Building Characters for First Cities

The following is a list of the various character creation rules sent out to my players, lightly edited to remove a few asides:

System Modification
We will be using the E6 (Epic 6) rules modification to the 3.5 system. What that means is that characters only progress by level through level 6th with further experience resulting in additional feats, personal magic capped at 3rd level spells, magic item creation capped at 6th level for creation feats, and some curtailment of monster power in the campaign (you won’t be fighting any titans unless I’m a horrible dick). By the way, there are mechanisms within E6 to give 6th level characters access to some higher level abilities through feats, ritual incantation rules, or whatever; some of this will have to be adjudicated when you reach that point if the E6 rules don’t already cover it, but it is part of the charm of the system.

Core 3.5 Classes Allowed
Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Fighter, Ranger, Sorcerer

*Variant core classes and alternative class options (e.g., from Unearthed Arcana) will be considered on a case by case basis.

Other 3.5 Classes Allowed
Beguiler (PHB II), Binder (ToM), Duskblade (PHB II), Factotum (DgSc), Healer (MH), Hexblade (PHB II), Scout (CAd), Shaman (OA), Spirit Shaman (CD), Warlock (CAr)

*After the campaign starts and as you advance in level, you may discover others in the world w/ backgrounds in other classes (e.g., cleric, rogue, wizard, etc). Depending on in game circumstances, you will then have access to those additional classes for your later progression if you wish.

Allowed Races
Human only

Starting Level
Start at 1st level w/ full HD and 0 XP

Starting Languages
Each character starts with Steppe Common, which you can speak but not read/write. Leave any extra language slots empty; you will fill them as the campaign progresses, and you discover new languages to learn. During our first session, I will be awarding three additional language/script competencies in Agadian, Khurrite, and the wedge form Im’sarra script to two different characters, depending upon background.

*Language Exception: if your character background is not from the tribe (e.g., you originally came from Khamaz but exiled yourself into the Sea of Grass for some reason), you will have access to other languages to fill at start. Drop me a note ahead of time.

*Here are some sample names for the Sea of Grass region. If you want further verisimilitude in your names without using this list, poke around on the Internet for ancient Turkic, Scythian, Tocharian, or Urartian (i.e., Armenian) names, as that’s what I’ve been using.

Sea of Grass Name List























































Starting Equipment
All PCs start with the following standard Equipment Kits:

*Adventure Kit: Backpack, bedroll, belt pouch, flint & steel, trail rations for 7 days, sack, a traveler’s outfit, 3 torches, waterskin, and whetstone.

*Weapons Kit: 1 suit of light armor (if allowed by class); 1 simple weapon (melee or ranged, not both – if relevant, weapon material is copper); 1 martial weapon (melee or ranged, not both, if allowed by class and or feats – if relevant, weapon material is copper); and either: 1) a light wooden shield; or 2) a ranged weapon of your choice (note: ranged weapons using ammunition come automatically with 1 standard ammo set at start).

*Please Note: As a campaign using a transitionary Bronze Age/Iron Age technology level, there are a number of different metal types that weapons can come in. The metals, ranked in order of strength and frequency, are: stone/bone; copper; bronze; iron; steel. All weapons with metal that you start with during character creation are copper weapons, which have neither bonuses nor penalties.

Then select one of the following Item Kits for your character to represent your starting personal wealth (if you wish to personalize some of the more esoteric items listed below, just ask me):

*Knowledge Kit: Light horse w/ bit/bridle & riding saddle; a small package of ancient knowledge handed down through your clan (choose either 1) 2 small clay tablets inscribed w/ Im’sarra script, contents unknown; or 2) 3 sheets of rolled papyrus inscribed w/ Kemetese glyphics, contents unknown); 1 weatherstone; and a small bag of lapis lazuli gemstones (A).

*Warrior Kit: Light warhorse w/ bit/bridle & military saddle; 1 bronze simple weapon (replace one copper simple weapons w/ a bronze one); and either 1) a small shell necklace (A), stained w/ blood, taken from the neck of a long dead enemy, handed down in the clan to the lead warrior; or 2) the preserved claws of a large, dangerous animal (your choice).

*Mysteries Kit: Light horse w/ bit/bridle & riding saddle; small lead case containing 5 clay bulla jars w/ alchemical substances (choose either 1) 1 Alchemist’s Frost, 2 Beastbane Salve, and 2 Firesnuff; or 2) 1 Alchemist’s Fire, 1 Firesnuff, 1 Purifier Drops, and 2 Snappowder); 4 glass ingots, weighing 2 lbs each; and either 1) a small mirror of polished bronze; or 2) a small bag of crystals and rocks (for mediation or rituals or just because they’re pretty, your choice).

*Enterprising Kit: Light horse w/ bit/bridle & riding saddle; 1 masterwork tool (choose one item from the Adventuring Gear sub-table of the Allowed Equipment Chart in Dropbox or a masterwork tool appropriate for crafting); 50 ft hempen rope; 2 blessed bandages; and either: 1) 1 small pair of carved granite dice (A); or 2) 1 small sack of freshwater pearls (A).


Featured Image: Untitled Image of the Ruins of Nisa, Turkmenistan by Justin Barton, used by Creative Commons license.


First Cities Campaign Premise

The following was sent to my players to introduce them to the structure of the campaign:

You are a member of a small, Bronze Age nomadic tribe called the Sakas, which has been eking out a livable but brutish existence for many generations on the vast steppe land known as the Sea of Grass. Recently, your tribe has made the decision to flee your ancient homeland in the steppe. Rumors of a vast warband of savage beastmen called the Turukku have become too pressing to ignore, so the elder moot decided the Sakas would join other steppe tribes in fleeing before the Turuk Horde reached the tribe’s grazing hills.

Your destination is the land of Khamaz, a fertile and populated river valley bracketed by arid and semi-arid desert lands, tall mountains, rugged hills, and vast swamps. Considered the original seat of urban civilization, it is a land of shining riches, strange magicks, exotic peoples, and dangers innumerable, but it also seems to be the closest safe haven from the oncoming Turuks. Despite many reservations, the elder moot decided to settle there.


The initial goal of this campaign is for you as the players to keep your tribe alive and intact while finding a new homeland for settlement. Within this broad remit, you are free to take this in any direction you wish. The campaign will operate on two different tracks: 1) strategic decision making for the tribe by the elder moot, which you will run at the start of every game session; and 2) tactical operations/adventures carrying out the directives of the elder moot by your PCs. Therefore, what you need to do to prepare for the first game session is this:

1) Create a clan/family within the tribe, which will serve as the pool from which your PCs come. For your clan/family, please sketch out an elder of some sort (e.g., a family patriarch). This is not a D&D character with stats; simply flesh out personality and other details as you see fit for role-playing purposes. This character is a member of the tribe’s elder moot, the ultimate decision-making body, which operates through consensus and discussion to arrive at the tribe’s strategic goals and actions (e.g. when to move, where to settle, how to handle threats, who to threaten, division of spoils and resources, etc). This track of the game will also be concerned with managing the tribe’s Resources and Assets metrics, which I will explain more fully during the first game session.

2) Create a PC that is a member of your clan/family (or more than one if you want). This PC is part of the tribe’s rangers, a group of adventurers/scouts/warriors who carry out the tasks assigned by the elder moot. The rewards for adventures on this track will involve obtaining Resources/Assets for the tribe and individual wealth for your PC and clan/family.

*Special Snowflake Exception: You have the option to create a PC that does not originally come from the nomadic tribes of the Sea of Grass (but rather an exile of some sort from Khamaz itself). In that case, you would still create a clan/family with an elder, representing the tribal group your outsider has latched onto. I would then work with you to craft a PC with the appropriate background and class details. That said, only 1 player at the start of the campaign is allowed to use the Special Snowflake Exception. If more than one player wants to create an outsider character, you’ll either need to work out amongst yourselves who gets the exception or you’ll have to dice for it.

This is a campaign built around hexcrawl exploration, gritty adventure, and a broad but individual scope. Time between game sessions will pass as seasons (with no more than two game sessions taking place in one season), which means characters will actually age and progress in the larger scheme of things. Your initial goal is to safely settle your tribe. Once you complete that, we’ll continue exploring Khamaz in a more traditional D&D format.


Featured Image: “Peretz and His Noble Steed on the High Steppe” by Peretz Partensky, used by Creative Commons license.

The Epic of Blog Creation

Welcome to He Who Saw The Deep, my blog dedicated to archiving various writings about my current homebrew 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Conceived in the fall of 2012 and launched as a regular campaign in January of this year, the First Cities campaign, as I call it, takes its inspiration and cultural motifs from the societies and cultures of the Ancient Near East, a period of human experience that birthed the world’s first urban civilizations in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys in what is today Iraq.

Designed as an exploration-based hexcrawl, First Cities is a campaign emphasizing the discovery of vast riches, ancient knowledges, and exotic peoples; of mighty cities built to serve the needs and desires of the gods; and of the dangerous monsters and strange beastmen that roam the wild frontiers of the civilized world. He Who Saw The Deep will serve as the main repository for this campaign, serving as both an all-purpose player campaign aid and an open-access, general resource for the public at large.


So what exactly are my reasons for doing this? Well, I have a couple of motivations. In the first place, I’ve taken my inspiration from the writing my friend Rich Forest is doing on his blog, Superhero Necromancer, regarding his current homebrew campaign setting, the Rainy City, which I am playing in (we trade off DMing duties every few weeks). A mixture of campaign documents, play reports, and player-generated content, Rich is offering up on the internet an intricate look at the campaign setting he has been building in his head for a few years now (you can find all of Rich’s posts on the recent Rainy City campaign collected here). As much fun as it is to play in the campaign, it’s just as awesome to see other peoples’ reactions to the campaign materials too. I hope to capture that same sort of dynamic on this blog with First Cities.

However, I also have a semi-academic goal in mind for this blog. In past writing I’ve done for Play the Past, an academic group blog about gaming and cultural heritage, I’ve focused my attention largely on tabletop role-playing games (when most of the blog’s excellent output skews toward digital gaming) and the intersection between good/fun game design and historical fidelity in the construction of these tabletop RPGs (you can peruse some of my postings here). In choosing to harness First Cities to the historicity of the Ancient Near East, I’ve found that I’m actually engaging in the very process I’ve been studying and writing about lately. As such, I hope to use this blog to pull back the curtain a bit on my campaign design process — to show my work, as my math teachers used to say, while I am appropriating and adapting the history of the Ancient Near East for use in my D&D game. I am by no means a professional game designer or anything, but as an academically trained historian, analyzing systems of thought, cultural heritage, and historical narratives is my bread and butter.


My plan is to mix in First Cities campaign materials (including crafted encounters and locations) and play reports with design-focused pieces that explore how I built this campaign — my sources, my methods, my design decisions, etc. As it moves forward, I may also include pieces on broader issues related to gaming and the Ancient Near East — reviews, news, inspirations, etc. I might even try cross-posting a few items with Play the Past, we’ll see I guess…

I’m not entirely sure what sort of posting schedule I’ll be able to adhere to, but tentatively I can see material dropping at least once a week, at least in the early going. I’ve generated a lot of written material for this campaign, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt that for publication on the blog.

I’m looking forward to you all joining me as we explore the foundations of the ancient and venerable land of Khamaz, home to the First Cities of Humanity!


Featured Image: Ishtar Ziggurat Concept Art by David Revoy, used under Creative Commons license.