Monday, June 30, 2014

Domains in Hero's Journey: Powers of the Skies

All right, so we've gone through all the Aspects and Talents and talked about what they do, and we've done a quick surface run-through of the Domains and their attendant Spheres, but we haven't gotten in-depth with what those individual Spheres do. Since these are the magical powers that your Heroes will be wielding to shape the world, we figure it'd be nice to know what you can do with them, right?

Today we're going to start with the Celestial Domain, which contains the Heavens, Lunar and Solar Spheres. Celestial deities are traditionally concerned with the workings of the heavens and the powers that reside far above and beyond the world of humanity; they are associated with the skies and the faraway heavenly bodies contained within them, the phenomena of day and night or light and darkness, the powers that move the calendar and predict the future via astrology. The abodes of the gods themselves are often celestial in nature, and in many cultures the gods live in the heavens, among the stars, or otherwise in realms that are beyond the reach of mere mortal understanding.

The powers of the Heavens Sphere are concerned with the sky itself, in all the myriad forms that it was revered and regarded in various ancient religions. Its powers control the air and wind, ephemeral elements that belong to the world above humanity and cannot be truly controlled by them, as well as the clouds that drift through the sky and form its landscape. Many mythologies consider the sky to be a literal place or actual solid vault or construction that looms above humanity, so the Heavens Sphere also grants Heroes and gods the ability to interact with the sky itself in similar fashion to the ancient deities who built and maintained it. Heroes can be assured of being able to affect not only the sky but those things - birds, planes, missiles and so on - that pass through its domain and therefore become susceptible to its laws.

The powers of the Lunar Sphere instead have to do with the moon, and all the concepts that in mythology are part and parcel of it. The moon's greatest mythological function for most cultures is to be the comfort of humanity in the darkness; it is the light in the otherwise impenetrable night, and as a result those who wield powers from the Lunar Sphere may be able to pierce darkness and bring comfort and serenity to those around them. The moon also traditionally exerts its power over the world below it with the pull of the tides, its effect on the human body (particularly the female body that follows its rhythyms and the mind susceptible to its influence) and the turning of its phases, around which the first early calendars were constructed, so Heroes can look forward to using it to affect the flow of the world and the people in it in quintessentially lunar fashion.

The powers of the Solar Sphere, finally, are concerned with the sun, and in a broader sense with the day itself in all its bright and active glory. There are certainly a lot of powers that have to do with shedding light, illuminating darkness and destroying the ability for shadows to obscure or darken, but those are not the only things the sun was associated with in myth; it, too, has calendrical functions, and equally as important as the light it sheds to allow humanity to function and thrive during the day is the warmth it provides that allows crops to grow and mortals to flourish under its benevolent eye. In addition to these important concepts, Heroes are also able to tap into the sun's ability to overheat and burn those who are overexposed to it, and to draw upon its powers to find things that are hidden or that have no business under the clean light of day.

Now, these are not the only Spheres that the Celestial Domain will ever contain - we have more in mind for future expansion once the core rules are out, and we're sure you can think of a couple, too. The Spheres are potential paths of powers within the Domains, so while you have plenty of room to try different Spheres when you invest in a Domain, they aren't dependent on one another and there will be room to add to them later. For now, however, these are the three that are most widespread and mythically resonant across the world's mythologies, so they're the ones that we felt Heroes needed to be able to call upon from the first day they set out on their adventures.

We'll talk about the individual Spheres in the other Domains in coming posts, so check back in! In the meantime, feel free to hit the forums and talk about what kinds of Celestial Spheres you'd like to see in future game expansions - the sky is, literally, the limit.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Character Building in Hero's Journey: Archetypes and Ethoi

It's been a long and full week of mythology and Kickstarter updates, so we haven't talked about any of the game's nitty gritty in a bit. We're here today to change that up by talking about two central stats for all characters in Hero's Journey: Archetype and Ethos.

All characters, when you create them, will have a single Archetype, which you choose from a list of possibilities. The Archetype is intended to give players some guidance in how to represent their characters, as well as some rewards when they do so, but it isn't necessarily a description of their personality or who that character is as a person. Rather, it represents what kind of hero your character is most inclined to be - are they primarily concerned with taking care of people? Doing great deeds? Fighting the system? Making order out of chaos? Almost all possible heroic archetypes should be on the list characters have to choose from in one form or another, and once you've chosen one, it's up to you to take on its mantle.

So what does that mean for you mechanically, as you go about your daily adventuring lives? Well, it means that when you do the things that your Archetype suggests you should be doing (don't worry, there are plenty of guidelines for how to be both good or bad at each Archetype), you get the opportunity to see if you can gain dots in it. Each dot of your Archetype you possess grants you a bonus Labor that you can use to perform magical deeds, so the better you are at fulfilling your Archetype, the more awesome stuff you'll be able to do. On the other hand, if you are frequently doing things that run counter to your Archetype or refuse to act in accordance with its concept, you might lose dots of it, cutting down on your pool of bonus Labors as a result.

Basically, Archetypes don't force you to do anything, nor do they dictate or control your actions unless you decide that they should. But when you're the kind of hero that your Archetype represents, extra bonuses can come your way.

Ethoi work superficially similarly to Archetypes, but they're not concerned with an individual hero's chosen path, and rather represent their connection to the pantheon that has chosen them to act as their representative. All pantheons have three Ethoi, which are stats that represent the most important traits that those pantheons and their religion display and expect from their heroes (things like bravery, respect, holiness or whatever else a given pantheon might most highly prize). Your character will get to choose two of these three Ethoi to call their own, thus allowing them to decide what aspects of their pantheon's heritage they want to represent and what aspect really isn't part of their own makeup as a hero. Every pantheon has Ethoi unique to them; the options to choose from for each pantheon's heroes are different, and are designed to encourage those characters to be heroes by the standards of the gods who have chosen them.

Just as with your Archetype, if you perform actions that support one of your Ethoi, you may gain dots in it, and if you refuse to do so, you may lose some. However, your two Ethoi share the same pool of points; you have an Ethoi rating that is calculated from the total of both of them, rather than each being separate. This is important because your Ethoi are very important to your ability to progress forward as a hero and gain new powers and abilities: you can never progress higher in a stat than your Ethoi rating, so while there's no punishment per se for not doing what your Ethoi might require of you, you may find yourself unable to progress very far until you start kicking it up a notch.

So if your combined Ethoi rating is low, your powers will be low as well. But take heart; you can have any combination of Ethoi in that rating that you want. If you decide to have an even number of both, rocking two of one and two of another to get four, that's cool. If you decide to totally ignore one Ethos and focus on the other and just raise the one to four while the other sits at zero, that's cool, too. The result for your ability to move forward is the same, and so you can play with your character's actions and investment as you see fit.

Flexibility in concept for both Archetypes and Ethoi are essential to the game; while examples and guidelines are provided to help players understand how to succeed or fail at supporting these stats, for most there is not a single specific way to do either. If your character is moved to save people, they can do that however they are good at saving people; you can succeed at any of these things with investment in any Aspects, Domains or Talents, although some may make it easier for you than others. Much of this system relies on us giving you the best possible examples and guidelines for how to work with these stats, and then placing the ball in your game's court to make those decisions as you go along, so every heroic saga will interpret its characters' actions through the lens of its story.

I know you guys probably want lists right now of all the Archetypes and Ethoi in the game, but alas, it's not time for that yet (although feel free to speculate, as always). Until next time!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Art Sneak Preview: The World of Hero's Journey

Hey, there, folks! You've been seeing a lot from the Braithwaites lately, who are working on god portraits and are doing a damn fine job of it, but what about the rest of the art team? Today we figured we'd showcase another of the incredibly talented people working on Hero's Journey: Julian Lancaster, a digital artist with a flair for the expressive.

First of all, what we have here are some awesome paintings of life in the modern world of Hero's Journey, where worship of various polytheistic gods is commonplace and popular:

On the upper left we have Cairo, watched over by monumental sculptures; on the upper right, New York City's massive Temple of Zeus Americanos; on the lower left, London, with a huge Hindu temple sharing the skyline with Big Ben and the Eye; and on the lower right is a temple to Thor in rural South Carolina, with worshipers visiting after a long day on the farm. We love Julian's style for these - they really help give a sense of the world better than words could!

You'll notice that these are small, composited and watermarked, and that's on purpose - these are the exclusive wallpapers that those folks who backed the Kickstarter will be getting, in all their giant-size, high-quality glory. Don't worry if you're one of the people who wasn't able to jump in for fundraising, though - these will also be in the Hero's Journey core rulebook, so they won't be gone from sight forever!

Other art pieces of Julian's will also be appearing in the book, and while we can't show them all off, here's a teaser of something else he's been working on for us:

Which creature is most imposing? You decide, they all terrify us.

Those who want to visit Julian's gallery or contact him and tell him how fantastic he is can do so at his DeviantArt page. He certainly deserves it!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Game Recap: 3rd week of June

Sunday, 4pm to 12am

This game has run since 2009 and started in real time. It is now the year 2016 in game.


Sowiljr: King of the Norse gods, one of the most beautiful beings in existence.
Folkvardr: General of the armies of Gimli (new, post-Ragnarok Asgard) and Sowiljr's trusted vizier.
Eztli: The Mexica gods' sword, Sowiljr's wife, terrifying giant bat monster that rules the underworld.
Jioni: Queen of Erebus. Constantly torn by her loyalties to her husband, the Greek gods, her own pantheon, and a promise she made to a deceased friend.

Folkvardr continues his boat ride with Stribog to the mage meeting, when suddenly, like a rocket, a massive monstrous llama falls from the sky at them. Folkvardr assumes this must mean that things in the realm of destiny are going splendidly Folkvardr and Stribog abandon the soon-to-be-destroyed boat and begin running to get to the meeting, until Stribog convinces Folkvardr that arriving to the meeting with badass horses would be way better than running. So they go to get the most badass horses they know of... Svarozhich's, naturally. Of course, Stribog is persona non grata among the Slavic god right now and now allowed up their world tree due to past transgressions, but they go anyway. As they climb the great oak, they immediately draw the attention of Radegast, Stribog's arch-enemy who has also been trying to catch Folkvardr lying. Folkvardr attempts to hide away information on the Omphalus' again in the depths of his own mind, but triggers a mental crisis that completely shuts him down. While he lies there, debating the merits and flaws of everything, Radegast and Stribog fight until Stribog flees, then escapes with Svarozhich's horse. Radegast chases him while Folkvardr lies there confused and thinking. Eventually the divine "police" arrive and take him to their prisons, where he waits for Sowiljr.

Sowiljr, Eztli, and Jioni, meanwhile, head deeper into the primordial realm of beasts. They're moving fast as Jioni teleports them to the center as quickly as possible. Every few seconds, the beast inside Eztli struggles to get out. It tears her body apart from the inside and uses that energy to release powerful beasts upon the earth (possibly llamas? no one is quite sure). As they're running out of energy, time, and will, but almost at their goal, they appear near a large flock of enormous predatory raptors, magical avians interbred with horrible poisonous creatures. Eztli wants to run no longer, and begins barbecuing them with fire and lightning, but there are just too many (and Eztli's lightning is also barbecuing Sowiljr and Jioni). A horrible bloodbath ensues that has each member of the team at death's door. Folkvardr, still mentally damaged, is unable to come to their aid and can only watch, horrified, from afar. Jioni is falling out of the sky, her compatriots unconscious or dying above her, and she sacrifices most of her life-force to bring Eztli back to consciousness. Eztli eats the burning heart of one of the birds and erupts into her full war form, decimating the creatures.

From there, Jioni teleports them to the omphalos stone. It lies amongst the massive coils of Echidna's snakey body. Echidna begins to unwind her coils as the heroes try to catch the omphalos and escape. For some reason, they were not expecting the stone to be a sentient beast/rock... but they catch it and escape before Echidna unwinds (or manages to trap Sowiljr for evil procreative purposes).

They get back to the ruins of Rome, heading to the place they store the omphalos stones. Eztli drags it in and puts it with the others, while otuside Jioni and Sowiljr realize that Europe is covered in half-dog/half-mallard beasts that they probably brought with them out of the beast realm. A wind spirit arrives to let Sowiljr know that he has to come to the Thrice Tenth kingdom to get his vizier out of jail, which also tells Sowiljr that his vizier isn't at the very important meeting he is supposed to be at. Sowiljr leaves, putting Jioni in charge of bringing Cuacitlali all across Europe and directing her as to what living things to eat (spoiler alert: it's all of them).

Sowiljr ascends the great oak, arriving for the first time without a magical escort to take him instantly to the top, so this time he must pass through Baba Yaga's hut. Baba Yaga invites him in for soup and asks him to clean her house. He struggles with not asking her questions and figuring out how to get past her without actually doing anything she asks. He leaves some servants in charge of cleaning her house and she vows she will see him again soon.

He rushes to get Folkvardr out of prison. Folkvardr's punishment, instead of 100 years in prison, is one spin on the wheel of justice. This was chosen by Svarozhich as a courtesy to Sowiljr, and Svarozhich is off at war with the forces of a rival sun god at the time and can't come perform judgment at the moment. In the meantime, sowiljr and Folkvardr take in an enchanting opera based on the great deeds of Sowiljr, a brand new piece that Pizamar recently finished. Although it contains some embellishment, it is amazing and Sowiljr and Folkvardr enjoy all 28 hours of it before Svarozhich arrives. They exchange pleasantries and head into the Hall of Justice to spin the wheel. Folkvardr spins "judge's choice", and Svarozhich decides to have him build the chariot he promised him a year ago, but never delivered on.

Other things that happened:

Sowiljr churned the primordial sea of Tiamat and found half of the destroyed crown of Enki. He has taken it as his own and now searches for the other half.

Lots of angry magical beasts and strangely-shaped creatures are all over the earth.

Omphalos stone of beasts aquired! They have only, like... 6 left!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ox-Eyed Hera, Queen of Heaven

I have to say, the number of submissions from folks saying, "Ooh! Ooh! Can you talk about this awesome mythological lady next week?!" has been pretty awesome. The ladies often get lost in the background behind the rippling muscles of your Thors and Horuses, so I'm glad you guys are enjoying hearing about them as much as we are! Today's request says: Could you talk about Hera for your 'Awesome Women in Mythology' day? She gets such a bad rap...

Indeed, Hera does get a bad rap. To be entirely fair, that's because she curses and murders a lot of people who are helpless to resist her, and we can all probably agree that this is not a morally acceptable course of action. However, this is not particularly unique to her among the Greek gods, who are sort of a giant and constant drunken frat party hurling curses and lethal weapons in every direction at all hours of the day, and where other gods get their transgressions handwaved away, Hera's are focused on to the point where she is cast as a fully evil and irredeemable villain in a lot of modern media (such as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, for example). A good deal of this is because Hera's smitings are in direct response to her husband Zeus' infidelities, which feels indefensible to those of us who have modern morals and are not okay with the idea of murdering someone your spouse cheated on you with, but a lot of it is also due simply to the fact that Hera is a woman, and therefore is judged more harshly for her actions against other gods and mortals than many of the male gods are. Sure, we know it's incredibly unacceptable for Apollo to kill a bunch of people for insulting his mom or for Hephaestus to try to rape his sister or for Ares to go on a spree that leaves thousands dead in his wake, but we tend to consider that "more" acceptable than Hera's retaliatory acts against her husband's paramours, simply because we have a cultural narrative that says that violence and revenge are more appropriate from men than from women. And that's not something new, either - the ancient Greek writers recording stories about Hera get on her case for her actions in a way they don't for masculine gods, and often the moral of the tale when Hera confronts Zeus turns out to be "wives should not throw a fit about things their husbands do because that isn't their place."

But let's back the train up a little bit and talk about who Hera is in the first place, and all the ways she is a queenly power in the Greek world second to none other.

Hera is the queen among the gods, and seriously, this is not in question. She is the most powerful female of the pantheon and wields authority that only Zeus is above; she doesn't necessarily do a lot of creation of laws and laying down the smack on other members of the pantheon, which might tread on Zeus' toes were she to do it without checking with him first, but the gods know that they cannot challenge her directly and that incurring her wrath is courting total disaster. She is the only other deity besides Zeus and his forbear Ouranos whose domain is the sky itself, representing that she shares in that power with him and is an equal authority over the heavens, and she is the preeminent deity presiding over the family, which was an extremely important convention in ancient Greek life and the source of most of her imagery and power. We've talked about ladies who are political powerhouses because of their cunning, their savvy and their ability to confuse others, but Hera doesn't do any of those things; she rules because she is a ruler, and her authority is unquestionable.

Hera is the goddess of marriage, and by extension childbirth, family and the tight bonds of relationships and filial loyalty. This is an extremely important role; it is family that provided most ancient Greeks with their closest and most important supporters and followers, that allowed a person's legacy to continue onward through their children and that allowed different people to ally themselves through marriage and thereby become even stronger. In addition to being the patron of all wives and mothers, who strove to emulate her familial loyalty and love, Hera was also the deity that must be called upon to bless a marriage and allow it to be fruitful and successful. Without her, no marriage could succeed, and she was lavishly worshiped during engagements and weddings.

But what does Hera actually do, in Greek myth? Her stories - aside from her constant attempts to prevent Zeus' extramarital affairs, which are normally related as part of stories about Zeus himself - are not retold as often as those of other gods, but they're no less awesome, nor do they paint her as anything but a picture of an intensely badass lady-queen.

The ones that stick for most people are her campaigns against Zeus' other lovers and illegitimate children, which are the source of her villainization in later centuries, and those require a little context. Hera does indeed make a point of smiting, destroying or terrorizing any other woman Zeus has a relationship with or children that come from those relationships, but while anger is certainly part of her motivation, her reasons run deeper than that. For one thing, as goddess of marriage itself, having an unfaithful husband is a direct affront to her very core function as a goddess; it is her nature to promote family harmony and faithfulness, so Zeus' extracurricular activities are not only emotionally distressing but also a direct challenge to her divine power over the arena of marriage, one that she can't let pass by her unchallenged. Also, while it was certainly not okay for women to cheat on their spouses in ancient Greece, it was pretty widely accepted for men, even men not as important as Zeus the King of the Universe, and therefore Hera really can't do anything directly to him (a fact that various writers, especially Homer, like to point out whenever they think she's getting too upset over this tiny inconsequential case of serial infidelity).

So, while Hera can't kick Zeus' ass for cheating on her, she can punish the women who cheated with him, as well as their children (who, especially in the case of those that Zeus later brings to live on Olympus with him, threaten the position and power of Hera's own children and are a very direct danger to her family unit). So she does - often, thoroughly, and without mercy - in a variety of creative ways. When Zeus impregnated the Titan goddess Leto with Artemis and Apollo, Hera rendered her unable to give birth anywhere on earth so that she was in constant misery, and forbade any other deities of childbirth from going near her; she similarly prevented Alcmene from giving birth to Heracles, and once the child was was born sent giant serpents to kill him in his cradle; when Zeus' affair with Semele caught her attention, she convinced the girl to ask a boon of Zeus that she knew would kill her; and although Zeus attempted to hide his paramour Io from her by turning the woman into a cow, Hera was unimpressed by his attempts at subtlety and sent a gadfly that stung the creature mercifully all the way to Egypt and well away from Zeus. No matter who Zeus' lovers are or what kind of children they bear, they face instant and angry backlash from Hera; she cannot and does not allow them to flaunt their relationship with him or attempt to pass themselves off as legitimate family members.

(The one exception to this is actually Ganymede, Zeus' cupbearer and the most beautiful boy in the world, whom the king of the gods also kidnapped to be his lover; Hera is occasionally mentioned to be displeased about his presence, but she never takes action against him. Most likely, Hera isn't bothered about him because he's male; there was no such thing as marriage between two men in ancient Greek culture and he was hardly going to have any children to usurp her own family's place, and older men with younger boys as lovers was an accepted practice in various parts of Greece irrespective of marriage, even if she was personally irritated about Zeus sleeping with yet another person besides herself.)

People frequently remember Hera's crusades against Zeus' lovers, but less often talked about his her battleworthy awesomeness, which is pretty goddamned impressive to be so unremembered. Hera is not known as a warrior goddess, but her power is such that when the need arises she can bust out some combat moves that put the enemy to shame before going home and getting on with her more important family duties. During the Gigantomachy when the giants assaulted Olympus and the gods mobilized to defeat them, she sallied forth with her spear and struck down the giant Phoetus so that he could be defeated, presumably without losing even an iota of her queenly dignity.

And, of course, her spats with her step-daughter Artemis are legendary. During the Trojan war as told in the Iliad, Artemis dared to side with the city of Troy and oppose Hera, who supported the Greeks. Hera delivers a masterful trash-talk that is so good we have to share it directly with you:

"How have you had the daring, you shameless hussy, to stand up and face me? It will be hard for you to match your strength with mine even if you wear a bow, since Zeus has made you a lion among women, and given you leave to kill any at your pleasure. Better for you to hunt down the ravening beasts in the mountains and deer of the wilds, than try to fight in strength with your betters. But if you would learn what fighting is, come on. You will find out how much stronger I am when you try to match strength against me."

When Artemis tries to respond by shooting her, Hera grabs both of the younger goddess' wrists and boxes her ears with her own hands, after which Artemis is forced to flee in tears to complain to Zeus, who is basically like "I don't know what you want from me, it's not like I'm going to go fight her for you."

You would think Hera would not have to lay that smack down twice, but during the Indian War, Artemis again attempts to stand against her in battle, with similarly humiliating results. Hera has driven Dionysus to madness (for her aforementioned reasons of punishing the children of Zeus' affairs, as Dionysus is one) and Artemis attempts to cure him, but is scared away when Hera hurls a lightning bolt at her in warning. When Artemis then takes the side of the Indians and directly opposes Hera again, Hera wraps herself in a cloud that swallows up all of Artemis' arrows shot against it, leaving the goddess out of ammunition in short order, and then grabs a giant chunk of hail out of the sky and proceeds to beat the daylights out of Artemis with it, breaking Artemis' famous bow and generally making her feelings on the situation evident. (Poor Artemis doesn't seem to have much awareness of her siblings' better choices in these myths - in both wars, both Apollo and Dionysus perform graceful exits when Hera starts getting pissed off, but Artemis never seems to get the memo.)

So clearly Hera is not in the business of taking even the tiniest quantities of shit from anyone. In addition to all her literal awesomeness in those arenas, Hera is also finally the ultimate wife and mother among the gods; you might think that his frequent philandering means that Zeus is not actually very interested in his wife, but Greek sources constantly stress Hera's incredible beauty and the fact that Zeus is completely bonkers about her. When she refused to marry him in the early days of Olympus (she was concerned about incest, which Zeus apparently decided was not a real problem for him), Zeus could not forget her charms and eventually transformed himself into a cuckoo, living as her pet until he was able to turn back into himself and seduce her; much later, during the Trojan War, Hera has only to say the equivalent of, "Hey, Zeus, wanna go to bed?" and he immediately forgets all about monitoring this stupid war thing and leaves with her, allowing various sneaky shenanigans to go on behind his back while he isn't paying attention. And, of course, one of the most famous myths of Zeus and Hera is that of the time that, fed up with his womanizing, Hera simply left him and departed to go live on the island of Euboia with her foster-mother Tethys. Zeus was deeply distraught by her absence and asked Dionysus for advice about how to win her back, and the two constructed an elaborate ruse in which Zeus pretended to hold a wedding for himself and a new wife, which was in actuality just a dummy dressed in wedding finery. When Hera noticed the event and arrived in full righteous wrath to smite the interloper, she realized that Zeus had gone to great lengths because of his love for her, and agreed to remain with him again.

Actually, in spite of their obvious faults, Hera and Zeus were intended by ancient Greek writers to be one of the great love stories of their time, and to be examples, in good times, of the perfect qualities in wife and husband. And Hera, mistress of marriage and ultimate power over relationships who makes it possible for her own marriage to be emulated on earth, is both example and dispenser of the most coveted and joyous of marriages and households.

The ancient Greeks clearly thought her worth celebrating, so we don't have much excuse for not agreeing!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Kickstarter Woes

All right, everybody, we come to you today with what you could not strictly call good news. We've had a successful Kickstarter campaign, everyone is totally pumped for the new game, and we're in high gear when it comes to producing, polishing and heading toward our end goal.

But in every road there are potholes, and alas, we've just found ours. Kickstarter is an exciting new experience and an awesome platform, but it has pitfalls, too.

The project has funded, and for the vast majority of you, your pledges have winged their way to our accounts and are even now being divvied up between artists and staff and manufacturers. However, some peoples' pledges "bounced" - that is, for one reason or another, Kickstarter was unable to process them and we unable to receive them. This can happen for any number of reasons (insufficient funds, bank problems, glitches, whatever), and isn't really a problem; we know that little bit of that happens to every crowd-funded project, and that a few pledges will always end up falling by the wayside.

Unfortunately, however, the pledges that fell by the wayside in our case added up to a substantial amount - so substantial that we couldn't have planned for them. Some pretty high rollers came up bounced, and the end result is that we're looking at a final amount of money raised that is significantly below the what the project clocked in at. To be precise, we have exactly $2,991 in pledges that have not gone through, which is just over 14% of the final total.

Now, there's not necessarily any need to panic yet. As we said above, there are lots of reasons folks' pledges might not have gone through, and Kickstarter gives them several days to try to find and correct the issue, so it's possible that those funds will still make it through (some people have already sorted theirs out, and we salute them for being awesome!). We've contacted all the bounced backers to offer our help in fixing the problem if we need it, and we still have time before the deadline when Kickstarter will officially declare the pledges dead. It's still entirely possible that there won't be any problem at all.

But, on the chance that we end up with such a sizable deficit still in play at the end of the pledge grace period, we felt it was important to tell all of you. You're the people who are helping make this game happen, and we want you to know what's going on and how it might affect Hero's Journey and our end product.

If it happens that we end up a couple of thousand dollars under our estimated final funding, we will actually not have reached our final stretch goal, the one adding cosmological maps of each pantheon's important sites. Much as we would love to produce them anyway, they require a lot of time and monetary investment in artists, and it is likely that we won't be able to do that if our ending funding amount is so low (which is why we set it for $20k in the first place, since we knew that was about what we'd need to do them justice). We absolutely do not want that to happen, but we have to be realistic about the chance that it might, and all of you also deserve to know about that possibility.

However, even if that does happen, the rest of the Hero's Journey goodies you've been promised will not change. All other stretch goals were still reached and are already in processing, all of the things we've told you about the game's content are still true, and we are just as committed to making it an epic reality.

We wanted to make sure all of you were in the loop (and we'll be posting this update on Kickstarter later tonight, too - apologies if you get it twice!), but don't despair; even if those maps can't be part of the core rulebook, we know there will be a place for them in future additions to the game line.

We'll keep you posted as things develop on our end, so keep being awesome and we'll keep journeying onward with you!

Great Fishes of the Deep

Today, we're going to plumb the depths of some old-time religion, because someone has asked this question: Tell me everything you know about the Mesopotamian Bahamut myth. I will love you forever if you do. Bahamut is certainly an interesting mythological figure, but we will have to partially disappoint you by not telling you about the Mesopotamian myth... because the myth isn't Mesopotamian!

Bahamut, a vast, primordial fish, is actually a figure out of Arab mythology; Arab myth of course did have plenty of commerce with the Mesopotamian religions, but it also has unique cultural beliefs of its own, and Bahamut happens to be one of them. Some older scholarly traditions tend to refer to all Middle Eastern mythologies as "Mesopotamian" or at least to lean heavily on Mesopotamia's influence on them, but to do so leaves out important cultural context and tends to erase other cultures in the area, so let's give Arab myths, obscure and poorly-recorded as they are, their fair shake.

Like many other pre-Islamic Arab mythological features, we are pretty sure that Bahamut predates the introduction of Islam, but due to the largely oral nature of the religion at that time and the thorough efforts of Islam to eradicate it, most of our information on the greatest of all fishes actually comes to us through the work of Muslims, which in early times sometimes incorporated the creature into Islamic cosmology as well. It is described in the twelfth-century Arab geographical work Kharîdat al-'Ajâ'ib wa farîdat al-gharâib as a fish so enormous that it takes part in supporting the universe, which is organized in a series of escalating layers; the universe is supported on the shoulders of an angel, who stands upon a giant ruby, which is set upon the back of the giant bull Kujuta or al-Rayyan of four thousand eyes, which stands on Bahamut, the massive fish (and if you want to go all the way down, Bahamut's ocean is sometimes above twin abysses of air and fire, beneath which lurks the massive serpent Falaq at the bottom of the universe, where it does not swallow all of creation only because it fears Allah's wrath).

Now, all of this is old-school Arab folkloric belief; the giant cosmological creatures beneath the world were popular in the early days of Islam, probably as holdovers from pre-Islamic beliefs, and persisted into the medieval period as part of popular literature, but they are generally not part of modern Islam across the world today. Bahamut (and Kujuta and Falaq, while we're at it) does not appear in the Qur'an, but is often discussed by the many scholars and commentators who interpreted it at various points in Islam's history, some of whom were (or are) considered authorities on the religion. Since they're interpreters of the holy scripture, however, and often adding material from local folklore and religion to boot, they often disagree with one another and their cosmological additions often aren't "official" - for example, while Bahamut-as-fish is the most common version of the creature, Tafsir Ibn-'Abbas, a famous Sunni commentary, instead organizes the universe with the great fish supporting the world and then being supported by the bull below it, and calls the bull Bahamut instead of the fish.

And of course none of this applies at all to many forms of Islam, such as Sufism, which often have their own cosmologies. This is all strictly Olden Days of Yore here.

In addition to its cosmological role, the sheer vast size of Bahamut is described as being so enormous that mortal minds can't comprehend or see its size; Jorges Luis Borges, in his Manual de zoología fantástica, claims that all the all the oceans of the world would be no larger if placed in its nostril than a single mustard seed in a desert, if that helps give you any indication of the sheer size we're talking about here. Of course, whether or not you want to take Borges seriously is up to you; he's a fantastic writer of fiction but was well-known to embellish and subtly influence things he translated for his own literate aims, so while he might be totally legit here, he also might be being just a wee bit creative.

And speaking of Borges, like several other scholars, he draws a connection between Bahamut and the great fish from A Thousand and One Nights, one of the most famous compendiums of stories from the Middle Eastern world; on the 496th night, Scheherazade describes the cosmography of the world (seven worlds upon an angel upon a rock upon a bull upon a giant fish) and relates a tale in which `Isa, the Islamic form of Jesus as a prophet of the lord, requests that Allah let him see the giant fish upon learning of its existence. Allah takes `Isa to the ocean where the fish lives, but when it passes by him `Isa falls immediately unconscious; when he awakes, he says that he saw what seemed to him to be a great bull that was three days' journey long, and Allah tells him that this was only the head of the fish passing him by and that Allah can easily create things so enormous whenever he chooses, whereupon `Isa is duly impressed. The fish in this story is never directly named as Bahamut, but it isn't much of a stretch to suggest that it's probably one and the same cosmological creature.

As I'm sure plenty of you have already noticed, Bahamut resembles, in both size and name, the Hebrew legend of Behemoth, a creature named in the Book of Job and described as one of the first works of God, enormous and unconquerable. Behemoth is the subject of pretty much eternal debate among scholars from all kinds of religious and historical disciplines; some question whether the passage in Job is trying to describe a real creature that existed in the world (possibly an elephant or rhinocerous), a description of a sauropod dinosaur that had survived until this point at least in legend, some other mysterious beast that was real but that we haven't been able to discover, a religious creature or spiritual animal outside the realm of humanity, or possibly some kind of metaphor. That debate will be going on for a good many years to come, we imagine, because unlike Bahamut, which doesn't appear in the Qur'an and therefore doesn't have to be considered too deeply by modern Islam, Behemoth does appear in both the Tanakh and the Bible, so those religions have a strong interest in interpreting its meaning.

One of the interesting things here is that, while it seems that Bahamut and Behemoth probably share a linguistic root, most likely a proto-Semitic word meaning "beast" that developed in different directions for Hebrew and Arabic (an alternate theory suggests they might be borrowed from the ancient Egyptian pehemau, the reconstructed word for "water beast" meaning hippopotamus, but this theory has its skeptics), they are clearly not the same creature. The Hebrew Behemoth stands in parallel with the Leviathan, the great sea monster of the same scriptures, and is clearly intended to represent a land-dwelling animal, while the Arab Bahamut is always clearly defined as a fish or whale. Although there is a misty possibility that both cultures are referring to the same ancient beast, it's most likely that they are not, and that the similar names are an accident of etymology.

Finally, while Bahamut is not natively Mesopotamian, it's not far-fetched to believe that it might have roots in Mesopotamian mythology. The myths of Babylon, Assyria and Sumer were the most massively influential forces in the ancient Middle East and pre-Islamic Arab people frequently worshiped Mesopotamian gods alongside their own, so it's not out of the question that the myth of Bahamut might have been influenced by those religious ideas. Mesopotamian mythology is full of gigantic and dangerous sea monsters, beginning with Tiamat herself, and their focus on the ocean as the primordial source of all most gigantic and unfathomable things might have played a role in the ancient formation of the idea of Bahamut.

And after all of this... then came medieval Catholicism, and with it a host of new craziness based on various other mythologies that the church deemed evil and wanted to prevent people from worshiping. Catholic legends bring us to Bahomet or Baphomet, which is the pagan "god" that the Knights Templar were accused of worshiping and which was a large part of the accusations against them by the rest of the church and their eventual downfall and dissolution at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Descriptions of what this Bahomet looked like or represented are incredibly vague - possibly, many scholars contend, because it was an invention created to discredit the Templars rather than being an actual focus of worship for anyone - and usually say that it was worshiped as an idol that was a severed head, or sometimes a head with three faces. By the nineteenth century, the legend of Bahomet had become part of the occult landscape and was used by various writers to claim that the Templars and anyone else associated with them (the Freemasons were particularly popular targets) were secretly worshiping something much older, and that Bahomet must have predated them despite the lack of any evidence mentioning him prior to the Templar accusations. Finally, in the 1850s, the occultist Eliphas Levi published a two-volume treatise on magical rituals in which he included Bahomet, referred to him as "the Sabbatic goat", and illustrated him with what became a highly popular image in occultism:

The image stuck, and allowed later writers to conflate Bahomet with a host of older pagan traditions involving goats and horned figures, as well as to become a major image in various different occult traditions and branches of Satanism. Of course, this Bahomet has nothing at all to do with the ancient Arab and Hebrew creatures - not even similar names, since while some attempts have been made to link the three words etymologically, most of the time Bahomet is traced back to Mahomet, the French form of the name of the Muslim prophet Mohammad and most likely chosen to link the Templars to Islam - but because of its popularity in later Europe, many, many attempts to connect Bahamut, Behemoth and Bahomet have considerably muddied the water when it comes to the original mythological figures and their origins.

But, at any rate, the fish certainly became a part of Arab mythology and filtered into our popular consciousness as a result, and is among the many cosmic creatures that could be encountered on the hero's journey. Beware its great might!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kickstarter Update: What's Up With Budgets

All right, all you fine people out there - normally, we use Monday blogs to talk about something in regards to Hero's Journey's system or background, but today with the end of the Kickstarter this weekend, we need to do a quick nuts-and-bolts business update about what's going on with that. Our apologies if you weren't involved in the Kickstarter or don't care about boring budgets and logistics - we'll get back to the mythology tomorrow!

First of all, you all deserve our undying gratitude, and we want to make sure you know it. Watching everyone pull together to make this game a reality was incredible - people came from all over the place, the forums were a constant hotbed of encouragement, and we were overwhelmed by your generosity. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. This game wouldn't be happening without all of you.

So, let's talk about what happens now that the Kickstarter is over and we're heading into the Land of Eternal Production. Several folks have asked for an overview of where all this money is going, which we think is a totally reasonable thing to want to know, so here's a quick and dirty pie chart with the approximate breakdown of our budget:

(Yeah, that's some beautiful Microsoft Excel pie-charting going on right there, I know. The art department is asleep and I had to fend for myself.)

As you can see, production is where the bulk of the money goes, and that means directly creating the rewards for all of you - printing books, casting dice, and otherwise actually making real live stuff appear that will eventually be in all of your real live hands. The next runner-up is art, which involves paying our fantastical art team for, among other things, portraits of the divine patron gods of the book, cover artwork, and other beautiful things to make the inside of the book more interesting than just columns of text. Coming in third is shipping, which is an adventure in getting the final product out to all of you, followed by creation costs, which are boring but necessary things that we need to successfully create Hero's Journey - stuff like office supplies, purchasing access to research materials, registering our trademarks and other needful things. And finally, Kickstarter and Amazon Prime take their piece of the pie for enabling us to get to this point.

Of course, we're still a few months out from the final product being actually in all our hands and sent out into the wild, so as always, weird stuff could still happen. But now you all know where we're starting from!

So what do you all need to do? Happily, the answer is not much! We'll be contacting some people directly to make sure we know what add-ons you got; if you're an international backer and haven't yet talked to us about shipping, we'll get in contact with you for that, and if you're one of the few backers whose payment didn't process, you'll hear from us to get that sorted out, too, but other than that, you're golden.

You've done your part, and now it's our turn to do ours. We've started sending out surveys to collect information from all of you to get the fulfillment train ready to leave the station, and once we've heard back from most of you, we'll start sending out what we can. The physical rewards are not realities yet, of course, but look for forum badges and wallpapers heading out some time in the near future as we truck through all 200+ of you and make sure you get what you pledged for.

Finally, we'll close this out with an oops moment. This is our first Kickstarter and already it's been a sort of trial-by-fire learning experience, so unfortunately it couldn't be long until we accidentally dropped a ball. In this case, we forgot to include in the survey for those who pledged for dice anywhere to indicate what color dice you wanted, which obviously causes a significant problem in making sure we do it right! So if you jumped in for dice, you'll be getting a message from us to clarify your color choice. Our faces our red, but at least it's an easy fix!

Thank you again, to all of you with pledges great and small, for your incredible enthusiasm, support and excitement. We're going to stop blogging now and go work our fingers off on this game!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Heroes on Parade

Hello, everyone, and happy free RPG day! Hero's Journey isn't quite far enough along for us to have playable goodies to pass out, but check out your local game stores and other gaming companies for awesomeness anyway!

We'd hate to miss out on all the fun, though, so in the spirit of the day, here are some free computer wallpapers for everyone to enjoy, featuring art by the talented Jon Neimeister! (And everyone give Royce Piels, our graphic layout artist, a round of applause for putting them together for us, too!)

Please note that these are not the same wallpapers you'll be getting as a reward if you happened to back the Kickstarter, just some extra art love from our awesome team. These are just some good old 1600x1200 sizes for maximum probable usage by all you fine folks, but I have heard rumors that other sizes will be available soon.

Get out there and play some games today!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Art Sneak Preview: Thor

Hey, there, everyone - it's time for some art! Unfortunately, we don't have another whole set of lineart ready to unveil again this week (according to the artists, they need "time" and "food"), but we received a direct request for a look at everyone's favorite Norse god of thunder. We've got his prelim sketches, so let's take a quick peek!

Did you guys want muscles? I hope so. Because muscles are happening.

Clearly, the artists were out to capture Thor's raw physical might, badass hammer-wielding skills and red-bearded, giant-smashing rage, and they're doing an excellent job. Personally, we especially enjoy the incongruousness of Mjolnir's very short handle - the ancient Norse thought it was hilarious, too, after all.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Game Recap: June week 2

Sunday, 4pm to 12am

This game has run since 2009 and started in real time. It is now the year 2016 in game.


Sowiljr: King of the Norse gods, one of the most beautiful beings in existence.
Folkvardr: General of the armies of Gimli (new, post-Ragnarok Asgard) and Sowiljr's trusted vizier.
Eztli: The Mexica gods' sword, Sowiljr's wife, terrifying giant bat monster that rules the underworld.
Jioni: Queen of Erebus. Constantly torn by her loyalties to her husband, the Greek gods, her own pantheon, and a promise she made to a deceased friend.

Game started really late cause of father's day(and then magic cards). So game was not super long this week.

Folkvardr continued his trek to find the fate meeting. He got to the shores of germany, chopped down a tree and built himself a small boat.

Sowiljr makes it back to Solheim and spends some time with his wife and kids. He explains to Eztli and Jioni that it's time to take action. They must get to their most holy of tasks and venture into a primordial realm to collect another omphalos stone. They decide that the best one to attain without Folkvardr is in the realm of beasts, so they will head there. Stribog overhears this and decides to come along, and declares that since this is obviously a couples' retreat, he will take his wife Jioni. They know there is no sense in telling him to go away (it just makes him worse), or wasting time explaining that he isnt married to Jioni... so they just sort of let it happen. To get into the beast realm, they must slay a magical creature of immense power. Eztli makes a massive bat, which they fight, and Folkvardr shows up to protect them. The fight is silly because Sowiljr eventually just dominates its mind to force it to lie down (after the bat and Eztli fight for a bit). Stribog decides that a mage meeting is way more fun than this dangerous primordial stuff and leaves decides to go with Folkvardr. Folkvardr isnt happy, but everyone else is.

Wednesday: 7pm - 12am

This game takes place in the mid 1800s. The year is currently 1854.


Hao: A mystic healer from the far East who believes in maximum familial loyalty.
Lionel: An American cotton plantation owner. He has acquired many land holdings across the world in his travels.
Mohini: A temple dancer (devadasi) from India. She travels the world enjoying life, but missing her husband.
Padma: A British aristocrat stolen away as part of a farcical marriage. She tries to temper her husban's wild side.
Shadan: Prodigal son of the Shah of Iran. A gambler, drunk, and lover of all intoxicates; his marriage keeps him grounded.

Lionel and Mohini have a late night meeting with the minister of Paris to hopefully schedule an event for the King, featuring Dancing by Mohini and the new passion play that Shadan is writing. The minister is immediately taken with Mohini, and Lionel considers selling her into slavery but eventually decides against it. Instead they give the minister an amazing dance show and schedule a meeting with the king at the end of the week.

Padma, Shadan, and their co-author, Alfonse (a God-Touched dwarf of unknown origin) spend the next few days writing their masterpiece. But then, just as Alfonse is heading to have a "rest and relaxation" break with Mohini, the moon changes. The group (sans Alfonse) arrives in Japan.

Here in Japan (where they have been on their trips once before), a moon-sickness is spreading through the people. It takes many different forms, but always makes people insane at nighttime. Last time they were here, Shadan planted a magical wolfsbane plant that he has been using to cure those afflicted with lycanthropy. As the group heads to it, they see small onion-shaped plant beings, obviously children, running around the mountainside. Shadan convinces everyone not to kill them. When they make it to the wolfsbane plant, Shadan finds out that the plant sends spores down the river, and other different kinds of baby plants appear.

The wolfsbane plant also calls Shadan "father", which Padma is not happy about. The future of the plant is up in the air as the group leaves. As they head down the mountain and pass the farms outside the city, they notice that one of the farmers, who is asleep at the moment, is a werewolf.

Padma starts mixing up the wolfsbane tonic while the others sneak into the house. In one swoop of horrible bad luck, Lionel wakes the werewolf and Padma tragically fails her roll to make the tonic, destroying all their wolfsbane. A long battle ensues, leaving only Shadan and Padma standing. They borrow a cart from the locals and load the dead body in, and head with it into the mountains. There iss horrible thunder in the distance. As they head into a grove, they are surrounded by tree spirits who took the corpse of the werewolf and buried him. A new tree grew quickly, and a tree-spirit emerged and thanked Shadan for killing it when it was a werewolf abomination.

It begins to thunderstorm, and off in the distance, Padma hears an awful, terrifying laughter...

Saturday: 10am - 3pm

This game takes place in modern-day New York City, but hidden writings throughout the city seem to indicate some dark secrets about their predicament.

Corey: A young Fox News intern. He's done the loaves and fishes bit a few times and people think he's Jesus. Also he grows weed in his basement.
Russell: An ex-UFC fighter who is a member of the elite super-hero group Containment Prime. He is also a drunk.
Seif: An Iraqi insurgent who has become trapped in the city. He has his young daughter with him at all times.
Skylar: An autistic teenage super-genius. He doesn't understand people, but is somehow also a member of Containment Prime.
Valentina: An international art thief who is hanging with the group for the meantime for protection.

Corey needs more time to talk to Thanatos, but the group must head back and check on Skylar, so they vote to head off and leave Corey alone. Events thereafter get out of hand quickly. When they return, they are finally hit with the plague of fire raining from the sky, forcing them to fireproof an ambulance and flee to a part of the city that isn't on fire. They stop at a convenience store for food; there's tons of mold in the store, but they use some bleach and clean off the airtight sealed food. But there is one zombie inside, and of course Russell wants to fight it.

Russell fights the zombie, but it becomes clear fairly early that it is not a normal zombie. It's able to mix with the fungus and spores in the building and become intangible. It uses this power to burrow its way into Russell's mouth and down inside him. Russell pours alcohol down his throat and sets himself on fire. The zombie comes out the other end... and it gets gross. This story ends with a dead zombie, a very injured Russel, and the building in flames. They leave a second block of the city, once again literally on fire.

They get to the Empire State Building, thinking it will be a good place for Skylar to work with a working ventilation system. Well... it used to be working, and Skylar says he will fix it with magic. But first, Seif must clean the building of weeks' worth of fungus and decay. He gets on his janitor clothes and begins cleaning and piling up the corpses outside. While this is happening, the little-known plague of wild beasts hits, so everyone has to get back in the car and flee a stampede. Then they return to find the bottom floor decimated by animal rampages, but technically stable. Seif and Skylar continue their work until the building is clean, and they all move to the 20th floor.

Off in the distance, they hear frogs. Possibly a plague of frogs? Skylar knows that the pharaoh, in the myth, was able to stop the frogs by deciding how many days they would last before disappearing. Russell seems the most likely pharaoh, so he is chosen to scream out that he is the pharaoh, and he chooses only one day of frogs. The sounds get closer as Russel hesitates, unsure that he can in fact be the pharaoh. He hesitates too long however, and Valentina, afraid of the oncoming frogs, screams that she is the pharaoh instead.

She is immediately struck by lightning and not happy that Skylar forgot to mention that might be part of the deal.

Then, attacking the building, appear minivan-sized frogs made of corpses from the pile Seif made. Valentina, Russell and Seif fight them off while Skylar works upstairs. Valentina is horribly injured and Seif causes a major upset to Skylar's work by throwing several of his experiments on the floor and demanding that he give her medical aid.

Then there is some meowing outside. Valentina and Seif go to look, and there is a small cadre of about five hundred cats outside, with a leader cat who introduces himself as Bacon, high vizier and magister in charge of defense, under the most glorious rule of Pharaoh Hetepheres. Valentina is surprised, but she'll take perks along with her lightning. Bacon is introduced to everyone, saluting and shaking as he goes, and then sets up an adorable kitty war room and describes the rations his army will need. It's very surreal.

Skylar finishes the first part of his project. Some of the tiny cells he is growing to combat the zombie outbreak seem to have grown tiny adorable arms, eyes, and legs. He is very excited. He tells no one.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

She of Many Waters

It's time for more requests! This week, we have a write-in that says: I love the Wednesday posts about badass women from myth, and I was wondering if you could do one on Sarasvati? I feel like she does't get the same kind of publicity that Lakshmi or Parvati get, and it would be really cool to have a post on her. I think that's a fair assessment; like her husband Brahma, Sarasvati is still very important but often seems less prominent when compared to the other members of her triad. (Of course, that's Brahma's own fault, but Sarasvati doesn't have any similar tales of infamy to mar her reputation!)

So: Sarasvati. Just as Parvati and Lakshmi are both perfect complements to their male counterparts among the Trimurti, so Sarasvati is the ideal partner of Brahma, the mistress of artistic and informational creation as counterpoint to his physical and magical creation; and just as the Trimurti form a triple alliance of the elemental powers of the universe and balance one another, so do the Tridevi represent the forms of female power that animate the universe. Sarasvati is an integral and important part of this triad of power, and represents female creative genesis and the ability to give life. She does this both spiritually, as the font of knowledge and learning, and in an elemental manner in her ancient role as the goddess of the life-giving waters of the river that shares her name. She is critically important as the equal partner in all creation; Brahma makes the world and all things in it, but it is Sarasvati who gives the world meaning, because without knowledge creation is purposeless.

She's also moderately famous for being the member of the Tridevi with the most headstrong temperament and the least interest in doing what the Trimurti want just to make their lives easier. It shouldn't be too surprising that the goddess of knowledge requires even gods to exhibit a certain amount of wisdom in order to earn her consideration.

Sarasvati represents pure knowledge, reason and thought, and in keeping with that role she was created from pure thought, when Brahma caused her to come into being from his own essence (in some versions, she is literally made from his flesh; in others, she was born from the words he spoke to create the world, as she is the mistress of all words and speech). Sarasvati was incredibly beautiful and Brahma, upon seeing her, fell in love with her immediately; however, Sarasvati avoided his advances (not least because, as her creator, he was her father and therefore any marriage between them would be incestuous), and tried to find somewhere to hide to avoid his lustful gaze. Brahma responded by growing extra heads to make sure he could look in every direction at once and therefore be assured of always looking at her no matter where she went. In an attempt to escape him, she tried flying directly upwards, but even that didn't work; he simply grew a fifth head and used it to follow her there as well.

At this point in the story, Brahma's multiple heads become a problem for everyone and are dealt with, although the manner varies in different regional tellings. In some, Shiva notices what is happening and, irritated by Brahma's incestuous behavior, appears suddenly and cuts off the fifth head before lecturing him on his deplorable behavior. In another, Sarasvati transforms herself into a cow and flees him in this form, but he chases her as a bull, after which she turns herself into a swan and he becomes a male of the same species, and so on and so forth until he has mated with her in spite of her attempts to escape in the form of every animal in existence, and she has given birth to the first animals of each species in the world, and only then does Shiva arrive to put a stop to all these shenanigans. In yet another, Sarasvati called upon Vishnu to help her and moved into his house (in some accounts even becoming his wife), but he found multiple wives too difficult to manage (or, alternatively, Lakshmi was not pleased about the situation), so he called upon Shiva to deal with Brahma so he could send her back to him with a clear conscience.

Regardless of the version, Sarasvati will have nothing to do with Brahma and his lustful leanings toward incest until Shiva kicks his ass, at which point he realizes that he's not exactly being a model for spiritually acceptable behavior.

Once he's been deprived of his fifth head, Brahma undergoes severe penance to make up for his behavior, and only after that does Sarasvati agree to marry him, on the promise that their marriage be celibate to avoid any lingering threat of incest. As the enlightenment that gives meaning to creation, Brahma needs Sarasvati but also cannot directly touch her, and together the two of them become a true creative force that can work in harmony for the betterment of the universe.

Sarasvati may be occasionally overlooked in favor of the passionate myths of Parvati's rebirth and wooing of her husband or the ongoing drama of Lakshmi's domestic squabbles with hers, but she is every inch a cosmic power over the universe. In another myth, Brahma prepares to perform a sacred fire ritual and invites a great number of sages to witness it with him, but they arrive and get the party started before Sarasvati is ready to attend herself. She informs them that since the other ladies who were invited have not yet arrived, she can't receive them because it would be improper for her to enter a room full of men alone, leaving them to fend for themselves until either Brahma or the other goddesses show up. When Brahma discovers this, he is so infuriated by her actions that he demands that Indra find him a new wife; Indra hunts around a bit and presents the goddess Gayatri as a a likely candidate, and Brahma begins the wedding ceremony to marry her, certain that this new wife will be much better than the old one.

Unfortunately for him, Sarasvati enters at that moment, flanked by Lakshmi and Parvati, in a blaze of righteous wifely fury. She lays mighty curses upon all of the Trimurti as well as the king of the gods for daring to interfere in her marriage, starting with Brahma himself, who she curses to never be worshiped except for a single day out of the year, which explains why there are so few temples and festivals dedicated to the creator god (there are other myths that claim different origins for the curse that prevents Brahma from being popular, so this one may conflict with those - or possibly Brahma just screws up and gets the same curse levied on him multiple times in Hindu myth). She then curses Vishnu for giving away the new bride to Brahma, thus implicitly supporting this attack on her marriage, that he will be separated from his wife; this happens several times in the future, when Vishnu accidentally insults his wife and she leaves him temporarily on a number of occasions, leaving him luckless and destitute until she returns, and also causes him to be separated from his wife each time he incarnates as an avatar. The third curse goes to Shiva, also for giving away the bride along with Vishnu, and Sarasvati declares that he will lose his manhood; although this does happen, Shiva's phallus is so powerful that it escapes and begins rocketing around the universe, forcing Parvati to offer up her vagina as a safe place to contain it, thus explaining why Shiva's lingua is worshiped separately from him and why it is always shown with Parvati's yoni attached (again, there are other myths explaining how this happened to him, or else it's a recurring problem for Shiva). And finally, Sarasvati curses Indra for procuring the new bride for Brahma, and foretells that he will be captured and tortured by his enemies in order to feel the humiliation he has visited on her, which later comes true when Ravana captures him, drags him behind his chariot and ties him up in his palace for all the rakshasa to ridicule. Oh, and she also curses all the sages that caused this problem in the first place, dooming them to become poor beggars for the rest of their lives.

Then she sweeps out like the queen of the universe she is, and all the dudes commence panicking because, post-curses, they realize that this whole "get a new wife to punish Sarasvati" idea might have actually been a really terrible plan that ruins everything.

(Incidentally, Gayatri is an awesome lady in her own right, and is considered the combined form of Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Parvati together. Which probably explains why the Tridevi totally ignore her in this myth - they are her. And anyway, it's not her fault Brahma's being kind of a jerk.)

The fun doesn't even stop there; after Sarasvati storms out with her ladies, they accompany her for a while but then decide they want to go back to their husbands. Sarasvati is having none of this treasonous misters-before-sisters attitude, so she also curses all of them. Lakshmi is cursed that she can never be content or peaceful in a single place and that men will always desire her, which describes both the way humanity constantly craves wealth and the way Lakshmi's incarnations are always kidnapped by enemies; Indrani is cursed so that she will be forced to wait on and treat Indra's conqueror as if he were her husband during the period of Indra's conquest; and the wives of the sages are all cursed with permanent barrenness.

Later, Sarasvati is mollified enough to slightly lessen the curses she has placed, although she can't completely remove them, so that Vishnu and Lakshmi can still be reunited after their separations and Indra can be rescued from Ravana eventually. Brahma has to suffer her displeasure pretty much eternally, though.

Sarasvati embodies the axiom that knowledge is power; she is all words and all words come from her, and when she says those words, they become truth at her will. Many of her stories involve curses in some form as a result - for example, there is also a myth of a circular curse at work between herself and the goddesses Lakshmi and Ganga, in some versions as part of a squabble over Vishnu during the time period when they were all married to him, in which all three of them curse one another so that Sarasvati and Ganga are forced to appear as rivers while on earth and Lakshmi as the tulasi plant. Sarasvati is herself the target of curses sometimes as well, such as when the jealous sage Vishvamrita cursed her waters to become blood when she refused to aid him in drowning his rival, although she was later purified of the evil spell by the intervention of some more friendly holy men who discovered her plight.

Knowledge is power and words are merely the audible form of knowledge; Sarasvati makes them real, whether they are directed for or against her, because that is her very nature. But regardless of her occasional temperamental outbursts, she is rightfully one of the most beloved of goddesses; her gifts of artistic inspiration and learning are the very soul of humanity, and even the greatest among the gods knows that creation would be barren without her.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How the Gods Play Ball

Since everyone is in full fervor over the World Cup right now, we thought we'd talk about sports today. Specifically, mythological sports!

Mythology is actually totally full of sports, which shouldn't surprise anyone; after all, sports are one of the oldest forms of humanity entertaining themselves, and function as a way for people to test themselves against others in competition without violence as well as generally having fun and inventing new ways to train themselves for possible dangers in the future. Sports are learning and teaching tools for some people and good clean fun for others, and in a mythological context they also often take on much of the form of religious ritual, since, like any religious activity, they involve following specific behavioral rules in honor of a higher authority.

We know you guys are thinking about them, because with this much soccer going on how could you not, so here are everyone's favorite footballers: the Maya Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.

The twins are famous for, among other things, being the undisputed master of ball-playing, which forms a central part of their mythology; their most important inheritance from their deceased father is his ball-playing gear, and not only do they incur the wrath of the lords of Xibalba by playing ball too boisterously above their heads, they then go on to defeat them in a direct match, much to the utter consternation of the rulers of the underworld. The twins aren't the only ball-players in Maya myth, either; their father and uncle were also famous for it, and various people are shown playing ball in Maya art time and time again.

The ballgame - originally called poktapok for some Maya people, after the sound the ball makes as it's knocked around the arena, or ollamaliztli for the later Mexica, meaning literally "to play with rubber" - is obviously massively important to Maya religion, and went on to become a staple of many other Mesoamerican religions as well, from the Tarascan valley on up to the Mexica empire. Ceremonial ballcourts were built, many of which were used for games only for religious purposes or even not used to play the game at all (and although it's a popular misconception, nobody was actually playing ball with anyone's head in real life - the lords of Xibalba do that, but normal people did not. They don't bounce very well, for one thing).

In fact, the ballgame is still alive and well today, all through Central America, with the same basic rules - no touching the ball with hands or feet, and anything goes to get it through the hoop, although of course regional variations exist and games performed for ceremonial or exhibition purposes look very different from pickup games on the street. Many Mesoamerican native reenactors play games like this one, illustrating what ceremonial players of the game might have looked like centuries ago:

And it's not only those trying to reenact the past that get to play, as we said above - street ball versions of the ancient game are popular and commonly played across various countries in Mesoamerica, often with impressive athletic skill. Ulama, the modern Mexican version, even has its own festivals and official organizations, although it's not organized into any official leagues.

Of course, the game being played at the World Cup today officially traces its roots back to various European ball games, probably originating in Greece somewhere in antiquity, but even in that game, the teams from Central and South America have a long and rich history of religious and cultural ball-gaming to draw on. This game may not involve any sacrifices or invocations, nor be the same one that the ancient Mesoamerican gods played, but we must assume they would be entertained by it anyway. The gods of Mesoamerica love a good game.

Or, to leave you with the historically-inaccurate and wildly culture-mishmashed but nevertheless pretty fun movie The Road to El Dorado's take on it: this is how the gods play ball!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Hero's Journey: Storytelling and the Monomyth

So, you've heard us talk a big game about Hero's Journey, but we haven't explained what exactly that "hero's journey" really is. Today, we'd like to talk a little bit about that, and how it forms one of the major inspirations for the game in both flavor and mechanics.

The Hero's Journey - the original one - is a phrase coined to describe the mythological theories of famous sociologist and mythologist Joseph Campbell, who spent a great deal of his professional career describing something called the monomyth. In essence, the theory of the monomyth is that all mythology can basically be boiled down to the same basic ideas and characters; because it is all invented by human beings, it all performs the same root functions for those human beings, who create those stories out of a common psychological need for certain kinds of narratives or types of stories to inspire them and describe their lives. According to monomyth theory, the same mythological motifs - the storm god who fights the dragon, the flood that wipes all but a tiny portion of life off the earth, or the hero who braves the underworld to find a family member, to name a few popular ones - occur all over the world not necessarily just because nearby cultures shared them with one another, but because even when they didn't have any contact, they automatically thought of those same ideas on their own. The idea of the monomyth begins with mythology, which were the first stories told by humanity to one another, but can be equally applied to any other kind of modern storytelling (and in fact you can hunt up some transcriptions of Campbell talking about applying it to, among other things, the Star Wars franchise).

So the monomyth is a mythological theory that basically states that all mythology around the world is the same mythology, because human beings have the same universal psychological needs and therefore may vary the details of their stories but not the essential social function of them.

Now, the monomyth has plenty of detractors, and they have good points; although Campbell did study all kinds of religions worldwide, his theories are very Indo-European-centric and don't always mesh well with the myths of cultures far removed from those, and the universality of the monomyth makes it very easy (in fact tempting) for students of mythology to unfairly remove or ignore cultural uniqueness from certain myths (most often those of indigenous people invaded by others of Indo-European extraction) in order to make them fit its mold. Scholars of African and Native American mythologies have been particularly vocal in their dislike of the monomyth and hesitance to apply it to all myths universally, thus ignoring the possibility of the uniqueness of a given culture affecting its members' psychological needs and values. We're not here to take a stance on the monomyth one way or the other - whether you like it or not, you can play HJ just fine. It's just here to explain the context behind the idea of the Hero's Journey.

The Hero's Journey is a particular facet of the monomyth that discusses an idea of a universal hero story that is repeated across all kinds of different cultures. All cultures have hero stories, whether they feature gods who enter cosmic struggles, supernatural figures who perform great deeds or mere mortals who do something extraordinary with their lives, and the Hero's Journey seeks to provide a model that follows the rough outline of all those hero tales and explains the function of each section of their makeup. We won't do an in-depth discussion of the entire Hero's Journey here today, since it's nineteen parts long and involves a lot of exampling and explainifying, but in a massively simplified form, it basically looks like this:

1) Hero is called from their normal life to do something extraordinary.
2) Hero tries to resist that call but ends up realizing they need to go do it anyway.
3) Hero embarks on a quest to do that extraordinary thing and is fundamentally changed by the experience.
4) Hero either achieves or conclusively fails the object of the quest.
5) Hero tries to refuse to return to the world they once knew now that they have been changed by the journey.
6) Hero is forced to return to the world in order to share knowledge or the fruits of the quest.

There are a lot of other steps and specifics, but that's the general gist of it. For some heroes, there is only one Hero's Journey, which might take their entire lives to achieve or after which they might retire from myth for good. For others, the journey is repeated over and over again, re-embarked upon every time they have a new story, and this is what we see most often in popular hero myths - Heracles, Maui or Susanoo himself are all constantly on the Hero's Journey and discovering new changes in themselves and their worlds as a result.

Now, the Hero's Journey isn't perfect - like the overarching monomyth idea that it springs from, scholars contend that it can't accurately model every hero tale ever conceived of or avoid watering down cultural specifics, and it isn't the be-all and end-all of mythological theory. However, what is perfect about it is the springboard it provides for players who are creating their own mythic stories at the table; it guides them through satisfying and recognizable tales while giving them the freedom to put their own spin on them, and gives them (and the long-suffering souls running the game for them) the ability to tell and retell stories without requiring anyone to have a degree in any kind of story construction. One of the major goals of HJ is to give players the tools to run the Hero's Journey in any way they want, and to make it easy to build interesting mythological stories and tailor them to your group's interests and the ideas behind their characters.

Of course, the Hero's Journey already has variations across cultures, time and different stories, and yours will be no different - maybe you'll decide to skip some steps here or reorder a few over there, or let the players run with their story until it takes shape on its own. There's no strictly wrong way to do it, and first and foremost each game should be having fun, staying interested and being as heroic as they can be. But the Hero's Journey can be an awesome tool to help players and their games be able to do that, so HJ will be giving you as much support for using it as we can and then watching where you run with it from there.

After all, the Hero's Journey technically applies to everyone, not just mythic heroes - we also perform our own heroic journeys in our lifetimes, although they're on smaller scales than those of a Gilgamesh or a Medea. The game is a perfect place to play out those small dramas on a larger scale or to invent the ones we have only dreamed of - there is no limit to what your game can do!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Web of Fate: A Galaxy of Blessings

Okay, guys! Now that we've talked about all the Aspects and Talents, you know what stats you roll to do things and what kinds of heroic roles you'll be taking on when you do them. The next step is doing things out of the ordinary - using magical powers beyond mortal capabilities. It's time to talk about the Web of Fate!

We've touched on the Web a little bit in the past, but usually not in-depth, and accompanied by statements along the lines of "This is impossible to explain without pictures" and "But it's great, we promise." Our incredible digital artists are still working on the shiny and fancy graphics they are so excellent at, and those aren't ready for public unveiling yet, but we really wanted to talk about the Web and share our excitement about it with everyone. So, with long-suffering artist charity, they sent us over a picture of some of their written notes so we could use that.

So, obviously that's going to require some explanation. Let's do it!

The Web of Fate is a grand web of different Blessings, which are bonuses that Heroes can gain as they progress through their stories. Some Blessings provide unique powers that Heroes can use to perform actions they otherwise couldn't - things like creating an illusion, cajoling an enemy into parlaying or increasing their speed to superhuman levels. Others provide simple dice bonuses to various things, including various Talent rolls or a character's Speed or Sight. And still others provide extra channels of resources, such as Purpose or Inspiration, or bonuses that enhance the effectiveness of previous Blessings. (All the different symbols in the image above represent different kinds of Blessings.)

Each Talent has its own "section" of the web, in which are contained all the Blessings that have to do with that Talent's area of influence. For example, the Blessings in the Sovereignty portion of the web involve laying down laws, giving ironclad orders, increasing your importance relative to other people in the room and ostracizing those who don't obey you. The Blessings that don't provide powers but are instead bonuses to other things are also more likely to be related to that Talent, so that it's more likely that you'll find bonus points of Purpose here than something less related like Mettle.

Players can progress along the paths of the Web in any direction they want, provided that the Blessing they want to choose is connected to others that they already have. The only rule preventing them from going anywhere they want is that there are three tiers of advancement in the game, and that they can't cross into Blessings from a later tier until they have achieved that tier. Heroes can get Blessings by purchasing dots of stats that come with a free Blessing of their choice, or by directly purchasing new Blessings in the Web.

Here's where things start getting really neat, though. The picture above is a single Talent's portion of the Web, but you'll see some little black arrows pointing off to the side from it, two at each tier level. These are the places where, if a Hero so chooses, they can jump from one Talent's skillset in the web into that of an adjoining Talent. Once a Hero has the Blessing that has an arrow leading off of it, they can then begin to buy Blessings in the next Talent's portion of the Web, allowing them to branch out into related skills if they want to. A Warrior-heavy Hero who has been investing in Weaponry, for example, might make their way up to that Blessing and then decide to cross over and dip into the next-door Blessings of Tactics, gaining the ability to not only be a force on the battlefield but to have some skills in leading their fellows as well.

Technically, this means that any character can literally go anywhere on the Web that they want to. If you wanted to move laterally into other Talents' areas of the web, you could go all the way around the entire giant shebang if you wanted to, or only branch out into things that you plan to make major parts of your skillset, or even just pick a few and concentrate on them and never try to branch out. Different character builds have myriad options for customizing their abilities and collecting as focused or varied a skillset as they want to have.

(We know this is probably leaving all of you with a lot of questions about XP and investment and how to spend your points, but since that's a big discussion all on its own, we'll leave it for another day. A day not too far away!)

Aside from the many, many options for going various directions on the web, one of the biggest unique features of gameplay for a lot of games will probably be tracking various characters' progress on the Web. HJ is a game about all of the players cooperatively telling a heroic story together, and we therefore suggest tracking their progress together; stickers, dots or just writing different characters' names next to the Blessings they have not only keeps track of where they all are as they move to advance, but gives the entire game a visual perspective on where everyone's strengths lie and how they can interact with one another. This is another thing that's hard for us to show without a visual aid... but we trust in your fertile imaginations.

These are not the only powers in the game, of course - the Domains and their attendant Spheres have powers of their own, which will need to wait for another day. Until then!