Instead of having my players encounter and explore ancient Mesopotamia for the First Cities campaign, I decided I would make my own setting heavily inspired by the cities, peoples, and cultures of the Ancient Near East. Although in some ways more difficult when it comes to grafting historical and technological detail onto the new setting, it has the benefit of giving me flexibility in how I want all the pieces to fit together. For example, having iron-wielding Neo-Assyrian style armies running around fighting the Bronze Age Babylonian soldiers of Hammurabi would be anachronistic and ridiculous, but in Khamaz that disparity can exist, needing only to overcome my own desire for proper historical fidelity.
The capsules below provide some basic snapshots of the key regions and peoples of Khamaz itself, which is a collective term for the peoples, states, and societies that live along the great Mala and Puratta river valleys. True knowledge of the name’s origin has been lost to time, but learned scholars throughout Khamaz generally believe that it originally meant “the God’s Flood Way.”
Framed by vast deserts in the east, mountains in the north and west, and the Lower Sea to the south, Khamaz is a semi-arid region made up of a dual river system fed by innumerable tributaries and with a landscape peppered with lakes, lagoons, and mud flats.
Salmukar, “The Black Land” — A flat alluvial plain stretching along the lower reaches of the Mala and Puratta Rivers, Salmukar was where the estates of the gods first arose — legendary places like decadent Warka, holy Eridu, and mighty Bābilum. Using irrigation networks to channel the life-giving river water in a region with little rainfall, few natural resources, and violent, unpredictable flooding, the Salmukarans built a powerful and prosperous civilization out of mudbrick, reeds, and a bounty of food grown in nutrient-rich soil clawed back from the desert. Originally home to the round-headed and dark haired Salmukaran people, the region has grown steadily more diverse with the influx of the angular-featured Agadians from the west. All great religion, literature, and culture throughout Khamaz comes from the ancient estates of Salmukar, as well as most magicks and divination.
Niŝir, “Land of Niŝ” — Centered on the middle reaches of the river valleys and framed by hills and steppe land, Niŝir is a prosperous region of merchants and military might, where rainfall not irrigation fuels farming and the rivers are less prone to flooding and shifting courses. With better access to natural resources and a strategic location situated between north-south and east-west trade networks, Niŝir has a stranglehold on all of Khamaz when it is able or chooses to exercise it. With a heritage that includes the ancient estates of Ninuwa and Kahlu, the great god Niŝ and his exhortations for expansion and conquest, and Enshakushanna, the only Khamazi priest-king to have ever conquered the whole region, the peoples of Niŝir are known throughout Khamaz for their military prowess, abject cruelty, personal wealth, and the distinctive blue-beards of their priest-kings. And having recently gone through many generations of infighting and decline, the newly-united Niŝiri people are once again keen to expand their influence up and down the river valleys.
Subartu, “Spring of the Wild Rivers” — This region is the hilly area along the upper reaches of the river valleys where the great Mala and Puratta Rivers have their origin. Home largely to the Khurrites, an olive-skinned, stocky people who were once nomads from the great eastern steppe land known as the Sea of Grass, it is the least developed of the inhabited regions of Khamaz, having only three estates worth any mention: Gargamis, Harari, and Dimaŝqa. As such, it is often the focus of raiding for slaves and other resources by the estates farther down the rivers. Recently, Niŝiri interference in the region has grown as Khamazi trade connections with the east have grown more important.
Qattara, “The Sparkling Hills” — Qattara was once a lush, tributary region of the Puratta River located just to the east of Salmukar. Called the Sparkling Hills because of the jeweled and mineral wealth easily dug out all over the region, the Qattaran people grew rich supplying raw materials and precious metals to the resource-starved estates in Salmukar. However, many generations ago, a ruinous cataclysm known as the Storm of Sand befell Qattara, scattering its people and laying waste to the region. Since then, Qattara and its chief city, the ruined estate of Bad-tibira (“Fortress of the Smiths”), are home only to howling desert demons, beasts of Tiamat, and the living dead.
Hanigalbat, “The Beast Hills” — Known as a rugged hill country beyond the northern reaches of the river valleys that teems with wild and dangerous beasts, the Hanigalbat is the gateway region for trade between Khamaz and the exotic lands of Hind and Megarra in the east. It also borders on the desolate Sea of Grass, which stretches away to the north and the east. Once home to a powerful Khurrite kingdom centered on the city of Aranzahas that was destroyed by the Niŝiri king Enshakushanna, the region has only in the last several generations begun to see significant Khurrite expansion again. Today its chief settlement is the small Khurrite town of Agha situated along the western edge of Lake Kabira.
The Abominable Desolation — Also known as the Empty Quarter, this desert landscape of howling winds, savage sandstorms, and malignant demons is also home to the vicious desert nomads known as the Amurru. Despite these dangers, explorers and mercenaries continually try to probe the Deep Desolation for its secrets. What fuels this are legends that speak of strange spires jutting out of the sands in the interior and powerful artifacts of divine providence resting in hidden tombs, as if the expanding wastes had once swallowed up several ancient and forgotten civilizations in the unremembered past.
- The names I chose for the great rivers of Khamaz — Mala and Puratta — are ancient names for the Euphrates river (Mala is Hittite I believe and Puratta is a form of the Akkadian name Purattu). I would have used an ancient name for the Tigris for one of the rivers, but I didn’t like how any of them sounded.
- In terms of analogs, the historical regions I’ve mapped my regions to break down like this: Salmukar=Sumer and Akkad; Niŝir=Assyria; Subartu=Syria; Hanigalbat=Anatolia; Qattara=Elam; and the Abominable Desolation=the Syrian and Arabian deserts.
- The name “Salmukar” is a made-up word. I’m pretty sure I was playing around with the name “Samarkand” and just changing syllables and the like until I found something that sounded good. A linguistics professor friend of mine says I was using phono-semantic analogy or matching to make the word, so I’ll go with that. The city names break down as Warka=Uruk (Warka is the modern place name) and Bābilum=Babylon (just an ancient version of the name), while Eridu was an actual Sumerian city, sometimes regarded within Sumerian mythology as the first city.
- The name “Niŝir” is another made-up word, chosen mainly for its similar sound and structure to the ancient name for Assyria proper, Aŝŝur. The cities mentioned — Ninuwa and Kahlu — are just the Assyrian names for the cities of Nineveh and Nimrud. Finally, Enshakushanna was a Sumerian king mentioned on the Sumerian King List as having ruled over Ur in the 3rd Millennium BCE.
- The name “Subartu” comes from a region in northern Mesopotamia believed to be located just north of the old Assyrian heartland along the Tigris or perhaps is actually an older name for the region of Assyria itself. The city names work out to Gargamis=Carchemish; Harari=Mari; and Dimaŝqa=Damascus, which are all actual ancient names for these cities.
- The name “Qattara” comes from a small region in northern Mesopotamia as well, which you can find information on here if you so desire. “Bad-tibira” is the actual name of an ancient Sumerian city.
- The name “Hanigalbat” comes from a region to the west of the Assyrian heartland in northern Mesopotamia. It is sometimes also associated with the Bronze Age state of Mitanni. I don’t recall where I ganked the name of “Agha” from, but it’s an ancient place name in the region as well.
- Calling my analog for the Syrian and Arabian deserts the “Abominable Desolation” comes straight from Morten Braten’s Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia campaign sourcebook published in 2004 by Necromancer Games, which has been a great source of inspiration for my development of First Cities. I just like the way my players blanch whenever the name gets mentioned.
Featured Image: Sumerian Chariot Image from the Royal Standard of Ur, used by Creative Commons License from Wikimedia Commons.
Body Image #1: “Ancient Watachman” by Okko Pyykkö, used by Creative Commons License.
Body Image #2: “Passing Lion” from the Ishtar Gate, Babylon, used by Creative Commons License from Wikimedia Commons.