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Basic Information

In Mesopotamian Mythology, a Lamassu is a creature with a human head on the body of bull or lion, with huge bird wings on it's back. In some representations, the Lamassu was an avatar or alternate form of the protective goddess Lama.

In other versions, it was a composite monster that recurred throughout the many successive cultures of Ancient Mesopotamia and was known alternately as a Shedu, Alad, or Apsasû. In some of the cultures of Mesopotamia, some of those terms indicated a particular gender, but which term applied to which gender was not consistent over the millenia, so you can probably get away with being sloppy with the details. If gender and being technically correct matters to you, you should probably use the term Shedu-Lamassu for the male version, and Apsasu for the female version that's not an avatar of the goddess Lamassu.

The Lamassu was a protective or guardian monster, and the goddess Lama was a protective spirit. For those reasons, Lamassu statues (called aladlammû) were commonly placed on either side of doorways and gateways. Particularly large sculptures would flank the entrances to major cities. They also appeared carved into clay tablets that were buried beneath the frame of a door or floor of a room to protect that space from intrusion by demons. Lamassu also appeared as a motif or device on many official cylinder seals of various ancient administrations.

Other interesting Mesopotamian cat-monsters include: Serpopard and Urmahlullu
Other interesting Mesopotamian bull-monsters include: Bull of Heaven and Bull Men

Representation in Gaming

Lamassu are cool and weird enough to have shown up repeatedly in gaming repeatedly over the years. In D&D the Lammasu (notice the spelling variation) and Shedu were two different species, with the former having the body of a lion, and the later having the body of a bull. Note that the original cultures seem to treat both the cat and cow types as just one species (unless the internet is failing to educate me on some finer distinction).

In the setting of Warhammer Fantasy, the Lamassu was mount or special unit for the Chaos Dwarf army (and it should be noted that the Chaos Dwarves used a lot of Mesopotamian-influenced visual motifs).


Game and Story Use

  • While it looks a lot like a Sphinx, the Lamassu's role in a story is usually going to be pretty different.
    • It's a protector and defender that keeps demons and spirits at bay. It might serve the role similar to a guardian angel.
    • Come to think of it, the Sphinx was actually guarding something - specifically it was running a checkpoint on the road into Thebes. Perhaps it was a renegade Lamassu?
  • That said, the gods of Mesopotamian mythology are fickle, mercurial, and casually murderous. If the PCs piss off Lama, they are likely to get hunted by a pack of Lamassu.
  • The statues at a doorway, or tablet buried beneath the door frame, might house or effectively be a genius loci-style spiritual presence guarding a house, temple, ziggurat or other location.
    • Or it might be a powerful magical barrier against intrusion by evil-doers or ghosts.
    • Most of the aladlammû statues are huge and carved of stone, so they're not exactly mobile treasure. But an enchanted protective tablet would be small enough to be dug up, carried away and sold for gold, or placed in the PCs HQ to protect it.
      • This works better if the tablet is magic rather than a resting place for a spirit, as it's hard to believe that a conscious protector would be happy to defend those who raided and pillaged it's previous home. Then again, the gods of Mesopotamia are fickle and alien, so I suppose there's no reason why the Lamassu can't likewise make decisions that seem illogical to us.
      • For the really basic fRPG approach the tablets are simply the active part of a summon trap that calls up a Lamassu when triggered. Triggering criteria can be set to the maker's taste.
    • Compare and contrast with the Urmahlullu, statues of which flank the entrances to public restrooms in Mesopotamia. Do they serve a similar defensive/spiritual role?
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