Archive for October, 2016

Pantheons of the Multiverse: The Babylonian Pantheon

October 29, 2016

Writing this series has highlighted just how much D&D’s “generic” pantheons – those pantheons that, for the most part, are based on real-world religions and mythologies – have been downplayed in the game’s presentation.

This can largely be attributed, I think, to their lack of ties to any specific campaign world. Since so much of D&D is written with specific campaign worlds – worlds with defined pantheons – in mind, this has essentially locked these deities out of a large amount of D&D products. Obviously, this is more of a generality than an absolute; just look at Planescape, after all. But it’s still a point worth considering.

Perhaps the area where this is most notable is with regards to D&D novels. If you’re a D&D aficionado, stop and think to yourself about how many times you’ve heard an Earth-based deity get name-dropped in a novel. There were instances of this out there, but they were few and far between.

Instead, most D&D novels were written for the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, which have pantheons of their own. As such, it’s unsurprising that the divinities from Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore would be so notably absent.

Of course, some pantheons have weathered this better than others…

Original D&D

I was surprised to discover that the Babylonian pantheon first appeared in AD&D 1E’s Deities & Demigods, rather than OD&D’s Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes. In fact, they’re one of the few pantheons here not to have that particular pedigree. Instead, the Babylonian deities are presented as a conglomerate with the Sumerian and Canaan deities as part of the “Near Eastern Mythos” article in Dragon #16.

Separating out the names used for Babylonian deities, it consists of Anu, Marduk, Ea, Sin, Ninhursag, Shamash, Ishtar, Tammuz, Ereshkigal, Nergal, Namtar, Tiamat, Apsu, Kingsu, and Nebo. It also has the mortal heroes Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and Utnapishtim. It also lists a few monsters and artifacts, and even name-drops several other deities, albeit with no further exposition beyond what they’re the gods of.

As expansive as this article was, few of these deities would make the transition to the next incarnation of the game. I suspect that this has more to do with AD&D’s expanded stat blocks than anything else, but it’s interesting to see this as being a “winnowing” of the pantheon as it moved into the modern age (with the caveat that some of these gods, such as Tiamat, made a home for themselves elsewhere).

AD&D First Edition

First Edition gave us a much reduced Babylonian pantheon. The nature of the gods, at least insofar as what they demanded of their worshipers, was now much more austere.

The rules for how priests of the Babylonian gods must conduct themselves in 1E seem incredibly harsh, to the point of being almost crippling. While I’d expect “helping enemies of your sect” to be a major transgression, “communicating with intelligent creatures or demi-humans” seems like a good way to destroy party cohesion before the game even begins. And if you do happen to say hello to an elf, the penalties include not only excommunication from your religious order, but a complete loss of all spells until you complete a quest to give your order a boost.

…I suppose that’s not as harsh as the Aztecs, at least.

There’s also an interesting note that the high priest must be a cleric/magic-user, which is a distinction I wish was expounded upon further. It’s at least somewhat intuitive to say that the high-priest will often be the king, but why do they have to know clerical and arcane magic both?

The gods themselves are rather few in number, consisting of Anu, Anshar, Druaga, Girru, Ishtar, Marduk, Nergal, and Ramman. There’s also a listing for Gilgamesh and Dahak, the latter of whom is “just” a monster, which ran counter to my expectations. Beyond that perfunctory presentation, there’s very few instances of the Babylonian deities in First Edition.

I should mention that the Forgotten Realms’ Untheric pantheon – which was already described as extinct when the first boxed set came out – was composed of Babylonian and Sumerian deities. As with the Maztican gods, the Untheric pantheon is different enough from its ancestor that I’ll set it aside for its own article.

AD&D Second Edition

Having started with AD&D 2E (by way of Basic D&D), I didn’t realize that the Babylonian deities were even part of the game. After all, they weren’t in Legends & Lore; eventually I learned otherwise, and started to think of the Babylonian gods – along with the Sumerian and Finnish deities – as “lost pantheons,” since the updated edition of the game had seen fit to leave them behind.

…except that it sort of hadn’t.

The Babylonian gods were given a new lease on life in Planescape’s On Hallowed Ground (which saw fit to keep the same eight deities). Although Planescape had been matter-of-factly talking about the Babylonian deities where it made sense to do so, this was the first time it had put them (along with many, many other deities) front and center. The premise was quite clear: they were and always had been part of the default background assumption of AD&D’s greater multiverse. (In fact, this book postulated a new origin for the Babylonian gods: that they collectively sprang into being, fully-formed, as the cast-off “desire for civilization” from the Sumerian gods.)

This presumption somewhat annoyed me, mostly because it felt like it was putting the cart before the horse insofar as “lore before game stats” was concerned. It was nice to see the “lost pantheons” being brought back, but the lack of information on specialty priests for these deities made this information largely academic. That was particularly true since the setting kept putting forward that two of the Sumerian deities – Nergal and Anshar – had recently slain Enki, a Sumerian deity.

That sort of plot, which underpinned the simmering tension between the two pantheons, would have served as great fodder if a PC were a priest of a god from one of those pantheons, since that kind of rivalry carries over to all associated persons. While I suppose they could have used clerics (which were generic to all deities), I’m still baffled that nobody ever wrote up specialty priest information for these gods.

Beyond Planescape, there’s very few instances of the Babylonian pantheon in action. Return to the Keep on the Borderlands made the bad guys worshippers of Nergal and Ereshkigal. Likewise, DMGR5 Creative Campaigning had AD&D 2E stats for Gilgamesh, along with Enkidu and original character Ahlkish.

D&D Third Edition

It’s somewhat fitting that the Babylonian pantheon would make their last appearance in D&D the same way they did their first: as part of a conglomerate pantheon in Dragon magazine. Specifically, in the “Mesopotamian Mythos” article in Dragon #329.

Similar to their presentation in Dragon #16, the Babylonian gods are subsumed, along with the gods of Sumeria and other ancient near-eastern civilizations, into a single pantheon. While it lists several aliases for most of them, the basic list of gods is Adad, Anu, Belet-ili, Ea, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Ishtar, Marduk, Nergal, Ninurta, Shamash, and Sin. A basic overview of each deity is given, including their clerical domains, making them playable for interested PCs.

I enjoy thinking of this as something akin to the “Twilight of the Gods” for the Babylonian gods and their related pantheons. Here, with many of their members now gone, the remaining deities have been forced to work together to remain relevant and survive. To that end, they’ve subsumed the aspects of their fallen brethren or simply decided to merge (re-merge?) before they died, hence the myriad aliases.

It’s a strategy that’s worthy of the Babylonians, doggedly working to make a place for themselves in a harsh and uncompromising world.

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A Magical Medieval Society: Equestria

October 16, 2016

I really don’t know how it is that I never purchased a copy of A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, from Expeditious Retreat Press. It wasn’t like I was unaware of the book, given the accolades that it had accumulated upon its release, and its focus on verisimilitude in the game world was perfectly aligned with my interests. And yet somehow, I never picked it up.

This changed after I read a review of the book by Brandes Stoddard, over on Tribality, a few months previous. While it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, the author’s particular style of writing – a brilliant mixture of insightful and entertaining – was enough to convince me that it was time to rectify this particular gap in my library. And so I went to purchase a copy of the book, now well into it’s second edition.

However, I didn’t go through with the purchase, having found on the author’s blog that a third edition was in the pipeline. While it added only a new section on devising place-names (actually a separate product that was being incorporated into this one), I nevertheless waited for the new edition to be released, picking it up as soon as it was.

Having just concluded reading through the book, I have to admit that it lives up to the hype. Not only is it an excellent primer to medieval European life, but it does an incredible job taking that information and translating it into the magical society that’s presented by the d20 (specifically 3.5) game mechanics.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of these rules is their bottom-up – rather than top-down – nature. This allows them to function at smaller, very nearly individual, levels, rather than being a “big picture” sort of effort to simulate how a kingdom functions. Of course, this means that sometimes the minutia becomes teeth-gritting in how deep it goes, but that’s the price you pay for something this comprehensive.

As a gamer, I naturally wanted to put the book to use after I read it. Luckily, since MMS:WE’s focus is on the background elements of a campaign, this can be done as a world-building exercise. To that end, I naturally wanted to apply it to Equestria, the setting for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which I’ve written about here before.

However, that was something of an awkward fit. While MMS:WE isn’t set in any specific game world, it does presume that the sociopolitical and economic structures used in a campaign are inherently feudal in nature. That’s…iffy when it comes to Equestria. While certain aspects of the show do evoke a feudal system (such as having royalty and nobility), other parts suggest otherwise (such as the lack of taxation and the evidence of a free enterprise market).

Ultimately, Equestria’s nature as an idyllic realm seems to paint a picture of it being an enlightened absolute monarchy (or diarchy, or whatever a multi-princess system of government is called) with a laissez-faire market, which begs the question of how Princess Celestia and Princess Luna – to say nothing of all the other ponies whose cutie marks don’t seem to be career-oriented (such as the Cutie Mark Crusaders) – earn the money that they must surely need.

So giving the “magical medieval” treatment to Equestria proper was out, since the implicit assumptions of the show couldn’t be reconciled with those of MMS:WE. Luckily, there was a third option available. The update that I’d previously posted for my original pony character, Lex Legis, had him seizing a portion of Equestria and making it his own country. Since he’s an autocrat who’s obsessed with systems and processes, that makes his new nation perfect for being run through MMS:WE’s rules.

The Kingdom of Legesia

A full year after having founded his new nation, Lex has overcome multiple challenges both foreign and domestic. His policy of a strong and proactive government has, in the wake of his world’s assimilation into the wider multiverse, found many adherents among the population. Having made peace with an incursion of elementals, subdued a rampaging dragon, and dealt a severe blow to a belligerent Yakyakistan, Lex has amply demonstrated to the citizens of Legesia that their king is devoted to their safety and well-being.

To Equestria and its princesses, as well as the rest of the world, it’s rapidly becoming clear that – for the time being, at least – the Kingdom of Legesia is here to stay.

Country Name The Kingdom of Legesia; Ruler(s) Lex Legis/King Sombra II (king), Sonata Dusk (queen); Size 26,941 sq. mi.; Population 3,200,000; Population Density 118/sq. mi.; Rural Population 2,986,560 (93.33%); Urban Population 213,440 (6.67%); Acres Under Cultivation 1,493,280.

The Kingdom of Legesia is formed from what was formerly the western third of Equestria. Despite this, only a tenth of Equestria’s ponies lived there, owing to large concentrations of forests and mountains. Today, the vast majority live in the “little breadbasket” region in the northwest, with the rest occupying communities along the western coast, and a minority living in small woodland or mountain settlements.

The base assumptions regarding the size of Equestria and its population come from Thoth’s excellent article on the subject.

Metropolises 1 (Las Pegasus); Large Cities 2 (Tall Tale, Vanhoover); Small Cities 6 (Friesno, Seaddle, Tabiano Port and three others); Large Towns 16 (Bronco Downs, Hoofington, Pineville, Spurfield and twelve others); Small Towns 27 (Lipizzan Heights, Neighton, Pinto Creek and twenty-four others); Manors 6,637.

The designations used for each type of settlement are in accordance with the 3.5 DMG. That is, a “metropolis” has 25,001+ people, a “large city” has 12,001-25,000 people, etc. This breakdown is important since the number and category of urban settlements (along with manors) are one of the primary factors in calculating national revenue.

Station Number Manors Average Manors/Pony Allodial Holdings
King 1 133 133 50%
Great Landowners 8 996 124.5 37.50%
Nobility 64 1,327 20.73 12.50%
Gentry 1,600 4,181 2.61 0%

The table above serves to list how the country is broken down among its aristocracy. The “Number” column, for example, says how many individuals occupy each listing on the “Station” column (e.g. there are sixty-four members of the nobility in Legesia). “Manors” indicates the total number of manors, and associated villages, that are assigned to each social strata, while “Average Manors/Pony” breaks them down among individuals. Finally “Allodial Holdings” shows how much of the country’s land is owned by each class of the upper echelons.

Type Traditional monarchy; Strength of King Strong (with Sonata) or Average (without Sonata); Total Tax Revenue 19,512,000 gp; Total Scutage Revenue 9,756,000 gp; Total Mine Income Revenue 763,255 gp.

As indicated above, while Sonata does not technically occupy a rank on her own merits – her status as queen is dependent entirely on her marriage to Lex – her ability to connect with the populace at large, and to ameliorate her husband’s poor personality, is so significant that without her, Lex’s ability to govern would take a very large hit.

Station Base Manor Income Manor Income Tax Income Scutage Income Mine Income Town Income Total Income
King 8,250 gp 1,097,250 gp 8,390,160 gp 4,878,000 gp 381,627.5 gp 315,810 gp 15,070,247.5 gp
Great Landowners 6,500 gp 6,474,000 gp 7,219,440 gp 3,658,500 gp 286,220.63 gp 236,857.5 gp 17,875,018.13 gp
The Average Great Landowner 6,500 gp 809,250 gp 902,430 gp 457,312.5 gp 35,777.58 gp 29,607.19 gp 2,234,377.27 gp
Nobility 6,500 gp 8,625,500 gp 3,902,400 gp 1,219,500 gp 95,406.88 gp 78,952.5 gp 13,921,759.38 gp
The Average Noble 6,500 gp 134,773.44 gp 60,975 gp 19,054.69 gp 1,490.73 gp 1,233.63 gp 217,527.49 gp
Gentry 7,500 gp 31,357,500 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 31,357,500 gp
The Average Gentry 7,500 gp 19,598.44 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 19,598.44 gp

This table is the result of all of the other information posted above (though the pertinent calculations weren’t posted here). This chart lists how much money the government takes in, and where it goes. Note that, while the “King” row applies to that strata and the individuals within it simultaneously (since there’s only a single individual who is king), subsequent rows showcase either an entire social strata (e.g. “Nobility” is the sum of all the nobles in the country) or a particular individual within that strata (e.g. “The Average Noble” is for any particular member of the nobility).

While this amount of money – which represents the total income collected by the government per year – might look outrageous (over 78 million gp!), this money isn’t all personal revenue. On the contrary, Lex mandates that 90% of this must be spent on various government projects that he has outlined, with only 10% being allocated for personal income. To enforce this, he has created a branch of his Office of the Exchequer devoted to aggressively auditing income vs. expenditure among the aristocracy. Those who embezzle government funds are punished harshly.

Despite this, the money that remains is typically enough to afford very lavish living conditions. For example, even after giving back 90% of what they’ve taken in, the average member of the gentry can still afford to live a “wealthy”-class lifestyle, and have some money left over. This is even more true for the nobles and great landowners, who can afford to live extravagantly.

Lex naturally also adheres to this stricture, reducing his personal income to just over 1.5 million gp. Of course, he splits his income evenly with his wife, but even after this – and subtracting the 1,000 gp/month cost to live an extravagant lifestyle; done after all other calculations (see below) – he still has an enormous amount of gold coming in on an annual basis.

According to Appendix II of MMS:WE, a certain percentage of income comes in the form of magic items, rather than money. Lex maintains that this must be given back in the same proportion that it’s received in, which means that he – as king – receives only 10% of the above revenue in magic items. All of the rest is in coins, gemstones, valuable objets d’art, and other forms of non-magical wealth with high liquidity.

Given that he has only recently introduced divine spellcasting to his country, as well as created a college for arcane magic, most of the 75k worth of magic items that he’s received have been scrolls and potions, none of which are higher than 2nd-level, along with numerous charms and talismans created via Equestria’s native spellcasting. However, Lex is able to save all of these from year to year if he wants, since he’s voluntarily taking in less than the 25% level of magic item retention suggested in MMS:WE.

This, of course, leaves the question as to what Lex does with the 600,000+ gp in cash that he still has after all other considerations – such as magic items and lifestyle costs – are taken into account. While some is spent on stronger magic items that he goes on special off-world trips to acquire, most of the rest of his money is spent on various personal projects, some of which he keeps hidden from everypony…