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Roleplaying in Mesopotamia 1700 BCE


Mesopotamia 1700 BCE is originally meant as a starting point for a time-spanning chronicle for powerful vampiric elders (or at least the PCs are going to be that if they survive). The accompanying texts by Sibelius of the Mnemosyne are meant to give some flavour to the setting and may be as correct or false as you wish. As always, change what you don't like.

You can obtain further information about the history of the ancient Near East from the internet and your local library. This text is primarily concerned with adapting the setting to Vampire: The Masquerade or Vampire: The Dark Ages.

Important World of Darkness resources include the Clanbook: Baali, the Dark Ages Companion, and Mummy. The Book of Nod, the Erciyes Fragments and the Revelations of the Dark Mother are also recommended.

Interesting WoD-specific on-line resources include:

1. The setting

The setting is the Fertile Crescent around the time of 1700 BCE. At that time, the Semitic king Hammurabi is uniting the city states of all Mesopotamia ('the land between rivers', i. e. Euphrates and Tigris) under his rule. His law, incoded on a stele which has survived to this time, is one of the oldest known law texts discovered. Reading this text will give you a good idea of life at the time. It is probably available at your local library and an internet search on 'Codex Hammurabi' will also find at least a couple of translations. A lot of information can be found on the internet about 'real' Mesopotamia as opposed to the World of Darkness version. I am not going to recount it here; instead, I will concentrate on the WoD-elements.

But first, a note about chronology: the date of 1700 BCE is by no means as fixed in historical research as it might appear to be. You will find conflicting dates for Hammurabi's reign spanning a period of more or less 500 years. This is in part due to the fact that the Sumerians and the subsequent peoples of the Fertile Crescent did not count their years as we do. Instead, they appointed names to years, for example 'The year Hammurabi the King set his law in stone'. This is all fine and well as long as people are alive who remember the incident, but when there are no such people left, things tend to become fuzzy. So, use the date of 1700 BCE only as a reference in research. I decided to use this date because it coincides with the apex of Minoan culture on Crete, which is important in the Baali context.

While the system of giving names to years makes dating past events difficult for short-lived humans, it is fine and well for immortal vampires. That may be one of the reasons why no-one saw the need for a numerical, easy-to-use calendar. But all memories of the currently active vampires of Mesopotamia go only back as far as just after the Great Flood. All of the 4th generation vampires still active were recruited from the small number of human survivors or their direct descendants. So the history of the First and Second Cities have already passed into the realm of myth. More exactly, the active vampires may even know less about their origins than the scholars of today.

Priests and kings rule the land - as proxy of their resident deities. Each city has its own protecting god or godess; a list is given in Sibelius' testimony. At the time of our play, the roles of these gods are taken over by vampires. These vampires actually believe themselves to be these gods (4th generation) or are at least their ambassadors (5th generation proxies). The idea of clans has not yet arisen. Instead, consider each God or Godess founder of his or her own bloodline (see 'Bloodline: Inanna' for an example).

For easier understanding, this text limits itself to the known names of clans and clan founders as given in the rules. There is no reason for you to stop here - it is perfectly possible to have more antediluvians than thirteen, or even more (and surviving) Childer of Caine than three. The numbers known today may have evolved rather than set in stone at the beginning.

The confusion Sibelius brings into the generation discussion in his observations on Mesopotamian mythology is likewise ignored. There are two active generations, fourth and fifth. These numbers are taken from the known reckoning; who knows which of the possible Caines Sibelius identifies is the right one?

2. Themes

The themes of Mesopotamia 1700 BCE are power and conflict. Obviously, the PCs are going to be powerful by the standards of later times; they are going to be fifth generation vampires. While this power might come in handy in later periods, it is the lowest rung of Cainite society at the time being. But don't be mistaken: every single vampire is the proxy of the God whose name he bears in his respective city, and as such has a lot of power at his disposal. Imagine every single Cainite in a city to be among the primogen; that is the current situation. There is no Masquerade - the vampires may do as they please because they are gods. Usually, that does not mean that the kine are subjugated as it is customary in some Sabbat cities today; rather, they can lord it over everyone else and don't have to be afraid to ever thirst. Every vampire has her own herd.

Conflict, on the other hand, is widespread. Conflicts may arise within a city between the interests of different gods; between different cities; and, on a grander scale, there is the conflict between the Gods of the Cities and the Baali.

Other cainite and already clanlike factions exist beyond Mesopotamia as well. Children of Cappadocius have set up shop among the humans of Anatolia and begin to recognize their family bonds. Nosferatu, driven into the Underworld by the necessity to hide their ugliness, forge the alliance among each other unsurpassed by any other, later clan. The Setites rule in Egypt and wait for their chance to expand, but the continuing war against the Osirian League (see Mummy 2nd Edition) takes all their attention.

And above and beyond the cainite society, different supernatural factions exist as well. The Impergium has ended; the War of Rage is underway. Bone Gnawers live in the cities under the very eyes of the vampiric gods and Children of Gaia work to lessen the Wyrm's corruption in the hearts and minds of humans (see the respective tribe books). Mages are among the human population, true magick and hedge magic alike can be found. It is the mythic age; magickal beasts no longer extant today roam the world and reality is not as set as it is today. Wraiths exist, but Stygia does not - most pass into the Underworld, while some remain in the Shadowlands to plague the living. There is no such thing as immediate transcendence as there is no hope for a beautiful afterlife. Changelings as such do not exist - while the Sundering is underway, the Shattering has yet to occur. True Fae live in the wilds and some in or near the cities.

3. Cainite society

As Mesopotamia 1700 BCE is intended to be a primarily vampiric background, this text deals chiefly with their view on things. There are two strata to cainite society at this time: the true gods, and their proxies. In game terms, these are fourth and fifth generation respectively. The antediluvians have all but passed from memory. While they might be active for a time, none of the Gods of the Cities know about that for sure.

The fourth generation vampires are the overlords. Each city has its chief god; this is always a fourth generation vampire. Marduk of the fourth, for example, is the God of Babylon, wielding more power there than any prince today. These fourth generation vampires have set a law for their progeny: no fifth generation vampire is allowed to procreate on pain of death of both, sire and childe.

All fifth generation vampires are proxies of their sires, attending and dwelling in their temples in other cities. All Marduks of the fifth live in cities other than Babylon. All fifth generation vampires are considered blood bound to their sire. Together, sire and childer may be considered a bloodline.

Each vampire posesses a herd consisting of his or her priests and followers. The taking of blood is rather formalized and part of religious ceremonies. There is no need to hunt. Priests are usually considered ghouls. An exception may be made for the Priestesses of Inanna; the mother goddess wields power which exceeds that of the cainite bearer of the same name by far and is a first hint that there may be more to the usurped stations of the Gods than the vampires think...

For character creation purposes, assign a clan to the founder (examples are found in Sibelius' testimony). The main discipline of the clan is considered the main discipline of the bloodline, but the others may vary and be chosen from all those disciplines not unique to any one clan. Also, consider Thaumaturgy to be far more widespread than it is today. The cainites of what is going to be Clan Tzimisce are already experimenting with Biothaumaturgy (see Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand) thereby attaining an imperfect hold on what they will be able to accomplish after the souleater infestation. The True Brujah, although not recognized as a clan or bloodline, still exist in greater numbers than Troile's bastards. The Black Hand itself will not be formed for centuries yet.

Tips on creating characters of the fifth generation can be found in the WW sourcebook Elysium.

4. The Baali view and the future

The greatest threat to the Gods of the Cities are the Baali. This bloodline is more organized and clannish than any of the Gods' bloodlines. The Baali dwell in Chorazin and on Crete and plot against what they perceive as usurpers. The mightiest Baali remember a time before the flood; they know that the names the Gods of the Cities take for themselves are but mere reflections of the names of beings far greater and more powerful than any cainite can ever hope to be. These beings lie dormant beneath the earth, and the misuse of their names -even if corrupted- lets them stir in their graves. The Baali wait to destroy the Gods of the Cities who shamelessly plunder the power of the True Names and endanger all creation doing so. Refer to Clanbook: Baali for a more thorough description of this angle.

Bel - Baal - is just another name for Marduk. Marduk's city Babylon is more powerful than any other at the time. Are the ancient masters of the Baali awakening at last?

Eventually, the war between the Baali and the Gods of the Cities will escalate. The antediluvian now known as Saulot will return and assemble his progeny. The other antediluvians will gather their childer as well and the clans will be formed out of the necessity to quench the Baali danger. This war will mean the end of the Gods of the Cities; the law 'Thou shalt not be a God to man' will be a result of this conflict. While the religions will still live on, the gods will no longer answer the prayers or receive the offerings.

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