Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hero's Journey Mechanics Demo: Throwing Some Punches

First of all, thanks to all of you for being so patient while we worked on this! Combat is a complicated ball of wax sometimes, and as you can see, even cutting a lot of the middle parts out, it took longer to film and is longer in its final form than the other demos were.

But here's the promised quick look at fights and some of their mechanics, featuring physical attacks, buff powers, resisting enemy shenanigans, and a few other creative applications of heroic abilities.

As always, a big thanks to the playtesting team for dedicating their time and their shining faces to this!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Sea Woman

Today, we have a request for a mythological lady from the far northern reaches of North America: Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea and mother of all sea creatures. We're going to call her Sedna today because, thanks to early English- and French-speaking ethnographers, that's the name that most non-Inuit people know her by, but really she's only known by that name (which means approximately "the one down there") to a small number of Inuit peoples around the Baffin Island area. She's more commonly known across Canada and the arctic as Nuliajuk or variations on that name, as well as a slew of others with various meanings from "the sexually voracious one" to "the protector of the sea" to "the terrible old woman." Many scholars simply refer to her as the Sea Spirit or Sea Woman, since like other Inuit deities she is mostly considered the active soul of the ocean itself, and therefore appears most importantly as a representative of the natural powers of the sea and its inhabitants.

Pretty much the only major things that all of Inuit myth agree on are that Sedna is a dangerous and terrifying power in the oceans, and that she must be respected and placated at all costs. Her story is actually a very tragic one, but if you were ever looking for a deity who can take a tragic backstory and leverage it into iron control of her area of influence, Sedna is your lady. The two marriage tales below are sometimes told as a single story, with one following the other, while among other Inuit peoples elements of both are combined into one story, or only one or the other is given as the reason for Sedna's descent into the seas.

There are several variations on the tale, but essentially Sedna was once an incredibly beautiful woman, one who was highly sought-after as a wife by all the local young men. Her father - in many Inuit cultures, Anguta, who later became one of the underworld gods - is all about marrying her off since that would mean he no longer has to feed her, which is a big deal when you live in the Arctic circle and have to hope you can catch enough food to make it through each winter without resorting to cannibalism, but Sedna deems none of her suitors worthy of her and refuses to take any of them. Frustrated by her refusal, which most stories portray as being born of excessive pride, Anguta swears to her that if she won't take a human husband he's going to marry her off to a dog.

If there is one thing Sedna does not tolerate in her myths, it's anyone trying to bully her or tell her what to do, so she calls his bluff and continues to refuse to marry anyone. However, a dog has overheard her father's proclamation, and goes to a shaman to obtain a dogskin amulet, which he is able to wear to take on human form. He then shows up at Anguta's house and presents himself as her rightful husband, and Anguta, delighted to be able to piss off his daughter this thoroughly, agrees and sends her off with the dog (sometimes referred to as Qimmiuk, just meaning "dog" or "dog person") to go live. Depending on the version of the myth, sometimes Anguta just summarily marries Sedna to the family dog without the benefit of humanizing magic, which is most likely intended to knock her pride down a peg by subjecting her to sex with an animal, or sometimes the dog kidnaps her in the night and everyone just sort of has to deal with the situation because of Anguta's hasty promises.

Sedna and Qimmiuk move to a small nearby island to live, but Anguta is dissatisfied; because Qimmiuk is not really a person but a dog, he can't hunt like a human and therefore Anguta is still obliged to feed them both. Every day Qimmiuk swims to the shore and collects meat from Anguta's hunts to bring back home to Sedna, until one day Anguta decides he isn't down for the arrangement anymore and weights his canine son-in-law down with stones, which causes him to drown on the swim back home. Sedna, now widowed, is forced to go back to living with her father, now with entirely new reasons to dislike him. In many versions of Sedna stories, her children with Qimmiuk play important roles in later myths; in some, she gives birth to the first of the amarok, monstrous dog-person or wolf-person hybrids that hunt humans and can sometimes take on human shape, and in others, she gives birth to two litters of children, one of humans, who become the ancestors of the Inuit, and one of dog-people, who are sent away into the oceans on a raft and presumed to become the ancestors of all other peoples.

Either way, Sedna and Anguta are cohabiting again, and for obvious reasons neither is very fond of the other. Sedna is still very beautiful and has many suitors, but she continues to reject them until a particularly handsome man appears, in some versions of the story calling himself Mallemak (meaning "fulmar" or "sea bird"). Sedna is charmed by his attractive appearance as well as the many promises of wealth, comfort and wondrous gifts he has in store for her, so she agrees to marry him, and the two go off to live in his home. However, Sedna realizes in very short order that her husband is prone to disappearing for long periods of time and that he only ever gives her fish to eat, and eventually figures out (sometimes because she pierces an illusion or spell laid over her) that she has again been tricked into marrying a non-human being, this time a sea bird that has been keeping her in his cliffside roost and feeding her fish he catches.

Sedna may not be all that close with her father, but she's not about to be forced to live with a bird forever, so she sends out an alarm to Anguta to alert him to the situation and come rescue her. Anguta does arrive, but as the two of them are fleeing in his kayak, Mallemak returns and is infuriated by Sedna's defection (or in some versions he thinks Anguta is kidnapping her or withdrawing his agreement to let her marry, and let's be honest, that's not unreasonable given Anguta's track record). The bird causes a great storm at sea in his wrath to force them to have to turn the kayak around or risk death on the waters.

Neither Sedna nor Anguta is willing to go back - Sedna because she doesn't want to be trapped there, Anguta because he is afraid of the consequences - so Anguta makes his final move in his bid to win the Bad Parenting Olympics and throws his daughter overboard, hoping that Mallemak will stop chasing him if he no longer has her. Sedna clings to the side of the kayak, refusing to let go and attempting to climb back in, so Anguta finally uses a knife to cut her fingers off, knuckle by knuckle, until she has none left and is left to sink into the depths of the sea.

It is at this point that Sedna becomes the Sea Mother, the undisputed mistress of the oceans to whom all seaside hunters must pay homage and who controls everything that happens the moment anyone steps offshore. Her severed fingers and joints become the first sea creatures, turning into whales, walruses and seals, all of which belong to her forevermore afterward, and she sinks to the very bottom of the ocean, where she becomes its ruler and the ruler of all dark and terrible places, including for many Inuit peoples the underworld of Adlivun, where the dead are sunk in her frozen and watery halls forever without the intervention of other gods.

Anguta does make it back to shore without dying in the storm, sometimes because Mallemak breaks off his attack once Sedna is gone and sometimes just because he was correct in thinking he could kayak away more successfully with only one person, but either way, he does not escape justice. When he reaches the shore, Sedna's dogs (or occasionally Qimmiuk himself, who guards the entrance to Sedna's underworld home and acts as her ghostly representative) attack and savage him, gnawing off his hands and feet, after which Sedna herself calls upon the ocean to reach out its waves and swallow him up, dragging him down to live in her domain forever. Anguta becomes a sort of adjunct to Sedna's power over the underworld, and sometimes carries the souls of the dead from the world of the living to be brought to her, often while punishing them for their transgressions or in some Inuit tales simply torturing them because it entertains him.

While the stories of what happened to Sedna that placed her in the lightless reaches of the sea's bottom are tragic, her resulting control over the ocean, all its creatures and the fates of anyone who ventures out onto it is absolute. Inuit hunters must pray to Sedna for her permission to hunt sea creatures, and hope that she not only allows this but also allows the sea creatures to be weak enough to be captured, something that is very important to making sure that it's the hunter who kills the walrus and not the other way around. Sedna also controls all weather on the sea, making her able to inflict killing storms and blizzards over the waters at a moment's notice if she is displeased, and for many Inuit peoples it was one of the shaman's traditional duties to continually attempt to keep her placated, pleased or at least not actively irritated to prevent such calamities from occurring. One of the ways of doing this is to perform rituals in which Sedna's hair is symbolically brushed, or in which a shaman travels spiritually to the underworld in order to comb out her hair; after eons of time spent alone in the ocean, Sedna has hair so long that it can (and does, if she's angry) literally reach up to the very surface to tangle boats and drag them to the bottom, and without fingers she can't comb it herself and is therefore sometimes calmed or pleased when polite people come and do it for her.

Sedna has a lot in common with other underworld queens like Hel or Persephone in that she ended up reigning over the dead because of the actions of others rather than her own preferences, but also like them, she has become an authority absolute over her domain and a power that must be feared and respected lest it utterly destroy anyone who approaches it without due caution. In spite of the injustices and indignities she suffered in her youth, Sedna has become one of the most centrally important figures in all of Inuit myth, called upon and propitiated almost universally by all coastal Inuit peoples and regarded, along with the earth mother Nunam, as one of the two great sources of life and controllers of the world in existence.

And she has no interest whatsoever in tolerating insolence, misbehavior or disrespect on her seas or toward the sea creatures who are her children. Heroes may be able to venture onto Sedna's cold oceans with her permission, but if they lose her favor along the way, it's likely that they may never return to dry land.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shapeshifting in Hero's Journey: To Be or Not to Be

Today, we have a question more about the game's mechanics than the mythology surrounding it: Any chance of telling us how shapeshifting works in the game? However, this is really as much of a question about shapeshifting and what it really is across different world myths as it is one about exactly what the game does with them, so it'll be a little of column A and a little of column B!

This is actually a wide-angle kind of question without a single answer, because shapeshifting is a very complicated idea and appears in a lot of different forms and for a lot of different reasons across different cultures' tales. Shapeshifting doesn't mean the same thing to every culture, and there are often different kinds of shapeshifting within the same culture as well, each with various symbolic value or used by different kinds of characters for sometimes very disparate purposes. Asking about shapeshifting in general is a little bit like asking how the game handles "nature" or "fighting"; there are a lot of ways it can be answered, depending on your definitions and what you're actually looking to do.

The idea of changing oneself is at the heart of most heroic stories, although not always in a blatantly obvious manner; most Heroes must in some way change or become something new as they experience their adventures, or else face the danger of failure if they cannot adapt or find ways to become what is required of them. Some mythological characters literally transform into a completely new being in order to do what they need to do - for example, Vishnu, who must transform himself into the giant turtle Kurma in order to support the gods' quest to churn the Ocean of Milk, or the tale in which Loki and Heimdall transform into seals in order to have a giant wrestling match in the sea. Other times, the Hero must change something in their personality in order to succeed, such as when Herakles must perform various gruelling tasks to atone for his sins and become a hero again. Still other times, shapeshifting is a means to an end, a way for a character to represent themselves as one thing while actually being another; this is the case when Isis disguises herself in order to speak at her son's hearing, thus avoiding the rulings against her, or when Zeus impersonates Alkmene's husband in order to have his way with her without her realizing that she is not being faithful or disguises himself as the swan that impregnates Leda with the beautiful Helen of Troy.

Because shapeshifting means so many things and is done in so many ways and for so many purposes, it doesn't look the same or occur the same across all (or even most) myths. Some of the basic mythic shapeshifting archetypes you might see in mythology include:

Disguise Transformation. This kind of shapeshifting is used to hide the Hero's true form, usually in order to either escape danger or go undercover to learn information or perform unnoticed shenanigans. Sometimes this involves putting on an impenetrable disguise, which is popular in Norse myth - for example, Odin transforms himself into an old woman in order to travel the world and perform witchcraft without being noticed. Sometimes it involves changing oneself to misrepresent the Hero's intentions, background or abilities, anywhere from as complicatedly as the Great and Powerful Oz pretending to be a giant dangerous head to as simply as the Biblical hero Ehud pretending to be right-handed in order to pull off some sweet left-handed assassination without anyone stopping him.

In Hero's Journey, this is handled largely right where you would expect it to be: in the Disguise Talent, which is rolled for normal disguise endeavors like throwing on a beard and cloak so your friends don't notice you in the corner. It also governs the portion of the Web of Fate in which the Blessings having to do with this kind of misrepresentation are located - powers that allow Heroes to change the details of their physical appearance and confuse others into thinking they're someone or something other than what they are.

Personal Transformation. Personal transformation, on the other hand, is about the Hero literally becoming something new. In most myths, this means that the Hero needs to become something they're not to succeed, or that there is an alternative source of power that they can only reach into by changing themselves. Examples of this kind of shapeshifting include folkloric witches who transform into animals in order to take on their powers or Heroes like Toyotama-Hime, who while originally the scaly daughter of the dragon-king Ryujin turns herself into a human form in order to marry the humanoid divinity Hoori. Often in mythology, you see this kind of transformation in reverse, coming from non-human and non-Hero sources who become human in order to do things they otherwise couldn't, like the Japanese kitsune that become human in order to enact mischief in mortal courts.

Exactly what powers a Hero might use for this kind of shapeshifting is debatable, since a great deal of its execution depends on the intent of the person doing it. Disguise Blessings are still an option, especially if, like the aforementioned kitsune, the goal is to fly under the radar or try to pass oneself off as something that you aren't. On the other hand, Heroes who truly want to change who and what they are may need to invest in Blessings that have to do with the specific thing they want to become, by nature stepping outside the zone of those human-like Disguise powers and intentions. This kind of shapeshifting is often intended to be permanent - it's not a feature of general trickery, but a way of allowing a Hero to intentionally become something entirely new.

Aspect Shifting. This kind of shapeshifting involves a Hero swapping between different aspects or versions of themself, all of which are in fact true expressions of the Hero but which may appear in order to represent different ideas or grant them access to different powers. This happens very frequently in Hindu mythology, where the idea of the Avatara, an incarnation of a deity on earth as a new Hero, is an example of this kind of shapeshifting and allows them to perform actions or become symbols of ideas that normally don't apply to them; and similarly, Hindu gods also often take on different forms appropriate to what they need to do at the time, such as Shiva becoming Bhairava, the Annihilator, when it's important that he appear as the ultimate manifestation of destruction.

Aspect shifting occurs in a lot of different cultures (another good example are the nahualli of Mexican mythology, which can appear as alternate aspects of Heroes or which Heroes may sometimes transform themselves into without actually becoming something different). While there are powers scattered around HJ that can be used this way, and of course Heroes can use any of the other shapeshifting powers to encourage this kind of image of themselves, most of this is handled by powers in the Devotional Domain, which is in charge of ideas specific to a Hero's pantheon and the religion of their patron.

Self-Denial. Self-denying transformations are rare but critically important to the myths in which they happen; they involve a Hero choosing to not become something new but to give up their identity and embody something that is not themself, in essence sacrificing something (temporarily or permanently) to become part of something else. This is common in Heroes and deities that are associated strongly with nature, such as the Nigerian river goddesses Yemanja, Oya and Oshun, all of whom transform themselves literally into rivers and become one with features of the landscape rather than independent actors on their own, or in tales about the indigenous deities of the Inuit, who often embody natural forces like wind or earth more often than they appear as discrete beings in their own rights. Sometimes this means that the element speaks through the Hero, making them a mouthpiece, while other times they simply disappear into it, and possibly re-emerge later changed or with new knowledge thanks to the experience.

This can also occasionally happen in reverse, with the landscape or some other primordial force coming together to personify itself (usually in response to some upheaval or tragedy), but this doesn't happen as often, especially spontaneously as opposed to involuntarily (see below). Heroes who want to perform self-sacrificing shapeshifting are definitely filling more of a niche role that isn't common to all myths, but it's still a possibility; they need to look to the areas of power associated with the thing they want to become part of, so those wanting to become one with the waters, for example, are best served seeking out Blessings in the Water Sphere of the Elemental Domain.

Involuntary Shapeshifting. This is exactly what it sounds like - shapeshifting that happens whether the Hero wants it to or not (usually, not). The most classic example of this for most people is probably the modern idea of the werewolf, which has to transform into a beast at the full moon whether it wants to or not, but the idea pops up all over mythology and folklore in various nooks and crannies. Usually, this kind of transformation signifies something in the Hero's nature that cannot be hidden or resisted on more than a temporary basis, and which must appear when it is time for it to do so whether or not they would prefer to avoid it. Often, this is the result of a magical item that affects its owner, but it can also be innate - for example, the selkies of Celtic myth turn into humans when they remove their skins, and are unable to return to their former shape unless it is returned to them.

Involuntary shapeshifting is, well, involuntary, so it's unlikely that it's something that Heroes will be intentionally performing on themselves. However, it's entirely possible to end up with an involuntary shapeshifting condition - for example, a Hero could become a werewolf or other kind of shapeshifter, or gain a magical item that messes with their shape - and therefore have it added to the story by an outside force. Heroes could also begin with special conditions from their patrons, although there aren't a ton of gods out there who would probably find giving their Heroes an involuntary transformation reflex very useful in the grand scheme of things.

Inflicted Shapeshifting. And, finally, there's shapeshifting that is directly inflicted on someone by the powers that be, usually as a curse, punishment or assault on their way of life. This is a classic fairy-tale device - both the Princess and the Frog and Beauty and the Beast, for example, hinge on someone inflicting a shape-change on a Hero who must then figure out how to un-inflict themselves (preferably as quickly as possible). In Irish mythology, the children of Lir are transformed into swans by the power of the jealous goddess Aoife, and Greek mythology is rife with stories in which various deities turn some hapless mortal into a plant, animal, constellation or other inhuman form in order to punish them or occasionally save them from some pursuer or danger.

This is really a method of dropping any of the previous kinds of shapeshifting on the head of someone who wasn't planning on or capable of doing it themself; for example, some werewolves are considered to be cursed by an evil power, thus having their unstable condition inflicted on them, and some Heroes who go through transformational changes must find a magician, deity or powerful ally to help them do so, achieving a new state they couldn't alone. Heroes who want to inflict unauthorized shapechanges on others will most likely find themselves investing in powers in the Spiritual Domain, where control over living things and their destinies is the order of the day.

There are a lot of other specifics and quirks to the idea of shapeshifting, but we'd be here all day if we tried to cover all of them at once. The basics are above, but keep in mind that there are myriad variations on them that you might see in mythology; transformations involving only a single part or feature of a Hero, for example, or situations in which the Hero is not truly shapeshifting but only seems to be, also add to the overall picture of the vast possibilities for Heroes and change across the stories of the world.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A fun look at Aspects: Creator

My first of a seven-part series in which I'll talk about how I see each aspect and some design philosophy behind them!

Remember that most Heroes also don't display only one aspect. A Hero is usually a good blend of a couple/several. Someone with only one Aspect would be like Q from James Bond, Yoda from original star wars, or The Mountain from Game of Thrones. They definitely are still characters, but they aren't "the Hero" and one of the reasons for that is that characters with minimal skillsets are less interesting over long periods of time. They're definitely not uninteresting, per se, but hard to follow and write for for long periods of time. For this series though, when I look at pop culture figures, I'll be highlighting characters who are exemplary at their Aspect, whether or not they are successful at other Aspects as well. Also, remember that I'm not as eloquent as my better half... by like leaps and bounds.

Without further ado, and by popular demand, I'll be starting with Creator.

(I'm gonna use "he" here cause I need a pronoun and it has less letters. I'll rotate my pronoun use for the Aspects and I sincerely hope that people of all genders find each Aspect fun and enjoyable.)

The Creator is the pinnacle of turning imagination into reality. Where there wasn't something, there is now something. Everyone has an imagination, but the creator has the unique ability to manifest his imagination into reality. Through the use of Art - this is technology or artwork - real physical representations of the creative process are worked on and toiled over and brought to life. Through Vision, it is more akin to illusion - quick bursts of imagination brought to life for others to see/hear/touch, but fleeting. And through Energy comes the pure force of creation; through sheer will the Creator uses energy to bring to existence what wasn't there before.

The Creator is often a difficult type of character for people to conceptualize. It's difficult to play someone who is constantly creating new things. And on the design side, its tough to balance all possibilities, but also poor design to leave that up to each individual GM. In the past, depending on the game, the GM and the player, a Creator type could run the gamut from completely useless to almost a god amongst his other comrades.

To most peopl,e the line between the smart guy and the Creator guy is very small and often blurred. However, mythologically, this definitely isn't the case, and we needed to find as many ways as possible to knock home that distinction while writing the Creator and his powers.

We gave Creator more specific things they can do. We love the idea of build/create anything, and we think that's incredibly important for the character. But mechanically, the outcomes are very fixed. You can forge your friend the perfect weapon to fight with, but we aren't going to quibble over how many successes makes a good sword vs a great sword. If you are a Creator and want to forge a sword, as long as you can achieve the rolls you can make a sword. However, if you use particular Blessings, that sword can mimic great weapons of myth. They can attach to the myth of the person you bestow it upon or they can be important parts in the framework of this particular story. The Creator is able to make the things they want, but the true power, the changes to the Saga that the Creator can make, come from his Blessings.

Through Energy, the Creator has healing, so off the bat, I don't think he'll ever be useless anymore no matter the player or GM. We also split Vision up a bit so that those Creators who want to come up with some cool uses for their illusions still have them, but we also have some concrete, direct-effect illusions that require no pre-planning (Aurora uses one in upcoming combat video). We also made sure that the Creator has some integral Blessings that really shape the Saga. Sometimes there are definitely problems that seem like they have no possible solution, but a Creator can find a way.

We made a full divorce between intelligence and creation. You can definitely still be a Creator/Sage, but you don't have to be. Just like no part of creating humanity required intelligence for Ra, no part of a Hero creating a biodiesel-powered rocket requires massive intellect. When we get to the Sage, we'll definitely see some stuff there that could help, but you'll find that being incredibly wise will seem to help with everything. As an aside, my mechanic is amazing and able to do things I couldn't attempt in a million years, but he did not do well in school. We all think of rocket scientists as needing doctorates from MIT (and in the real world, I guess I hope they do), but mythically, it's not a thing we want to worry about.

I am always loath to release powers before I'm completely certain I love everything about them and they're completely balanced with everything else. And since Creator hasn't gotten its final pass, some of the wording and balancing of stuff may be off. But that's on me, and I promised. So here are a couple I'm fairly confident about.

Fleeting Whisper
Labor: Episode
Roll: Vision
Speed: Dedicated
A Hero with this Blessing may conjure up sounds where none truly exist, blurring the line between what those around them truly hear and what they only pluck unwitting from the Hero's mind. When the Hero uses this Blessing, they may create a single sound or noise; it can be anything they can think of, from a singing voice to the sound of running feet to the blare of an air horn, but it is only a phantom impression of a sound and therefore cannot actually cause vibrations that damage objects or physically injure those who hear it, even if it seems loud enough to do so. The phantom noise lasts for a number of minutes equal to the Hero's successes and affects anyone in the area who cannot overcome the Hero's roll with their own Enlightenment, after which point it ceases.

Labor: Chapter
Roll: Energy
Action: Dedicated
No matter how grievously wounded the victim, a Hero with this Blessing may attempt to knit them back together. By physically touching an injured being and using this Blessing, the Hero may heal them of an amount of damage up to their successes on the roll; they may choose to heal any combination of their target's fatigue or lethal boxes that they wish.

As I had said earlier, finding Creator characters in pop culture can sometimes be difficult. But sometimes you remember that your favorite character is a Creator. My goal was to show a stratum of intelligence levels amongst them.

Morpheus: Sandman
Phoenix: X-men
Neo: The Matrix trilogy
Kaylee: Firefly
Dr. Frankenstein: Frankenstein
Iron Man: Marvel comics

I'm often very inspired by film/TV. There's a lot of bad, but sometimes there are some amazing moments. I also tried to do a scan of Creators in film/tv to find awesome moments where they are truly the star of the show. Here are a few of my favorites for Creator.

Neo realizing that he can control matter with his mind:

Tesla being a badass (in Italian, but its the best version I could find... o man, I think it's Ttalian...):

Kaylee explaining engineering. It's not the best, but I spent hours and eventually had to ask for Anne's help. It is incredibly hard to find female Creators in film and then EVEN harder to find YouTube videos of it. If anyone is able to find some, please send them our way.

B'Elanna Torres, chief engineer on Star Trek: Voyager, being a space engineering badass.

And some comedy relief, cause I'm exhausted from watching so many videos today. I need to keep a running list when I work so I dont have to try to find them all again.

Thank you, everyone. I hope this was insightful/helpful, and I'll be writing more in the coming weeks. We have a thread on the forum where you can vote for what's next. So far, Hunter is winning.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Weekly Update

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, for those of you waiting for the combat video, John & Anne are working on scheduling the filming for next week. After filming, it’ll be in the hands of the editing crew which I’m told will take about a week to add their polish. Hopefully it’ll be released in the next two weeks.

Unfortunately I still have no art to share this week, hopefully I will have more to share soon. The Kickstarter money is going to work and the artists are now being paid for their fantastic work! J&A have seen the early sketches of, and have been giving feedback on the Cosmology and Influence Map. The Warrior Web layout is being finalized and Anne has been working on the final copy for the Combat Chapter.

As well, backers who have given $10 or more should have received an email this week with their wallpapers. If you haven’t received an email yet first check your spam (the emails were sent out in bulk). If you still don't have it, please contact John and Anne through Kickstarter.

Onward to the mechanics update. This week the primary focus has been on the Leader Aspect, broken into Tactics, Sovereignty, and Diplomacy. J&A are working on striking the balance between a Leader character being a leader within their group and being the leader of larger groups of people. They’re trying to make sure there is an Odysseus-like quality allowing them to attract followers and holding their loyalty.

Next week they’ll be looking at the Lover Aspect. With the Lover being more focused on relationships between individuals.

Now for Questions!

Is it possible for a pantheon to have more than one Sphere?  

The answer is yes, but not immediately. Anne & John recognize the potential potential to explore different aspects of a pantheon via spheres, but want to get a first edition to you in a timely manner.

Is it possible for two or more pantheons to share Blessings if they have similar religious practices? 

Pantheons may have similar blessings, but they will not be the same. For example, religions native to China and Australia both feature ancestor worship, but the ways these are expressed are very different and John ans Anne do not want to denigrate any religion for the sake of blending similar blessings into a one size fits all package.

The Ethoi of other pantheon's, and Greek Ethoi Reveal?

As mentioned in the forums, the Greek Ethoi were briefly discussed in Brent’s Update. The Ethoi mentioned fall under the disclaimer at the top of this post, and may not reflect the final product. But I can tell you that two of the three are correct (at least currently).

John & Anne are probably going to be keeping Pantheon Ethoi close to their chests for the time being, however as there's going to be filming of another play session in the coming week, players might say or reveal something via twitter or the forums.

Spheres offering passive bonus?

Spheres will offer passive bonuses to your character. However, while these passives will help you elsewhere, their reason for being in the sphere is to augment the rolls of powers within the sphere. Their assistance elsewhere is just a perk.

Finally, brief update on the Saturday Grab-Bag blog post, you’ll notice there wasn't one this past week. Regular Saturday blog posts are going to be retired. There may be some occasional posts on Saturday, but these will most likely be infrequent and will fall under the grab bag nature of previous Saturdays.

I will put the question to you readers, is there something you’d like to see us talk about, semi-regularly on Saturdays?

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Game Recap: 3rd week of July

Mat had an emergency this week, so no Sunday game, and summer trips for players will eat the next two Sundays and next Wednesday. Sad times, but gives us more time to work, so maybe a blessing in disguise. Also, writing character intros anew this week, so dont skip them just because!

Wednesday: 7pm - 12am
This game takes place in the 1850s. The characters exist in a pre-steampunk type world.

Mohini: A devadasi from India. She finds joy almost everywhere in life and revels in teaching her friend Padma how to be a married woman.
Padma: An upper-class British woman, Padma left home as part of a sham marriage to Shadan, but she now has a real marriage to Shadan and is pregnant with his children.
Shadan: A young Persian prince, Shadan has sworn to Vishnu that he will protect his new wife no matter what... also, he is hiding from his entire family, both mortal and divine.
Lionel: An incredibly racist plantation owner, Lionel slowly collects holdings and addictions from all over the world.

We last left the group in Japan. They continue to figure out a solution to the werewolf/moon-sickness problem. While Mohini and Lionel administer the wolfsbane tea to the son of the last werewolf they murdered, Shadan and Padma go off to attempt to learn curative rituals from the local Shinto shrine. Both groups are met with frustration. Mohini finds that this young man has trouble keeping down his tea and complains that it is poison, while his sister and mother are having severe menstrual problems (the moon is whacking out their stuff... it was very gross and I won't go into it).

At the shrine, Shadan impersonated a local and found out that the priests were fairly corrupt and could be bought. Shadan wanted to double-check his suspicions, however, and waited til they left, and found a great deal of money hidden away in the temple. He took it and also learned that they worked for a local samurai clan that had been extorting (but also protecting) the farmers.

They meet up back at the farm house. The women get together to make dinner and try to heal and tend to the sick family. The men march off to confront the leaders of the samurai clan. However, on the way they run into some kappa, malevolent river demons. Shadan is disguised as the head priest, and they seem to obey him and even bring him gifts. However, he overhears that they plan to assault some women this evening and he decides to enslave them by having a bowing contest (it's a real thing, read about them and their amazing level of ridiculousness). The kappa are amazing bowers, and although Shadan is able to defeat the first one, he doesn't think he can continue with that amount of skill and luck. So instead, they fight the kappa. Lionel gets some nearby soldiers to help, which is incredibly lucky because the soldiers have to take the final kappa out while Shadan saves Lionel from bleeding to death. But it's getting late... and they want to get back before the moon rises.

They have dinner with the ladies and then use Shadan's and Mohini's power over the moon to transport themselves all to Paris. They have to get ready for the MOST AMAZING PLAY!

Seriously, check out kappa.

Saturday: 10am - 3pm
This group lives in post-apocalyptic NYC after a zombie outbreak they were unable to stop. The plagues of Egypt follow them around and wreck the city on a daily basis, while the group is aware that something about reality "isn't quite right."

Russel: A punch-drunk brawler who was a member of the first ever meta-human government superhero team. He now works for Valentina as her bodyguard.
Corey: A NYC high-class drug dealer who turned his back on his pantheon and began worship of the "one true god" in order to save his friends.
Seif: An Iraqi insurgent who travelled to America with his daughter, and who is constantly confused about American laws and customs.
Valentina: A high-class diamond thief. In order to get a brief break from the plagues, she claimed the title of Pharaoh. She now has an army of cats that attend her.
Skylar: Boy genius who has real trouble connecting with people. He has spent the past few months engineering the zombie cure.

Its been five days since this game, and I still have trouble figuring out exactly what the motivations of all the actions were. So if some stuff seems confusing... that is because it is.

The group is in a military Jeep headed toward the zombie nation to see if the anti-zombie virus worked. Along the way they are assaulted by the plagues of Egypt. They fight a massive frog in the East River, avoid locusts and plagues, and survive giant animals and rains of fire. Then Skylar figures out that they're being tracked through their car somehow. He opens up the dashboard and starts messing with rewiring it as they drive. As they finally get close to previous location of the zombie nation, he disconnects their tracking and reverses the signal so he can track whoever is spying on them instead. He realizes that the signal isn't coming from this plane of existence and he must know more. But when he tries to find anything else out, the power on the car drains out. He needs something more potent... and then we're back to using the cube again.

Valentina sees what is going on and flees.

Corey has a sudden realization that the plagues have gotten worse because of his praying and empowering of "the one god."
Seif goes to check out zombietown and finds all the zombies dead, Thanatos gone, and thousands of humans clinging to life and trying to escape. He also sees a horde of locusts in the shape of Russel's twenty-foot-tall father, now slowly devouring the people and using bits of their flesh to build his body back. Seif runs back to tell everyone.

Russel prepares to fight spiders because he doesn't know much about computers but he knows they're coming.

Seif arrives, and gets Corey out of the spider fight and into a car with Valentina. Skylar hacks into a mainframe but is being too attacked by spiders to continue. Russell fights the spiders.

Having no other option besides being taken away by spiders, Skylar pushes the gas and drives the car into the strange portal through which the spiders came, which disappears after him.

The others aren't sure what to do, but Seif wants to check out the old army base with the giant nuclear reactor that talks in menacing whispers to him. (No, they dont go save all the people being eaten alive by locusts... I'm really not sure why.)

They arrive at the military base. Everyone is dead but the core and the base are still running. Valentina and Russel collect clothes and weapons while Seif explores the core. It talks to him and welcomes him while sucking his energy from him, and then sucking his flesh from him. He learns that it is his uncle Nergal, who is trapped and needs energy to free himself. Nergal thanks Seif for the energy he did give him though, because it allowed him to re-raise his zombie army that he had lost control of. Corpses all over the army base start rising as zombies. Valentina and Russel start flipping out, but Seif doesn't tell them why it's happening. He just shows up near the door, half-fleshed and tells them not to come in. They attempt to save him, but he pushes them away and begins praying to his father. He tells Nergal that his people are protectors of humanity and wouldn't be this destructive. Nergal tells him some stories of his favorite days, when the Anunna killed all the people. Seif is not happy about this. Nergal also explains that because Skylar is messing with the rift between worlds, his prayers are ineffective. And also Nergal is certain Ninurta would join him in the destruction anyway. Nergal swears he needs more energy, and says Seif will either go bring him that woman (meaning Valentina) to consume, or someone else, but he will demand that he come back with flesh soon.

Russel has dragged Valentina away against her wishes, but he needed to save his pharaoh. Seif follows slowly behind.

Skylar heads into a world of spider-weapons, data, and electronics. He searches through many areas and many paths and comes to a place marked for Greek people where he finds an attractive young gentleman guarding a door. The man says Skylar is very brave and curious and that's good, but he has to be careful because Zeus' wrath is powerful. He also tells him that Arachne is on her way to kill him so he needs to escape. And this guy has the only way out, as long as Skylar pledges himself to Morpheus. Morpheus steals a bit of Skylar's soul and sends him back through to Russel. Skylar is changed... different, but alive. As is everyone... for now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lady of the Jubilant House

This week, someone asked: Can we bring it back home to the four HJ pantheons with a segment on Hathor? And the answer is totally yes. Hathor is awesome. We are pretty much always dying to talk about Hathor.

There is no Egyptian goddess more beloved, popular and important than Hathor, with the possible exception of Isis, whose later cult managed to absorb a lot of Hathor's imagery and roles but which still didn't quite manage to eclipse its much older forbear. Hathor's one of the most long-running and perennially popular of Egypt's deities, with important roles in life, death, rulership of the kingdoms and the creative acts of birth and artforms alike. She is the goddess of essential womanhood, encompassing beauty, sexuality, motherhood and companionship, and also the patron of all arts and artists, especially music (symbolized by the sistrum she is often shown carrying) and dance.

Also, she's a cow, which is not as weird as it might seem at first. Like many of Egypt's oldest deities, Hathor was probably originally worshiped in zoomorphic form, and only later began to be depicted as human-like. Our oldest artwork of her shows her as a cosmic bovine, towering over those she protects and nurtures; the cow is a popular symbol in Egyptian mythology representing nourishment, protection, motherhood and comfort, and therefore Hathor, who is the preeminent goddess of all these things, appears frequently as a giant cow or a cow-headed goddess who symbolically feeds the whole world just as a single cow might feed a family with her milk.

Although Hathor appears as more human-like in the later Egyptian kingdoms, more often appearing in anthropomorphic form, she never quite sheds all her bovine attributes. Often, she appears with the head of a cow, or if she has a human head, she retains cow-like ears or great cow horns sprouting from her head, between which the sun is often held in order to illustrate her background as the first daughter (or wife, depending on the version) of Ra and the original Eye that he sent forth into the world to do his bidding.

Because of her status as one of the oldest and most important among Egyptian goddesses, Hathor has been through a lot of transformations over time; Egyptian religion continued in an uninterrupted stream of ritual and belief for thousands of years, which is a lot of centuries in which stories could change and evolve and deities could be reinterpreted or repurposed to suit their worshipers' needs. Most of her oldest myths revolve aroiund her status as the first goddess created by Ra, the primordial sun god who brought much of the world into being, and retell how Ra was lonely in the beginning of time and therefore created Hathor from his own seed in order to have a companion. She was born as the Golden One, the most beautiful among goddesses who accompanies Ra on his journeys and serves as his devoted daughter and sometimes wife, and she was the first Eye of Ra that was sent out into the darkness to begin to know the universe and report back to him.

It's interesting that Hathor was the first Eye of Ra, because while the Eye serves an important function as a representative of Ra and reporter of information to him, she also invariably goes rogue at some point and turns violent. In later Eyes of Ra - including the notoriously bloodthirsty Sekhmet - this is par for the course, but Hathor is so firmly associated with ideas of joy, beauty and feminine gentleness that the story of her rampage across the world is a surprising one that doesn't match up with most of her other stories. In that myth, humanity begins to disrespect Ra and plot to overthrow his worship, so he sends Hathor to lay waste to the offenders, which she does so thoroughly that the world is in danger of being entirely depopulated, and the gods are forced to then corral her and prevent her from overzealously wiping all of humanity off the face of the earth in her desire to please the sun god.

It's possible that Hathor was originally a fiercer protector figure than she eventually ended up, and that over time her positive and loving associations became so strong that later myths decided to divorce her from that original violent role, leading to the popular variants on the myth in which Hathor either calls Sekhmet to perform the rampage across the world for her or "becomes" Sekhmet for a limited time, shedding her normal persona in order to perpetrate violence; or, also possibly, maybe Sekhmet was originally intended to be merely an aspect of Hathor but later became separated to be worshiped in her own right, leading to two goddesses about whom the same story is told. It's also possible that since all of the Eyes of Ra (after Hathor, almost uniformly lion or cat goddesses, again making her the odd woman out) were created as his daughters and servants that her myths were somewhat required to include such acts, regardless of what she was doing at any other time in mythology.

No matter where that story comes from, however, when applied to Hathor it underlines her role as a fiercely protective mother figure to all of her various charges, which include Ra, Horus, the pharaoh, and any mortal who calls upon her as the cosmic mother she is.

Hathor's relationships with other gods are more complicated than anybody's need to be, again because the ancient Egyptians were so deeply in love with her that they felt the need to constantly attach her to all parts of their religious life and find ways to insert her into cults even when she had nothing to do with a particular deity or worship prior to that point. In addition to being Ra's first daughter, she was also widely regarded as his wife, which was understood as an expression of her personification of undying and sensual love and Ra's requirement of such a person to support him. In those parts of Ra's cult that considered him to be undergoing a constant cycle of birth and death - often by being born each morning as Khepri, the scarab beetle morning manifestation who begins rolling the sun into the sky, crossing the heavens as the familiar falcon-headed Ra, and setting in the evening as the ram-headed Khnum who returns to clay - Hathor also appears as Ra's mother and nurse, taking tender care of him when he is in his child form and standing by his side as he enters adulthood (apparently without any dissonance between the idea of her also being his wife and/or daughter; Hathor is exceptionally flexible that way).

And Ra isn't the only confusing falcon-headed man in Hathor's life; Horus, and by extension the pharaonic rulers he represents, is also frequently associated with her and appears in various cult depictions as her son (nursed on the milk of her form as the cosmic cow, and by extension passing that power on to the pharaoh), her husband (representing feminine power supporting his rule, and again considered symbolically to therefore also be the divine wife of the pharaoh), or a divine foster child who is given to her to nurse when his mother is unavailable or inadequate. By the later stages of Egyptian mythology, when the story of Osiris, Isis and Horus as a family unit had become extremely popular, Hathor ceased being attached to Horus as frequently as Isis became more firmly considered his mother; theories suggest that while Isis is indisputably the mother of Horus who is the son of Osiris, Hathor may have originally been considered the mother of the more primordial sky-god version of Horus who was at one point considered a sibling to Isis and Osiris, and to only have fallen out of favor in this depiction once the two Horuses became confused and then merged in Egyptian religious thought.

It's not surprising that a lot of what we end up talking about in regards to Hathor is who she's associated with and what relationships she has with other deities; she's the closest thing among the Egyptian gods to the classical idea of a love goddess, and all her powers and most of her stories revolve around her great beauty, artistic skills and ability to support, entertain and please the other gods and humanity by being generally too awesome to ignore.

For example, in one myth it is related that Ra became disenchanted with the world, which had ceased to entertain him; this was a source of consternation for the gods, since if Ra decided to abandon the world the sun would no longer travel through the sky and the world of humanity would fall into chaos and destroy itself (alternatively, in another version of the story Ra is irritated or exhausted by the ongoing squabble over kingship between Horus and Set and refuses to participate in the proceedings, grinding the trial to decide between them to a halt). They called upon Hathor to cheer him up, which she did by entering his chambers and performing a seductive dance for him, ending by flashing him a full view of her genitals. Ra laughed heartily and declared that he could never abandon a world that had something that beautiful in it, and returned to the other gods along with Hathor, who was thereafter sometimes referred to by the excellent title Great Lady of the Vulva.

Hathor is no passive and meek goddess to be bossed around by the male gods around her, in spite of how much she is beloved, and in the very rare case that anyone attempts to abuse her, retaliation is swift and brutal. In another myth, the chaos god Set saw Hathor bathing in the river, and smitten by her great beauty he attacked her. However, Hathor was more powerful in matters of sexual procreation than Set and did not appreciate his assault, and she inflicted a debilitating disease on him for daring to touch her, declaring that as the wife of the sun she could only be impregnated by holy fire. The story is probably partially borrowed from a similar Mesopotamian myth about the gods Ninhursag and Enki, but it illustrates Hathor as the boss of all sexual matters very clearly.

Finally, Hathor also represents the heavens themselves, and all the stars contained therein; in her bovine form, she is conceived of as standing so large that her cow body encompasses the entire sky, and all of the world occurs around her ankles. Said ankles, spangled with fancy stars and comforting night imagery that also tie in to Hathor's incredible beauty, are the pillars of the sky. The idea of Hathor as supporting the sky may be partly responsible for the great popularity of Hathor-columns, which are architectural supports with Hathor's head on them that were used in various temples, chapels and mortuaries to represent her symbolically supporting those structures as well.

We could seriously spend all day posting pictures of Hathor being awesome, but we need to get back in the writing trenches. Respect Hathor and her cults on your journeys, because from her comes all joy, and irritating her can't end well considering that she might just decide to cut you off.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Demons of the Eclipse

We're straying a little far afield from the beginning HJ pantheons' myths to head back to Mexico with this question from the submission box: How about some information on those terrible ladies of the Aztecs known as the Tzitzimitl?

People who have been following me around on the internet for a while probably already know about my special interest in Mexican mythology; I am a big fan of Mesoamerican mythical stories and religious rites, which are way fascinating and don't get nearly the attention and scholarship they deserve, and the tzitzimime (singular tzitzimitl, plural tzitzimime) are one of their most complex and interesting features. They are a class of spirits or lesser deities in Mexica myth that are poorly understood, even now, but generally portrayed as frightening and grotesque in surviving accounts and artwork.

One of the major issues with the tzitzimime is the fact that we don't actually know very much about them, and what little we do know comes to us through very suspect Spanish sources. In artwork, they're presented as skeletal and terrible-looking, with insectoid attributes including claws and occasionally wings that align them with concepts of death and danger, and are usually depicted with blood, tying them to sacrifice and warfare. But beyond that point, we're caught between trying to figure out what the tzitzimime really did and represented in Mexica mythology, which we have to piece together from artwork and a precious few pre-Conquest sources, and what they were transformed into by the interpretations and revisionism of the Spanish friars and recorders who wrote about them through the filter of their foreign culture and religion.

According to the stories and religious texts recorded by Spanish writers like Sahagun and Duran, the tzitzimime were demons, heavily masculine forces for evil that devoured humans, spread plagues and were constantly engaged in attempting to destroy the sun god Huitzilopochtli and end the world. The fearsome appearance of the tzitzimime caused the Spanish to equate them with devils, and the fact that the Devil of Catholicism is male, combined with iconography of serpents and dangling clothes that they mistook for phallic symbols, convinced them that these were essentially male creatures, which caused them to distort stories about the tzitzimime by conflating them with Christian images of the Devil and his minions.

However, the earliest recorded stories about tzitzimime refer to them as female beings, and now that scholars have expertise in Mexica iconography that the Spanish didn't centuries ago, they can identify the clothing and images associated with artwork of the tzitzimime as feminine in context of Mexica art. It's more likely that these were originally a class of feminine deities or creatures, which is further suggested by their frequent comparison to the cihuateteo, another group of fearsome female deities who were believed to be created from the ghosts of women who lost or outlived their children. Both tzitzimime and cihuateteo are often invoked alongside one another, and the leaders of each order of demons - Itzpapalotl, the Obsidian Butterfly who leads the tzitzimime, and Cihuacoatl, the Serpent Woman who is the archetypal member of the cihuateteo - are sometimes used interchangeably with one another in mythological texts.

In addition to probably being considered female in their native religion, the tzitzimime were most likely a lot less demonically evil than the friars later considered them. They were definitely considered dangerous and frightening; they are associated with death and illness, which they were sometimes called upon to stave off (especially by midwives assisting with birth and other female-specific ailments) and sometimes feared to cause. They were also associated with the stars; Mexica mythology places the sun in the position of paramount importance and revolves around the idea that the sun fuels and supports the entire world, which therefore causes beings and elements associated with the opposing nighttime to be viewed as suspicious and potentially dangerous. Especial mention is made of them representing the stars during the period of a solar eclipse - among the most dangerous and unstable times in the universe, when the sun might not return and the world could plunge into destruction - and even if the characterization of the tzitzimime as devils is partly rooted in Christianity, it's clear that they were a force to be feared in their native religion well before the introduction of monotheistic conquerors.

In spite of being terrifying people-eaters, however, there are also hints that the tzitzimime have their place in maintaining the running of the cosmos, like all other Mexica deities. One theory is that they do threaten the sun and the sun deity that supports it, but that they do so in order to keep it moving through the sky and bringing life to the world, similar to the myth in which the god Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli shot an arrow at the new embodied sun Tonatiuh, not to destroy it but to force it to begin nourishing the world as it was intended to do. After chasing the sun across the sky and taking over the heavens for the night, they are then defeated and devoured by Huitzilopochtli to recharge for the day. As important (if thoroughly scary and unpleasant) parts of the working of the cosmos, they require a constant stream of blood and sacrifice - and if they don't get it, they'll find it on their own.

Myths in which the tzitzimime directly appear instead of just being mentioned as folkloric creatures are few; they aren't major characters like the most common Mexica deities, and as dangerous and terrible creatures are not usually appearing as positive forces in anyone's stories. But there are a couple of them, both of which are neat windows into the way the tzitzimime appear in Mexica myth.

The first story revolves around Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey plant and its important products (including thorns, used for weapons and discipline, clothing and paper made from its leaves and alcohol made from its fermentation), whose grandmother is one of the tzitzimime. According to the story, Mayahuel was very beautiful and caught the eye of Quetzalcoatl, god of the heavens, who fell in love with her and convinced her to run away with him. The lovers hid in a tree to sleep through the night, but when Mayahuel's grandmother discovered that she was missing, she summoned all the other tzitzimime in a rage and flew down upon the earth to find the missing goddess. Quetzalcoatl was able to see them coming and flee in time to avoid them, but Mayahuel was torn to pieces by the star creatures, after which those parts of her that weren't devoured fell into the ground and grew into the first maguey plants.

There's a lot going on in this story; to begin with, Mexica culture restricted female sexuality very strongly, so Mayahuel's tragic end is a result of her having an illicit relationship with Quetzalcoatl, which she is immediately punished for in the form of her family's angry and evil backlash (and on the flip side, while such behavior wasn't encouraged in men, it was punished less harshly, which is illustrated in Quetzalcoatl's ability to escape the same fate). Also, while Mayahuel's grandmother isn't named in the myth, her apparent ability to summon all the other tzitzimime to do her bidding suggests that she may be none other than Itzpapalotl herself, the cosmic creator of the world and mistress of the beings that constantly threaten it.

The other major mention of the tzitzimime in Mexica mythology comes from Martin Ocelotl, a native Mexica priest who waged a quiet but defiant campaign to resist his peoples' conversion to Christianity by the invading Spanish and continue to interpret the world through a native Mexican worldview. One of his proclamations was that two indigenous prophets ("apostles", according to the Spanish who recorded it) who came in response to the Spanish attempts to convert him and his community appeared with giant teeth, and that they warned him that the Christian missionaries were in fact tzitzimime.

While the Spanish friars he was throwing mad shade at didn't really understand what he was trying to say completely because they weren't very clear on the concept of tzitzimime, he was implying various things, including that he and his people were important enough to be visited by divine messengers (most likely, the fanged messengers were given jaguar attributes to underline their connection to divinity), that the Spanish friars were equivalent to dangerous demonic forces that threatened the equilibrium of the world and were worthy of trepidation, and that their appearance and activities were possible signals of the impending end of the Fifth World, in the same way that the tzitzimime were sometimes believed to be possible harbingers of the end of the world should their power over the dark days at the end of the year not be counteracted by appropriate rituals and sacrifices to the gods.

The idea of the incoming Christian conquerors being characterized by native priests as the malevolent tzitzimime probably illustrates better than anything else how much the ladies of the stars were viewed as a mixed bag of potentially dangerous and frightening creatures that, even when they did positive things, were still threats to the safety and continuation of the universe. Mexica myth views the tzitzimime as examples of powerful but dangerous female divinities that have cosmic significance in both positive and negative ways, and are definitely forces to be placated and feared in the Mexican religious landscape!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Domains in Hero's Journey: Powers of People and Prayer

Now that we've been through Celestial, Elemental and Spiritual, we've covered all the Domains; or at least, we've covered all the ones that we've been discussing in a general sense for the past several weeks, and gotten the full rundown on the magical and divine powers that they offer to any and all Heroes who want to dabble in them. What we've been cagey about, however, is that there's a fourth Domain to round out the set: the Devotional Domain, which works at once the same way as the others and completely differently.

The Devotional Domain is, as the name would suggest, concerned with devotional and religious activity. It's important both to us as writers and to the game world of HJ at large to remember that the mythologies it's centered around aren't just fun adventure stories but also part of real religions and belief systems, to which they mean a great deal and are often very centrally important. All Heroes, by taking on their destined mantle of greatness and setting out to represent a god from one of these religions, will almost inevitably end up part of that religion themselves within the game's world - their activities on behalf of a god will enter the stories of that faith and be interpreted by its followers, whether for good or ill. This can of course happen in a number of ways, depending on the Hero in question, and might range from being lauded as a glorious hero representing that religion's values, being hated as a traitor or misfit who opposes them, becoming an adjunct or servant in the stories of their divine patron, or becoming a god with their very own cult within the religion, but it's unlikely that any Hero who is active for an appreciable length of time will escape being incorporated into their patron's faith in some way. Like Cassandra, Rama or Imhotep, Heroes' exploits will most likely end up as part and parcel of their patron's religion in some way (or possibly even other religions, depending on what they do and where they go).

The Devotional Domain represents a Hero's investment in that religion; it is a set of powers unique to each pantheon, which allow the Hero to perform great feats and take on religious roles that are concerned with their patron's pantheon, its religion, and the cultural beliefs of the people who invented it. Each of the pantheons of Hero's Journey come from peoples and places with unique religious, mythological and folkloric beliefs that have shaped their history and the stories of their deities, and the Devotional Domain is designed to allow Heroes to tap into those powers that are a distinct part of their patron deity's religious heritage. This means that it is functionally different for Heroes with patrons from different pantheons; a Hero who represents the interests of Ra has access to powers in the Devotional Domain that are concerned with purely Egyptian religious concepts and mythological ideas, while one who represents Vishnu has available entirely different powers based on Hindu theology and myth.

In a general sense, the Domain works like the others; it has a number of discrete powers that Heroes can purchase access to and provides the same structure for rolling and using its Blessings. Its only difference is that it's specific to the pantheon you choose for your Hero, so there are several possible sets of powers rather than a single one shared by all Heroes globally. Like other Domains, Heroes can choose to invest in it or not; doing so gives them access to unique Blessings they can't get anywhere else, but there's no mechanical penalty for choosing not to do so, and each player can decide how much or little their character is interested in or beholden to the religion of their patron god.

Because each "version" of the Devotional Domain contains different Blessings depending upon the Hero using it, a general overview of what kinds of powers it contains isn't possible the same way it was for the other three (past the point of "stuff having to do with your patron's religion", and we already said that!). However, because I'm sure you'd like to know and Cameron tells us folks are very interested in hearing about the different options available to Heroes of different pantheons, we'll be doing some more posts to take a look at each one in the coming weeks. Feel free to agitate for your favorites on the forums, and we'll see about starting with those!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weekly Progress Update

Disclaimer: This is being written about a project that is in progress, and is an attempt to give you a glimpse of the process of making the game. Abilities and powers discussed in this blog post my not reflect the final product.

Still working on a non-boring title, suggestions are welcome.

Unfortunately I don’t have any art to show you this week, but I do have some updates about the art. The art team is working on the final sketches of the remaining Norse and Hindu Pantheon portraits. Hopefully they will be shareable soon. Also, J&A have met with the artist who will be creating the Cosmology Maps which they are both really excited about.

Systems-wise, J&A are currently spending each week focused on the final polish for the Aspect Webs, last week they  focused specifically on Blessings in the Hunter Aspect. Each Aspect Web is going to be made up of twenty powers and their challenge is making sure that all paths through the web are compelling without having any Blessings that feel mandatory. More specifically, an area that has needed extra attention is Pursuit. Pursuit deals with moving quickly from point A to point B. The problem is that just moving faster doesn't feel particularly mythic, so they’re working on ways to make speed be more dynamic.

Next week, they will be tackling the Leader Aspect.

Some of you have been asking about the Combat Video. John and Anne want to let you know they haven’t forgotten about it and it will be coming once schedules align again. They're working on having that happen sooner rather than later.

Now, some of your questions.

Will a difference be pointed out or made apparent in stats between those who are simply god-touched and those who are children of divine patrons? In fact, will it even be allowed?

It will definitely be allowed, though this difference will be mostly flavor, and left up to your GM. Your patron might hold a chosen hero to a higher standard, because after all they chose that person, whereas their child might get some more leeway. There may be minor mechanical differences but will most likely not be reflected in stats, but instead by minor powers.

What effects does your choice of Pantheon and God have on your character?

"If we could dredge up something forgotten not only by ourselves but by our whole generation or our entire civilization, we should become indeed the boonbringer, the culture hero of the day—a personage of not only local but world historical moment." -Joseph Campbell

Pantheon and God choice will definitely have an effect on your character, the emphasis of this will lean lean towards your pantheon. In Hero’s Journey your character will be part of a new age of heroes and what is important is not just that they are a hero, but judged to be a hero by the standards of your pantheon.

That's it for today!

Well, ok there’s one more thing. A small update on The Hero's Journey Novel, Anne let me know that those of you familiar with the characters on the old site may recognize some of the characters.

Also, shout out to griffinguy24, awesome post on The Spiritual Domain, some really good ideas there.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Game Recap: 2nd Week of July

Summer continues and this week we have only one game again. Next week we're back in full swing, though!

Saturday: 10am - 3pm

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.

The level of crazy continues to ratchet up this week.

We last left the group all unconscious - Skylar and Seif from exhaustion, Valentina from smallpox, and Russell and Corey from monstrous spiders who were trying to stop them from using a computer. They wake up in different places, not sure how much time has gone by. Skylar and Seif wake up in the Cafe Europa where Valentina is being tended by the cat army.
Russel and Corey woke up naked, in the middle of Park Avenue, having both experienced horrible nightmares of spider arms and autopsies. They felt different, violated, changed.

From here on out Im gonna try to not just do bullet points, but I might do disjointed paragraphs. It gets a little hard to follow.

Valentina lies feverish and dying. Skylar wants his magical cube returned to him and Seif says it's back at the Chrysler Building, so they head that way. Russel and Corey haven't yet gained consciousness at this point. Seif and Skylar get to the Chrysler Cuilding to find it covered in a coating of chrome that is not unlike the color of Skylar's cube, and also discover that a giant chrome wall has been erected around it, and there are army guards here. Seif talks to them and finds out that they dont seem to know about any zombie apocalypse, and they call in to their superiors to check his credentials. They believe that he is here for training and they have an apartment ready for him and his daughter. Conspiracy theories abound, but it seems like these military people and their superiors, aren't aware of ANYTHING that has happened in the past six months or so.

After some talking, they take Seif and Skylar to Seif's apartment as they try to figure out whats going on. On the way there they find Russel and Corey. They seem different, and when Russel attempts to sneak away from the army, he fails miserably... but suddenly several illusion copies of him appear. It is strange.

Seif senses shenanigans within the place once they arrive and tells the army that this apartment they've brought him to is a building full of spores and contagions. They call for a hazmat team. Russell sees the hazmat team drive by and can smell something on them... something bad, something that reminds him of his time being tortured. He isn't happy, but shrugs it off and carries the almost crippled Corey to see Valentina. They get to the basement of the Cafe Europa, and after getting past all the cats, Russel realizes he has lost all his ability to heal her. He starts praying to his divine patron for help (yes, the plague goddess, it didnt make sense to me either). Corey, a newly minted follower of the Lord of Light, begins praying to his god as well. They kinda have a prayer screaming match, which Corey eventually wins. Light pours from the heavens. Nearby buildings turn to mounds of salt and their basement begins to shake. The building turns to salt around them as they rise into the air on a mound of solid gold. The light gets unbearably bright until it soon goes dark again. Valentina has been cured and is healed, but she is not happy to wake up in the middle of all this.

They talk over the possibilities of what is going on. Skylar thinks he, Seif, and Valentina might be in a parallel dimension with the Corey and Russel from this dimension instead of their original Corey and Russel. Russel runs off to check the sites of disasters he has been a part of to see if they happened in this dimension. Valentina agrees to head off and try to save Skylar's cube from the military while Seif and Skylar head back to the apartment that is being taken care of by the army hazmat team.

When they get there, one of the military (non-hazmat) asks to take Skylar to a hotel while they wait. He offers Seif a room as well, but Seif is wary of the Hazmat guys that Russel said were evil, so he declines, waits and watches.

Corey passes out (he seems very frail in this "dimension"), and Russel finds the sites of their previous explosions and such to be still exploded. So if they are in a different dimension... this one also blew the same buildings up.

Valentina uses her massively underused cat burglar skills to break into the basement of the military base/Chrysler Building where the magical cube is being held. The chrome wall above the streets seems to penetrate into the ground and as she goes through it, it attempts to attach to her skin and draw her into it. She breaks through and finds herself in a secure vault full of computers. In the center of the room, held in stasis by tesla-like electricity beams is the cube. She reaches in and disconnects the cube, burning herself badly, and then runs as fast as she can back through the sewers. As she leaves the chrome wall, she sees that it has begun to melt like warm cheese and that spiders are crawling out of it and chasing her.

Simultaneously, Skylar and Seif are talking to an army sergeant. Both in different places, both a different sergeant. And at the same time, mid-sentence, the sergeants quickly melt into piles of red and black goo. Yeah... they weren't ready for that either. Skylar takes control of the Jeep the army guy was driving and heads back to Seif. The two steal the hazmat guys' truck (the hazmat guys dont seem to notice any of this and continue to work). They regroup with everyone else and freaking out commences.

They say fuck it, head to Queens and attempt to get ice cream. With their no money and gross "haven't showered in weeks" outfits, it doesnt go well. Seif gets a free scoop of ice cream and gets some clothes for Valentina. There is a good amount of "wtf" and quietly sitting in the Jeep, all staring forward, no one talking... just silence.

Then someone notices Corey, who the locals still have a cult built around. They call to him and he begins walking towards the East River. His many followers continue to gather and praise him. The rest of the group sits in the Jeep, dumbfounded. They decide to head into where the zombies all used to live and see if the anti-plague worked. They think they need Corey for this and head to get him as the game ends.

This game has gotten pretty crazy. There are many theories as to what is happening (and peoples' pet theories seem to rotate each game).

Next week! This continues! Plus 1800s game has fun in Japan and Sunday game continues sacrificing themselves to rebuild the strands of fate.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Scathing One

This week we received a request to talk about Skadi, no doubt one of the most badass of Norse ladies. And since we aim to please, here we are to talk about Our Lady of the Sharpened Ski.

Along with Uller, with whom later scholars and popular imagination often try to match her up, Skadi is the goddess of skiing, which is not as goofy as it sounds. In addition to being a popular sport in ancient Scandinavia and now, it was also one of the fastest ways to get around in the inhospitable snowy climes of the far north, and Skadi is a huntress famous for her skill with the bow, using the skis to zip around the slopes and forests chasing game much faster than she could on foot. She's referred to as Ondergud or Onderdis ("god of skiing" or "lady of skiing") in the Edda and is seldom depicted without being armed to the teeth and extremely unamused by the antics of the gods around her.

Skadi is the daughter of the giant Thjazi, who is most famous for being the guy who kidnapped the goddess Idun and put all of the gods in danger of growing old and infirm until Loki managed to steal Idun back and trick the giant into following him back to Asgard, where he was killed by the combined efforts of the gods. Skadi enters the orbit of the Norse gods in Skáldskaparmál, which tells the tale of how, once her father had been killed by them, she put on armor and took all her weapons of war and marched on Asgard alone.

The gods were not sure exactly how to respond when an angry giantess covered in weapons turned up on their doorstep and demanded that they answer for killing her father, possibly because most of the time they tend to kill giants in these myths sort of without consequences, but they attempted to appease her by offering her weregild, a very old convention of basically paying the injured party or family member of an injured party some lavish sum or reward in order to compensate them for a misdeed committed against them.

Being the Norse gods, who are not lacking in healthy egos, they offered her the opportunity to pick any one of them to marry, figuring that marrying a god was probably the most any woman could want anyway (and also they might have been responding to the fact that, having lost her father, Skadi might now be at a disadvantage to find a husband on her own). Also, she was pointing weapons at them and they may not have felt like they had a lot of time to come up with something.

But, being that the Norse gods are also very committed to being jerks even when they're trying to pay off a debt and have a lot of difficulty passing up the opportunity to prank a giant, they stipulate that she has to choose which of them to marry by looking only at their feet. Skadi, who wants to marry Baldr because he's the most beautiful among the gods and she's determined to be paid appropriately for the loss of her father, chooses the most perfect and beautiful set of feet, but much to her dismay, these turn out to belong to the god Njord, not Baldr, making her "reward" an unhappy arranged marriage she didn't particularly want. Njord may or may not be very happy about this himself (although the text really doesn't bother to waste much time on his feelings), but he's a prisoner of war among the Aesir, so he doesn't have much choice but to do as they say and marry her.

Skadi is still not okay with the killing of her father, however, and refuses to be satisfied with only the acquisition of a husband, so she demands that they also pay off their debt by making her laugh. She assumes this will not be possible, since she's in no laughing mood with them right now, and that by failing to succeed they will be in default of their weregild, which entitles her to legally either take their valuables or start killing people until she's satisfied.

However, Loki rides to the rescue of the rest of the pantheon again, this time by figuring that the only sure-fire way to make someone laugh is to inflict pain on yourself, and he performs some extreme improv by tying his junk to the beard of a goat and then letting nature take its agonizing, running-around-screaming course. By the time he has collapsed, exhausted, at Skadi's feet, she can't help but laugh at his antics, and therefore the weregild is satisfied and she must be content with gaining Njord as a husband and the opportunity to move in with the gods. Perhaps sensing that this is not entirely fair to her, however, Odin also charitably places her father's eyes in the sky as stars, as a gesture of good faith (which, like many Norse gestures of good faith, is actually kind of creepy, but he's trying).

For those keeping track, that's twice now that Loki has ruined things for Skadi, first by being the catalyst that led to her father's death and second by forcing her to laugh and lose out on any more restitution the gods might need to pay to her. Because Loki is a god whose major defining attribute is an inability to know when to stop, he goes on to also insult her, along with everyone else, at the feast in Lokasenna; when Skadi says that he's going to get in trouble if he doesn't stop being such a dick to everyone, he reminds her that it was his fault that her father was killed, and when she tells him that he's going to suffer the consequences of her wrath as a result, he says that she was a lot nicer to him when she was having sex with him, which may or may not have ever happened but was definitely said as an insult to intentionally piss her off.

Which does not end up working out great for him, because when he is captured and bound underground by the other gods for his crimes at the end of the story, it is Skadi who brings a great poisonous serpent and sets it above his face, so that it will drip burning venom into his eyes for the rest of eternity until the final battle of Ragnarök while his wife Sigyn tries and fails to catch all of it and save him from torment. Skadi doesn't play around.

The other major story about Skadi is in the Prose Edda, in which her disappointing marriage to Njord is examined. Skadi wants them both to return to Thrymheim, her home and the home of her father, to live, which is located up in the mountains where her skiing and hunting are commonplace activities, but Njord, who was a god of the sea, wanted to live on the shore near his domain.

In all technicality, Njord was in the right here; Norse marriage law normally presumed that a woman would move into the home of her new husband, not the other way around, and that she would manage his household for him, which was a major function of wives at the time. Skadi was having none of it, however, most likely because she didn't go through all that weregild mess with the gods just to lose her birthright from her father, so they compromise by promising to rotate their residence, spending nine nights in the mountains followed by nine nights by the sea.

Unfortunately, nobody is happy with this arrangement. After spending the first nine nights in Skadi's home, Njord complains that he hated it up there, and was particularly bothered by the incessant howling of the mountain wolves. Skadi, who senses that he's not going to come around to her position, then refuses to spend the second set of nights by the sea, saying that she can't sleep there because the sea birds are so noisy and wake her up every morning.

And then she peaces out to go live in Thrymheim by herself, and no more is ever said of it. Neither she nor Njord ever officially divorce the other in front of witnesses, but most readers of Norse myth consider this the point at which their marriage ended; they don't spend any time together again at any point in the stories of the Norse gods, and although Skadi is referred to by titles such as "bride of the gods", she doesn't appear to be matched up with any of them in the Edda after these events, instead going to events solo.

The only exception to this is Heimskringla, in which Snorri Sturluson, seeking to make the stories of Norse mythology into more history than myth, recounts their tales in euhemerized form, setting the gods as mortal kings and queens of past times and putting down their magical achievements to luck, exaggeration or sorcery. In this account, Skade is said to be a mortal woman who married Njord, the king of Sweden, but she refused to live with him (or, in some interpretations, just refused to sleep with him), so the marriage dissolved. It goes on to say that she married Odin (described in the work as an Asian chieftain skilled in magic) afterward and had several children with him, and thereafter she disappears from the story.

It might be worth noting here that while many modern writers like to pair Skadi with Uller as her new husband after Njord, since both gods are all about hunting and skiing and generally would probably get along pretty well, there isn't actually any evidence of this in any myths or artwork from Germany or the Norse lands. However, for those who are looking for a convenient loophole, Heimskringla does say that she married Odin, and another euhemerized account of the Norse gods' exploits, Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum, says that Uller at one point took over the rule of the gods and ruled under the name of Odin for ten years while the real Odin was in exile... so you could always connect a few dots and run with it if you really want to!