Friday, August 29, 2014

Weekly Update 8.29

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.

Things went well this week, and progress is being made on all fronts. Anne worked on the GM chapter for Hero’s Journey, specifically covering ideas regarding "The Monomyth" and how to use aspects of it help tell a heroic journey. Some god art has been sent back for revisions, and the last cosmology map is being worked on.

John is wrapping up work on the subsystems, and in advance of Monday’s post has let me talk about the Trickster subsystem. The difficulty with being a trickster in a tabletop game is that players are often using powers and saying what they’re doing in front of other players. Even the best players can be influenced by hearing that something came from a player. What the Trickster subsystem allows for is the character doing something similar to the long con, and grants the ability to nudge the story via the GM. This allows the line to blur line for other players as to what’s coming from the GM, and what’s coming from other players.

On to your questions, this week provided by Warchild!

Will it be mechanically supported to be touched by more than one God?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is still no. When a human becomes a God-Touched, they are marked by the one god that chose them, and they are forever changed and begin their hero’s journey. However, it would be possible for one god to select your hero in order to spite another god...

In the playtest videos, it looked like Max had to roll twice for the anti-toxin, once when it was made and once when it was actually used. Did I see that right?

You did see this right, and the disclaimer for the game being in progress applies here. In that circumstance you were seeing the interaction of two magical things interacting, the magical toxin and the magical anti-toxin. The anti-toxin needed to be first created, and then they needed to see if the anti-toxin was powerful enough to overcome the virulence of the magical basilisk toxin.

Is the existence of God-Touched common knowledge? 

The original God-Touched existed, but are thought of as legends long past. Some people believe they existed as written, others think that they existed but stories about them were greatly embellished, still others doubt if they ever really existed.

In the setting of Hero’s Journey, you and the other players are the first God-Touched to appear in the modern world igniting a new age of heroes. It will be up to your actions to decide how quickly your existence becomes common knowledge.

Chances are if you just went onto the street and proclaimed yourself a “God-Touched”, you would be reacted to in much the same way someone as someone in our world would be reacted to if they declared that they were a “Prophet of God”.

Can a Hero change his Patron? An example would be an agent (is there a better word for it?) of Set having a change of heart and seeking the patronage or Horus, or vice versa.

This goes along with not being able to be God-Touched by more than one god. When you are God-Touched you are forever changed and become a mortal hero of your patron. You and that god are tied to one another forever.

That is not to say that you are barred from allying yourself with another god. That god might even reward you for doing them a service… however, there could be consequences if you strayed too far from, or outright defied your patron.

Which pantheons "got next" so to speak, as far as being included after the Core, or has that not been decided yet?

During the Kickstarter, there was a donation level that allowed the selection of the next book, which may or may not be a pantheon. I do not know anymore than that, and since John and Anne are heads down on the core book, they're not talking about it until after the core book is released.

Is the game still on track to come out in September?

Short answer is that there have been delays… The longer answer from John can be found here.

Is monotheism completely absent from the setting, or is it merely less prominent than the real world?

Monotheism is not completely absent from the setting, but it is significantly less prominent and almost completely unorganized.

People may know that they exist, they might have read about it in history class, but if you tried to quiz a random person on the street, they would probably be hard pressed to talk with any real knowledge about it.

This holds true for all monotheistic religions around the world. There may be legends that people dimly remember, some people might worship religions with one god, others might really be interested in the idea of one god as a topic of research. But organized worship of a religion featuring a single deity just never caught on in an significant way.

On Monday, due to interest, John will be continuing his Aspect series by talking about the Trickster Aspect.

That’s it for this week, have an awesome weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Game Recap: 3rd week of August

Last week's post was insanely long. Gonna try to be more brief this time around.

Sunday Game: Kingdoms of Heaven

Sowiljr: King of the Aesir. Beautiful God of bears, sunlight and cold.
Eztli: Indestructible protector of the Mexica people and bringer of death to their enemies.
Folkvardr: General of the Aesir armies and grand mystic of the pantheon.
Jioni: The darkness Queen Erebus and goddess constantly stuck between worlds.

The group continues to be split up as Folkvardr and the other fatemakers of the world attempt to weave the ruptures in destiny itself back together.

Folkvardr is paired for the next attempt with a nightmare group: Tezcatlipoca, Isis, and Brahma. One person that hates him, one person that hates Sowiljr and will take it out on him, and one1 complete wild card. It goes pretty awkwardly. Brahma steals a lot from Folkvardr. Isis is able to control the random fate things that are happening, but only to a small degree, and Tezcat is causing randomness that made it difficult for the others to get their footing.

The highlights of the event were:
Gilgamesh was resurrected.
Eztli and bat were momentarily split from each other. It went very, very poorly.
Tyr was resurrected. This caused Garm to be resurrected as well, much to Hel's annoyance.
Shamash was ejected from the meeting, but was not replaced (yet?).
Tezcatlipoca fulfilled the first of four faterealm pillars. The great task is 1/4 over and he is very pleased with himself.

On the other side of the world (not on regular the world at all, in fact), the gang heads to visit Osanyin. They have some recipes from Danu to protect themselves from diseases that they need to gather ingredients for, but when they get there, they realize they underestimated the horribleness of his lands. The many toxins and poisons from the horrible plants all over were far too much for them. They survive for miles, but are eventually overcome by the potent toxins. Eztli alone remained conscious when they reached Osanyin, but even she was mostly paralyzed. She and Osanyin immediately went toe to toe. He summoned a horde of plant creatures to attack her and she let loose a torrent of horrible lightning. Eventually the lightning ricocheted into Sowiljr, waking him up from the toxins. He froze Osanyin in place just as Osanyin was covered in armor, rallied by Cronus' watchful eye. Sowiljr had Eztli wake up Jioni and they began searching for the plants they needed frantically while waiting for Cronus to arrive. They soon realized that they had no chance of finding the particular plants they needed in this forest of herbs and fled to the massive autumn palace where the omphalos was currently being held. Sowiljr filled the palace with water while Jioni and Eztli broke the chains holding the omphalos here. They put the omphalos in the holding area in Rome, and noticed that someone had recently been making coffee in their secret coffee shop. Then they returned to Iceland to find Tyr alive. Sowiljr sent Jioni off to talk to Tyr while he and Eztli went to the Underworld to save Hel from Garm.

Wednesday Game: Eastern Promises

Mohini: Trained dancer and Hindu warrior
Shadan: Persian prince on the run from his family
Padma: Half Hindu/half British aristocracy
Lionel: American southern plantation owner

The big day was finally here and they were all about to go on stage, but Padma was still being hunted through the castle by a man she had yet to see. She tried to make it out before he found her, but eventually he called to her across the courtyard. He was a man who seemed out of time. He was gorgeous and strong, in full plate armor that looked almost ceremonial, but well used. He had a series of questions for Padma (who was still dressed as a servant) that took her all over the castle and finally she was saved by Shadan who wove a just barely not-good-enough story about their plans for this evening.

That got the knight to wander towards the stage, where he demanded many things and it eventually went to swords. But quickly after the fight broke out, Lionel ordered him to leave, and he did just that. The gathered servants thought it was an excellent stage combat scene that highlighted how awesome the show was going to be and the palace became abuzz with excitement.

The group was still missing their lead for the play because Alfonse was missing, so Lionel went over the script and was going to attempt to play both Jesus and Judas. It would involve some quick changes, but was doable.
As the emperor was coming out to see the Mass before the show began, Shadan realized that the show might be too sacrilegious for him. They made a last minute change, and suddenly, instead of a passion play, they were performing a play about the second coming. Which is good, cause that's gonna make all the fight scenes and dragons and fireworks that Mohini added to make it more interesting make more sense. They let everyone know, and did their best to "wing" the parts of the performance that now were unscripted. Padma played masterful piano and improvised new duets with Mohini (who was taking over for Alfonse on guitar, but who hadn't studied the music). Shadan and Mohini took the leads dancing and singing and fighting. At one point when Peter (Shadan) was assaulted by a horde of Rakshasa with only Mary Magdalene (Mohini) at his side, one of the extras tripped and was about to fall in the way of Mohini's sword. Luckily, Shadan acted quickly, blew out of his skin and went flying backwards into the tents for a flashy quick change. Lionel was forced to improv most of his changes as Judas has some big numbers that were followed directly by a Jesus number. And at the end, Jesus is on stage while Judas is getting burned alive by the fire breathing elephants. So it was tough, and required some vamping by the others to pull off, but he did it.

Oh, and also, the group realized that their powers seemed to sometimes not work, or have strange side effects while the Emperor was around.

As the show finished, the moon high in the sky began to swell and pulse with energy. Padma and Shadan were so taken with the power of each other's performance that they dove beneath the stage for lovemaking while Mohini, Lionel and the rest of the cast took accolades from the audience. As the moon continued to pulsate and grow, it finally shattered in a torrent of lunar energy, showering the group in light as it swept them away to another land.

You may be confused about the Jesus story... it was originally going to be a standard Christian passion play, but they needed Mohini to write it because she had the most talent for it. Mohini doesn't quite know or understand Christianity, and she made many changes to make the story more to her liking. The audience was confused, but seemed to love it anyway.

Saturday Game: Gangs of New York

Seif: An Iraqi warrior in America for training... or he was before the zombie apocalypse. Now he lives with his daughter in New Jersey.
Valentina: A very literal cat burglar. She has just been mysteriously released from the prison a Greek goddess put her in.
Corey: A confused man who is torn between his old life and two versions of his new self.
Nic: After having his apartment and everything in his life destroyed he took a long backpacking trip through Europe. He arrives back in NYC today.
Michael: An ex-prostitute, he is disguised and working at a small comedy club downtown. He is a wanted terrorist.

Tired of writing... Saturday, you get bullet points this week.

Valentina disposes of barge, and gets attacked by a merman. She flees to Staten Island and takes the ferry. On the ferry she is attacked by a fish creature. Seif rushes to save her but is far away, and he gets lots of local media attention as he bounds across the Brooklyn Bridge. Valentina appears to fall off the boat and die, but finally kills the creature. She swims back and meets Seif halfway. They head through the sewers to their lair, but halfway there Valentina passes out from her injuries.

Back in the lair, Corey and Nic rested and healed while Michael built a forge/statue to Ishtar.
Valentina arrived and Corey did what he could to heal her as he hung out as a plant/sunlight hybrid creature.
Nic headed out to get a party for investors planned.
Seif headed off to search the tunnels for little rock-dwarf/troll/things to kill and harvest their rock organs for Michael to make crates out of.

Seif eventually finds the tracks of what he thinks must be a giant cockroach. He follows it until he finds a large underground area filled with giant balls of feces. A massive dung beetle with a hard earthen coating is placing its young inside them. It has been cleaning the sewers of waste and depositing it here. Seif sneaks up on it and attacks. They go toe to toe for a while and eventually Seif attacks its children with lightning. The sewers catch fire and the beetle freaks out as its children burn. It goes into a rage and attacks Seif. Seif destroys it. He goes to harvest it for its kidney stones, but is unsuccessful and they blow up in his hands. He returns to the lair battered and bruised. He gets healed by Corey the healing sun-tree and they relax together on the coach as Michael builds with the kidney stones they already have.

Valentina left shortly after being healed enough to walk. She went to go find Nic and help plan a party. They met up at a generic magic store near Union Square. While looking for items, they are approached by a man claiming to work there. He can see they need excellent products and he wants to show them the "good stuff" downstairs. He takes them to a gymnasium full of high quality items in a secret room downstairs. A live-in bartender provides excellent, incredibly old alcohols. He leaves them for a few minutes to figure out a trick he has that Houdini used to do.
Nic puts Val into the complicated chains with many locks and dangles her in the air. Just then, the mysterious man opens the floor below her to reveal a tank of sharks. He strokes Nic's shoulder as he watches Valentina escape and rewards them with more drinks. He is impressed, and wants to sponsor their eventual show in Vegas. They're to come back at midnight for a fitting. They exit and find out two days went by in what seemed like hours.

A stranger recognizes Nic on the street. The stranger knows both his name and who his father is. He asks Nic to show him some flying and Nic obliges. The man ALSO wants to invest in the show... but only if they make the minimum ticket price $10,000. He doesnt want riff raff seeing the show. He seems like an asshole. But Nic and Valentina love the idea. As the stranger walks away, a voice on the wind (Enlil) tells Nic that he shouldn't be dealing with the poor anyway. Royalty does not mix with the plebes.

Back in the lair... this suddenly made the other representatives of the Mesopotamian gods feel really good about their place in life, but also wonder where the heck Nic and Valentina disappeared to for days.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Witches and Wizards: Sorcery in Mythology

We got this question in the box recently: There are so many goddesses of witchcraft and mysticism, but not a lot of gods. Could we hear about some of the men of magic? It made me do a double-take, and then kind of squint at its wording in case I wasn't understanding it, and then finally realize that I totally had to write a blog post about it. To whichever lovely anonymous writer sent it in, please know I'm not picking on you - I just got very excited about the subject!

The main reason this question was so odd to me was that it sets up an idea that there are tons of female goddesses of magic, but not very many male ones... and as a general rule, that's actually not true at all! While there are definitely some very memorable and awesome ladies of magic out there, the most powerful gods of sorcery are overwhelmingly male. Masculine sorcerers are a staple of world mythology, and enormously important across various mythologies; they are in no way underrepresented or less powerful than their female counterparts, and in many ancient cultures overshadow them completely.

Divine dudes with wizardly skills are literally everywhere in world mythology. You have Odin, who knows the secrets of the universe and practices secret arts of sorcery, and whose imagery contributed to the archetypal image of the male magician in countless later works of fiction in the Western world. You have Tezcatlipoca, the preeminent sorcerer of Mexica mythology, who slings curses and warps destiny constantly, repeatedly balancing and unbalancing the universe. You have Manannan mac Lir, the Irish god of illusions, charms, spells and magical weapons who acts as the mystic mentor to all the other gods of his pantheon. You have Hermes, Greek god of shenanigans who is so famous for his ridiculous magical exploits that he later lent his name to various branches of modern magicianry thousands of years later. You have Brahma, ineffable creator of the universe and bestower of blessings and curses that can lay even gods low in the blink of an eye. Dionysus, Eshu, the Hero Twins, Loki, Marduk, Orunmila, Ptah, Veles, Viracocha - the divine landscape is completely lousy with male gods of wizardry. They're all over the freaking place.

Comparatively, major goddesses of magic and sorcery are actually rarer. They certainly exist - figures like Isis, Freya, Hekate or the Morrigan are out there and they are awesome - but there are plenty of pantheons that don't number goddesses associated with witchcraft or destiny among their major deities. Female deities are more often cast in elemental roles as archetypal earth mothers or harvest figures, goddesses in charge of childbirth and family or sometimes other natural forces such as celestial bodies; conversely, powers associated with cosmic authority are far more often ascribed to male deities, who dominate both political power as gods of kingship and law and universal power as gods of sorcery and fate.

But I don't think it's an uncommon perception to feel that there are a lot of witch-goddesses out there, stirring up the pots of fate. So if male gods performing that role are actually more common, why is it that it seems like it should be the other way around?

Buckle in, because there are a lot of reasons that might be contributing to the idea of women as overwhelmingly magical while men are overwhelmingly not (and this applies to mythological heroes who are not gods themselves, too). The first is simply because, in the vast majority of mythologies, there are more male deities and heroes than female ones; this means that there are already a lot more dudes running around in any given myth, which in turn means they're more likely to display a wide range of skills from fighting prowess to wizardly spell-casting to creative projects and so on. There's a much smaller pool of female gods and heroes, though, so when some of them are magicians, there's a larger overall percentage of the women in a given mythos being sorceresses. That means that it seems like most of the women in some mythologies are witchy, but that only a handful of the dudes are thanks to the disparity in how many characters of those genders are present in the first place.

Past boring math, we get into all the cultural and sociological reasons that women are more commonly seen as witches while men are less often treated that way. One of the most basic reasons, especially in European mythology, is that women were considered in many ancient cultures to be less capable of direct action (most often meaning violence or athletics competitions), and therefore had to find power in subtler ways. Magic, along with the arts of seduction and manipulation, became associated with female heroes in cultures that considered these more "realistic" or "appropriate" arenas in which a woman could be powerful. In turn, sometimes this close association between women and magic caused the idea of magic to be considered inherently feminine or at least less than masculine, and male practicioners of it could be stigmatized as a result - if they're using magic, the train of thought goes, they must not be man enough to use traditionally male forms of power such as leadership or physical brawn, and therefore they can be subjected to ridicule. This is definitely the case in Norse mythology, which is a perfect example; because of the heavy emphasis on courage and prowess in battle being the ideal qualities in a male hero, and the corresponding presentation of powerful female gods and heroes as using magic to accomplish their goals because they lack combat skills, gods who practice magic are directly mocked for it, including both Loki and Odin, who make fun of each other for their respective magical shenanigans even though both of them are using similar kinds of "forbidden" arts.

Some of this perception of women as magic-users while men are various other things comes from the fact that the greater number of male heroes and gods means that they often end up with a wider skillset and more myths depicting them doing different things. Male heroes are often more well-rounded - because they can do "male" things that female heroes are often barred from, like fighting or leading armies, but they also can do the same things female heroes can do, they might perform magic in addition to doing a whole bunch of other stuff. It's therefore a lot easier to look at the female heroes who only perform magic as being witch figures, but the male figures as more general mythic figures, since they get to do a much larger range of things and don't come off as being stuck in the magic-user niche.

This goes hand in hand with the same idea of magic as a "woman's tool" - if women can only or primarily get their power through sorcery rather than doing things considered innate in male heroes, then magic is of course the vast majority of what they do. Figures like Medea or the Voelva would have very little power to affect their stories if they lost their witchcraft since they don't have traditionally "masculine" skills to fall back on; compare that to male heroes in the same myths, such as Jason or Beowulf, who are perfectly capable of going on constant adventures without ever using a shred of magic and therefore, even if they did bust off a spell once in a while, wouldn't be seen as warlocks as much as they would just be seen as general heroes.

Female deities and heroes are also often seen as wielders of magic by default, simply thanks to the fact that even things that in a game context would be considered "other" powers can often appear to fall under the general umbrella of sorcery when compared to similar male deities and heroes who don't do those things. For example, if a male hero can roll out with sword raised and beat the enemy to a pulp, but his female counterpart is considered less physically powerful and therefore has to use fireballs or lightning bolts to blow up her enemies, she is obviously using magic whereas he's not, and even if she never touches the more mystical arts associated with destiny, foresight, curses or other kinds of magic, she can easily be labeled a witch just by virtue of using anything that isn't natural strength of arm or wits to succeed. In the modern day, when the popular conception of what a wizard is comes not only from ancient myth and legend but also from pop culture sources like roleplaying games and movies that explicitly define a witch or wizard as using any kind of non-mundane forces, it's even easier to see a goddess doing any kind of supernatural action and label her as a goddess of magic. This problem affects male deities, too, although thanks to their more commonly having more different skills and stories, they sometimes escape that labeling by being too diverse for it, or are given more qualified labels like "wizard-king" or "battle-mage".

Incidentally, because so much of this labeling is a consequence of European notions of what a god of magic looks like versus a god of other stuff, it's also much more common for deities from cultures outside of Europe, especially in the Americas and Africa, to be labeled as "gods of sorcery" regardless of what they actually represent within their home cultures. European invasion and later scholarship has dominated the available information about those religions for a few centuries now, not to mention the heavy influence of European Christianity on many of the writers that later mythologists base their works on, and because this weird stew of European mores tends to interpret everything as if it were European even when it's clearly coming from a totally different cultural standpoint, it just gives up and says, "Eh, Huitzilopochtli is a devil sorcerer," fairly frequently rather than examining the different treatments of divine powers in different mythologies around the world.

Speaking of modern and Western perceptions coloring interpretation of myths, modern religious movements also contribute to the view of various gods as "witches" or "wizards" regardless of their original intent. In particular, Wicca, which became popular in Europe and North America in the past several decades, has become prominent enough in our cultural conscious that the fact that practitioners are often referred to as witches has also colored our idea of what that means, and the religion's tendency toward omnitheism (combining various different deities from very different cultures to be worshiped together, or viewing all deities as being different cultural faces of the same essential god or goddess) can result in a treatment of those gods that applies European ideals of magic to deities (especially female ones, in the case of Wicca) who might not have been viewed that way previously. Of course, not every branch of Wicca does this, nor is it the only religion with reductionist tendencies; several different modern schools of thought lean toward the "all goddesses are the same goddess" idea, and of course under that lens they're all associated with sorcery automatically, whereas again male deities are more likely to be associated with virility, physical power or kingship when combined into a single oversimplified figure.

Going back to Europe again - Europe is alllll over this post today - the idea of witchcraft itself as a fundamentally female power is pretty well entrenched in medieval lore, helped along by the Catholic Church's twin goals through much of its history of demonizing any form of magical power that did not come from a Christian divine source, and excoriating women for being inherently dangerous and sinful in a way that men weren't (which is a whole barrel of icky stuff, from Original Sin to the idea of women as demonic forces of temptation that constantly plague innocent men with their having body parts and stuff). Medieval Europe was very Church-controlled and extremely paranoid about anything that might be termed witchcraft, and it's not a coincidence that women were considered by far the most likely offenders when it came to unauthorized magical behavior. Some of that was a continuation of the earlier folkloric notions of sorcery as a woman's tool, and contributed to suspicions that women who were too prosperous without male help or who happened to be too near where someone else was having mysterious problems must be using witchcraft; some of it was because women were the primary practitioners of herblore, midwifery and other medical disciplines, which were often interpreted as use of magic because they were poorly understood (and in some cases the Church wanted to actively discourage them in favor of encouraging people to trust in God's will to save them); and some of it was simply that men were more likely to be taken seriously when trying to prove their innocence or devoutness, so more women were convicted and demonized as witches than men because the deck was stacked against them. Those medieval images of the witch as a woman who uses evil powers to lay curses, make bargains with spirits or create potions and charms that affect the world around her have stayed strongly with us into the modern day, and again make us more inclined to point to a magic-using goddess as a "goddess of witchcraft", while a magic-using god is more likely to just be thought of as a god doing his god thing.

And again, that is just super Western European thought process there - if you happened to compare that view of what witchcraft is to, say, witchcraft as viewed in traditional West African religions, you might be surprised to find that there most practitioners of dangerous witchcraft were (and still are in some areas) generally assumed to be men, who were considered the more likely gender to have control of destiny and the power to cast curses. Yoruba and Fon religions caused no end of difficulty for early European mythologists who were trying to understand them, because there was such a heavy emphasis on the dangers of witchcraft and how to combat it, but they were missing crucial understanding of what witchcraft itself implied in that culture and ended up constantly confused. (Unfortunately, many of them solved that problem by just sort of editing African beliefs to fit their European models, which just gives later anthropologists and mythologists headaches when they try to figure out what is and is not actually legitimate information.)

The final major contributor to this idea (in our humble opinion, but hey, jump in on the forums if you've got more!) is the idea of the Triad of the Fates, which is the concept in several European mythologies of a trio of female deities or powers who control destiny itself directly, and who essentially function as a "higher power" that can overcome even the other gods. The archetypal triad is repeated across several different European cultures - as the Moirai in Greece and related Parcae in Italy, the Norns in the Germanic lands, the Matrones among the Celts and the Sudice among the Slavs, to name a few - and are represented as female largely because of that European idea that magic is and always has been a woman's domain. In some cases, the act of affecting fate is represented as a quintessentially feminine activity, which is the case for the Moirai, who are shown using spinning wheel, thread and shears, referring to the usually woman-only activity of making or mending clothing in ancient Greece; in others, they are represented as controlling a fundamental wellspring of that power, which is the case for the Norns, who are the joint mistresses of the Urdabrunnr from which all their knowledge of past, present and future come. The Triad of Fates is a huge force in European mythologies; the Norns' proclamations control even the gods of the Norse pantheon, who are helpless to escape their prophecies, while the Sudice function as enforcers of divine law who lay punishments on criminals who can never thereafter escape them and the Moirai are considered universally fearsome for their ability to choose the moment that a life ends forever. And because of their prominence and appearance as female figures, it's no wonder that they contribute to the overall image of mystic power as belonging to women. They, too, echo on through European folklore, and are often repeated in folkloric stories as a generic trio of witches, which is also reused in various works of literature (King Lear's three witches, for example) and then as a part of later religions in which they emerge in a new form (Wicca again, which owes the Triad of Fates recognition as the basis of their Maiden/Mother/Crone archetype).

And what's all that up there? That's right, pure European mythology again. The Triad of Fates breaks down quickly as a supposed universal mythological idea once you leave Europe; it doesn't appear as a major idea in most other cultures' mythologies, and even in cases where scholars have been able to make a compelling argument for including a non-European culture's myths in that pattern - for example, the idea that the Tridevi of Hindu mythology could be considered a repetition of this idea - it's pretty clear that such triads of female powers fill different roles and perform different functions from the very specific and strict images that define the European Triad.

I'm actually not trying to suggest that female deities and heroes don't belong in discussions of sorcery and witchcraft or that they are somehow less important there than are male deities - far from it! Goddesses of magic exist all over the place and are incredibly important and potent, and their badassness should never be forgotten or glossed over. But I do think it's worthwhile to remember that sometimes our default perceptions of what mythology is like and what patterns it has can be heavily skewed by the cultures we've grown up in and the worldwide influence of European colonialism, and that sometimes we use labels that are as much invented by scholars as they are expressions of a culture's mythological beliefs and spiritualism.

To the original question-asker, I have completely and totally not actually talked about any male wizard-gods in-depth in this post, and for that I apologize. If you've got a specific one you'd like to hear about, or other questions about dudes wielding ultimate universal power, send them on in and we'll tackle them another day!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

World Cup Roundup: Divinity Showcase

It's been a little while since the World Cup ended, but we got a belated question about all the shenanigans going on in this post from all the footballing festivities. What are these weird World Cup gods?, you ask, anonymous internetter? Let me tell you!

Essentially, we were just playing a loose forum version of the team-betting games folks play all over the world during major sporting events; a god was assigned to represent each team, and then the forum-goers tried to guess which gods would win through an entertaining mix of the god's capabilities in myth, the soccer team's capabilities this year in their games, and who they thought would end up matched against whom in both categories. Totally coincidentally, we saw a way higher percentage of more obscure (to a lot of us around here, anyway) deities being chosen than usual, because they just so happened to be representing teams who were favorites to win.

At any rate, it was just a fun forum game, one that John enjoys running now and then. (He also does it for March Madness' basketball tournament, and you guys could probably bother him into starting it up for other major tournaments if you put your minds to it.) When we were setting it up, though, for fun, we decided to have each team be represented by a god from the same country they hailed from; it gave it a neat extra layer of connection between team and game, and, thanks to the prevalence of Central and South American teams in the World Cup and the general lack of scholarship on mythology from those areas of the world, got to showcase some deities who otherwise don't get a lot of face time.

There were a lot of them, so I won't go super in-depth, but here are the gods who "competed" this year (in order of what place they finished, for extra sports seriousness!):

32. Hunahpu and Xbalanque (Honduras)

More commonly known as the Hero Twins, these two gods are the star players of the Maya pantheon. We often tend to think of the Maya as a Mexican pantheon, but while they are definitely present in the Yucatan, their worship was also widespread through Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, which is how they came to represent the Hondurans for this game. They're the main characters of the Popol Vuh, the most famous epic of Maya mythology, in which they grow to adulthood, avenge their father's death, descend into the underworld and defeat the lords of death themselves. They're also career tricksters (some of their shenanigans include boonswoggling a dangerous magical bird into voluntarily letting them steal his teeth and eyes, getting various woodland animals to cause distractions so they can cheat at games, and convincing their enemies that it's a great idea to cut their own heads off) and especially noted for being fervid and incredibly skilled players of poktapok, the famous Maya ballgame. Honestly, considering their incredible sports skills, we were distressed that they ended up out of the running on the World Cup so fast. They were clearly robbed.

31. Mwenembago (Cameroon)

Mwenembago, representing for Cameroon, is the Lord of the Forest, a major nature god of the Zaramu people of west central Africa. He was originally a mortal, but his spirit was so strong upon death that it came to live in and possess the forests, after which all humanity was obliged to treat him with appropriate respect to avoid dying or failing to hunt for food in the dangers of the deep wild. Over time, he became associated with a whole host of lesser mwenembago spirits that became his followers after death, which obviously makes him a perfect candidate for team sports.

30. Susanoo (Japan)

Susanoo is the Japanese god of storms and the ocean, and also of causing major ruckus problems that have seen him be banished from the abode of the gods multiple times and generally marked him as an eternal black sheep. In spite of such memorable moments as telling his father that he wanted his mother back and that he should march into the underworld to get her after she died and relieving himself with such force on the roof of his sister's house that he caved the roof in and killed a servant, he was also very popular among mortals, especially warriors and the samurai class, as a rough-and-tumble god who could get things done and would clearly not be afraid to get carded all day long if necessary.

29. Chachongbi (South Korea)

Pardon the romanization of this goddess' name - I've seen several versions and still haven't been able to work out which is the most correct. Regardless of how you spell her name, though, Chachongbi is a badass of the highest order, a Korean goddess who decided that she was going to do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted to and screw everyone else's opinions straight to the wall. In one story, she was challenged to a pissing contest while she was in disguise as a man; rather than panicking or finding a way to distract the other competitors so she didn't have to do it, she ran out back, built a hasty chute out of reeds, and then used it to piss ten feet and then mock all the other competitors for not exceeding her manliness. She then repurposed that technology to invent irrigation, because she's just that nice.

28. Waang (Australia)

Waang, the crow god of the Kulin people of Australia, is like many other crow deities a trickster and a thief but also generally a guy with his heart in the right place. He stole fire from the selfish goddesses who first created it but refused to share it with the rest of the world, and used it to invent cooking; and if he did also cause a massive bushfire that almost destroyed all life on earth, well, he was only trying to help. We decided he was a better choice for this game than his somber brother Bunjil, the eagle - Waang seems like he would have more fun, after all.

Ogun (Cote d'Ivoire)

Ogun is the Yoruba god of warfare and technological progress (especially if that technological process comes in the form of new and more efficient weapons), standing in for his Ivory Coast fellows. Ogun is kind of the opposite of a team player; he's prone to fits of blackout rage and once murdered everyone on the battlefield including his own soldiers and then terrified the entire countryside by wandering around covered in their blood, but you can't say he wouldn't be an athletic asset.

Perun (Russia)

The Slavic god of thunder, lightning and impulsive bad choices, Perun is kicking for Russia, the land where his worship was most widespread and important before the introduction of Christianity, to the point where he even superseded the divine king Svarozhich in some places. Perun is the kind of dude who breaks rules when his comrades need him to (once, he disobeyed his king's direct orders to personally electrocute the leader of an opposing army to death), so while he would personally probably end up sitting most matches out after repeated defensive fouls, he would be an awesome morale booster for everyone else.

Anansi (Ghana)

Anansi, the Asante spider god of mischief and poor planning, is one of the most popular of all west African deities, at home or abroad. Anansi is all about the quick fix, get-rich-fast scam or clever way to sidestep the rules; he loves to steal from others, hide things from his wife, or try to create elaborate schemes, most of which tend to go hilariously wrong for him. In addition to getting stuck in his own traps or accidentally injured by his own family members, however, Anansi is also beloved for being happy and easy-going, and for both bringing joy into the world by creating, acting out and telling the stories that create the universe, and teaching the importance of hard work and good morals to others by being the ultimate bad example.

Lugh (England)

England's being represented by good old Lugh of the Long Arm, the Irish and British god of being awesome at literally everything. Along with athletic exploits such as impressive powers of rock-throwing and foe-shooting, Lugh is famed for being skilled at literally everything - which, we would assume, includes football. Plus, he is intensely vindictive and willing to eventually end up dead himself as long as he takes several other people down with him, so he fits right in when it comes to the insane fouling practices we see at the World Cup.

Mars (Italy)

We all know Mars, Roman god of war (and farming, but we're mostly focusing on the war in this context). Mars invented the famous military tactics of the Roman infantry that made them unstoppable on the ancient battlefields of Europe and Africa and aided in the spread of one of the largest ancient empires ever, so dominating on the field is right up his alley.

Verethragna (Iran)

Verethragna (also known in later Middle Persian as Vahram or Bahram) is the Persian god of victory, who personally embodies martial might and who can grant that victory to others who prove themselves worthy. Doing so can be difficult - Zarathustra himself had to travel the world for years trying to find Verethragna, and only managed to once glimpse him running by so swiftly and with such constant changes of shape that there was no hope of catching up to him - but hey, victory is victory!

Jarilo (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Back in the Slavic lands, this time in the Bosnian area, we have Jarilo, god of springtime and the moon, who is not nearly as docile as his description would lead you to believe. Jarilo is exceptionally young and beautiful and is married to the goddess Morena; she was once also young and beautiful, but every month, the waxing of the moon makes Jarilo's libido likewise wax out of control until he's unfaithful to her, resulting in every autumn Morena murdering him, moving to the underworld, and becoming a goddess of winter and death while she lives in a house made of his dismembered body parts. He always resurrects in the spring, however, along with his wife, to begin the cycle anew... so at least you know he's a pretty resilient dude.

Pachacamac (Ecuador)

Pachacamac is the massively temperamental coastal god of the Peruvian, Chilean and Ecuadorian edge of South America; while he later became a major figure in Inca religion, he probably was originally part of a different native tradition and was absorbed into their myths, which might explain why he's so fractious. Pachacamac is renowned for causing natural disasters when irritated and for his massive feud with his brother Vichama, who attempts to reign him in, so he seemed like a natural choice for a game involving hot blood and even hotter tempers.

Endovelicus (Portugal)

Endovelicus is the Lusitanian god of safety, which is something we could definitely use more of during some of these games. The Lusitanian region of Portugal was home to many indigenous gods before it was invaded by Rome and then Christianized shortly thereafter, and Endovelicus is one of the most prominent; he's associated with the sun and its life-giving powers, and is a healer who visits the underworld in order to retrieve healing power to bring back and bestow upon the people.

Mari (Spain)

Mari is the mother goddess of the ancient Basque civilization of Spain, the goddess of caves and mountains, ovens and any other structure that represents her cosmic womb from which all life originally came to live on earth. She's no gentle pushover, however; she wields a flaming sickle and rides in a chariot that travels through sky as easily as on earth, and she alone makes all decisions about who will be given bounty from the earth and who will starve to death instead. Entering any cave in the Basque territories of Spain is entering her domain, and those who fail to show the proper respect are likely never to come out again.

Svantovit (Croatia)

Another of the rowdy Slavic war gods, Svantovit is the lord of horses and predicter of the harvest, granting prophetic signs in order to inform the people of whether or not they will have a good year or should prepare for drought or famine. He's one of the four divine kings of the Slavic world, associated with the sun and its daylight hours, and like Perun he often has difficulty not riding down into the thick of battle even when he's been told not to. Svantovit's most famous cults were farther north than Croatia, but his worship was known here, and we figured they could use one of the most physically adept among the Slavic gods to represent them!

Sinaa (Uruguay)

The Juruna people of Uruguay send their love with Sinaa, the jaguar god who created the world and can damn well uncreate it again if you punks don't stop bothering him. He's a jaguar god (often represented as a black jaguar) who literally has eyes in the back of his head, and who rejuvenates himself by tearing his own skin off periodically so that he never ages or dies. He taught humanity healing, crafts and divination through sacred dreams, but he is in control of the forked spear that holds up the sky, and has informed everyone that on the day the last of his people dies, he will yank that spear out, the sky will crash down, and the entire world will end.
Edit: Holy cow, we totally swung and missed on this one! We accidentally misidentified the Juruna and their jaguar god Sinaa as Uruguayan, when in fact they hail from northern Brazil. We apologize for the error, and solemnly swear to make sure we copy-edit our posts better in the future.

Apollo (Greece)

Apollo, Greek god of the sun and about fifty other things, is famous for being associated with athleticism and bodily perfection; he founded the Pythian games at Delphi, where men competed in strenuous athletic competitions for the mark of his favor, and appears performing sports several times in his own myths. Of course, usually that ends in tragedy, such as the time that he threw a discus that ended up killing his lover Hyakinthos, but we can't say he isn't great at what he does.

Mercury (Switzerland)

Switzerland stands on the border between the southern Roman lands and the northern Germanic ones, and has been something of a European melting pot for centuries; but Mercury, god of the crossroads and travel, was considered widespread across everywhere that Rome went and was worshiped in Switzerland with accompanying features of local and Germanic versions of the god, so he seems like an apt representative. Famous for running like the wind to deliver the messages of the gods as well as causing surprise malfunctions for his enemies, he's a good god to have behind your team.

Shango (Nigeria)

Nigeria is the heartland of the Yoruba myths, and the king of those myths is Shango, god of thunder, undisputed master of warfare, and sorcerer extraordinaire. Shango is famous for his incredible prowess in battlefield, sports, dancing and the bedroom, and also for his awful temper, which has in the past goaded him to do everything from burning down his own house with all his family members inside to committing suicide just so he could resurrect himself and terrify the snot out of everyone mourning him. He will come to this game and he will come to win.

Gurzil (Algeria)
Gurzil is a little-known solar bull god of the Imazighen people of northern Africa, including Algeria, who was a powerful patron of warfare and whose icon was often taken into battle by various rulers to ensure their victory. He had foreknowledge of events that allowed him to spoil enemy battle tactics and pass on crucial information to his followers, and because he was believed to symbolically reside inside his cult statue, he was "stolen" and "reclaimed" multiple times over the course of various wars and skirmishes. A god who can spoil your opponents' strategy and guarantee your victory - not bad for your football prospects, right?

Nanabozho (United States)

The U.S. is huge and full of myths, so it was very difficult to choose a single god to represent it, but we ended up going with Nanabozho, also known as the Great Hare, the Ojibwa god of shenanigans. In addition to helping create the world, Nanabozho invented important practices such as fishing and tanning, but also often plays ridiculous tricks on humans and other gods alike. He's also sometimes the butt of his own jokes - once, he accidentally fell into a trap he himself had set for others and ended up eating his own intestines, which tells you how weird his humor can be - but he never stays down for long and always has a creative strategy to employ.

Huitzilopochtli (Mexico)

The Mexica god of the sun and ultimate warrior is nobody to mess around with; he leaped out of his mother's womb on the day he was born and promptly massacred hundreds of his full-grown divine siblings within the first few minutes of his existence, so he is clearly a dude who knows how to get through an opposing team's defense. He granted victory to warriors who fought in his name and allowed them entrance to his paradise after their deaths, and found time to be terrifyingly awesome in spite of carrying the literal weight of the world (which depends on him successfully powering the sun to prevent the universe from ending).

Inti (Chile)

Inti's another sun god, this time the preeminent solar deity of the Inca religion, which celebrated him as the king among the gods and the patron of all kings on earth, and dedicated all the shining gold they could find in his name as earthly representations of his divine solar splendor. Inti is traditionally beloved by all and impossible to dislike, with ironclad authority over what is and is not okay that makes him unlikely to let anyone get away with any misbehavior on the field.

Gontia (Belgium)

Gontia is the native Belgian goddess of the river, one of the many Celtic deities who were overrun by the Roman invasion and now survive in our histories as difficult-to-identify icons or under other names given to them by the conquerors. As the goddess of the river, she was most likely the tutelary deity of Ghent, one of Belgium's largest and oldest cities, and associated with healing and the powers of the earth. Belgium's indigenous myths are not super well preserved so it was hard to choose them a representative, but we figured we couldn't go wrong with the patron of the city.

Yurupari (Brazil)

Literally "Crooked Mouth", Yurupari is the masculine and frankly terrifying god of the Guarani people of the Amazon rainforest, one who shapeshifts in order to lure unsuspecting humans to their demise in the jungle and who has such massive and terrible jaws that people have occasionally died by attempting to hide in his mouth, thinking it was a safe cave. While he is not particularly friendly toward anyone, his worship helps keep important traditions alive and ensures that law and order thrive among his people, and his strong association with men and powers over ensuring that boys undergo the transformation to adulthood makes it not so surprising that he might turn up in an all-male football competition.

La Cigua (Costa Rica)

La Cigua most likely a much older Central American goddess who has in the modern time been demoted to the level of folkloric monster. She appears as a beautiful woman, only to tempt men into leading them astray so that they become permanently lost, driving them mad with the revelation of her horrifying true form or just devouring them and leaving their bones as a warning to others. The fact that she can reveal that she actually has a terrible half-horse face probably suggests the native response to Spanish conquistadors arriving with horses, which were animals they had never seen before and whose military advantage was pretty distinct.

Epona (France)

Epona is the mainland Celtic goddess of horses; she was most likely originally more of a deity of the wilderness and of wild herds of horses that humanity occasionally attempted to tame, and later also became the patron goddess of the Roman cavalry when they invaded Gaulish territories and discovered how awesome she was. If anyone can pull together an unwieldy team of headstrong members, it's Epona, and she'll spur any team she represents onward toward victory.

Bochica (Colombia)

Bochica is the most important god of the Muisca people of Colombia; in the mists of the ancient past, he founded the Muisca civilization and encouraged it to grow until it became one of the most influential empires of ancient South America. In addition to beginning the empire, he also invented most forms of craftsmanship, designed and implemented a system of laws and codes, and when his people caused a devastating flood through their improper actions, he traveled to earth on a rainbow and created a massive waterfall to save them from their own tomfoolery.

Tyr (Netherlands)

It's not a coincidence that there are so many gods of victory on this list - here's another one, Tyr, the Norse and Germanic god of glory in battle whose worship was well known in the mainland Germanic territories (including the Netherlands, once upon a time!). His exploits include being badass enough to put his hand in the mouth of Fenrir, the nightmarish giant wolf that will one day help end the world, in order to help his friends bind it and seal it away, and his one remaining arm is a permanent testament to his courage.

Ngenechen (Argentina)

Ngenechen is the governor of all the gods in Mapuche mythology; all Mapuche gods are in charge of a single kind of being or natural feature, such as the forest, the water, the wind, and so on, but Ngenechen is considered above them all because he is the god specifically in charge of humanity itself. He not only creates and upholds law and tradition, ensuring that humanity remains above the level of animals, but guards them from catastrophes the other gods might accidentally (or intentionally) inflict on them and ensures that they continue to prosper and grow. He would probably find human pastimes like sports competitions very entertaining, like an old grandfather who comes to all the kids' games even when he's not sure what the rules are or what they're doing.

Thor (Germany)

And then there's Thor. You guys know Thor.

As you can see, even with super quick un-detailed versions, this still got ridiculously long really quickly (what is it with me and long posts lately?). We actually really enjoyed getting to assign some gods that might not be as common knowledge for the forum game; since countries that don't often get the anthropological spotlight were at the forefront in the World Cup, it was the perfect opportunity to show them off!

Monday, August 25, 2014

A fun look at Aspects: Lover

Part 5! Is it only 5? It feels like 6.

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.

The Lover is a master of emotions. A Lover can be a sexy dancer that fills you with emotions, a cunning seducer who puppeteers your feelings or your husband or best friend who is always there after a hard day's work to hear about your day and relax you. Lovers are forces that not only do things but also inspire others to greatness.

We didnt have a ton of problems with Lover. Our biggest hurdle at first was how to give Lover enough to do so that it didn't seem like an unnecessary aspect - there are Lovers in mythology, so what are they doing?

But then we've had trouble reigning Lover in because it got too awesome.

Lover has Inspiration. Or rather, everyone can have Inspiration, but the Lover has more of it, regenerates it more quickly, and has Blessings that use it more efficiently. In our estimates, a balanced group (although there can certainly be groups of all types) would want at least one character as a focused Lover and another character that dabbles. The Lover's subsystem also gives power to the roleplaying of the Lover role - they're rewarded for making strong, lasting relationships with NPCs.

The Lover also has many powers that seem to merge into other Aspects a bit. Lover can seem like a Trickster, a Leader, and a Creator sometimes. It was important to make sure the Lover was doing Lover stuff. So, although the Lover could be a powerful temptress like Lady MacBeth, she would need to actually have dots in Trickster to pull a lot of that off. And an inspiring emotional warrior like Spartacus would still need actual Leader to lead armies.

Reminder that these haven't had a final balance check. So be kind to them :)

Tongue of Truth (Persuasion Blessing)
Labor: Chapter
Roll: Persuasion
Speed: Instant
Even the most artful of misdirections can be disproved by the evidence... unless a Hero chooses to use this Blessing, which can veil even cold hard fact. Whenever the Hero successfully convinces someone of something (whether it is true or not), they may use this Blessing to make themselves utterly credible, making it impossible for their target to accept that they might be wrong or untruthful. For a number of Episodes equal to the Hero's successes, their target will continue to believe them, regardless of any evidence provided to the contrary, no matter how concrete or damning. Once this Blessing's effects have ended, the target is free to evaluate information on their own again.

Fond Memory (Beauty Blessing)
Labor: Chapter
Roll: None
Speed: Dedicated
The Hero with this Blessing is so enchanting and memorable that those who interact with them are uplifted by the mere thought of them, even when the Hero is long gone. Once the Hero has used this Blessing on another person, their target gains the ability to call upon the Hero to spend a point of Inspiration for them any time during the current Chapter; when they do, the Hero spends it instantly and it affects them no matter where they are or what they are doing, as the thought of the Hero's divine allure motivates them in their time of need.


Westley: The Princess Bride
Dorothy: The Wizard of Oz
Mike: Magic Mike (or Channing Tatum in any Channing Tatum movie)
Sookie AND Jason Stackhouse: True Blood
Cersei: Game of Thrones
Esmeralda: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Samwise Gamgee: The Lord of the Rings

So many for Cersei, but it looks like they dont allow embedding. Sorry, you have to click these:
Link 1
Link 2

As youuuuu wisshhhhh

Magic Mike doing his thiing. (warning: explicit!)

Esmeralda entrances everyone.

Samwise being the best possible friend. (No embed again - sorry!)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Weekly Update 8.22

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.

This week, John and Anne informed me that they worked on a lot of stuff this past week, they says that they was super productive and the work they did was super secret.

So that’s it for this week! Have a great weekend!

...Is what I would have said had I not pushed a little further. This week they did a lot with numbers, tables, and curves. It was a lot of mathy things to make sure that things are balanced. Anne continued to work on the player chapter, Ethoi (which I can’t talk about right now), and the setting chapter which has now gone off to Jess for editing.

John continued his work on aspect subsystems; this week what I was able to bring back the subsystem for Lover. Whereas a Leader has larger groups of followers, the Lover has more… personal connections. The Lover allows the player character to make NPCs matter. Whether they have a consort, close friends, or people they have inspired, the Lover is able to call on these NPCs to help them over the course of their stories.

No art updates this week that I am able to show, but I can speak to the influence map. Anne has been working on this with the art team; after several meetings it has had to go back to redesign in order to better align the detail and readability.

On to your questions!

How will Hero's Journey handle all the varying cosmologies? Is HJ going with the "All Myths Are True" mechanic, or is it going to be something more involved?

This is a difficult question to answer so I’m going to kick it off with a Gaiman quote,

“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.” ~The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country

After that I am going to be a little evasive. "Truth" is a difficult thing to pin down, and every religion has their own truth, people have been fighting for millennia over their versions of the truth. To say that one is more true than another is to do a disservice. Hero’s Journey will have their setting, where all myths are indeed true, but J&A do not want you to be constrained by the “truth” of their setting. With that in mind the rulebook will include ideas for you to design your own setting.

The best thing you can do for the story that you tell is to find what works for it.

Will there be a unifying outline like Scion's Overworlds and Underworlds and Titanrealms?

This is another question that potentially does a disservice to the religions represented in Hero’s Journey. Not every pantheon has an overworld or underworld, so to try to and lump them all together does a disservice to those religions. They’re not all the same and Hero's Journey will try and treat each cosmology on their own terms.

As for “Titanrealms”, John & Anne do want to explore ideas related to primordial elements, but it will not be in the core rulebook. As with any questions asking to compare Hero's Journey to Scion, Titans and Titanrealms as presented in Scion belong to that game and its setting. John & Anne aren't using any of Scion's (or any other game's) setting, that includes the Titans as presented in that game.

Is there going to be a mechanic in the game to represent the effect that deities can have on mere mortals?

This will be done mainly through roleplay and GM discretion. The example that was given in the question was Sekhmet. Sekhmet will freak people out because she is a lion goddess; if she shows up on the mortal plane as a lion goddess, people are going to freak out because there’s a lion person in their midst. People will react to the use of powers beyond their understanding, so if gods do things in front of people then expect them to react. That is, unless in the story you’re telling people are totally blase to superhuman feats...

Some gods traditionally mingle with mortals without being noticed as anything out of the ordinary unless they reveal their powers, though, so those gods will also be represented. Not every deity is the type to make humans automatically do a double-take, so there is no universal mechanic that forces them to be.

Expand a bit more on the differences between Perception and Tracking?

There was some understandable confusion about Perception and Tracking because both posts used Sherlock in their video examples. By the way, if you haven’t seen it, watch Sherlock. Seriously. In truth Sherlock, is an example of someone who has both Perception and Tracking and is using them masterfully together.

To pull them apart and compare them to physical attributes, Tracking would be akin precision and Perception would be more like strength. Tracking would be used to find, follow, or look for clues, but Perception would be used to overcome things obscuring something, or to see things that might not be normally visible in the realm of mere humans.

That’s it for this week, have an awesome weekend!

Next Monday, there was one vote for Lover on the forums so John will be continuing his Aspect series by talking about the Lover Aspect.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Game Recap: 3rd week of August

This is late, gentle people, because John wrote it, saved it in a draft, and promptly fell asleep. I just found it, so here it comes!

Sunday Game: Kingdoms of Heaven

Sowiljr: King of the Aesir. Beautiful God of bears, sunlight and cold.
Eztli: Indestructible protector of the Mexica people and bringer of death to their enemies.
Folkvardr: General of the Aesir armies and grand mystic of the pantheon.
Jioni: The darkness Queen Erebus and goddess constantly stuck between worlds.

The group continues to be split up as Folkvardr and the other fatemakers of the world attempt to weave the ruptures in destiny itself back together.

Eztli, Sowiljr and Jioni finally head off to the primordial realm of fertility and life. They want to arrive in Danu's portion of the realm to try to talk to her, and find the shortest path to their destination through Mag Mell. Jioni guides them through the underworld and they arrive off the coast. A river of blood flows out of the realm and all around it the rolling hills of Ireland stand before them. The realm is massive and even at Eztli's top speed they cannot cover enough of it to find Danu in a reasonable time. Every hour Sowiljr struggles to fight off the sexual desires that the realm forces on him. In order to blend in, he activates some of his powers over plants. He turns into a green plant person, but finds that although he can heal very quickly, he can no longer speak the language of humans or animals.

They continue to search, but stop to ask local flora for help. A tree tells them that there are many ways to find Danu, but none of them involve searching. Of the many possibilities, the group decides on having a chariot race with one of the giants, which they hope will get her attention. They have Eztli craft a golden chariot and Sowiljr creates a massive horse to pull it. Then they are off to find a giant to challenge. They find one, but if he wins the race he demands to sleep with Eztli (or, barring Eztli, he'll also accept Sowiljr). They agree and he goes off to build his chariot and create his horses. He creates a massive chariot that is pulled by 16 gigantic vine/moss horses. Sowiljr decides on trickery being the best option for winning since this giant refuses to use fewer horses. Eztli releases the horse and straps her nahualli, Cuacitlali, to the cart for maximum spee, while Jioni rides along to pump the cart's speed into overdrive. Then as soon as the race starts, Sowiljr blinds the giant with his bangin' body and wipes his memory. The race took many hours as Eztli and Jioni traveled across the plane and through different fairy courts at Mach 26. And while this was happening, every few hours the giant would be like, "Hey, whats going on?" and Sowiljr would say "You're in a super important race! You better get going!" And then he would blind him and wipe his memory again.

Finally Jioni and Eztli came down the home stretch, and the gathered fairy creatures spectating cheered and when it was all explained to the giant he was super pissed off. He fell into a towering and violent rage, but Eztli was quick to react, showing the giant his own insanity in the mirrored reflection of her massive teeth and intimidating him into returning to his senses. Sad and defeated, he told them how to find Danu, and the group paraded off to cheers and chants.

Eventually in a small, quiet, blood-dripping-from-the-trees grove, they found Danu. They chatted with her about the plight of the Irish pantheon (which was largely destroyed during Ragnarok and is now made up of a few homeless vagabonds) and possible ways she could help them rebuild. They explained that they were soon heading to the realm of all diseases, and Danu provided them with a recipe to help them there (and info on where in the realm to get the necessary plants). Although Sowiljr really wanted to, he decided against attempting to convince Danu to leave and beget a new pantheon for fear that Cronos, to whom she currently owes allegiance, might find out and come directly for them. Instead they headed off in their cart towards the center of the realm to finally retrieve the omphalos.

In the meantime, the "fate-tornado" was not going well. Folkvardr's opponents at this time were Manannan Mac Lir, Nuwa, and Ganesha. They struggled and fought over the fate energy in front of them, all attempting to build lasting pieces of the realm. Knowing that with each success and each mistake, real and permanent consequences changed all over the world. Folkvardr worked hard at creating one of the four pillars of the realm. He was making so much progress that Nuwa abandoned her own work to help him. But by they soon realized that everything they had been working on was an illusion caused by Manannan to trick and delay them. Realizing their time was almost up and that it was probably too late, Ganesha joined Folkvardr to help him as well, but it was for naught, as Manannan's illusion had put them too far behind and they had to start all over. Around the world, there were consequences of the horrible abuse of fate committed here. The group saw some as positives and some as negatives.

1. Ra was resurrected from a long and apparently not permanent death. The Egyptians who have been playing the Game of Thrones in his absence have a lot of explaining to do.
2. Jioni's inner motivations were forcibly aligned with those of her Orisha forebears, giving her sudden and strong urges and inclination's she's never before had. She has very mixed feelings.
3. Ganesha was stripped of his fate powers and removed from the meeting. He was replaced by Brahma. No one is happy about this... except Brahma. He is gonna shit all over Folkvardr.

Saturday Game: Gangs of New York

Seif: An Iraqi warrior in America for training... or he was before the zombie apocalypse. Now he lives with his daughter in New Jersey.
Valentina: A very literal cat burglar. She has just been mysteriously released from the prison a Greek goddess put her in.
Corey: A confused man who is torn between his old life and two versions of his new self.
Nic: After having his apartment and everything in his life destroyed he took a long backpacking trip through Europe. He arrives back in NYC today.
Michael: An ex-prostitute, he is disguised and working at a small comedy club downtown. He is a wanted terrorist.

Nic awakes to find everyone in a car fleeing the scene of a dead dragon. News outlets all over talk about a new hero in town (Seif) and how the army wants to talk to him about joining Containment Prime. Nic freaks out, everyone ditches the stolen car, and they hang out on the streets of Alphabet City trying to come up with a plan. Seif waves at adoring fans. They decide to split up to accomplish many goals.

Michael takes Seif underground to an old sewer/hobo communion he used to know and start planning ways to build all the things he needs to build. They want to get Seif out of the public eye so that he isn't taken away forever by the army.

Nic takes Corey to go talk to the ghosts who reside in the new york public library. They keep the Rose Room quiet with magical crystals, and the schematics that the group has for their silent jet require some of these crystals. Corey is going to see what they might need and help them while Nic gets him around.

Valentina has a laundry list of part numbers that the schematic say they can get from a railyard. She goes off on her own to "acquire" these.

Michael and Seif head off to hide underground. On the way, Michael tries once again to explain to Seif about not using his powers because they are being stealthy. He punctuates this by immediately using his powers to contact Valentina to complain about Seif. Then both Seif and Corey feel gross invisible webbing on their bodies. They try to brush it off but are unable to, and then everyone in the group feels fate change a core part of who they are. Michael and Seif aren't too worried about it. They find the old entrance Winona showed Michael and they work their way through the sewers. They find the giant room where Michael spent so much time many months ago, and Michael gets to working on a beautiful statue of Ishtar to adorn the forge he's building down here. Seif patrols the halls and does a lot of exercising.

Nic and Corey headed uptown to the library. Reminder: Corey is still unconscious from the dragon fight... and he is also a leafy plant person. Nic is carrying his unconscious body uptown when he is stopped by some police officers. Nic explains... that Corey is totally not the guy that was on TV just now. Nic tells them he has a plant-man fetish and this is his sex doll. They let him go on his way. He gets Corey to an alley and tries to make phone calls while Corey sleeps off his wounds, but after the attack cell coverage in the city is a nightmare and Nic is having a tough time getting through to anyone.

Eventually Corey wakes up and looks at his horrible wounds. He realizes that if he becomes human again, he'll probably die from diseases and bacteria since his body is so weak. Instead, he gets some clothes and attempts to avoid notice as a walking celery person. It is surprisingly effective. They get to the library... and this is when they are hit with the whiplash from Michael's use of his powers. And Nic, who wasn't a genius to begin with, is changed; he becomes impossibly unintelligent. He no longer really remembers the plan or why they're doing things and is instead completely occupied with getting his Dad on the phone to demand a new hotel room in the city. Corey eventually wrangles him and they get entrance to the library where Corey has a meeting with one of the ghosts. They attempt to work out a deal. The ghost explains that when the zombie apocalypse ended they lost their zombie servants. and if it was in Corey's wheelhouse to get them some new ones, they'd part with their magic silencing crystals. Then Corey and Nic parted ways. Nic headed to his swanky hotel room and Corey went to hide in the grass in Central Park.

Valentina's first priority was making sure that Farrah was safe amidst all of this nonsense. She can't get through on cell phones and breaks into someone's apartment to use their phone. Eventually she gets through to Farrah at school but isn't allowed to talk to her. They say they're sending the kids home though, but when Valentina calls Farrah's apartment someone picks up, but doesn't speak. Valentina flees the apartment she broke into, not yet sure if she was too late getting to Farrah. She heads off to the Queens trainyard and puts on the ol' confused girl act. She gets the attention and help of several men and fakes her way through pretending to work for a construction company in the city and billing all these parts to that company. The order is much too large, though, and it'll have to be shipped tomorrow. Valentina gets it expedited and has them agree to load up a boat and ship it all late this evening. She contacts Corey and Nic and tells them to meet Michael and Seif down by the sewers.

They meet up and wait for Valentina. Nic and Seif are dicks to each other. Corey gets carried downstairs to avoid the infections. Michael finishes the plans for his statue of Ishtar.

Valentina gets taken by barge down the east river. The ten men transporting her cargo have no idea what they've signed up for. Silently, Val sneaks through the dark corridors of the ship. She brought a nice soft mallet to knock them out, but she quickly learned that she didn't know how to judge her force. She runs through sneaking and murdering until the boat is clear she is alone. Quietly she drives the boat towards the sewer exit and flashes the lights to Nic who is waiting outside. Seif leaps over and starts transporting things when he notices Valentina cleaning up some blood. They have a stern talk about what happened on the boat. Neither really seemed satisfied by the other's reaction... and then they started offloading.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Holy Act

Oh, man, I am so excited about this request: Here's a concept I'd like to hear more about: Sacrifices to the gods! Seriously, I've been saving it up in the question box for a week or two just so I could make sure I had time to do it justice.

Sacrifice is a core concept in religions and myths around the world; it's what anthropologists like to call a cultural universal, meaning that it appears in some form almost everywhere on the planet. Every human society has done it at some point for some important purpose, and it's a core feature of almost every religion in existence in one dimension or another. There are a thousand classifications of different kinds of sacrifice, all of them equally solemn and all of them ways that humanity calls upon to be able to interact with the divine; in essence, sacrifice is a religion's way of allowing humans, in some small way, to control the universe by doing something that will have a guaranteed result. Sacrifice lets us give something and know that something else will be given in return, and thereby give religions and people power even when they live in a universe full of unfathomable divine forces above them.

Sacrifice isn't just about cause and effect, though; its very core concept is that whatever the worshiper gives up to a god, it must be significant and it must impact the worshiper in some way. A sacrifice that is easy to lose or doesn't matter to the person who gave it up isn't a sacrifice at all, because it follows that the god is not being truly addressed or honored by it and would find it equally inconsequential. Almost all religious sacrifices, even in cultures where it became fairly commercialized (ancient Rome, for example), carry a heavy element of giving up something valuable or meaningful, which is what elevates the ritual from simple commerce for favors to an act of religious devotion. Sometimes it must be something that is valuable to the god themself; sometimes all that matters is that the worshiper found it valuable enough that giving it up proves their devotion.

There are a million reasons for sacrifice, but the most common fall into the general categories of connection, supplication, reverence and protection. Connection sacrifices are performed to link the human making the sacrifice to the divine, allowing humanity to touch the gods for a few moments; such rituals are usually intensely personal and are enacted in order for someone (often a shaman, priest or other designated religious leader) to break the barrier between worlds for a little while and accomplish important tasks or learn important information. Supplication sacrifices are possibly the most common around the world; they are sacrifices given to gods in order to ask them for their favors, which might be anything from granting worshipers prosperity to defeating their enemies, and work on the theory that if worshipers give to their gods, the gods will give in return. Reverence sacrifices are instead concerned with granting the respect to deities that a given religion believes is their due - they are performed because gods require praise and reverence, and because that's humanity's job, which some religions take extremely seriously. And finally, protection sacrifices are performed to stave off disaster or prevent a deity from becoming angry; these appear most often in cultures whose religions are built around unpredictable, dangerous or unfriendly deities and spiritual forces, and are intended to keep those powers calm, happy and unlikely to lash out at humanity.

Sacrifice specifically to gods helps narrow the field a little bit (it takes away other forms of sacrifice, such as sacrifices performed to better oneself without divine aid or sacrifices made to aid the community in a non-religious context), but even so it's a wide spectrum of possibilities. Anthropologists, mythographers and sociologists can spend their entire careers on the subject of sacrifice and never cover all its possible permutations and all the things it can and does mean to various cultures throughout history. The person who sent in the question asked that we focus specifically on the four pantheons in the Hero's Journey core rulebook, which is a reasonable request, but I am TOO EXCITED to talk only about them. I'll try to focus down when needed, though.

Like I said, there are so very many different kinds of sacrifice as a ritual concept, but the most common in myth and religion tend to fall into these categories:

Animal Sacrifice. This is one of the most common kinds of sacrifice you'll find in world religions, especially polytheistic ones, and it becomes more and more common the further back into history you go. In religions that practice animal sacrifice, an animal is killed in a ritual manner as an offering to a god, after which various things are done with its body according to the religion's specifications. Sometimes the body parts are used in further religious or magical rituals, which is often the case in West African religions; sometimes the animal is then ritually eaten by the worshipers who sacrificed it, common in Mediterranean and Semitic religions, which allows the people who participated in the ritual to share in the sacrifice with the god and therefore be bound closer together; sometimes the animal is preserved indefinitely to illustrate that it belongs to a god now and can no longer be touched, which is often the case for the animal mummies found in various Egyptian gods' temples; and sometimes the animal's body is completely destroyed, in order to show that it has left the realm of humanity or to ensure that no one else attempts to steal any part of it now that it has been commended to the divine. Occasionally, animal sacrifices don't involve killing an animal specifically for a god, but rather offering part of each animal killed for sustenance to a deity before taking any for oneself, therefore making all animal death for any reason part of the religion's sacrificial rites.

Animal sacrifice has several important symbolic meanings; in the first and probably most ancient place, it's important as a sign of devotion because animals represent food and livelihood, so giving one up to a god was a real sacrifice for ancient cultures, who would no longer have that animal's meat, milk, eggs, or any other product it could have given them. In times of drought, famine, harsh winters or depredations by other nearby peoples, having enough animals to maintain herds and feed people was critical, and giving any of them up therefore an act of real devotion. For some cultures, the gods were considered to sustain themselves on sacrifices or at least to enjoy eating just like everyone else, so sacrificing an animal to a god was literally feeding them just as its flesh could have fed a human, something that they would certainly appreciate and in some cases even actively needed from humans. Some religions also sacrificed animals to specific deities because of a religious idea of "belonging"; that is, a god might receive sacrifices specifically of their totem animal, because all specimens of that animal were considered to belong to them by default, so human worshipers are simply performing the role of errand-runner by delivering them to them (as well as currying some favor for being sensitive to a god's specific preferences). In this last case, some animal sacrifice wasn't even lethal to the animal; for example, ancient Arab religion sometimes involved a community giving up a prize bull to Dushara, god of the mountain, which meant that the bull would be set free on the mountain to roam for the rest of its life, and that no one could touch it or eat it for fear of the consequences of stealing a god's property.

Ancient Greek religion (see, I said I would focus!) performed animal sacrifice often and for most deities, and based its practices around the idea of sacrifices being sustaining for the gods and being something that humanity owed them for being so awesome and powerful in the first place. Failing to sacrifice properly or often enough meant that you weren't appropriately respecting the Greek gods, which I'm sure we all know is the first step on the road to infinite smiting, and even those too poor to give up the one goat the family owned could still attend temple sacrifices and participate in the rituals in the hopes of showing their devotion. The sacrificed animal (usually cattle, sheep or goat) was also often shared as food among the worshipers present - in some cases, just a mouthful, in others, such as the giant festival sacrifices to Athena, in a huge community feast. The animal's bones and skin were most often burned (the flesh, too, if it wasn't eaten), in order that it should be destroyed on earth and reach the gods; fire is often used as a sacrificial conduit in various religions because of its ability to destroy things and the idea that its smoke, rising up to heaven, might reach the deities that dwell above humankind.

Animal sacrifice was also very common in historical Hinduism, although it has become less so in modern times; many branches of Hinduism now forbid it, and those that do practice it most often do so in sacrifices of goats or chickens (historically, even horses and elephants) performed by priests or nobility to specific deities who are particularly associated with sacrifice. Kali, for example, still receives fairly regular animal sacrifice in some parts of India thanks to her warlike qualities and mythic connections to blood and death. Unlike Greek sacrificial practice, the meat of animals sacrificed to the gods is usually not eaten by worshipers, who consider it to no longer belong to humanity, and the animal is often burned in order to send it to the god it is dedicated to as well as destroy it so that it can be reborn into a new life in thanks for its service.

Blood Sacrifice. On the other hand, in spite of the fact that we tend to think of it first when we hear the term "religious sacrifice", blood sacrifice is comparatively pretty rare around the world. This is because it requires a more complicated and less universal set of religious ideas to support it: either there must be something specifically about blood that makes it valuable as a sacrificial substance, which is the case for many Mexican religions in which blood is believed to contain literal power and energy and therefore to be a needful offering to the gods, or the act of shedding blood (or more specifically, causing hurt to oneself) must be religiously important, which generally occurs in religions that believe that suffering proves worth or provides insight or enlightenment.

Blood sacrifice in the big, showy, spectacular form of slitting someone open and letting them bleed everywhere is generally an American phenomenon; the Mexica religion and those of nearby other peoples are heavily based on the idea that the gods need energy in order to keep the universe in order and away from destruction, and since blood was believed to contain the primordial energy they used, blood had to be spilled to provide it. Depending on the culture, blood sacrifice can occur in conjunction with either animal or human sacrifice; for example, in the late period of ancient Rome the taurobolium was practiced, a religious ritual in which a bull was killed and slit open in order to let its blood pour onto a ritual participant. (You can watch HBO's Rome do a dramatization of the taurobolium here, but don't if you don't want to see someone get an entire bull's worth of blood poured all over them.) Human bloodletting is performed in various religions not necessarily because blood itself is considered powerful, but because a worshiper being willing to hurt themselves is an act of obvious dedication and therefore has religious power all on its own. The sacrifice itself is what's important here, not the blood, which is just a symbol that represents the sacrifice and the pain that was incurred to perform it. This kind of blood sacrifice is fairly common in Celtic religions, which is a large part of the reason that modern pop culture associates the idea with sorcery and witchcraft. Finally, blood sacrifice can also be performed as a means to an end; by causing oneself enough pain or blood loss, a person might be able to receive religious visions or prove their worth to be contacted by a god, something they might have to approach the very brink of death to achieve.

Interestingly, blood sacrifice, especially for men in various cultures, often revolves around the penis. Often, letting blood from the penis is considered more hardcore than doing it anywhere else on the body (for obvious reasons) and it bleeds more easily; and for many cultures, including the Maya and several indigenous Australian peoples, such rituals are considered to give men the ability to briefly access the innate powers of creation that women already have by bleeding from their genitals and in essence duplicating the female ability to menstruate.

To get more specific again, ancient Norse religion practiced a wide variety of different kinds of sacrifice, but blood sacrifice was one of them in spite of its general rarity in Europe. Their sacrificial rites were called blot, a word that has the same root as the modern English blood, and included not only animal and human sacrifices but also blood sacrifice, in which blood spilled for sacrificial purposes was believed to contain magical properties and to confer power, and which was ritually painted or sprinkled on statues of the gods to symbolically grant that power to them.

Human Sacrifice. Human sacrifice is also more rare than animal, but it's also very widespread in historical religions; the further back you go, the more human sacrifice you'll see, even in religions that are still alive now but have ceased to perform it somewhere down the centuries. Human sacrifice is complicated, because the reason for it can be wildly different in different cultures. Some considered it a necessary part of placating their gods, and believed that the gods would take some of humanity whether they wanted it to happen or not, and that therefore sacrificing people ahead of time could give the community the power to decide who was sacrificed and prevent the gods from being angry or taking a large number of people (similar to the fairytale convention of sacrificing a princess to a dragon rather than waiting around for the dragon to attack the town and kill a hundred other people). Information on mainland Celtic religions is spotty, but this is likely the reason behind their occasional human sacrifices, and the reason that many of the sacrificed appear to have been criminals that the community would be willing to give up. On the other hand, sometimes it is not the criminals or old people who are sacrificed, but the youngest and most beautiful; the theory behind this is usually that the gods would object to being given a substandard sacrifice, so only someone perfect or desirable will do.

Other religions, including that of the Inca people of Peru, practiced human sacrifice in order to connect the people with their gods; humans were given in death to the gods and spiritual forces of the universe to demonstrate their devotion and basically give them a man on the inside, so to speak, when that sacrificed person became part of the power that animated the landscape and decided mortal fates. These kinds of human sacrifices are extremely important and solemn affairs, and represent an entire community choosing a representative from among them to be the communicator to the gods or even to walk with them, something that is never taken lightly. This is another kind of sacrifice that doesn't necessarily have to be lethal, too; giving up children to become members of the clergy or to serve a specific religious function is also a form of human sacrifice, one that families must make in order to put their religion and the good of their community above their own desire to remain with their loved ones. And finally, in cultures that place a specific value on human life that is above that of animal life or material objects, the sacrifice of a human being becomes the most potent of all sacrifices specifically because it represents giving up the most important and sacred thing a human has - their life - to the powers that be. This is comparatively pretty rare for purely sociological reasons; as societies evolve toward considering human life innately valuable, so they are also usually evolving away from the idea of killing people being acceptable, even in a religious context.

Although again most of us tend to associate the idea of human sacrifice with only a few select mythologies (especially Mexican and Hawaiian, both of whose practices were not-so-coincidentally exaggerated in order to make invading European cultures look better for putting a stop to all that), it has been documented occuring in almost every religion at some point in its history, from widespread practice to occasional but important sacrifices. Ancient Norse religion is particularly heavy on human sacrifice, with hanging and drowning sacrifices particularly possible in order to ask for favor from specific gods - offered to Odin for success in battle, for example, or to several of the Vanir gods for good harvests or prosperity. Human sacrifice was rare in ancient Greece but not unheard of, and in fact Agamemmnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to Artemis in order to get from the goddess clear passage for his army across the sea to the Trojan war; this is not condoned by the text and in fact Agamemmnon gets his ass kicked for it later on, but it's hard to tell whether it's the fact that he committed human sacrifice, the fact that the victim was his blood relation (Greek society was very unforgiving of familial violence) or the fact that Iphigenia may already have been dedicated to or beloved by Artemis in some way and therefore the goddess was offended by the choice. Whatever the reason, however, the story still lets us know that human sacrifice was known and occasionally practiced, and that it did in fact work to secure Artemis favor (however capricious and temporary). Human sacrifice was not as common in ancient Indian religion as in some others, but it, too, existed, and was most often practiced to honor particularly warlike gods or to ask for divine aid in especially dangerous times, such as when war or plague threatened the population. Ancient Egypt's is one of the few religions that didn't practice human sacrifice to their gods much (although we do have some isolated evidence of it around the first dynasty and earlier, so it's likely that they did but simply stopped the practice further back in history than most other religions), but the practice of killing servants and retainers in order to send them to accompany and serve important nobles or the pharaoh after death remained common.

Object Sacrifice. This is by far the most common form of religious sacrifice in the modern day, but it's been popular throughout the ages. Object sacrifice involves giving up a thing that is precious to oneself; like some forms of blood sacrifice, it's often not really about the object that you're giving up, but rather about the act of sacrificing it and a person's ability to prove their worth or devotion by doing so. Object sacrifice is incredibly varied around the world - foods, currency, fetishes, personal household items and more are all in various places considered viable options for religious sacrifice.

Sometimes, object sacrifice is about actually giving something to the gods or spirits for their own use; for example, the Norse practice of throwing away unused boot leather is a kind of sacrificial act to "give" that leather to the god Vidar, who will use it to create the giant boot he will wear at Ragnarok to destroy the great wolf Fenrir. Sometimes the god simply takes ownership of a sacrificed item when the act of sacrificing it makes it off-limits, such as when Inca kings would throw gold overboard into Lake Titicaca to appease the deity there; no one would dream of swimming down there to retrieve it, because that would be theft from a god, never a good idea. In other cases, the sacrificed item becomes communal property, sometimes meaning that everyone uses it and the religious ritual is intended to foster community harmony, or sometimes that a religious official administers it and gives it out only to those deemed worthy. Food sacrifices are especially common; sometimes, like animal sacrifices, they are believed to actually be feeding a god (for example, butter is used in Hindu sacrifices because it's well-known that Agni, god of fire, likes butter and will enjoy licking it up while he burns up the sacrifice), or at other times the food is simply thrown away as a sign of respect to the deity who provided it or allowed mortals to harvest it, such as when in Slavic lands the first glass of wine or bite of any mean is poured out on the ground to honor the earth-mother Mokosh. Clothing sacrifices are sometimes intended to literally clothe a god - for example, many god statues in India are ritually dressed in fine clothing to honor them - while in other cases clothing is sacrificed to become part of a temple's holdings, and is thereafter used for god impersonations or for the purposes of the clergy who support that god's religion. And, as is the case with animal sacrifice, sometimes objects are given to gods simply because they are already considered to "own" them and therefore it's a sign of respect for humans to recognize that, such as when the Mexica goddess Xochiquetzal is given sacrifices of flowers to acknowledge that she is the mistress of all things floral.

Because object sacrifices involve concrete and valuable items, and because those items, with the exception of those cultures that actually destroy them during the process of sacrifice, are often still in existence after the ritual, it's common in a lot of religions for the priests or shaman involved to make use of them themselves. Sometimes this is approved by the religion itself, often because the holy figure is considered to represent their god and therefore their using it is the same as the god using it, and the practice is encouraged as a way of the community supporting the clergy as well as honoring the gods. Sometimes, the priests are considered to be no more in possession of sacrificed items than anyone else, so taking or using them is severely frowned upon.

Personal Sacrifice. Personal sacrifice requires a religion to be invested in the idea that the personal beliefs, ethics or private actions of an individual are just as religiously important as anything else; that is, the idea must be present that a worshiper's personal thoughts and desires are part of their religious life as much as anything else. This is a newer concept in the general landscape of world myth and religion, which in older times mostly considered what a person did to be the religiously relevant part of their lives, not what they might be internally thinking or feeling. It's especially important in religions that emphasize spiritual growth as part of their philosophy, because it can be used as a method of forcing a person to change or test their personal limits through difficult sacrifice that doesn't necessarily require any outside help or cause impact to others. Religions that emphasize enlightenment or escape from physical concerns such as Hinduism and Buddhism often have branches that heavily espouse personal sacrifices, as well as them being a major component of many monotheistic religions.

Personal sacrifices often involve privation - the person performing them sacrifices something they normally want or even need and must survive without it, which often includes fasting, abstaining from alcohol, sex or certain foods, or otherwise placing restrictions on their behavior that make their lives more difficult or less comfortable. These sacrifices, when connected with a god, are almost always performed in order to prove the worshiper's devotion and convince the god to either bestow favor upon them or refrain from punishing them, if the sacrifice is performed as part of a penance. In some religions, personal sacrifices are thought to in return confer upon a person spiritual power - for example, in Shintoism, in which priestesses remain celibate not because the religion forbids them (for most people, Shinto discourages celibacy because it prevents living a balanced life) but because this personal sacrifice renders them able to conserve and reuse purifying energy in a way that normal people cannot. In other cases, a deity might demand a personal sacrifice of their worshipers; for a particularly grisly example, Cybele's worshipers castrated themselves during some of her rituals, a very concrete and frightening form of sacrifice. (And, as that example makes clear, personal sacrifice can and does overlap with human sacrifice occasionally, although more often it's about sacrificing something in your life or personality, not your body parts.)

Service Sacrifice. And finally, service sacrifice, which is the practice of dedicating oneself to a particular task, service or duty and sacrificing all other occupations you might have preferred. Many religions gather their clergy and religious practitioners this way; becoming a direct servant of the god might mean having to sacrifice your home or family life in order to live and participate in religion somewhere else, sacrificing your aspirations to do anything else in favor of performing as a religion requires you instead, going on a sacred crusade or mission, or even marrying someone you don't want to because it's the right thing to do in the eyes of the religion. Service sacrifice always involves deciding that what you want to do isn't as important as doing what the religion requires of you, and is often a matter of ongoing action and dedication rather than a one-time gift of an object or animal.

This is harder to pin down as a religious concept sometimes, simply because it can overlap so much with the general idea of piety; people perform religious rites, attend religious ceremonies and attempt to conform their behavior to their religion's demands all the time, and any of these things could technically be called a form of service sacrifice, although whether it's done for a god or only for a person's individual well-being or growth depends on the religion. Simply giving up the time and effort required to do something for one's god is a form of sacrifice, whether it's as extreme as becoming a monk for the rest of your life or as occasional as attending an hour-long temple ceremony on major holidays.

This post is definitely already long enough - like, so long I feel like apologizing to those of you who follow the blog on your RSS feeds and got this monstrosity in your inbox today - but I still feel like it's important to talk a little bit about sacrifice in Hero's Journey now that we've taken that magical mystery tour through historical sacrificial practices. As we've noted above, sacrifice occurs in every religion in some way, and the living religions of HJ will certainly practice it in some dimension; it'll be a major part of the religious world, although in what way varies depending on the religion and the area in which it is practiced (you're much more likely to get a traditional pig sacrifice in rural Sweden than in London, for example, even though both areas have strong Norse religious communities). Heroes will be likely to run into all kinds of examples of sacrifice, and will have to decide which they practice themselves and what ethics they may need to apply to them.

As for sacrifice as a mechanic, that's something that Heroes will also get to play with, but just as the idea is way too big for a single definition, so it's too big to be described by a single mechanic. Different kinds of sacrificial action may appear in various Blessings, especially in the Devotional Domain, allowing Heroes who represent different pantheons to tap into the specific religious practices dedicated to them.

And I think we all need a break now, so see you tomorrow!