Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mythology Talk: Immortality and the Olympians

Hi, everybody! Did you miss me? Because I missed you!

Last week, we got the coolest present: a mythology question in the question box! We haven't gotten one of those in... well, a really, really long time, which makes sense, because we weren't able to answer them so understandably you folks weren't sending them anymore. But look! There it is! It popped up in my email and it felt like people were waving at me to come back and answer it. Look, here it is!

Question: Since so many gods can actually die, why are the Olympians the only well-known gods who are seen as both immortal and invincible/unkillable?

So I'm going to answer it, because I can do a blog this week and I was excited to see it, and the Olympian gods are a part of the landscape of the initial Hero's Journey setting so it's relevant to all of us!

A brief little distinction first - the Olympians are technically just the Greek gods who live on Mount Olympos as the major divinities, but the idea of immortal semi-invincibility in Greek mythology isn't confined only to them! Non-Olympian Greek gods - for example, the ocean deities like Proteus or Amphitrite, the underworld gods such as Hypnos and Thanatos, or the rustic pastoral gods like Priapos or Kybele that tend to run around various divine fields and landscapes - also fall under that heading. The Olympians get a lot more popular focus, since most of them had the largest cults and were the major figures repurposed for later Roman reuse, but technically all the Greek deities are just as immortal!

Honestly, this is a sociological question as much as anything else. Different gods come from different cultures, and different cultures and their religions have different concepts of divinity and different needs as far as the kinds of stories and ideas they want to talk about. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of gods across different world mythologies are not "truly immortal" - that is, most of them can be killed and sometimes are, in the myths of their home cultures, and some can even age and die on their own. Deities like the Mexica Huehueteotl are distinguished by the fact that they're old and suffer some of the ailments of old age, even if it took an unimaginably longer amount of time for him to age from the beginning of the universe to now, and other gods clearly fear death from accident or injury, such as when the Egyptian Ra almost dies of Wadjet's poison and calls for Isis' aid, or when Shiva kills his fellow Hindu death god Yama for disrespecting him and the resulting universal chaos caused by the god's absence forces everyone to resurrect and restore him before the world is irreparably damaged. The entire Norse canon is based around various gods' impending and inescapable demises. So clearly, gods dying is not an aberration worldwide; it's way more common.

The Greek mythological concept of gods as being eternal, unaging, and indestructible to the point that all their warfare even among themselves is designed to imprison or inconvenience each other to the maximum extent because there's no actual getting rid of them is pretty rare, although we tend not to notice it. If I had to guess, I'd say that we may not realize it because those of us in the western world are used to monotheistic religions like Christianity and Islam, in which the one central deity is also immortal without beginning or ending and completely unassailable and indestructible, so the idea of a god being indestructible just seems normal without further examination. (In fact, there's definitely scholarly discussion out there about Greek concepts of divinity as eternal and indestructible influencing early Christianity, but that's a whole other subject I definitely do not have room to mess with right now!)

So why did the ancient Greeks conceive of their gods as immortal super-beings who could never be destroyed, when their neighbors right next door in Mesopotamia and the Slavic and Celtic lands are writing epic tales about gods dying and being extremely upset about it? Well, culturally speaking, the Greek religion focuses a lot on a very clear line between the mortal and the divine: mortals cannot aspire to divinity, and deities can never be and never were mortals. The concept of hubris, unforgivable pride that causes humans to compare themselves to or disrespect the gods, is a huge theme in Greek myth, and the beloved stories of demigods with divine blood transcending what normal mortals could do just underlines how much humanity is confined to a level well below the gods. (In fact, the only cases of mortals becoming divine are those who already had the blood of gods in their veins, as opposed to various other cultures worldwide, where ancestors, skilled mortal heroes, and culturally important figures are regularly deified to represent how important they are or how lasting their impact is.)

So ancient Greek culture, with its emphasis on humanity and divinity being inseparably divided, makes the gods literally the opposite of fragile humanity: humans are mortal and age, gods do not, humans are fragile and easily injured and made ill, gods are not, and humans can be killed by mishap or violence, and gods cannot. Divine conflicts by nature don't look like human ones as a result, because gods aren't humans and Greek religion wants to make that very clear. It's worshipers' place to respect and worship the gods, and the gods' place to be worthy of that respect and, failing that, to at least be entertaining and educational in their enormous-scale screw-ups.

You'd probably need to be an actual anthropological scholar specializing in ancient Greek religion to have the full answer to this question, which is probably more nuanced than this post can be, but that's all the time I've got today. I'm waving at all y'all and hopefully I'll get to write more soon!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

In August We Fix Things

It's me again, updating things like an update boss.

This is what this blog would look like three thousand years ago

What's Up With Writing

Anne took pity on me this last two weeks and helped more than usual, because we were putting a lot of stuff from the last round of playtests rewrites into final and I couldn't figure out where she put things in chapters. There are so many words in them. She says I deserve it because she can't read any handwritten notes I make.

The playtests showed us a lot of problems with Endowments that could use fixes so we finally finished the updated versions of all of them (except Gambits, Gambits are....hard). Mostly they are the same idea but with some mechanics fixes. Some of them were too punishing and we wanted them to be more fun so they didn't have such a high rate where they weren't helpful in specific situations. Other ones were too hard to run. When I am looking at a system I wrote and saying "this is really hard to GM on the spot", maybe something went wrong. Anne wants to do a post about the specifics so maybe that coming soon, because it's been a long time since we posted, even though the changes aren't new for us they aren't the same as the last time you saw spoilers.

I was trying to float some other fixes but Anne put this big note that says STOP TRYING TO CHANGE BRAWN on my computer. Balance is important!

If the Leader Endowment doesn't feel like this, is there even any point in having it?

What's Up with Playtesting

Character creation has wrapped up for all but a few people and there will be multiple groups running at the same time in the same shared setting - kind of a big sandbox with rival teams in it. Not sure yet if it will be two teams or three, depending on the last few people. So far there are some great characters and the players are being very helpful about trying new combos and powers so we can see how they perform in the real world.

Since we're working on getting some playtest stuff on the website so you guys can all see it (and also the players but also you!), I want to take this opportunity to ask what things you want to see. Character sheets? Story summary? Highlight powers they used? If you were going to pay attention to any playtest stuff, what would it be? (Not that we can promise everything but let's all dream together.)

More feasting hall pillars, as voted by the people

What's Up With Technical Stuff

No tech stuff this time, but we'll let you know when new website stuff happens.

The Personal Stuff

Progress has turned into surgery for Anne at the end of the month. This is supposed to be a good thing, with problem fixing. We can rebuild her, faster, better, stronger. It's not super severe so she hopes she won't be out of commission for very long afterward. (Actually she said she would just type on her laptop in bed but we probably have to put a stop to that sometimes.)

She did however tell me she's been working on a blog post for a couple days so...stay tuned for her triumphant return, she's coming.

Artist's rendition of bionic Anne of the future

I'm going back to Gambits now because they're making me too crazy to sleep.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Updates for July

Time for the two weeks check in!

John bestowing blog posts on the people and also being a horse

What's Up With Writing

Anne and I have this difference of opinion where I hate to talk about anything that isn't done already because it's in-process trash, and she wants to tell someone every time something gets done because she likes progress. We argue about it and since I write the blog posts now I win lately. But she makes some good points about how you guys also like to hear about progress.

So these past two weeks I did a lot of painful editing in the setting chapter. It's full of so many words. Anne worked on the system for conflict between PCs, which has gotten changed a lot over time in playtesting, and had lots of notes left over to process from the last round of tests that we finally got folded in. We're cleaning up basic systems that have tweaks since a new playtest is going to start that will use them, so probably more about those next time.

New and improved PC conflict resolution, now with more spears

What's Up with Playtesting

Character creation is still rolling and we added in some new people who haven't tried the game in its current form yet for extra insight. It looks like at this point I'll probably run a couple of playtests at the same time so different groups can try different things. If you are a new person, do not be afraid, everyone dies this much.

The twitter feed is great for comedy but since we are running tests anyway, we're going to reach out to Stephen to see if we can put some information about the playtest games on the site so you folks can follow some of it. See some character sheets, keep up with some story and get a feel for the Heroes and their setting. Stay tuned.

Test Team A discusses the bullshit Test Team B just did

What's Up With Technical Stuff

We noticed that the site is down today (so you might not even see this blog post... but the blog is still up because it's hosted separately), so we're working on getting it back up. Not sure what happened but probably just a hiccup with the hosting service. We're waving at Stephen from a neighboring state and we'll get it figured out. Same goes for the forum, they should come back up at the same time.

Speaking of the forum, we had to set it so that new accounts have to be approved by an admin before they can post, because even all the banning we were doing wasn't stopping the invading horde of spammers. So we'll check often to make sure we're approving real people but if you happen to be a new forum user, you can also comment on the blog here and we (or really... Stephen or Anne) will go make sure you get approved.

If you sent in a change to your Kickstarter address, Anne marathoned through updating all our records for those last week also!

This is what it looked like when Anne emailed me the web maintenance document

The Personal Stuff

Things are still going well but doctors move at the speed of glaciers. Anne is doing better but lots more stuff still coming in the future. She wants you all to know she hates not writing blog posts.

See you in two weeks!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Update Party

Here we are, two weeks later. While writing this, Anne kept making me redact things she felt were too personal.

Old man John at work

What's Up With Writing

What's up currently is: I'm working on things and Anne's helping me whenever possible. Since a lot of things have already been through a few drafts, it's lots of cleanup and confirming that numbers still add up and systems still balance against each other. I think we are all aware that when it comes to writing/editing and the English language, I'm not Anne, I'm the systems guy. Slower and generally worse, in other words. I usually do a lot of design and testing and numbers stuff, but she's the Head Writer, so this is slow and she is assisting to keep me from wrecking anything she already wrote. Mostly it's the double duty of making sure there are no holes in the system, but also that the copy actually explains the systems right so that readers understand what's going on.

This phase will hopefully not last very long, but it's important to make sure we know exactly where everything is as we return to the project so we don't duplicate any work or accidentally waste time to fix something we already fixed a different way.

Archival footage of Anne being better than John

What's Going On Outside of Writing

I'm currently working on setting up a new playtesting group (as of this moment, they're in character creation). It's important that this isn't something that will slow things down or anything. We won't be waiting for the playtesting game(s) to conclude before printing or anything like that, if the timelines don't line up. But it's just smart to have folks testing things while we're still working - the playtesters have time to look at it while it isn't yet finished, and new tweaks can get a field run. Live testing will also be a good way to get back into the swing of things.

Amicable playtesting discussion about group makeup

The Personal Stuff

Recent hospital visits were good but not as good as we hoped. We're both still pumped about doing things and we'll keep you posted. Thank you to everyone who commented with kind words, we both really appreciated all of them.

Right now we're planning to try to do an update every two weeks or so, even if it's just to say "hey, we're still here and still working on it", so there won't be a long silent stretch again. For the most part we'll probably do those updates on the blog so we don't spam Kickstarter peoples' emails, but we'll put them on the Kickstarter too if there's important information. Anne is also better at updates so I hope to give them back to her someday.

Salutes to you warriors, back to the trenches!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

After the Long Silence: What's Going On With HJ?

Pictured: Last Known Communication from HJ Dev Team

What Happened: The Long Silence

Way back when we started this project, our somewhat tongue-in-cheek Risks and Challenges section on the Kickstarter said, "While we are absolutely committed to Hero's Journey for many years to come, someone integral on the production team could still get hit by a bus tomorrow..." What we meant was that since we're a very small team, one person getting seriously taken out of play could cause major problems for finishing the game. And, as some of you may know or have guessed from the long silence, that bus did come along. Happily, it wasn't a literal bus, but it was a bus in the form of a sudden-onset severe medical condition - and it hit our head writer and coordinator, Anne.

We're not going to go into details, because it's a private medical issue and not only do we not want to talk about it, you probably don't want to hear about it. Suffice it to say that it incapacitated her for the better part of two years, and between hospital and doctor visits and the accompanying struggle with life maintenance, the pace of work on Hero's Journey slowed, then crawled, and then had to be put on pause completely. (For those of you not aware, HJ is mostly generated by a married-couple team - I (John) am the systems and design lead for the game and Anne's my wife.) We had already been slowed way down from our original plans by the initial stages of the health problems, which we didn't recognize for what they were at the time, and once Anne was down, the game stalled as a result. Things like playtesting feedback and rewrites dragged on because we weren't able to work directly on them as much as we wanted to, and updates for the community also fell by the wayside.

Artist's Rendering of Understandable Community Feelings

The Long-Overdue Apologies

We very deeply and seriously apologize for the long break, the long silence, and the long-running pace of this project.

Anne getting knocked over by the Crosstown Episode-of-House-MD Express is an explanation for what happened, but it's not an excuse. We didn't communicate with the community about why the project went dark or what was going on behind the scenes, and we should have; the piecemeal updates and occasional answers to individual PMs didn't cut it. There were reasons for that, and the first one was that Anne didn't want to tell anyone she was sick; it's very personal and for a long time she fought it and fought mentioning it to anyone except close friends. We kept hoping the problem would get cleared up quickly so we wouldn't have to talk about personal issues, and we kept putting off doing an update because we wanted to have something to show, like a PDF or a solid time estimate or even just new previews, before we made another update that just said "hang in there" - but those reasons still don't excuse failing to communicate with all of you for so long. We should have done better, period. Plenty of you folks have let us know you're frustrated and angry here or on the Kickstarter, and you have a right to be upset with us and to let us know it. We appreciate how passionate everyone has been about the project, and how many of you have kept up with looking in on it even during the long period of silence.

Example of a Totally Comprehensible HJ Work Chart

Where We Are Now

Hero's Journey is not, as understandaby worried about by some folks online, dead. In a second quote from our Kickstarter, "We'll see this game brought to life if we have to do it from cardboard boxes while leeching off of coffeeshop wifi." Anne is (sort of, mostly, if you listen to her) back upright and able to work again and the team is settled and stable. All our previous work - which represents the vast bulk of the completed game! - is still there and waiting for its final finishing stages.

We would like - so much! desperately, in fact! - to give you all a projected date to be finished, but given how this has all played out and how unsure we are of how quickly we can get back up to pace, we don't feel like we could do so and be honest. We're also frustrated and pissed off about how long this has taken and about the fact that it isn't finished yet, and we're keenly aware that we owe you all something awesome.

In the coming weeks, we have some important doctor's visits upcoming for Anne, and we're hopeful about the results. We'll be posting another update two weeks from today to let you know where we are with everything. In the meantime, we're STILL working our butts off to finish this damn game. (Which we still love and cherish and want people to enjoy, but when we're talking about how long production has taken, it's always "this damn game".)

Pictured: Productive Team Meeting to Discuss Small Detail of System

Thanks and Acknowledgments

During the long silence, we added some additional folks who have been helping a great deal behind the scenes but who you may not have heard about yet, so here's a shout-out to Tanay, our awesome Hinduism consultant who provides invaluable context and religious information and regularly saves us from missteps that plain research does not, and to Katie and Stewart, who joined the playtesting pool for about a year and provided their additional valuable insights into the sorrow of playing magician characters and the joy of murdering the bad guys, along with all the other playtesters who have been along with us for this long ride.

And, most importantly, as always: thank you all.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Friday, June 17, 2016

June Update

Hello Everyone!

It has been a while, but we are still here and John & Anne are working hard in the game mines, but I will let the updated list speak to that.

As you can see, from the last update the Hunter, Creator, and Elemental augments are all set and locked in. For Game Systems: Divine Favor, the Magic Item Table, Odyssey Events, Prophecy Effects, Volatile Item Tables, and the XP System are also set. Much of this was Anne setting down and making a ton of tables.

But the good news is that we are down to five items left! We continue to circle... the finish line? OK, it's not a perfect analogy, but we are closer than we were before.

Anne wanted to apologize for the delay of Spoiler Request II: Revenge of the Archetypes. It is waiting in the wings, but stopping to talk is hard. Any work on a post, is time not spent working on the book. The scene ends up looking something like this...

... and then they get back to work.

That's it for the update. Have a great June!