīma-Adad in the lead. They pass unhindered through the rest of Kullab and through the gate into the walled Eridu district. Mannum-kīma-Adad in his finery and gold jewellery looks like just the sort of person one might run across in the religious centre of the city, though the bedraggled aspect of the muḫḫūtum is less out-of-place here than most places. Iqīš-Sîn, as a slave, is as invisible as always.

Their path takes them past the walls of the Esagil temple complex, and they pause to stare up in wonderment at Marduk's splendid ziggurat. Then they continue on their way, taking the bridge over the Araḫtum and heading south into Tuba.

[Encounter: d6=1, d66=65: one who constantly listens; d6=male
Q: How does the encounter go down? (1d4) 1 offers something, 2 threatens, 3 shadows out of city, 4 accuses; d4=1]

Mannum-kīma-Adad falls to talking with Damiqtum as they walk. He is relieved to hear that she does, in fact, have a rough idea of where to find her friend of an evening, though the fellow's barbarous name fills him with more than a little dread. Damiqtum is surprisingly loquacious when it comes to expressing her displeasure at going into the countryside, but Mannum-kīma-Adad is unable to tease out any elucidation of her fears, or the prophecy which spawned them.

Unbeknownst to the pair of them, their words have not gone unremarked. During a convenient pause, a man suddenly blocks their way. He wars an immaculate robe but is otherwise totally non-descript[Location Crafter: Coolly / Drab].

"Leaving for the countryside?" says the man before Mannum-kīma-Adad can demand he step aside. "Worried about bandits? Or marauding tent-dwellers? Friends, I may be able to offer you my humble services."

"And you are...?" asks Mannum-kīma-Adad.

"They call me Lulīmum." And as if in answer to their question, he points out his golden brooch in the shape of a stylised deer's head, of obvious foreign manufacture. [lulīmum=the red deer, stag (and is also the name of Saturn, a constellation, and an epithet of kings and gods)]

"And just what sort of services can you offer?"

[Q: What does he offer? (1d6) 1-2 protection, 3-4 weapons, 5 both, 6 summat else; d6=2]

"I know some sturdy fellows who could go along and discourage any savages who approach with the intention of doing you ill. Come this way and we shall talk it over."

[Q: Is this a legitimate offer? 50/50 (4+): O1 C8 - no.

Lulīmum is attempting to con them. I used the 1st level Thief stats from the Bestiary chapter, so he has the Perfect talent (automatically succeed at a check, 1/day). His Soul stat is only 4 (66% chance of success here) so he'll use it now.

The PCs get to make Avoid Checks using their Mind attribute (at -3).
M 1d6=3 + Mind 3 -3 =3, fail
I 1d6=3 + Mind 4 -3 =4, fail
D 1d6=5 + Mind 6 -3 =8, succeeds]

"We're going to see my friend," interjects Damiqtum. "A great soldier. who treats me as his little sister. I shudder when I think of what he did to the last savage who intended to do me ill."

"Yes, I see. I shan't detain you any longer."

Lulīmum melts back into the crowd.

Scene 2

Chaos: Average (d10)

Setup: searching the suburb

NPC List: emtum, Warad-Amurrum who owes grain, overseer, farmers

Threads: retrieve the missing grain, find 4th party member

[Q: Does D know where to find her friend? 50/50: O5 C5 - yes (I wrote this into the narrative above)
+Event: PC negative - Mannum-kīma-Adad - Neglect / Extravagance]

They pass though the Šamaš gate to leave the city. The crowd is thickest beneath the arched gate itself and someone jostles Mannum-kīma-Adad, stealing a gold ring (worth about 1 shekel of silver) right off his hand. He's so intent on getting away from the throng that he doesn't notice a thing (and won't until much later). They've scarcely walked 3 nindanū (~18m) down the road when soldiers start closing the great wooden gates. Mannum-kīma-Adad looks back with a grimace. "They'd better let us back in after we find this friend of  yours," he says to Damiqtum.

They travel south along the road for about 12 ašlū (.72km) to a suburb straddling the Piqūdum canal. On the outskirts is a cluster of small, shabby buildings -- shops & alehouses & miscellaneous places catering to the nighttime needs of foreigners and poor tenant farmers, alongside peasant hovels, a few farm buildings, and storehouses. crowd is thick and boisterous

"Phaugh! just what sort of place are you taking us?" asks Mannum-kīma-Adad, hoping his disgust conceals his fear.

"Let me do the talking, and we'll be fine," says Damiqtum.

She accosts a passer-by, a wretched pauper limping along [d6=2, d66=one who has club feet; d6=m]. "Where's the shop of Siyaya the alewife? My friends are thirsty from the road."

Mannum-kīma-Adad bristles at the sound of the foreign name, but does not interrupt.

[Siyaya is an Elamite name.
Q: Does the pauper tell them the way? 50/50 (4+): O2 C4 - yes, but...]

"Why should I bother telling you?" sneers the pauper. "What's in it for me?"

"Show us the way and we'll buy you a beer too."

[Damiqtum needs a Soul check to convince them: 1d6 + Soul6 = 9, success]

"Follow me."

He leads them to an open-air structure, half billowing tent, half ruined mud-brick wall. Rude benches are crowded beneath the sail, full of patrons. Others spill out in to the 'street' in small groups.

"Go with Iqīš-Sîn to get a jug of beer."

Mannum-kīma-Adad looks at her disdainfully. "I'm not about to set foot in that tangle of... foreigners."

The muḫḫūtum sighs. "Then have this good man go with him to claim his reward, and stay out here with me."

Mannum-kīma-Adad waves them away.

Damiqtum looks about until she sees a lean muscular man leaning against a tall section of wall and watching over the crowd of drunken patrons. His hair and beard betray him as a foreigner. He is clad in only a simple skirt, and a well-used mace hangs at his belt. Damiqtum runs right up and begins babbling at him. The man babbles back, then lifts her up bodily and swings her round, making two full revolutions before depositing her on the ground.

"Sister," he says (in Elamite), "what brings you out of the city at night? Not that I am ever sad to see you!"

"Oh, but I came to find you!" she replies, then switches to Akkadian, "for I must soon go even further from the city, accompanying this man here on an important mission for the temple. He's going to pay you handsomely to come with us, and keep us safe.

Mannum-kīma-Adad bristles. "Now, let us dis--"

"Starting from now!" continues Damiqtum unabated. "Else we're certain to meet with brigands on our way back to the gate."

The man smiles broadly. "But, šutu, I am beholden just now to Sayaya. I must watch over her shop and keep the troublemakers at bay. What shall I say to her?"

"The truth: you must go on an important errand for the temple of Annunitum."

"Perhaps she is letting me go, then. But I've been paid through the night. I cannot leave just yet, šutu."

"We can wait. Oh, and here's Iqīš-Sîn with our beer. Please, have some."

[Q: Are there any incidents? Unlikely (5+): O3 C8 - No.]

They drink their beer and maintain a generally low profile. Damiqtum introduces her friend as Šerašer, a mercenary who helped her travel the long way to Babylon from her native Mari. Mannum-kīma-Adad wonders why this soldier keeps referring to Damiqtum as the South Wind, but doesn't dare ask; it makes as much sense as anything else about her. [šutu is Elamite for sister; šūtu(m) is Akkadian for the south wind. Mannum-kīma-Adad assumes the short vowel is just a foreigner's mispronunciation.]

Damiqtum & Šerašer leave at one point to talk to the alewife Sayaya, and [Soul 6 + 1d6= 11, success] easily convince her to let Šerašer go after tonight.

It's late when the four of them finally walk back along the canal by torchlight and follow the road up to the Šamaš gate. Mannum-kīma-Adad is very officious towards the guards at the gate [he uses his Authority talent], and forces them to admit him and his three slaves (as he intimates they are) back inside the walls of the great city.

Next post: into the countryside


  1. An interesting read. You've obviously studied the source material very well. I doubt that I did half as much research for my solo Scarlet Heroes campaign, although I did do a bit of research on the Chinese language and Chinese art and furniture. On the other hand, I probably spend far too much time coming up with new names for my current Swords & Six-Siders campaign.

    1. I actually got the game because it dovetails with my studies. I don't do many historical games as it usually turns into 90% research, 10% gaming, but in this instance that's actually very useful!

      I quite liked your Scarlet Heroes adventures. They had a lot of good colour.