Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bird of the Sun

Today's question asks: Tell us about the various myths about phoenixes that is around the world! Actually, this is a trick question (so don't think you got us, question-asker): there is only one Phoenix, which is a Greek mythological bird with particular qualities representing life and rebirth. But I think what you're really asking here is about various other mythological birds that are similar to or related to the Greek Phoenix, and we can do that, too!

The Phoenix of Greek mythology is a borrowed creature, but we're not entirely certain when it was borrowed or from whom. Herodotus first mentions it in his histories and claims that he learned about it in Heliopolis (Junu) from the Egyptian people who lived there in around 5 B.C.E., but Hesiod also mentions a few centuries earlier, when he uses its long lifespan to illustrate that the gods live longer still. It really became popular around the first centuries B.C.E. and A.C.E., after which it became a favorite symbolic creature in Greek and Roman mythology and eventually a well-known symbol in medieval texts.

The earliest descriptions of the Phoenix stress its great age; Hesiod, describing how long the nymphai can live, claims that the Phoenix lives three times as long as a raven, which in turn lives three times as long as a stag, which in turn lives four times as long as a crow (and then goes on to say that since the nymphai live ten times as long as a phoenix, they are long-lived indeed). Herodotus sets the bird's age at five hundred years old, claiming that every half millennium it returns to its nesting place to die, and that lifespan stuck and was repeated by various other Greek and Roman scholars all the way down to Ovid. Herodotus is the first to actually describe the bird other than its age, and he says it has red and gold plumage and resembles an eagle, and that it creates a beautiful funeral egg out of myrrh in which to encase its forbear, which it then carries to Egypt and leaves there to be burned (a feat he found particularly impressive, since he believed it flew all the way from Arabia in order to do so).


Later writers exaggerate the Phoenix's virtues even more, claiming that it is incredibly wise and understands all mathematics, that it is made of gold or shines with the golden rays of the sun, that it consumes only rare spices and fragrances such as frankincense, that it can never become sick and doesn't need to eat or drink to stay alive, that it is surrounded by a halo of fire, and even that it lives as long as the gods themselves (which of course means forever). The tale of the Phoenix's death and resurrection is also embellished and refined across the centuries by these writers, until it becomes the familiar version that became popular in the Middle Ages in Europe: the Phoenix lives for five hundred years, then returns to the nest where it was born, where it sings itself a funeral song and burns alive, only to be reborn anew as soon as the flames cool.

The point of the Phoenix's mythology is to use it as an allegory for the sun specifically, and later for light, life, and warmth in general. The Phoenix's journey from east to west (Arabia to Egypt) before it dies and then arises again mirrors the sun's journey from east to west each day, and its "death" in the evening only to return at the next dawn. The light, gold, and fire connotations it often has in various versions are linked to the sun originally, although they later become regarded as simply attributes of the bird itself as its mythology becomes more indistinct.


Obviously, the Phoenix is a pretty ingrained image in the western world - its origins and mythological imagery may not necessarily be common knowledge, but most people know the general idea of the immortal bird, and we name all kinds of businesses and brands and even cities after it, as well as having colloquial phrases based on its myth as normal parts of our speech ("from the ashes" is the most common, meaning something that resurges or returns after a disaster or setback). In fact, it's so ingrained that we tend to think of other mythological birds around the world as "types of Phoenixes", like this question-asker did, even though many of them probably have nothing to do with the Greek Phoenix. Which brings me onward to these other birds!

The Phoenix's closest cousin is the bn bird, better known to modern people as the Benu or Bennu. The Bennu is an Egyptian mythological figure, the embodiment of the ba (or personality-soul) of the sun-god Ra, which was said to be self-created and therefore an assistant to the major gods in their own acts of creating the world. It was considered immortal and often associated with Osiris, who was similarly deathless thanks to being resurrected as the god of death through his wife Isis' intervention, and sometimes appears in Egyptian art wearing Osiris' white crown. Unlike the Phoenix, which was described as a fanciful gold-and-red embodied sunset, the Bennu usually appears in Egyptian imagery as a heron, possibly because of a linguistic pun - bn seems to have had several potential meanings, one of them being "heron".


The Bennu is definitely related to the sun, as Ra's ba, and similarly eternal and undying, so it's understandable that it is often related to or outright conflated with the Phoenix, especially during the periods of history when Greek and Roman influence was strong in Egypt. We don't have any Egyptian sources that suggest that the Bennu ever dies, to resurrect itself or otherwise, but later Greek writers did recognize its similarities to the Phoenix and decide that this must be the Egyptian version of the same bird, and therefore wrote about the Bennu dying in flame on their own regardless of what it was doing in Egyptian myth. There's a healthy scholarly debate over whether the Phoenix influenced the Bennu or vice versa, thanks to Herodotus' writings about learning about the Phoenix in Egypt; some scholars think that he simply fancified or misunderstood Egyptians who were trying to describe the Bennu to him and thought they meant the Phoenix of his homeland's myths, while others insist that while the Bennu might originally have been more important as Ra's ba, later Greek influence over Egyptian religions functionally merged it with the Phoenix and its myths should be considered the same.

Of course, who did what and influenced who is an eternal Phoenix-and-egg situation in Greece vs. Rome vs. Egypt, so no one should really be too surprised.

To range a little farther north and east, there is also a fantastic immortal bird in the myths of Persia, the mighty and most holy Simurgh. The Simurgh is definitely a bird, and is in fact referred to as the mother or ruler of all birds, but she also has features of other animals, including often the head and/or paws of a dog, and sometimes the claws of a lion. The Simurgh is as eternal as the other birds on this list - she has supposedly outlived the universe itself several times, living through its birth and eventual destruction, and as a result is considered the wisest being in existence (outside of Ahura Mazda, of course, who she often appears as a symbol of). The Simurgh's immense age and wisdom mean that she knows the answers to all secrets and the cures to all ills, and she also guards the Tree of Life, which contains the seeds of all plants in existence and can create elixirs that heal any wound or sickness, so Persian heroes often set out to seek her to ask for advice or beg for some of the tree's seeds. Of course, they usually aren't up to the task of finding the Tree of Life and managing to impress the oldest non-god being in existence into giving them what they want, but that's heroing for you.


The Simurgh is generally considered to be much larger than the Phoenix or Bennu, capable of carrying off an elephant to snack on if she feels like it, and is usually described as being covered in beautiful bronze or gold feathers that reflect the colors of the world around her. Unlike the previous two birds, she's not really about the sun, though; she's a symbol of wisdom and purity, and is considered to purify the world and to protect it against the evil influence of the daeva and their minions. She's still strongly tied to a god as his representative, however, in this case the all-powerful Ahura Mazda, and she sometimes appears to let people know that he has sanctioned a particular place or act, or is used as a symbol of the god himself when depicted in art.

There are a very few mythic mentions of the Simurgh dying in flame, but they tend to be later ones and have never been incorporated into the wider body of myth about the Simurgh, so it's likely that they represent Greek influence filtering over from the Phoenix to occasionally color the Simurgh's myths. The Slavic version of the Simurgh that appears in Slavic areas that bordered on the Persian empire, the Simargl, has completely lost any such connotations, and is representative only of justice and protection.

Speaking of Slavic myths, though! The Zhar-Ptitsa, commonly referred to in English as simply the Firebird, is a Russian mythological creature that is often related to the Phoenix and other magical birds. It primarily appears in folktales, fairy tales, and heroic quests, where it is described as a bird with glowing eyes and fiery plumage, which brings great power but also generally great problems to anyone who is able to capture and keep it.


The Zhar-Ptitsa appears in many Russian fairy tales, but it's most famous in the modern era for being the subject of Stravinsky's incredibly popular ballet named after it, which retells the story of the heroic Prince Ivan and his quest to marry the daughters of the terrible Koschei the Deathless, a feat he attempts to accomplish with the help of the Zhar-Ptitsa, which he has caught. In this particular story, there are no negative consequences for Ivan from capturing the firebird, which helps him avoid Koschei's attempts to kill or confuse him and eventually gives him the secret to defeat him, but most often control of the Zhar-Ptitsa is a mixed blessing; Ivan Tsarevich is killed and dismembered by his brothers who covet the bird in one tale, and the wicked king who demanded the Zhar-Ptitsa be captured for him was later tricked into boiling himself alive once he owned it. Some stories caution against even picking up the firebird's discarded feathers, which are beautiful and alluring, but will almost surely bring trouble along with them.

(Incidentally, you can watch full versions of Stravinsky's The Firebird online, so go get you some ballet if that's your thing!)

Finally (at least for today!), we have the fenghuang, the immortal bird of Chinese mythology. Resplendent and multi-colored with connections to various Chinese astrology practices and imperial symbols, the fenghuang is a creature of symbolism, combining in itself male and female (literally - early forms of the bird during the Han dynasty had a male, the feng, and a female, the huang, but they were combined over time to become fenghuang, a single being), mercy and judgment (when it decides whether or not the current emperor is doing their job correctly but is also the imperial symbol of the empress and her kindness), and the connection between sky and earth. It's most often seen in imperial imagery and decoration (and is called the Ruler of Birds, similar to the Simurgh, as a result), but also commonly appears as a wedding symbol, since it represents harmony between men and women, and as a symbol of good luck on temples and at religious ceremonies.


The idea of the Phoenix as the template bird is so ingrained in western thought that the fenghuang is frequently referred to in the West as "the Chinese Phoenix", even though it has next to nothing to do with the Phoenix or anything it stands for. The fenghuang does occasionally have symbolic ties to the sun, and it is considered to be eternal and never-aging, but that's about as close as the two get.

Enthusiasts of the Four Celestial Beasts in Chinese mythology, incidentally, may also have heard about the Zhū Què, called the Vermillion Bird in English, which is one of the four guardian constellation creatures that dominate much of Chinese star lore. These two aren't actually the same bird, although they are usually represented similarly in art and therefore confusion occasionally arises between them, and the Zhū Què is even further from the Greek concept of the Phoenix than the fenghuang is.

There are more ancient and long-lived mythological birds out there, but I think that covers the most famous!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Production: Casebound Hardcover Books!

Hey, this is a quick production question from somebody out in the field, who wants to know: Many RPGs have suffered from poor quality bindings in the main rule books [GURPS 4th edition particularly comes to mind], so are you guys going to make sure the printer does top-quality and enduring books for us faithful fans?

Heck yeah, we are. Trust us, we know your binding pain; we've lost many a beloved book to too much wear and tear, and John has personally complained at various gaming companies when he encounters something substandard. We don't want our core book to fall apart on you six months after you get it (at least, not unless you're using it to beat off zombies or sled down the hillside or something), so we're working to make sure we get something that looks snazzy and lasts for a good long gaming life.

It's about 95% certain that these books will be coming from DriveThruRPG, with whom we will be partnering later to provide downloadable and POD options. It's only 95% because we are still doing a few last-minute checks with some local printers and publishers in our area; we've been through most of them and DTRPG is still our best option in terms of price and quality (and they are the option we based our KS projections around), but it's always nice to work with folks locally if we can and we don't want to accidentally pass up something awesome, so we have two more printers to visit before we make a final choice.

DTRPG has a pretty great track record of quality hardcovers with quality binding, and we've always found their printings to be sturdy, sexy, and as useful for gaming as we could wish. So, you know, don't hurl the HJ book off of a moving moped or anything, but it should be just fine for reading, pondering, and pulling out during rules discussions!

I'm sure several of you have encountered DTRPG hardcovers before, but in case you haven't, we'll be posting photos of our advance copies in the future so you can see exactly what these'll look like. Until then!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Wintry Afternoon Post!

Hey, everybody! Did you miss us?

We've been "gone" for quite a while, which really just means it's been radio silence here on the blog as we spend every waking moment working on finishing Hero's Journey and the zillion tiny things associated with it. I'm writing and editing and vetting research, John is running systems projections and probability tests and balance comparisons, Royce is building enormous intricate graphics for literally hundreds of Blessings while also fielding our last-minute "hey sorry we changed this so the graphic you made needs to be changed too!", Alex is finalizing maps and meticulously labeling features and parsing through art options for eventual layout, Jess is rereading the same giant sections of text over and over and asking us if we really meant what we said in X, Y, and Z dimensions and what that means for continuity, and Stephen is designing website upgrades and fancy gadgets like a pro.

So basically, we are doing all the things! And so we stopped blogging for a little while, because that's a couple of hours per week that we needed for work pursuits. But now that things are starting to wrap up (in that way where they're not done, per se, but we can see the day when they will be and it's glorious), we're back. We missed you, y'all! It's been too long since we got to talk about neat stuff and hear your thoughts!

We'll be trying to get some blogs rolling in the next weeks, so that it won't be quite the empty desert it has been (except for Cameron, of course, who is a champion about prodding us to keep all of you updated). And speaking of blogs and missing all of you, we're going to be enabling comments on the blog here as well as the forums, so you can engage with us directly if you want, or talk about stuff amongst yourselves on the forums when you don't want.

So we'll be back on our horses in the coming weeks, and you'll see some fun mythology posts and answers to the questions you've sent in (we have them, don't worry! we didn't lose any!) when we are. Cameron will keep handling news and updates, and we're looking forward to hanging out with everyone.

Until then, have a great winter holiday - we'll see you when we all come back!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Weekly Update 12.19

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

Here at the Hero’s Journey we’re still going full steam ahead to finish the core book, however holidays, travel, and time zones have made it difficult to meet. So this will most likely be the last update until the new year unless something huge happens.

This week John, Anne, and the Graphics team are continuing to grind away at the layout for the book along with finalizing Blessings. If you've been following us on Twitter, John got had his turn battling illness, so the finalization of blessings got delayed as he went down for the count for part of this week.

If you've signed up for the Hero’s Journey Gift Exchange, you should have a PM from Kekzakallu (Me) with your gift target. There is a forum thread where people are sharing their interests and will be posting their gifts as they arrive. Thanks to everyone who signed up! Please try to make sure you send your gift by December 31st. If you have any issues, please PM me directly.

There were no questions this week, so that’s it for me. Thanks you for being an awesome community and I look forward to talking with you all in the New Year!

-Cam

Friday, December 12, 2014

Weekly Update 12.12

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

Hello! So I checked the count again and it's still totally at zero.

So what happened this week? John has been doing his read through and edits. It's his favorite thing in the world to do, he told me. If any of you need anything edited in the future you should send them to him. He also has approximately sixty pages of blessings to review and edit to go through.

In other fronts, over half of the Talent Webs are completed.

The novel, which I haven't mentioned for a while had a slight setback. Part of the file unfortunately got corrupted and several chapters were lost. Anne had her notes, though, and while losing progress is a disappointment, she was able to get back on track.

John also went to the printer's this week to get many of the Kickstarter non-book items printed. Things are moving towards shipping!

I only caught one question this week.

John and Anne have often said that they have many ideas for future spheres once the core is out...could we have a glimpse into a few of those ideas?

This is a tricky question because we're super happy that you're excited for future releases. But right now everyone's focus is getting the first book out the door. We want to get it to you so we can all talk about the core rules, systems, and the heroic stories that you're going to tell.

Once the first book is out and John and Anne have taken a short breather, we'll be able to start talking about the next steps.

That being said... they have some solid ideas for two additional spheres per domain, but that's all that I can probably get for a while.

So that's it for this week, have a great weekend! If you're still thinking about the gift exchange, we've had ten sign ups so far, and you have until December 15th to join in.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hero's Journey Gift Exchange

Hello Everyone!

I mentioned in the Friday update that there would be a post this weekend, which promptly got away from me. So here at literally the 11th hour I'm here to announce this year's Hero's Journey Gift Exchange!

Last year, John and Anne launched started a gift exchange for the community on their old site. This year, they've got their hands full finishing the core book. So I'm taking over the duty of running it this year.

So what is the Hero's Journey Gift Exchange?

Pretty simple really, it is a mythological gift exchange. You get the contact information of another person participating in the exchange and find a mythology based gift. Something that interests you, or you think someone else might like, so long as it's mythology based. But maybe there's some cool folklore from where you're from that you might want to share.

How do you participate?

If you want to participate send me a PM with the following information:


  • Your address: Where you want you gift delivered to
  • Also, let me know if you willing to ship your gift internationally. I put this out there because it can be VERY expensive to ship internationally. 
  • Additionally, if you would be comfortable receiving a gift digitally. 

  • I'll be collecting information This week, from December 8th to the 15th. I will send out reminders on the forums.


    On the 16th and 17th I'll PM you your gift target. You've then got two weeks to go out and find some cool mythology gift for your target. Send out your gift by the December 31st. Then sit back and wait for your gift to arrive, if all goes well you should get yours in early January (accounting for shipping times).

    That's it! As with last year John and Anne want to make sure everyone that participates gets something, so we'll act as insurance in case something happens and your gift doesn't arrive.

    Have a great week, talk to you on Friday!

    Friday, December 5, 2014

    Weekly Update 12.5

    Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

    So this week, the countdown is …

    … Still at 0.

    This week the graphics team has continued work on the Web of Fate. In fact, I have something to share from that work. Below you will find the latest draft of the Sovereignty portion of the web, offered here with no further explanation. You are welcome to speculate though...


    Anne is deep in writing, and she let me know that soon there might be an excerpt from the novel on the blog. Other than that, all that remains is finishing the Blessings Chapter. This is the last thing that needs to be worked on and will probably be dominating updates for all remaining weeks.

    So on to your questions! A couple got answered in the questions thread but I’ll repeat them here.

    How freeform are Spheres? Do they have multiple Paths to follow?

    Spheres are more like trees than a web. They are self contained, but will have branching paths. (puns!)

    Could a Thunder user buy just lightning powers without having to touch rain?

    As the blessings chapter and spheres are still being finalized, I cannot give a definitive answer to this.

    Will Spheres also have passives?

    The answer to this comes down to semantics. There will be nodes in the Spheres that will give stat bonuses, but they’re not being called passives, but you could consider them stat buffs.

    Will the PDF have clickable bookmarks?

    The answer to this is a definite yes.

    Will PDFs be sent out ASAP or will they be on hold until the dead tree format is shipped out?

    The print and PDF versions will be released simultaneously, but given the realities of shipping you will probably get the PDF first, but the print versions will arrive on their heels.

    That's it for this week, although there will be another post this weekend in response to question that's been asked behind the scenes but needed a little bit more work to answer. Stay tuned...

    Friday, November 28, 2014

    Weekly Update 11.28

    Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

    OK, this week is Thanksgiving in the US so things are pretty quiet.

    Buuuut… The system count, is now at...

    0

    So what dies this mean? It means that all of the system work is done! All the work now is finishing the writing, the editing, and layout. When that's all done the book goes to the publisher. So what's happening this week? This week John got all the remaining work he owed to the Graphics team. That included tables and the Web of Fate. Now they can work on finalizing those for the book. The character sheets are getting a slight redesign as well.

    Anne and the editor reviewed the first 5 chapters which are now approved.

    You've probably noticed the blog has been pretty quiet, and there is a reason for that. As you probably know, Anne and John want to get the book published and sent for delivery by the end of the year. This has meant that the time they normally spend on the blog has gone into finishing the book. So unfortunately, so expect a certain degree of radio silence for the next couple weeks. I will try to fill in some gaps, but I am but one marginally informed man.

    With that, onto your questions, some of which were huge!

    What role "ohana" plays in Hawaiian mythology?

    Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind. Joking aside, this is a really big question, one that we are sadly not qualified to give an answer to. Kinship is important in Pacific Tribal societies, but the specific significance of Ohana in mythology could be the subject of a graduate thesis.

    What stories are there with multiple heroes in them? Do you think the focus on lone heroes in myths is due (in part) to the oral tradition making it harder to focus a story on more than one or two main characters?

    So there was some good conversation around hero teams in mythology on the question forum, and some of the examples brought up in the thread are actually used in the book of examples of hero teams. There is time spent in both the GM and the Player chapters discussing the fact that unless you’re doing a one-on-one story, that your character will be part of a larger group of heroes, and being part of a larger group means you’re going to share the spotlight from time to time.

    I’ve said before I’m better versed in pop-culture than mythology, so allow me a digression to a modern myth most are familiar with; Star Wars episodes IV-VI are an example of a hero team done well. All of the main characters get multiple moments to contribute to the story. While Luke is the character generally focused on, he’s not the focus of every scene. Han Solo, Princess Leia, C3-PO & R2-D2, and Chewbacca all get multiple moments to contribute.

    A story with a single protagonist (in my opinion) is on the surface easier to tell, you don't have multiple plot lines as you only have the events happening to a single character. But as to the reasons behind the oral tradition, this probably veers into another graduate level thesis on the evolution narrative and storytelling.

    What other monkey/ape gods are there?

    There are definitely other Monkey gods out there. Off the top of her head Anne thought of the Howler Monkey Twins of Mayan Mythology and Sarutahiko of Japanese Mythology who, while not a monkey himself, is a god of monkeys.

    The Handsome Monkey King and Hanuman are absurdly strong and wildly magical. Are most monkey gods in Asia viewed this way? Or is it a case of one (HMK) being obviously influenced by the other?

    The answer to the first part is no, monkey gods in Asia not uniformly viewed as absurdly strong and wildly magical. Grouping an entire continent together to find a single unifying themes veers into something that we at Hero’s Journey try to avoid, and trying to figure out who influenced whom is not something we are qualified to answer, and would require a great deal of study in cross cultural influences in Asian mythology.

    I know the book is still in editing but can we have a ballpark figure of the page count?

    This is still very rough estimate, but we’re looking at between 300-400 pages.

    That's it for this week! Have a great weekend!

    Friday, November 21, 2014

    Weekly Update 11.20

    Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

    To kick it off this week the countdown now sits at…

    5 Systems Left

    That’s right, there are only five systems left. You can count the systems left on one hand. But that’s about all I can say, by John and Anne’s own admission these are the systems that were the least “fun” for them to put together, they are not being discussed for their own protection. The work is mostly closing loopholes so that no one winds up with an exploitable system.

    Outside of systems work, the art team is finishing the extra maps mentioned in the Kickstarter. As well, the editing team is done with the first two chapters.

    Once Anne and John are done with systems, the team's focus will shift to final editing and layout for the book, all so that they can be sent to the publisher to be printed and be out for delivery by the year's end.

    So that's it for the update,  on to questions for the week.

    We had seen in the gameplay videos the crafting of an antidote, but will it be possible to craft more "mythical" objects? If so, could you talk about it and share some infos?

    It will definitely possible to create mythical objects. The blessings that enable the creation of mythical objects will be found within the Creator Aspect.

    Would it be possible to have some more details about the Aspects subsystems?

    I have brief rundowns for all other aspect subsystems. However, this reveal comes with a caveat. That caveat is that outside of clarification for my poor descriptions, this will probably be all I am able to say about these subsystems before the release of the core book. So with that in mind, here they are.

    The Lover Aspect - The Lover has Faithful Allies. Where the Leader has groups that are loyal to them, the Lover has close companions who will truly devoted, madly, deeply devoted to your character. They need not be romantic lovers, they could be a best friend, a brother in arms, the Samwise to your Frodo. They will do nearly anything for your character.

    The Creator Aspect - Creators have two blessings per tier that have a "super-charged" (my words, not an official term) mode. A hero can use their "super-charges" only a limited amount of times per saga. A simple example of one ability would involve healing; lets say you had a blessing that could normally heal one person, a “super-charged” version of that blessing would allow your character to heal the entire group at once.

    The Hunter Aspect - The Hunter gains access to Mettle. Mettle is a resource that allows your hero to fight through hardships for a limited number of times during a saga. By using mettle, your hero is able to go without food, water, sleep, or even ignore pain penalties for a specified amount of time.

    The Warrior Aspect - Warriors in addition to being amazing fighters, gain access to Brawn. Your hero can spend their brawn points to perform superhuman acts of strength. Specifically they can lift and break things with ruthless efficiency.

    The Sage Aspect - Sages are incredibly intelligent. Because of their intelligence they have a resource pool that they can tap into to fuel uses of other aspect abilities, alternatively they can use their sage resources to augment the use of other aspect abilities.

    Will you guys use kickstarter for your supplements?
    The answer to this is yes, but probably not for every supplement. Anne and John have learned a lot from this first Kickstarter, and they are still figuring out how they want to use it in the future. Generally their thought is they will only use Kickstarter for projects that they want to go above and beyond on.

    So that's it for this week, have a great weekend!

    Monday, November 17, 2014

    Mechanics Update: Ethoi are History!

    Okay, folks! We've mentioned that there have been big changes in the Ethoi department over the past few months of development, and a few of you have heard about it but would like to know more. Cameron, always crusading for your questions, brought this one up a few times, but eventually we all decided that it would make more sense for someone (read: me) to write a blog post about the changes rather than try to run it through him to repeat for all of you, like some kind of Game Development Telephone game.

    So, here I am to talk about Ethoi! The first big and obvious thing is this: Ethoi are gone. They have been removed from the game. The original post describing them refers to a mechanic that is no more.

    So, you know, that's a big deal.

    There were several reasons behind our decision to ditch Ethoi, and the first was that we found that they were more limiting for characters than they were helpful in defining them. The Ethoi were designed to help give characters some of the flavor of the Heroes who had come before them, illustrating that the traditional values of their patron god's pantheon and religion affected and shaped them as much as their own decisions and motivations. They were supposed to add color to Heroes' lives and choices by ensuring that they were part of their pantheon's heritage as well as their own new traditions, but in practice they weren't doing that job. For Heroes who were inclined toward them, they weren't encouraging anything that they weren't going to be doing on their own anyway, and for those who wanted to do or be something new, they could quickly become strangling requirements that forced Heroes into narrow versions of what a Hindu or Greek or Norse or Egyptian Hero, specifically, should be.

    A second major problem was that coming up with what were essentially religious or cultural values that characters would be required to adhere to made us distinctly uncomfortable the more we thought about it. Although we can make big sweeping generalizations about religious values and even be in the ballpark of correct a lot of the time, in the end saying "this is what a follower of the Egyptian religion considers ethical" or "this is what a Norse person believes is important" treads a little too close to stereotyping Heroes based on their religion or ethnicity, and we were definitely not down for that. After all, people of different ethnicities, religions and cultures can share a background in common but have very different values or ideas of how to interpret moral issues, and forcing characters into a single "right way to be Egyptian" felt simplistic and inaccurate. Plus, we (the design and writing team) are not from all those backgrounds or religions, so us trying to make a call on what they might consider most important was kind of a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey situation.

    So, rather than trying to salvage a mechanic that wasn't doing its job and was beginning to look distinctly problematic to us, we scrapped it. Now that Ethoi are gone, what do you folks get instead?

    In most of the major mechanical senses, Archetypes have been expanded to take over the job that the Ethoi were doing: it is now Archetypes that govern how quickly a Hero can progress in their abilities and powers, making them the most important stat when it comes to moving up in the world. This is a lot better because the Archetypes are universal to all Heroes; not only do players get to choose which ones best apply to their characters, regardless of their background or pantheon, but they describe styles of heroism and reasons for becoming heroes that could be applied to any Hero from any time or place. When you choose for your Hero to embody the Savior or the Ruler, you have done so because that's the kind of Hero you want them to be, and they can fulfill those ideas as any person of any background you wish.

    (As a consequence, Archetypes no longer give you extra Labors the way they used to, but don't worry, you'll get those elsewhere!)

    A good thing about Ethoi was that they were giving Heroes some more flavor when it comes to their pantheon; we want the choice of a pantheon and patron god to have meaningful effects on your Hero beyond just roleplaying, so we weren't thrilled about losing a mechanic that made that decision a little more relevant. However, the Devotional Domains have been substantially expanded since then (albeit not all in the initial release), and along with some benefits from your choice of pantheon and patron, we think you'll have plenty to make choosing a given set of gods as your patrons feel both spiritually and mechanically different.

    So, that's the scoop on Ethoi, those game mechanics that almost were. Thanks to all of you who asked about them, and as always, feel free to keep asking questions - either Cameron will get you answers in the Friday updates, or if it's something that needs an in-depth response, he'll chase us around the Writing Tower until we can get you a post like this one.

    Until next time!

    Friday, November 14, 2014

    Weekly Update 11.14

    Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

    First things first, this week the countdown is at…

    14

    This week only ticked off two things from last week, but honestly only four days had gone by from last week’s meeting and this week’s meeting. One of the things that got finished was intoxication penalties, remember to have your characters drink responsibly, otherwise there will be penalties.

    Also if you haven't seen it yet, Anne and John have a new video up on the Kickstarter site letting you know where things are in the production. If you've been following the blog, it might not be a ton of new information, but it's a heads up direct from them.

    Only a short update, but you had a lot of questions so let's get to those!

    Will there be a chapter in the book addressing things like the consequences of Inter-pantheon wars and marriages and such?
    This unfortunately will not make it into the core book in a significant way. There is some discussion but not an entire chapter. This is something that you could potentially see in a supplemental book down the line.

    In your universe, there are temples of the old gods spread over the world, i imagine the temples would be more concentrated over their native areas but do the gods compete for "territory" and followers?
    In the core setting Gods haven’t interacted with the mortal world directly for thousands of years. They have wielded little influence as to where their mortal worshipers build temples. Their temples reflect where their worshipers decided to put them.

    How does it look with lethality?
    Lethality is a tricky thing to nail down. There are a lot of factors that come into play, and can depend on your GM and your character. If you create a character that is a glass cannon and has no defensive stats, then you will be very fragile. If you’re very fragile, you could be killed by a normal run of the mill mortal.

    If you are fighting something of equal level to your character, there is a chance it can kill you. As a heroic character it's up to you to make sure that you come out ahead.

    Over the course of a Hero’s Journey, your characters are often confronted by being that are significantly stronger than themselves. In these circumstances it is imperative that you tread lightly, because those would be situations where the story has the potential to be the most lethal.

    Could we get some insight on Character Creation? Is it a point system, an archetype system? 
    This is another one of those questions that you will need to wait for. I know the wait is getting hard, but there is a chapter devoted to this in the book. There will be points that you will be able to assign and starting characters will be roughly equal. But unfortunately the details of character creation will have to wait until the book is published.

    Are Gods in HJ affected by their domains? As in, will a Sun God be weakened during an eclipse, or will a God of knowledge be stronger in a library?
    This is something of a grey area. The gods themselves are not directly weakened or strengthened by external factors in our world. That being said, what you’re describing could be an interesting story hook for a GM.

    What about the Ethoi?
    This has been asked by several people directly. I’d point to the disclaimer nothing is set in stone until the game is published, and over the course of development things change. The Ethoi are one of these things. Next Monday, Anne will be talk about The Ethoi and where it fits in development.

    Have a great weekend!

    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    The Lord of Chaos

    Today's question (demand, really) is short and to the point: Tell us about Apep! We are all too happy to talk about Apep (probably closer to Apapi in ancient Egyptian), also known in Greek circles as Apophis, the dread serpent of darkness and primordial chaos who lurks in the unfathomable depths of the shadow world of Duat. It is a big deal in Egyptian mythology, so let's learn about it! (Carefully, and quietly. We don't want its attention.)


    Apep - often called "the Apep" in Egyptian texts, to distinguish it from lesser serpents that might be considered its offspring or reprsentatives - is an enormous snake that lurks in the darkness of Duat, sometimes said to lie coiled around the fabled Mount Bakhu, at others believed to lie in the fathomless dark waters of the primordial Nun, the only place infinite enough to contain its endless bulk. According to the Pyramid Texts, Ra, the sun god, travels through Duat each night, dying when the sun sets but resurrecting himself at the dawn to allow the sun to be reborn the next day, but Apep lies in wait there to try to stop him, appearing in the dark underworld skies with hordes of evil minions and lesser serpents.

    What exactly Apep's aim here is differs slightly with the version. In some myths, it wishes to devour the sun, swallowing Ra and the solar disc into its endless gullet to become its sustenance alone; in others, it seeks only to prevent Ra from ever raising the sun for the next morning, to which end it employs any means, up to and including destroying him and his protectors before they can escape Duat to take to the skies again. In all cases, Apep is a symbol of the chaos that lurks at the edge of the universe; if it succeeds in preventing the sun from rising, it will destroy the natural order of things, and in return the world will be plunged into chaos and death.


    Apep's origin was for most of Egyptian religion not recorded in any way; it had simply always existed, much like the other primordial elements of chaos and creation, and not even the most ancient of gods could claim it as offspring. In later myths, after Greek and Roman influence had caused etymological confusion that related the serpent to the word for spitting, it was said to be created by Neith, the ancient goddess of the waters, who had spat it out as unclean when she was creating the rest of the great waters. Other serpents that may or may not be related to it are found throughout Duat, including fire-breathing torch-serpents that light the solar barque's way, great serpents whose guts the sun god must travel through, and other dangerous snakes who may be offspring of Apep or simply other forms of its malevolence seen throughout the underworld.

    Because Apep is so terrible (always described as fathomlessly huge, which is why it is depicted with such tightly-packed coils to represent how much of it there is, and smetimes said to have a head made of vicious hard flint or eyes of gold) and so dangerous, the sun god was understood to not be able to fight such a fearsome foe alone. The solar barque was staffed with a defense team intended to help him fight Apep off each day, including Horus, god of kingship and warfare; Maahes, lion god of slaughter and courage; Serket, scorpion goddess of poisons and disease; Mehen, the serpent god who opposes his fellow snake; and the trio of magical gods Hu, Saa and Siu, who support and enhance the magical powers of Ra himself. Each day, through their combined efforts, Apep is defeated or turned aside and Ra is saved to begin the day anew, although not without great hardship and injury to all.

    The foremost of Ra's defenders, and the only deity who stands as a true opponent who can face Apep's might, is Set, god of the deserts. Apep's powers include a terrible hypnotic gaze that can freeze even a god so that they lose all reason, not to mention its unending coils which are wrapped around the barque itself and all the gods within, and thus many of the defending gods are paralyzed by its gaze each day, or physically restrained so that they cannot help Ra as they intend to. Set, however, is the strongest and most powerful of all the divine warriors, and he is unaffected by any of Apep's dangerous skills; he is too strong to be held in its coils, and too loyal and determined to be hypnotized, which allows him to take over and drive the barque for Ra while the sun god fights the snake's influence himself. He then fights Apep with a great iron spear, eventually skewering it and driving it off until the great struggle begins again the next day.


    Apep's not just a big mindless sun-eating snake, either; when it comes to Set, it's downright snarky, trading insults and one-liners back and forth with the god of chaos, including making fun of his missing testicle. So clearly there is plenty of malevolent intelligence behind those great serpentine eyes.

    In spite of the efforts of Ra and his fellow gods, Apep's attacks are not always in vain. Occasionally, it successfully swallows the sun; this is the case when eclipses occur, which were believed to be the result of Apep performing a surprise attack during the daytime, and which last as long as it takes for the gods to come to Ra's rescue and fight the snake off before the day can resume, and on at least one memorable occasion, the sun didn't rise at all thanks to Set being called away to the birth of his son, leaving the barque woefully underdefended. Apep was ruinously wounded when Set returned and carved a hole in its throat to let the barque through, but we must assume it enjoyed the victory while it lasted.

    Apep's relationship with Set is a complicated one, and not just because of the constant insult war and physical altercations; in later times, Greek and Roman writers actually conflated the two gods into a single person, a move that would have been vastly confusing to those Egyptians worshiping their earlier incarnations centuries before. Because Set and Apep were both used to represent chaos or at least opposition to order in Egyptian myths, and because Set was so heavily demonized thanks to his rebellion against his brother Osiris (exacerbated by Greek writers conflating him with their own most evil antagonists of the gods, such as Typhon), over time the god who was the most staunch opponent of the serpent became considered just as evil, and eventually as the serpent itself. It probably didn't hurt that the Hyksos, a Semitic people from the northeastern Middle East area, had conquered Egypt at the end of the 14th dynasty (with a lot of traumatic new inventions like chariots that were not seen as very sporting) and took on Set as their patron god, which associated him with divisive invading conquerors.


    So Apep absorbed Set, near the end of the Egyptian religion, and then was in turn absorbed into the Greek figure of Typhon, in a big scary stew of darkness and monsterness that threatens the universe.

    Regardless of who or how it's associated, the Apep is the most terrible of all Egyptian enemies of the gods, and a figure to be feared for all of time, as long as the universe still remains in existence and the gods wish to keep it from being destroyed.

    Monday, November 10, 2014

    Modern Mythology

    So I am still working out the final shape of what the Monday post will look like. I thought about a bunch of things that I could talk about: Thor in the Marvel Universe, Stargate and Gods as Ancient Aliens, or Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey. All of those seemed too obvious, and are generally well tread territory, so I went back to some articles I been grabbing from the web over the past few months.

    Which brings me to the article I wanted to talk about today. Specifically how Mythology can be used as a motivator. Bear with me here, because it only tangentially touches on Mythology. A few weeks ago I found this article on a learning blog (training is one of my day jobs). The article covers an ARG used by a 7th grade teacher to help his students better learn The Odyssey and specifically the character of Odysseus.

    If you’re not familiar with what an ARG is, it is an Alternate Reality Game. Unlike a “normal” game where there is a very clear distinction between what is and is not part of the game, an ARG blurs that. One of the most famous is I Love Bees developed by 42 Entertainment as part of viral marketing campaign for Halo 2. I Love Bees told the story of an AI marooned on Earth trying to put itself back together. It's very interesting to read about, and I highly recommend checking it out.

    ARGs are really good at organically pulling together groups of to solve problems, often problems that would be difficult, if not impossible, to solve as an individual. In Dolus, the game created by John Fallon, the goal was to get his students to better understand Odysseus as a character.
    ...students had to inhere the very qualities that helped the cunning Odysseus to prevail on his journey. “Odysseus is mortal and without superpowers but, above all, he’s a tenacious problem solver,” explained Fallon. “He is put into seemingly impossible situations and, through sheer human ingenuity and persistence, he finds a way out.”
    Fallon got his students to think about what made Odysseus, his wit and problem solving skills. He set out challenges that got his students thinking like him, and as a result got them to see Odysseus not as a far off one dimensional stock hero. By making his players struggle to reach for the skills that made Odysseus a hero, he made the character someone that the students could admire. In the end the students ended up with a clearer vision on who Odysseus was for them.
    “They did a better job of making their individual versions of Odysseus more clever and better problem solvers rather than just a cardboard cutout hero who bashes his way through problems. This likely stems from having experienced some difficult problem solving of their own in similar circumstances.”
    Heroes and Heroic Journey’s have been used teach us what we can do at our best, as well they can be useful to warn  of hubris and Odysseus is a great example of both of those. Without any super powers, and with only his wits, he guides his crew through their long journey home. That story, even more than a thousand years later can still be used to motivate students.

    If you’re interested the article can be found here.

    Friday, November 7, 2014

    Weekly Update 11.7

    Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

    So welcome to November! Despite it's being published at noon today, I am actually writing this in the dead of night. I have been on Jury Duty for the past four days, which cruelly strips away the opportunity to use any devices that can connect to the internet. But enough about that, let’s talk numbers.

    This week the countdown sits at…

    16


    11 items down from last week, which is some pretty strong progress.

    This week John and Anne had a big meeting with the layout team where they finalized the majority of the Style for the layouts in the book. At the meeting they reviewed and accepted the first 20 pages of the GM Chapter. Also this week, they worked on the above 11 items, which they’re keeping secret, even from me.

    I wasn't able to meet with Anne this week, but John will be working with the layout team to finalize the look and feel of the Web of Fate for the book.

    In Art news, Art has wrapped. This means that all the artwork that will be used in the book is completed!

    That’s it for updates, on to your questions! Thanks to those of you who waited an extra week for answers.

    How are divinely important objects (Like Mjolnir) handled in Hero’s Journey? 
    They would be significant Divine Favors, these objects probably still exist and are in the hands of the heroes and Gods that wield them. If they were lost, then chances are they’re still lost. Of course your GM might want to use them to particular effect in the Hero’s Journey that they’re helping to tell.

    Ethoi spoiler on Monday Posts?
    I unfortunately am not able to speak to this question right now.

    Benefits from Patrons?
    Your Patron gives you two key benefits. The first is extra labors usable for specific aspects. For instance, a champion of Ares will get extra labors in the Warrior Aspect. The second benefit is an extra blessing that is unique and separate from the Web of Fate. However, some gods may give the same blessing, for instance Thor and Ares give their champions the same blessing.

    How do Divine Favors work? How are Divine Favors Integrated? Limits and Restrictions on Divine Favors?
    The are huge and awesome questions, and they're going answered in the book, it just takes multiple pages to explaining the systems, integration, and restrictions. I haven't all of them yet and I can't speak further on it today unfortunately.

    So, we're the first new heroes of this time! the first since Hercules, The Hero Twins, Chu Chulain, Sigmund and so on. But what does the setting say about all the mythic creatures? Have The Phoenix been spotted? Is the army dispatched to deal with Nemean lions? Is medusa still hanging about? Does Jotun still visit the earth?
    In the core setting these mythic creatures have also disappeared, and begin to appear to help or hinder your hero’s heroic journey. However this is not to say that you can’t alter your setting to dial up or dial down the level of fantasy of your world. Maybe mythic creatures never existed before your heroes appeared, or maybe mythic beasts ran rampant without heroes to keep them in check. There are a lot of permutations to play with.

    So that’s it for this week! Now that by the time you’re reading this I will (hopefully) be out of jury duty, I’ll be back on Monday with another modern mythology post. I’ll still be talking about Mythology and (Augmented Reality Games) ARGs.

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

    Game Update! First week of November

    These havnt been coming as weekly as I'd like them to, but I'm hard at work in the "fixing things" dungeon and havnt been able to escape.

    Saturday game: Gangs of New York

    "Most importantly, be discreet"
    These were the final words given to them by the gods secretly helping them. The final session began with Corey leading 3 Iron Man-esque robots to kill Michael in Washington Square Park. Michael had just exited the sewers and was screaming to everyone who could hear that he was hunting Corey. Seif was imprisoned by the military. Valentina and Nic were running down broadway attempting to avoid a pair of Jotun. A jotun soon joined the fray with Michael and Corey and in the ensuing chaos, Corey was murdered and Michael was mortally wounded. Michael made his way to a hospital, but the infections and radiation poisoning from the battle were too much. Seif broke out of prison to rally the troops against the attacking Jotun. He succeeded at destroying one, but died as the second and third assaulted the base.

    Then some secret stuff happened to each character that not everyone knows about.

    A new mini story starts where everyone is playing a character that has died in the campaign. They're competing in an arena for the enjoyment of the gods watching. The winner gets to live again.
    The characters being played are
    Michael
    Mabel
    Alan
    Simon
    James

    We haven't gotten to play this yet though, so not much more to tell.


    Sunday Game:

    Things are getting increasingly bad for the sunday crew. I'll be brief though.

    Folkvardr finally made it to the Greek Prophecy machine(patent pending). He saw many things that were horrible. But many of which he has suspicions about anyways. It seems many "forgotten" gods may not be completely forgotten. Afterwards, the Greek tech goddesses kept him sedated and dissected him.

    Jioni has become constantly plagued by attacks from Artemis. What was once an occasional bother has become a constant threat. This may be because even though many of the greeks are still locked away, Jioni's husband was let free on "good behavior" and is back ruling his world. Jioni has been spending most of her time in Solheim attempting to heal from her horrible wounds and waiting til she becomes a woman again(physically) so she can return to her husband and plead her case.

    Sowiljr was late for a meeting with Vishnu and it seemed Vishnu left without him. He hung out with Indra for a while before attempting to head back to Earth so he could get to Folkvardr to save him. This was increasingly difficult because the illusion realm had started to pour completely overtake the Hindu overworld. Eventually sowiljr made it back to Olympus and made an exchange for Folkvardr. Tyr is headed over to help protect the mountain.

    Eztli is in her overworld making sure her people are all well taken care of. This is more difficult because many are not pleased with her reign and most of the Aztec gods have left the great pyramid for the time being. There are only a cat and a bird on the pyramid at the moment, and they both seem to have very different ideas about how Eztli should be using her time.

    Eventually everyone meets up at the pyramid. There are some quick problems in Mexico City because Sowiljr would'nt "comfort" a mourning Chalchiuhtlicue, but it gets quickly handled. They all head to the secret Roman Coffee Shop. And for the first time ever, they successfully blend some magic coffee.




    Tuesday, November 4, 2014

    Giver of Wisdom

    Back to India today, to talk about this question from the box!: I loved your post on Hanuman and I was wondering if you could do a post on another, much less well-known Vishnu devotee: Narada. Your wish is our command!

    Narada definitely is less well-known than Hanuman, which I think may be partly because he's just not as flashy as a magical monkey who sometimes leaps across the ocean in a single bound. Instead, he is one of the most highly-respected and famously wise of all Hindu sages, who was looked to by kings, other sages, and even gods for spiritual guidance, and who often appears in the midst of various myths to dispense advice in the nick of time (and also, often, when irritated people don't want it but still need it regardless of their crankiness).


    He is one of the most famous devotees of Vishnu, occasionally even acting as counselor to the gods, and like his divine patron is wise and benevolent but also occasionally demonstrates a wicked sense of humor. Narada was mortal, but had in his previous life been one of the gandharva, beautiful supernatural beings who perform songs of praise and carry messages for the gods; he was cursed with humanity after choosing to perform a worshipful song to a mere demigod instead of to Vishnu, who thereafter sent him to become a mortal. His origins are always thinly veiled, however; his family recognized his connection to divinity and he was given to the priesthood of Vishnu at a young age, and his former life as a celestial musician is echoed in his mastery of the veena (which, depending on the region, is sometimes said to have been invented by him) and his status as the most skilled mortal musician of his lifetime.

    Narada's career begins when he is a young man, and leaves the company of the priests of Vishnu to wander the forest alone, performing penance and seeking the ultimate truth of the universe. He meditated with such determination and devotion that Vishnu took notice of him, and appeared before him in his full and most glorious of forms, an overwhelming display of glory and beauty that no mortal could bear for long. Vishnu informed Narada that he would never see him in his full glory again until after his death, which was part of his punishment of being mortal; although this turned out to be true, Vishnu did eventually relent and give Narada back his spiritual powers after death, at which point he became considered a servant or even avatar of Vishnu himself, one who has his own temples and devotees.


    Narada, like many other divine sages in various cultures' mythologies, usually knows more about what's going on than anyone else does, which results in him doing things that seem to make no sense or appear to be unfair or even evil. Of course, they only look that way because no one else has any idea what he's up to - he may occasionally be more than a little mischievous, but he's not downright harmful. For example, he intentionally told Krishna's father Vasudeva that an innocent family of allies were plotting against him, an outright lie, which resulted in Vasudeva capturing, imprisoning, torturing and eventually killing them. They were understandably pretty upset about this, but Narada told this lie not because he wanted them to suffer, but because only he had the secret knowledge that they were actually deities who had been cursed to be born mortal, and that they could not return to their divine forms until they had been tortured and killed in this manner.

    Krishna, who is of course one of the avatars of Vishnu, is also especially fond of Narada, whom he considers perhaps the most pious of all his devotees, and who he turns to for advice in several instances. In each case, Narada counsels Krishna, who is somewhat famous for his temper and propensity for mischief, to employ patience, kindness and love toward others, staving off the possibility of war and conflict with various factions.


    Of course, a lot of Narada's life is about atoning for past sins and not getting too full of himself, and in spite of being super fond of him, Vishnu also enjoys punking him to remind him not to get too proud of himself. In one instance, Narada, correctly surmising that he was Vishnu's favorite, point-blank asked him to tell him that this was so; Vishnu responded by instead claiming that a random mortal farmer was his favorite devotee, which immediately offended and confused Narada. He decided to stalk the farmer, lurking in and around his house and fields in an attempt to figure out what made him so special, but succeeded in learning only that the farmer worked all day and prayed to Vishnu once before leaving and once before going to bed.

    Because he wasn't quite done pushing his luck, Narada then went back to Vishnu and demanded an explanation for why this random dude who didn't even pray a fraction as often as himself was his favorite. Vishnu told him he'd explain only if he put a large earthen pot of water on his head and walked around with it all day, and managed not to spill even a single drop of water. Narada successfully did so, but upon returning, Vishnu asked him how many times he had prayed to him that day; Narada was forced to admit that he hadn't prayed at all, since he was using all his concentration to succeed at the task, and then Vishnu informed him that he was only impressed by people who could go about their reponsibilities and be devout at the same time, rather than choosing one or the other.


    Look at Vishnu back there. He's so pleased with himself. Also hilarious is the story in which Narada becomes too proud of his musical expertise, and Vishnu responds by taking him into the forest, showing him a group of suffering and deformed women, and then explaining that these are the goddesses of music and Narada's playing is so terrible that he's actually killing them with it.

    Narada's doings are generally morality tales; he appears as the wise counselor when his advice is appropriate and illuminates things that the audience should learn, but he is also not infallible and soemtimes has to be shown to have failings, so that the audience can also be reminded that even the wisest of sages are not immune to pride, foolishness, or plain old ineptitude.

    It would take forever to describe all of Narada's stints as divine advisor to the stars, but they include advising other sages who falter in their duties, helping kings seek blessings for their kingdoms, and even visiting the gods to ensure their religious devotion is still strong in spite of their great powers. The messages of most Narada stories is that it doesn't matter how powerful and holy someone is - they can always strive to be better, and pride in their prowess never does anything but get in the way.


    When you're out there being the best Sage you can be, remember the tales of Narada, dear young Heroes. Pride has been the downfall of many a divine adventurer!

    Friday, October 31, 2014

    Weekly Update 10.31

    Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, what is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game and abilities and powers discussed in this blog my not work as described here.

    Happy Halloween, if you’re celebrating it. It’s the last day of October and autumn is in full swing here. This week, will only have a short update because John and Anne have been flat out and we were not able to get our schedules in sync enough to meet. This ties in with the countdown, which I’ll get into momentarily.

    With that in mind, today the official countdown sits at…

    27


    No, you're not misreading that, the countdown went up, bear with me as this'll take further explanation.

    As much as we want it to be, development isn’t a straight road, there are bumps and unexpected turns. After last week’s update John and Anne sat down and realized that 25 was actually closer to 43. So they have been doing crazy work cycles in order to try and not make me a liar and to get below 25. In the end though, they ended up knocking 16 things off of the new list, which is HUGE! But it ends with the count at 27. So here's the revised number.

    Progress is being made and next week John and Anne are going to be filming an official video and Kickstarter update explaining where they are in more detail.

    As I mentioned above, we were not able to meet this week, Samudra and Rasmus I apologize.  I've got your questions and they haven’t been forgotten, I'll be bringing them to the next meeting. It'll just take another week.

    In art news I've seen the in progress cover art and it looks awesome! Actually, let me show it to you. Obviously there will be text, but it's looking pretty sweet.



    So that’s it for this week! I’ll be back on Monday with another modern mythology post. This one will be talking about Mythology and ARGs (Augmented Reality Games).

    Have a great weekend!

    Wednesday, October 29, 2014

    The Dark Goddesses

    Today's question says: In honour of Hallowe'en, how about some cool and spooky info on goddesses of death? Spooky info, eh? Let me see how festive we can get up in here!

    There are myriad goddesses of death out there, from all kinds of different religions and cultures. They mean a thousand different things, but this question is pretty appropriate, because a general worldwide trend exists in which death goddesses are often terrifying in a way that death gods who are male are not. There's a whole barrel of conjecture about why this is - possibly because women represent the ability to give life in many cultures thanks to being the primary people who give birth, so they can also have the power to take it away, or possibly because they are sometimes considered more dangerous and uncontrolled than their male counterparts, making them frightening unknown quantities instead of the male underworld god archetype of the responsible administrator - but the honest truth is that we don't know for certain, and that it's just as likely that every culture with a scary death goddess has their own reasons for their terrible lady of the great beyond.

    We could talk about a lot of death goddess topics, but since we were specifically asked for spooky Halloweeny fun, we'll do a quick run-through of some of the most famous goddesses and their most horror-movie moments!

    Ereshkigal.


    Although Ereshkigal has many positive things in her myths, including volunteering to take charge of the underworld and acting as a generally benevolent steward of the dead, she is still among the most terrible of all Mesopotamian gods, and that's including some very shady characters indeed. In perhaps her darkest tale, Ereshkigal's husband Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven, was killed when her sister Inanna sent him to fight Gilgamesh. Inanna then descended into Ereshkigal's realm to offer her condolences and ensure that her sister did not blame her for Gugalanna's death.

    Ereshkigal's minions slowly stripped Inanna of all her power and glory, convincing her to give up one of her masteries for each gate of the underworld that she passed, until she was naked, cold and alone when she finally reached the inner sanctum. Inanna stormed into Ereshkigal's throne room, demanding to know why she had been treated so poorly... only to discover too late that her sister was indeed seeking vengeance for the loss of her husband. Ereshkigal stole the life from Inanna's body, striking her dead, and hung her lifeless corpse from a meathook in the ceiling, leaving it to slowly rotate as a gruesome reminder of her transgressions.

    Inanna was eventually rescued when the other gods demanded her return to prevent the earth from becoming barren, but even then Ereshkigal's vengeance was not ended. In Inanna's place she took her husband Dumuzi, the handsome shepherd god, and drags him into the underworld to suffer torture in her place each year, pulled from the lands of the living by the many fingers of her terrible messenger demons.

    Hekate.


    The dread goddess of the crossroads is also an underworld goddess, frequently seen in company of the other death gods as well as stalking abroad in the dead of night. Associated with crossroads, witchcraft and the night, there are few goddesses more suited to send a little witchy thrill up your spine around Halloween.

    Hekate was especially fond of Hekabe, the former queen of Troy who was captured by Odysseus at the war's end. Hekabe went quietly, but as they journeyed they came upon the body of Polydorus, her son, who had been brutally murdered by the Thracian king who was meant to be his caretaker. Hekabe immediately went to the king's palace and requested an audience, but when he granted it, thinking she was only a grief-stricken woman, she threw herself at him and gauged out his eyeballs with her own fingers, murdering him as vengeance for her son's murder.

    The Thracians attempted to stone her in retaliation, but as they hurled the rocks at her, Hekate transformed her into a slavering, howling dog, a terrible beast that could not be killed or escaped. The dog roams the Thracian countryside even now, and it is said that the dog's baying can terrify any living person and be heard in the dead of night when Hekate's rites have been neglected.

    Hel.


    The terrible death goddess of Norse mythology lives in the dreary underworld halls that share her name; she is not well-described except that half of her visage is frightening and dark, and that she is a monster just as horrifying as her siblings the Fenris Wolf and Midgard Serpent, just as likely to wreak ruin and death in her wake.

    Hel was banished to the underworld when only a girl, thanks to the gods who feared her and her siblings and saw in them the potential for destruction. There, she lives in a miserable palace of suffering and horrors, eating with her utensils Famine and Hunger and sleeping in a bed composed of disease and sickness. She was mostly forgotten by the gods who banished her until Baldr, their most beloved son, was killed by his brother and consigned to her realm; they sent messengers to demand that she return him, but she refused to do so unless the entire world wept for him, a task that the gods could not successfully complete. She thus kept the most beloved and beautiful thing ever made by the gods for herself only, locked in the dark halls of the underworld for her sole pleasure.

    Hel's true terror is still yet to come; at the terrible cataclysm of Ragnarök, Hel will throw her lot in with her treacherous father Loki. When he arrives to do battle with the gods, it is said that all of Hel's people will arrive with him - the goddess of death will throw wide her doors, and all the dead who have ever been left in her care will walk again and visit terror on the living.

    Izanami.


    Izanami's story is something straight out of a terrifying Japanese horror movie (and of course, she is probably one of the earliest inspirations for that genre!). After giving birth to several children with her her husband Izanagi, she conceived and bore Kagutsuchi, the god of flame. He burned her so badly as she gave birth to him that she was wounded beyond repair, and although she gave the world the water god Mizuhame as she died, she passed away in agony.

    Izanagi was beside himself with grief at the loss of his wife, so he determined to go and win her back by traveling to the underworld, where he had little experience since the world was very new and very few things had yet died. He traveled down into the blackness of the bottom of the universe, Yomi, until he finally found his wife; he could not see her in the dark, but she told him she was glad to see him and that she hoped they would be together forever now. She cautioned him not to look at her face, however, a request that he honored until his curiosity eventually got the better of him. When he lit his lamp, he was horrified to discover that his once-beautiful wife was now a rotting hag, her flesh and hair decaying and her visage as grim as death itself. He ran in terror and she pursued him, screaming dire threats and curses that he had looked upon her putrescent state.

    Izanagi escaped, barely, and rolled a giant stone against the mouth of the underworld so that Izanami could not follow him. But she swore that she would eventually take and destroy each mortal life that he created, and waits in the cold dark of the underworld to receive each and every helpless mortal.

    Morena.


    Morena or Marzanna is the winter witch of Slavic mythology, a figure who was once soft and green and pleasant in the springtime but who becomes as cold and iron-hard as ice when she destroys the countryside to usher in the winter. Morena was married to Jarilo, a handsome young fertility god, with whom she lived many happy years until she discovered that he was unfaithful to her and had taken many other lovers.

    Furious and devastated, Morena transformed overnight from the beautiful young maiden she had been into the winter hag, and murdered her husband in revenge for his misbehavior. She refused to return to the world above, leaving winter to kill any warmth and life that might be trying to peek through the snow, and instead descended to the underworld, where she built a house from Jarilo's limbs, bones and other body parts. She lives in that house all winter long, surrounded by the grisly remains of her unfaithful husband, until he is resurrected in the spring... only to be murdered by her again, and once more dismembered and trapped in the underworld with only his terrible wife for company.

    In many Slavic countries, celebrations in which Morena or Marzanna is burned or drowned in effigy are still commonly practiced; it is hoped that by symbolically destroying her, they may banish her ill will and allow the winter to end. Even this is a dangerous ritual, however - a wrong move or an accidental insult can cause Morena to notice one of the hapless mortals trying to send her away, and she may respond by reaching out her bony fingers to inflict suffering and disease on them, causing them to become one of her subjects sooner rather than later.

    There are many other awesome death goddesses with tooth-tingling stories of terror out there - Hine-nui-te-po who we talked about last week, for example, who killed Maui by crushing him to death with her vagina, or the terrible Morrigan, the phantom queen who foretells heroes' deaths by washing their bloodied clothes - but we can't stay here all day. Beware the darkness this Halloween, dear Heroes - there are more powerful and dangerous beings than mere ghosts that might be waiting in it!

    Tuesday, October 28, 2014

    Wolves of the Steppes

    Today, hanging out in Asia some more! Our question of the day comes from a little farther afield: Can you tell us some about the religion of the Mongolian Empire? As best I can tell the native Mongolian religion is Tengriism, but religious freedom and tolerance also seemed to be important to at least Genghis Khan. I'm not sure if the question is implying that Tengriism somehow isn't religiously tolerant, which isn't the case as far as I know, but I'm sure happy to talk about Mongol religion and myth!

    Tengriism is a term that can be confusing in discussion of traditional Mongol beliefs; it's fairly modern, coined in the past few decades to describe the resurgence of traditional religion and its connection to national identities for Mongols and other Turkic people. But Tengriism as it is practiced now has very ancient roots in religion across inner Asia, and its deities, the eponyomous Tengri foremost among them, have been well-known and respected for many centuries.

    We talk about Mongol religion and related mythologies as all being "Turkic", which refers to different peoples who share religious features and language families in common. There are deities and folkloric conventions in common among the Huns, Mongols, Hungarians, Xiongu, and Göktürks, who range from the Gobi Desert steppes to upper Turkey and all over the territories in between, although of course there are specific changes depending on what areas and peoples' specific cultural ideas are in play. Tengri (or Tangri, Tanri or Tura), the great sky father and creator of humanity, is the major god for most of these religions, but he's far from the only awesome deity involved; also appearing in the Turkic pantheons are the ferocious Mongol war-god Kisangan, the expansive earth goddess Etugen Eke, and Erlik, the god of the dead who is so awesome he has a dinosaur named after him.


    It's part bird, part theropod, all ridiculous halfway-through-evolutionary-growing-pains, and was named after him because it was unearthed from the "underworld" that he administers in Mongolia. So that's excellent, but let's get back to the mythology.

    Like many other religions in central and upper Asia, Mongol beliefs are strongly concerned with shamanism, most specifically with the shaman's role as the mediator between the spirit world and the mortal realm. Ancient Mongol shamans (and modern ones, come to that) were believed to be spiritually gifted so that they could communicate with spirits, gods and other unseen phenomena, which were the powers in control of good fortune, sickness, and the general cycles of the universe. Shamans were very commonly also considered the most important medical personnel because of the belief that illness was caused by evil spirits attacking humans; if they were angry enough no remedies could save the afflicted, and the shaman would have to journey to spirit world to beg them to desist or in some cases even enter into vicious combat to defeat them and drive them away. This was a super important and dangerous job, and it was understood that the shaman might very well be destroyed if they lost to a hostile spirit, which could tear apart and destroy their soul so that they never awakened from their trance.

    The other most important religious role in Mongol tradition is that of the chieftain, the leader who represents their people and acts as their symbolic and functional figurehead and essence. This tradition is where our old friend Temüjin, a.k.a. Genghis Khan, comes in; he was not only the wildly successful war leader and political figurehead of his people, but also their literal representative for religious reasons. As far as the beliefs of his people went, his actions were the actions of his entire people and his successes and incredible power directly part of his people and from his people. As the symbol of all things Mongol (specifically the Borjigin clan, although his incredible success caused him to later become emblematic of all the confederated Mongol clans), Genghis Khan was powerful because his people were strong, and conversely his people were strong because he, their most important representative, was powerful.

    This is one of the reasons that he is so popular now that he has his own cult, as a deified hero who became godly after his death. Mongol belief includes several classes of ancestral spirits who can be called upon, mostly by shamans but occasionally by common people as well, and Genghis Khan became one of them and was eventually promoted to almost the same status as the tngri themselves, something almost unheard-of since gods and ancestors are usually kept in separate hierarchies.


    You're right that historically, Genghis Khan was said to be very interested in other religions. He almost couldn't help but be, after all; he was active during a period of time when Buddhism, especially from Tibet and northern China, was beginning to strongly influence many Turkic religions, and his expanding empire meant that he encountered many other religions as he conquered various areas and peoples, and needed to know what those meant to them and how they were practiced in order to integrate them into his empire. And that approach worked fairly well, all things considered; there was comparatively little in the way of active rebellion in Mongol-conquered territories thanks to this policy of pretty much letting people do what they wanted, at least when contrasted with contemporary conquerors that tried to institute religious overthrow.

    I have to tell you about my favorite Mongol-specific myth, which is directly related to the idea of Genghis Khan's position as representative of his people and the general cultural ideas at play behind the idea of Mongol power and skill. A particular myth became popular during Genghis Khan's reign that claimed that in ancient times when humanity was first being created, the great blue wolves of the mountain caves came down from their homes and mated with human women, giving birth to a new breed of humanity with the fierceness of the wolf and the noble qualities of humankind. The Mongols believed themselves to be descended from these wolves, and saw in Genghis Khan the greatest expression of their lupine heritage, conquering the other races of the world as wolves always conquer prey animals. An alternative version has the wolves creating their Mongol progeny with sacred deer that represent the earth itself, making the Mongols the only human beings on earth who aren't, in fact, truly human beings, but something more.


    That myth is the reason you so often see Genghis Khan referred to as "the wolf" or "the blue wolf" in various pop culture retellings of his life, and sometimes shown with wolves or wolf symbolism illustrating his link to this ancient ancestral idea.

    This is like the most tiniest surface-pass image of traditional Mongol religion, so don't think it's even remotely a thorough vision of the ideas and cultural values at play; there are tons of them, as complex and rich and amazing and surprising as in any other religion, and scholars can spend their whole lives learning about them, especially since they remain living traditions on northern Asia to this day. As always, look it up if you're interested, because the awesomeness of myths and stories are their own reward!

    Monday, October 27, 2014

    Gods in Popular Culture


    So as John and Anne head into the final stretch they've asked me to fill in on the Monday post for a few weeks. So unfortunately this means that there won't be any new mechanics or flavor discussion here for a few weeks. Instead you get me talking about themes and stories that are show up in popular culture.

    I am not nearly as well versed in mythology as Anne, John, and most of you, but I do keep up with a lot of popular culture and I've been noticing lately, and it might just be I’m more tuned into it now, mythology shows up a lot. Popular culture is often derided for being watered down, literally being mainstream. But if you pay attention you can find a goldmine of jumping off points for telling your own stories. That last sentence makes for a weird mixed metaphor, but let's keep moving.

    So as I said before my aim over the next few weeks, as we get closer to the launch of Hero’s Journey, is to talk about stories (mostly mythological) in popular culture and talk about ways you could play with your own settings.

    I’m going to kick this off by talking about American Gods, a book published by Neil Gaiman in 2001. I won’t be going into a ton of detail, but I will be talking about some themes that come up in the book. So it’s should be fair to give a...


    SPOILER WARNING


    Ok seriously I’m going to be loosely discussing plot and themes here, it's pretty general but spoilers.



    American Gods tells the story of a man named Shadow who is just getting out of prison when he is hired by Mr. Wednesday to assist with an undefined job. The story takes place in the back rooms and alleys of America also on its forgotten back roads, sleepy towns, and crumbling roadside attractions. Over the course of the story Shadow encounters multiple gods living in the periphery. In the world Gaiman creates, Gods have been brought to the new world by their worshipers through their belief and rituals, but have now been left behind and no longer worshiped.

    The gods are for all intents immortal, they live for as long as they are remembered and can only truly die if they are forgotten. That is not to say the gods we meet in the story are well off.  They all feel worn and tired. Most of them are aged and poor, they’re all generally odd and some have gone completely mad. They are all trying to get by with any worship they can get, many turning to grifting and cons to get what little that they can.

    These old gods are threatened by the gods of the modern age, gods like Television and Internet, the children of Media. These gods are "worshiped" through daily sacrifice of the masses who willingly make a sacrifice of time. The new gods are fattened by this devotion, but you would be hard pressed to truly call it worship. They seek to eliminate the old gods, because they want all belief and worship for themselves.

    So that’s the broad strokes of the setting, I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t. The setting is where the story really gets me. The world Gaiman describes exists on the edges of the real world. It’s a version of the world that looks like ours, but just outside of our view in the corners and dark places fantastic things are happening. They’re happening in the places we don’t pay attention to, to people we would normally ignore.

    There are some interesting setting ideas that Gaiman leaves throughout this tail. First is the thought  that there are multiple versions of the same god in the world, they are brought with their worshipers. There could be an Odin in America, but there is also in each land that he was worshiped. These Odins could grow and become their own interpretation of the template, they are both the same and not the same being. What would happen if two of the same god were to meet? Gods tend to dislike sharing. How might the same god evolve in a new culture? What kinds of conflicts could arise between the “original” other versions of themselves?

    Another idea is that America, or perhaps the modern world, is not a good place for gods. Humanity has little time left for older beliefs. Many of the gods are kept from being forgotten through their stories but not belief. They’re no longer worshiped, but they’re also not forgotten. These gods are starving for belief, but are unable to perform godly feats. How would weakened gods relate to their champions? How would a champion react to a weak god? How might a "weak" god manipulate their champion? How would they react if their champions had more belief than they did?

    Still another idea is that the gods are also concerned with belief as though it were a finite resource. Like humanity, they are willing to go to war over precious resources. What if belief, worship, and faith were finite and one could only way to gain belief, was to diminish another pantheon's. How does that change the divine political landscape?

    So that’s my ramblings for the day. How about you? Have you read American Gods, did you get any other ideas from it? I’ll be putting up a forum post to continue the discussion.

    I'd also take recommendations as to other stories, movies, and shows you'd like me to talk about.

    Have an awesome day!