Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Lying Gods

Well, we made the mistake of telling Cameron that we were low on questions from the submission box here on the blog this week, and you all responded in a big way. We have a very respectable bank of questions, ranging from the scholarly serious to the whimsically entertaining, so we've got plenty to talk about! Today, we're going to tackle a big old question of high-level divine politics: Hello, I've been wondering if you can elaborate on relationship between the Yazata and Deva, as each has a whole other pantheon of demons which are named of the other. Can you elaborate on how would you think this would fit in Hero's Journey?

All right, this is a super neat topic to talk about, and one of my personal favorites, because it gets down into the nitty gritty of super ancient religious evolution and cultural sharing, and it does it with two religions that are beyond cool in their linked imagery, names and symbols. Let's put on some badass groovin' music and bust out our origins of myth textbooks.

So, for those just jumping in on these two groups of gods, deva (literally "deity") is the term used by Hindu religion, past and present, to refer to their gods, while yazata or yazad (literally "worthy of worship") is the term used by Zoroastrianism and ancient Persian myth to refer to their gods. The Persian gods are also referred to as ahura (meaning "deity"), and the Hindu gods are also referred to, especially in older texts, as sura (meaning "deity").

So far, so good. The interesting wrinkles begin when you factor in the traditional antagonists for both pantheons. Within their own mythology, the deva are opposed by a race of other gods called asura, who in older texts are occasionally benevolent or at least neutral and who were worshiped in their own right for a while, but who in later times become referred to as almost uniformly evil and unworthy of devotion from humans. And within their mythology, the yazata are opposed by a race of other gods called daeva or deev, who in their earliest forms appear to be gods who are not actually evil but who are misguided into doing things that are not always for the greater good, but who later become embodiments of evil who exist solely to ruin things and fight the righteous yazata.

It's pretty clear that there's a mirror situation here: two religions that both believe in a separate race of gods that were once perhaps positive forces but who have become dangerous and evil and now oppose the gods. What's interesting is what they each call their enemy race: asura and ahura, deva and daeva, yazata and yasna and yajna.

Etymologically, these words are exactly the same. Deva and daeva are the exact same word, just one of them slightly younger and commuted into Avestan and then into Middle Persian as deev; asura and ahura are the exact same word, just seen through the filter of a language that has grown away from its Sanskrit roots. As far as the specific words being used are concerned, the myths of the Hindu gods are specifically referring to the Persian gods as their enemies, and vice versa.

Even more interesting is the fact that it's not just the collective words for the gods that are shared in these two religions; on the contrary, specific gods are named and called out on both sides. In Hindu mythology, among the named asura are Mitra, Aryaman and Varuna, whose names are exact cognates with the yazata Mithra, Airyaman and the great Ahura Mazda himself, whose epithet is Varun ("rescuer from evil"), and likewise in Zoroastrian mythology, named daeva include Indar, Vata-Vayu and Sarva, Persianized versions of the Vedic names of the major deva Indra, Vayu and Shiva (as Rudra/Sarva).

Holy wow, right? It feels like a slightly more scholarly version of The Da Vinci Code, with secret linguistic codes and religious connections. The question for scholars, which has been under debate for more of a century, is whether or not the deva/daeve and asura/ahura are really the same, and what it means for both religions if they are.

On the one hand, many scholars argue that these are not the same groups of gods; even if they share linguistic roots in the words they use, the two religions are distinct from one another and have been for a very long time, and it would be just plain inaccurate to claim that Zoroastrianism and Hinduism were in any way the same or that one was only a "corruption" of the other. Avestan and later Farsi come from Sanskrit, but so do modern Indian languages and a ton of other Indo-European tongues, so it's not actually all that impossible that they should be sharing roots and words for some concepts between them. Heck, "deva" is also responsible for over half of Europe's words for gods, including "dievas" (Lithuanian), "deus" (Latin), "dia" (Irish), "deitie" (French), "deity" (English), and so on ad infinitum. Sometimes there are clear crossovers that don't fit neatly into the enemy/antagonist box, either, such as the deva Soma who is equivalent to the yazata Haoma, neither of whom are members of the enemy pantheon, which can be seen as proof that things aren't so cut and dried.

But then again, other scholars point to the mountain of evidence that the gods with connected names have similar iconography and functions, like Mitra/Mithra being a god of oaths, truth and justice in both pantheons where he appears, or like Haoma/Soma being the lord of a sacred plant used in fire rituals and for intoxication in both pantheons where he shows up, or Vayu/Vata-Vayu appearing as the lord of breath in both places, even though in one case it is as god of air and atmosphere and in the other as god of the last breath before death takes a living being. Even though both religions are unarguably distinct and self-contained, they have clearly come from similar roots or shared simialr ideas between them in the past, leading to their mutual religious emphasis on things like the importance of sacred sacrifice via fire. From an anthropological perspective (which is where scholars love to come from!), it's almost unquestionable that they were closely connected in ancient times. It's even possible, according to some theories, that they were once the same religion, which split into two different faiths as worshipers traveled to new lands and interpreted their gods according to new needs.

Of course, the really interesting idea is this: why, if these two pantheons are really referring to one another, do they dislike each other so much? What happened thousands of years ago that caused the worshipers of one group of gods to declare the gods of the other to be evil antagonists, listing them in scripture and legend forevermore as being the entrenched enemies of the gods they considered "good"? The answer is that we really have no idea. It happened so very long ago that all we can do is guess based on the evidence that has survived. The prevailing theory is that a schism between priests or worshipers caused an ancient single religion to split in two somewhere back in the mists of time, each side believing that the other was wrong so strongly that they cast their gods as antagonists, but it's not the only possibility. Just as passionate are the theories of the two religions being completely separate and unrelated, or of one plundering the other for ideas to add to their own native ones, and so on.

As far as Hero's Journey goes, the Persian gods don't have an official workup coming in the core rulebook, so we won't be seeing a lot about them yet; but the Hindu gods do, including some who make personal appearances as antagonists in Persian myth. The stories of their struggles against the asura are related in their writeups and are certainly ripe places for new young Heroes representing them to begin encountering similar problems, and we would not be surprised at all if young Hindu Heroes run into minions of the asura or hear horror stories about them from their patrons and priests.

When you're among the gods themselves... well, whether or not the Persian and Hindu gods are actually ancestral enemies is something each game will have to decide for itself. But however you decide they interact, there is definitely a lot of history and relationship there, for good, bad or worse, and plenty to play with when it comes to gods that wear multiple hats!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Devotional Domain: Egyptian Divinity

All right, still late but not quite as late, here we are to talk about the Devotional Domain again! This time it's about the Egyptian gods, their Heroes, and what they might be doing, specifically in regards to the Divinity Sphere, which is full of powers designed to allow your Hero to be as much of a uniquely Egyptian figure as possible.

Ancient Egyptian religion has, for the most part, been dead for well over a thousand years, which means that we're looking at a much more reconstructed view of their religious beliefs and practices than we were for the Hindu Devotional powers we talked about last week. There are a few modern-day worshipers of the Egyptian gods, but they are extremely small and reconstructionists themselves; no one has been practicing it consistently since ancient times, as far as we know. So here we're facing a challenge: we have to try to come up with Divinity powers that are as close as possible to the way the ancient Egyptians saw their gods and heroes, but we have to do so by reading the stories of their exploits and looking for common themes and theological underpinnings.

That's okay, though, because as you all know, we love theological underpinnings here. The basic idea of the Egyptian version of the Divinity Sphere, when boiled down to its bones, is the concept in ancient Egyptian religion that the gods and their heroes are highly representative and symbolic; they mean more than one thing, and in fact are more than one thing, and their powers should reflect that multiplicity of ideas and images that they bring with them. All Egyptian gods and heroes are in reality symbols representing something else, and while this is true to some extent of most pantheons, among the Egyptians it is a veritable art form.

So with that in mind, there are three major ideas we are working with for the Egyptian Divinity Sphere; zoomorphism, sycretism, and the pharaoh as the representative of the divine.

The role of the Pharaoh in ancient Egypt is an incredibly complex one, both politically and religiously, and we won't get into all of that here, but one of the most important elements of the office is the idea that the pharaoh was considered to be quite literally the representative of the divine on earth. He (or, in the case of the most baddest of asses Hatshepsut, she) was considered to be a human who was also the literal form of the god or gods who protected and gave life to the kingdoms; he was Ra who gave light to the world, Horus who ruled and defended it, and Osiris who eventually departed it in death. The pharaoh was called all of these gods in turn, depending on their role at the time, as well as being considered the son of any or all of those deities (as well as many of the protector goddesses like Bast or Sekhmet) and the living conduit through which the rest of the mortal world could contact and supplicate themselves to them. In other words, the role of the pharaoh is not one of only king and warrior, but also fundamental priest for the entirety of the kingdoms, linking the human and the divine to act as one.

The idea of gods as symbols is possibly most blatant when it comes to the rampant sycretism among Egyptian gods, which you can see everywhere among their ranks: gods appeared in composite forms like Ra-Horakhty or Atum-Khepri or Isis-Hathor-Mut as single figures but also separately without losing any of their individuality, and were paired with completely different consorts, children and parents in different cult centers without any apparent contradiction. Some of this was certainly because of competing priest-cults and the forces of history, as the religion survived for centuries upon centuries and which gods were most popular or important changed and replaced one another, but it is also because of the way that Egyptian gods are inherently treated as symbols and ideas. They can be combined, separated and substituted for one another as the religion needs because of their ability to act as representatives and symbols for a wide variety of ideas.

(For those wondering about the difference between this and the ideas of deity manifestation we talked about last week among the Hindu gods, it's a fundamental difference of theology. For the Hindu gods, the idea is that all gods, as part of the great divinity Brahman, manifest themselves in different ways and with different powers as their people need. For the Egyptian gods, the gods are all separate individuals, but they are capable of appearing in different ways, although not necessarily with different powers, in order to represent different ideas.)

And finally, everyone's favorite most striking element of Egyptian divine figures: zoomorphism (literally animal shape), or the ever-popular "Yeah, but how do I get an animal head?!" question. Egyptian gods were likely primarily completely zoomorphic in their original forms, appearing as animals and natural features rather than human-like figures for many centuries before they arrived at their now popular forms as mostly humanoid beings with animal-like heads and attributes. Again, these are not always about literal animals (although some gods, like Anubis and Sobek, are related to the animals that are their emblems), but rather symbols: the ram represents Amun as a god of virility and masculinity, the lion represents Sekhmet's role as a warrior goddess of savagery and power, and so on and so forth.

So what will you be doing, as a Hero of the Egyptian pantheon? Well, your powers will have to do with becoming part of this great cosmic game of symbol and sign: they may involve connecting yourself and others more directly to the divine, acting as a human axis mundi (center of worlds, in Greek) between humanity and the gods, finding ways to combine your skills or even self with others to achieve something greater or to borrow symbols and power from others, and creating your own custom set of symbols and animal imagery that suits your role as a hero and later as a god.

We hope that everyone will find all the tools they need to make sure their Hero is able to call upon the unique Egyptian heritage of their patron deity if they so choose. Here's to you, you crazy symbolic kids!

(P.S. - I know I saw people speculating about some things that don't appear in this post, like the Egyptian idea of the manifold soul, on the forums, and that you may be wondering how on earth we could ignore such important ideas. The answer is that we totally aren't ignoring them, and we would like to remind you of the delicious Ritual and Theology Spheres to come in the future. We want to focus on powers that allow Heroes to be as heroic, by the standards of their patron's mythology, as possible for the first set of powers, but we're always planning for the future as well!)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Weekly Update 9.26

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

This week John and Anne have continued working through the feedback that they have gotten from their playtests. They're taking the feedback they’ve received and are working to fix some issues with some minor things like dice bloat, and making some parts of the the GM chapter more clear.

Some other assorted systems they’ve been working on are based around making combat feel fitting for a mythic story. With that in mind they’re working on things like mortal wounds and dying. They're also working on penalties associated with pain and battle fatigue, with the goal of making wounds matter during a fight. But if the idea of dying gloriously in combat doesn't appeal to you, they’re also looking at ways that would allow for character to escape battles if they really needed to. I usually am that guy...

Most systems though are now happily sitting around the 90% mark, and now John and Anne are working through getting all the 90's to 100's.

In the Art world, the cosmology maps are done and from the images I've seen they look amazing. I wish I could show them to you, but you’ll have to wait until the final product.

This upcoming week is John and Anne are going to put some more work into Devotional Blessings, the Crafting System, and making sure Character Creation is balanced and makes sense. As mentioned earlier, Anne’s going to be going back through the GM chapter just to make sure everything is as clear as she can make it.

So this week, there were no questions, if I missed any please PM me. Anne too is running out of questions for her Tuesday posts. If she doesn’t get any, she will definitely use that time to push forward with the books, but you might miss out on a Tuesday post.

But, because there were no questions. I started a discussion thread over on the general discussion forums. We’re a few weeks out from John’s posts about Aspects, so what characters are you thinking about making? I’ve had the mixed joy of playing a few characters recently, but I’ve been thinking about what they’d look like in the Hero’s Journey Universe. I’m interested to see what kind of character you’re thinking of… feel free to post over here with your thoughts.

Other than that have a great weekend!

Due to the overwhelming support for Egypt, next Monday will feature Anne discussing the Egyptian Devotional Domain.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lunatic Discordia

We're going to have an interesting and different ladies-of-myth blog today thanks to this request: I was wondering if you could tell us more about the Greek Trickster goddess Eris, and all her shenanigans. Eris is surprisingly popular and well-known in modern pop culture, considering that she wasn't particularly beloved during ancient Greek religion, so she's a neat topic to explore.

First of all, I have to disagree with you (good-naturedly, though), friend - Eris is definitely not a trickster goddess! In mythological terms, a trickster is someone who rebels against established rules, order or authority, usually through cleverness, and most often as a means toward creating, liberating or enabling something creative and new. Tricksters tend to cause problems and upheaval through their misbehavior, but that upheaval often has positive consequences, such as the creation or distribution of new things or the realization of flaws in the current order that can be corrected.

You could argue that the episode with the apple that leads to the Trojan War is kind of a trickstery move on Eris' part, but for the most part, she doesn't do all that stuff. She tends to operate within the rules of the universe, not outside them, and there's pretty much nothing positive that ever comes out of anything she does.

Eris is the ancient goddess of discord and strife - and not the fun kind of discord where things are just sort of disorganized and quirky and excitingly non-conforming, but the horrible awful kind where everyone violently hates one another and everything gets destroyed. The ancient Greeks were terrified of Eris, who represented the horrors of warfare, violence, hatred and cruelty, which she visited on humanity whenever she had the chance on her own, and which she could also come down to inflict on the orders of Zeus or Hera, who set her loose to punish miscreants that they believed deserved it. We talk a lot about how awesome mythological ladies are around here, and Eris is certainly awesome, but it's the original meaning of the word awesome here - inspiring fear and awe, and the feeling that maybe you're in over your head.

In case you were wondering how much the ancient Greeks did not like this goddess, the laundry list of her most common descriptions refer to her as "hard-hearted", "harsh", "cruel", "abhorred", "unwholesome", "relentless", "wrathful", "wearisome", "death-bringing" and about ten thousand other words meaning that she's terrible and everyone wishes she were not around. In fact, although her name is most often translated into English as "strife" or "discord" (especially since the name of her Roman equivalent, Discordia, grew into the latter word in English), other translations make the name closer to "hatred". She is literally hatred for other people personified.

Eris' scariness is established partially by her familial relations, which are a giant roster of ancient primordial powers and figures that represent horribleness and awfulness in varying ways. Hesiod lists her mother as Nyx, the primordial night, a goddess so terrifying that even Zeus in moments of greatest wrath refuses to cross her; Hyginus expands this to also list her father as Erebos, personification of darkness itself as well as a living part of the underworld. Her siblings include such un-favorites of humanity as Apate (goddess of deceit), Geras (god of old age), Ker (god of violent death), Momos (god of mockery), Moros (god of doom), Oizys (goddess of misery), Nemesis (goddess of punishment), the twins Hypnos and Thanatos (gods of unconsciousness and death), and of course the Keres, the blood-drinking dark sister-triad to the Moirai or Fates, who inflict doom upon soldiers in combat and drag dying men off the battlefield and into Hades to feast on. There are a few nice siblings in there, like Philotes and Misericordia, but they can't really prevent the entire family from being a sort of primordial soup of terror and human suffering.

As if her immediate forbears and siblings weren't scary enough, Eris also has children of her own, and among her brood there are no nice people whatsoever. Her list of children includes Dysnomia (goddess of anarchy), Horkos (god of punishing oathbreakers), Lethe (goddess of forgetfulness), Limos (god of famine), and Ponos (god of toil and work); and she is also responsible for bringing into the world several sets of multiple siblings bent on a single distressing task, including the Algea (in charge of causing pain), Amphilogiai (in charge of legal disputes), Androktasiai (in charge of manslaughter), Hysminai (in charge of brawling), Makhai (in charge of battles), Neikia (in charge of arguments), Phonoi (in charge of murder), and Pseudologoi (in charge of lying). My personal favorite of her brood is Ate, who is literally the goddess of bad ideas, and whose interference is responsible for almost every time a hero in Greek myth makes a dumbass decision that gets them killed.

Hesiod actually hated her collection of children (together referred to as the Lugra, meaning "banes") so much that he decided to poetically declare that they were the daimones of all bad things in the world that were originally sealed in Pandora's jar, thus literally making Eris and her children the worst things to ever happen to the universe.

At any rate, Eris' most famous tale is of course that of the beginning of the Trojan War, although in reality she isn't actually involved all that heavily. When Thetis and Peleus (later to be the parents of Achilles) are being wedded, which is a big deal to the gods because of the prophecy that Thetis' child will outshine his father and everyone's need to make sure they safely know who that father is so no one accidentally sires a super-baby, Zeus invites every deity in the pantheon except for Eris; no one gives an exact reason for this, but presumably they didn't want her there because, well, she's terrible and causes all of the problems in the world.

In ancient Greek hospitality terms, however, this was a massive slight to Eris' reputation and honor, and when she arrived and was refused entrance to the banquet, she instead hurled a golden apple through the doors into the middle of the feast. The apple was inscribed "to the fairest", and the ensuing fight between Aphrodite, Hera and Athena over who it was supposed to go to led to Paris acting as judge to choose one of them, which in turn led to Aphrodite rewarding him for choosing her by giving him Helen as a wife, which in turn touched off the entire gigantic Trojan War debacle.

Whether Eris knew she was causing the Trojan War or not is debatable, but she certainly knew that she was causing a political meltdown, which it's pretty obvious was exactly what she wanted in order to get revenge for being left out of things. Alas, as is usual in Greek myths, trying to avoid inevitable things like a fight breaking out at a wedding just makes it more certain that they end up happening, usually with gusto.

Whether she caused the war knowingly or not, she was certainly perfectly happy to participate in it. Because war, especially violent and bloody war that lasted too long or did not conform to the rules of battle at the time, was considered one of the ultimate expressions of chaos and disorder, Eris was considered one of the foremost deities who gloried in it and tried to cause slaughter whenever possible. At the Trojan War itself, Homer describes Eris striding into battle with Ares, beginning as only a small woman but growing until her head strikes the heavens and raining down bitterness and hatred upon all warriors on both sides of the battle. She also appears to the Greek fleet, on Zeus' orders, to give such a mighty and terrible battle cry that they are motivated to go on fighting tirelessly, and once all the other gods have withdrawn from the war on Zeus' orders, she alone remains, spectating with pleasure as the warriors kill one another "like wolves".

Eris' connection to Ares here is not a coincidence; while the ancient Greeks appreciated martial might and warrior prowess, they also viewed bloodlust and chaos on the battlefield as highly distasteful and dangerous to society, which is why Ares himself was well-honored by soldiers but not someone anybody was inviting to their polite society parties. Like Ares, Eris represents loss of self-control and the dissolving of ideals ilke honor and glory into the horrors and mutilations of war, and when the inevitably ugly side of combat appears, there she always is. Homer actually calls Eris the daughter of Ares; he may be conflating her with Enyo, a daughter of Ares who is a war goddess also associated with terror on the battlefield, and simply drawing a parallel between the two, although there is still scholarly debate over whether or not Enyo is supposed to be the same person as Eris and how the genealogy is supposed to work if that's true.

And of course, since if there are wars out warring Eris is most likely to be found causing problems in them, she is also present during the Indian War, when she appears to Dionysos in a dream and reproaches him for not getting into battle faster, saying that the other gods are making fun of him, she's ashamed of him, and his endless frolicking about having a good time makes him a lazy good-for-nothing who doesn't deserve to be classed among the sons of Zeus. Dionysos promptly wakes up and starts waging some kickass wars on basically everybody, because when someone calls an ancient Greek dude a wuss who doesn't deserve his family name, that's generally their first response. Ironically (or not, for her), she then also turns up fighting in the war on the side opposite Dionysos, sowing havoc among his troops as she accompanies Ares again.

Interestingly enough, Hesiod claims that there were originally two goddesses named Eris. He says that one is the good Eris, in charge of healthy and beneficial forms of strife like competition that encourages both sides to become better and motivation to encourage people to achieve what they are jealous of in others, but the other is the bad Eris, who causes marital strife, social chaos and physical violence. He is alone in this particular vision of a double version of Eris, but there is some scholarly suggestion out there (when is there not?) that suggests that since Hesiod seems to view Pandora as a sort of double of heavenly Aphrodite, he may be therefore creating a positive version of Eris to serve as the hope left in Pandora's jar as the same sort of literary device.

For those keeping up with the modern religious scene, you may have heard of Discordianism, which is a mdoern-day religious movement begun in the 1960s which claims Eris as its major deity. Discordianism is basically concerned with the idea that most of life is an illusion, and that since all of our perceptions of it are just signals sent to our brains to make sense of, there is no such thing as objective reality and the truth of the universe may actually be vastly different from the way we are able to perceive it. Because the only universal constant in this idea is that chaos exists and is the major moving force in the universe, Eris was chosen to become the philosophy's main figurehead. The Discordian version of Eris is significantly less scary and dangerous than her ancient Greek counterpart (in fact, Discordian religious texts directly make fun of the ancient Greek idea of her as being so terrible), and tends to use her more as a symbolic idea to represent chaos rather than an actual deity for ritual and worship (although of course her importance varies depending on the particular Discordian in question).

There is all kind of argument over whether or not Discordianism is a real religion, thanks to its obvious elements of parodying other religions and the tongue-in-cheek attitude of many of its adherents when questioned about it or asked to explain what it means, but its existence means that Eris' name has surprisingly survived and remained semi-relevant in pop culture long after most other minor Greek deities' were forgotten. It's ironic that she would remain actively worshiped, even in parody, when many other more popular gods' worship is all but forgotten, but that's the kind of cruel irony Eris is known for, after all.

You will note that there is not a ton of art in this post, and there is a good reason for that: the ancient Greeks didn't like Eris very much, so they didn't spend nearly as much time committing her to artwork as they did for deities that they did love and want to honor, and they weren't exactly excited about the idea of having an image of her in their home, business or temple for fear of the inevitable chaos that would follow from her presence. Heroes might want to take a page from their ancient playbook; Eris may be someone that should never be disrespected or ignored, but it's also probably not the best idea in the world to invite her to get involved in your affairs, either.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Eternal Bard

So let's head back to the northern reaches of Europe with today's question: We know about Odin, you've talked about Merlin, think you could say a few words about Väinämöinen? Totally, because Vainamoinen is awesome and cool!

Vainamoinen is one of the most important gods in the Finnish pantheon. Born to the goddess Ilmatar and the personified sea at the beginning of creation after gestating in her womb for over seven hundred years (and thus becoming the most wise being alive), he was the first to find dry land and call upon the other powers of the universe to make it habitable with vegetation and life. He's not primarily a creation god, however; he is the lord of poetry and song, both of which were very important to ancient Finnish religions as the vehicles through which sacred chants and stories were preserved, and which grant him the power of spells over all who hear them, including the earth and sky themselves. Because of his combined prowess in making things and performing transformative art, he is one of the most badass of all gods of craftsmen. He's usually depicted as very old in order to drive home how wise and wizardly he is, although especially old Finnish art sometimes shows him beardless and presumably more youthful.

Stories of Vainamoinen's exploits are almost always adventures in creation that accidentally gets out of control. When the world is just beginning and Sampsa, god of fertility, has sown all the seeds upon the earth so that it can begin to grow plants, Vainamoinen noted that the only thing that was not growing was the seed planted for a giant oak tree, which was to become the World Tree of the Finnish universe. He dithers about this for a few weeks until Turso, terrifying walrus-god of the sea, appears on the shore and re-plants the acorn, this time using ashes from burnt plants and his own waters to fertilize this. The tree then grew perfectly - too perfectly, as it turns out, since it became so massive that it filled the sky, clogged up all the clouds, and permanently obscured the sun, moon and stars from the view of everyone on earth.

Now not quite as pleased with his tree plan as before, Vainamoinen calls on his mother Ilmatar to help him figure out how to uproot it so that life can start going on down on earth again. Because Vainamoinen bemoaned that there was "no giant" who could cut down the tree, however, Ilmatar sends him a tiny hero made of seawater approximately the size of his hand, which is somewhat discombobulating for him. Vainamoinen then has an argument with the little guy, in which the hero insists that he is divine and sent from the sea deities and can totally handle this, and Vainamoinen says a lot of variations on "But you're... really, really small."

Luckily for Vainamoinen, the sea-born hero then suddenly grows massive and goes to town on the tree, knocking it down and making all of its parts available for the creation of magical charms and weapons. Vainamoinen somehow gets most of the credit for this, probably because he called up the axe-bearing hero (who thereafter disappears) and also as the god of creation and words, goading a tiny person into becoming huge and taking care of business so new things can be made is sort of in his wheelhouse. He then went on to chop down all the trees in the world (the normal-sized ones) except for the birch, which became sacred and was spared so that birds would have somewhere to live, the better to have empty fields suitable for inventing agriculture in, which he does with magical barley seeds so that humanity can eventually eat.

In another story, we get a good old-fashioned bard-off when talented divine minstrel Joukahainen hears tell of Vainamoinen's incredible singing and poetic abilities, and decides to go challenge him to decide who the best musician truly is. His parents, especially his mother (who is smarter than anyone else in her family, apparently) try to discourage him, pointing out that Vainamoinen is also a super powerful magician who is going to totally ruin Joukahainen for being presumptuous and that this is a terrible idea. Joukahainen is having none of it, however, and declares that he'll beat Vainamoinen so hard that he'll turn his rival to stone with his wicked awesome lyrics.

Vainamoinen is just driving his sled around his home country generally minding his own business, so he's somewhat surprised when Joukahainen comes driving over the hill, literally causing sparks and fire from his speed, and intentionally rams him so that both sleds and horses are tangled up together, apparently on the theory that Vainamoinen won't be able to leave without participating in poetry combat first. Vainamoinen is peeved and yells at Joukahainen for his terrible driving skills, and Joukahainen demands to know his heritage, which mostly just makes Vainamoinen say the equivalent of "You're basically a baby, don't challenge me until you reach puberty, please."

But challenge he does! Joukahainen declares that he's much wiser and better and barding than Vainamoinen because age doesn't matter when it comes to talent, and demands, literally, a "war of wizard words." Vainamoinen responds by basically saying, "I mean, you challenged me so this is happening, but you're going to lose so hard."

There is much trash-talking, with Joukahainen suggesting several themes for the contest and Vainamoinen making fun of all of them as inappropriate, and then Joukahainen demanding that they just fight with swords instead and Vainamoinen refusing because he's not here for that, and then finally Vainamoinen starts busting out his awesome verse after Joukahainen is reduced to calling him a coward just to get him to participate. And since this is a wizards' duel, by the time he's done Joukahainen has already had his feet turned to stone by the power of the song, and takes a moment to reflect on how his mother kind of warned him about this.

Joukahainen then has to spend quite a lot of the story trying to come up with a bribe to get Vainamoinen to un-stone him and let him go home; when just praising Vainamoinen's powers and admitting he was wrong to challenge him doesn't work, he tries offering him magic weapons, magic boats and magic horses, all of which Vainamoinen says he already has plenty of because he can just make those things. Then he tries more old-fashioned bribery subjects, including gold and land, which Vainamoinen doesn't even really bother to refuse properly because he's pretty sure he invented those things in the first place. Finally, in desperation, Joukahainen promises to give Vainamoinen his sister Aino as a wife, and the old magician agrees and lets him go home to get that moving.

Joukahainen has clearly not gotten any better at figuring out what his parents would tell him to do, because he goes home weeping and wailing about the trade he's made only to find his mother, who had always secretly hoped Vainamoinen would marry her daughter anyway, saying, "Shut up, fool, that's the best possible marriage your sister could ever have, start planning the wedding already." Unfortunately, no one asked Aino, though, and like most women unfairly handed off to old men with no say in the matter, she is not thrilled by the idea of marrying a decrepit old stranger just because her brother can't handle his impulse control problems.

After refusing her mother's attempts to console her and convince her that this is really a good match, Aino goes out to do some chores in the woods, where Vainamoinen shows up and absolutely proves all her misgivings correct by being a creepy old man who pops out of the trees and tells her she's pretty and should wear pretty things for him. Because she is not about to be the victim of harassment in her own woods, Aino takes off all the pretty flowers and jewelry she was wearing, throws them on the ground and tells Vainamoinen she refuses to have anything to do with him. At home, her family tries again to convince her that she should totally just deal with being married to Vainamoinen, in spite of her protestations that she doesn't want to be enslaved to an old man who creeps on her in the woods for the rest of her life, and they stay on her case so long that eventually she gets fed up, goes to the shore, and swims out into the sea until she drowns.

Vainamoinen eventually hears the news when the voices of nature and the animals repeat the story, and thus learns a valuable lesson about hopefully not being a huge jerkface to the next woman he is interested in. He's pretty upset and not about to let the situation rest there, however, not with all these cosmic powers he has, so he boats out to where Aino died and goes fishing in an attempt to find evidence or comfort in the area. There he catches a magical salmon, which turns out to be Aino reincarnated or in another form, and is pretty irritated when she makes fun of him and asks him if he wants to go ahead and get a marriage bed set up for her to come be a fish in. She also says that she is transforming into a water spirit, like the other female water nymphs in the area, but that since the second time she met him he tried to gut and eat her with a fishing knife, he has really blown all the chances he could possibly have had with her.

Vainamoinen is generally pretty terrible at interpersonal relationships, so this is not the last time he will prove that he is awesome at cosmic magic but total rubbish at being nice to other people. He caps the entire episode off by waking his mother up to cry about it until she sends him off to go look for a new girlfriend elsewhere.

There are many other stories of Vainamoinen's exploits, including his building of enchanted relics and structures, his awesome musical celebration of the milestones of the other gods, and his eventual exile from the world when he condemns an innocent baby to death and said baby turns out to be the magical fated king of Finland. Like many other creator gods, he's generally benevolent and responsible for a lot of important and useful things existing and being used by mortals and gods alike; but his creations can also be used for irresponsible or evil ends, and he often gets so wrapped up in his projects that he accidentally does things like starting wars or causing disasters without meaning to. Creators always have to live with the idea that their creations can be turned toward malevolent goals, and Vainamoinen is a great example of the fact that the neutral power to make new things cannot control what happens to those things later.

In case you were wondering how to pronounce his name, with all those diaereses and long vowels, here's a sample of a Finnish person pronouncing the name, courtesy of Forvo:

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Devotional Domain: Hindu Divinity

So, I came home from an intensely long day of work where the air conditioning was stuck on high and we were all freezing to death, and I had to run five-hour training workshops for a bunch of colleagues, and I was pretty exhausted, so I came in the door and said, "Hey, I'm going to just microwave some leftover pizza and fall down, is that okay with you?" And John replied, "Sure. Oh, remember that I offhandedly told everyone that you would be writing Monday posts about Devotional Domains now and you didn't do one. See you later, gotta go!"

So after the numb staring at the front door for a minute, I recovered the will to live and here I am! Please pardon this post's lateness. It is totally my fault. Maybe slightly John's fault. Definitely our fault, anyway.

So, a while ago, we explained what the Devotional Domain is - unlike the other Domains, it's focused not on the universal cosmic powers that gods and heroes of many different pantheons exhibit, but on the specific cultural beliefs and practices of each pantheon's supporting religion. There's a world of difference between what the ancient Greeks believed their gods represented and what kinds of religious rituals were appropriate for them, and what the Norse or Hindu or Egyptian religions believed in the same areas; and likewise, there should be a difference when it comes to what Heroes from different traditions can do!

We've seen people wondering if the Devotional Domain gets to have Spheres - different areas of influence or paths of powers - within it, the same way the other Domains do, and the answer is yes, it does! The Devotional Domain has three Spheres: Divinity, which contains powers over the hero themself and their ability to become more divine in keeping with their patron's mythology; Ritual, which contains powers related to performing the sacred ceremonies and actions traditionally performed in honor of their patron's pantheon; and Theology, which contains powers related to the fundamentally important concepts and ideals of their patron's religion.

However, the beginning core rulebook for Hero's Journey features only one of those Spheres. It's not because we don't love Devotional powers or want your Heroes to be as divinely unique when it comes to their pantheon of choice - quite the contrary, but for the reasons of space constraints and initial simplicity, we're going to start with one and expand in the future. Your Heroes will have access to the Divinity Sphere right out of the gate, so that they can explore what it means to be a hero and eventually even a god of their patron's pantheon.

I saw a request for us to talk about what players might see in the Devotional Domain for Hindu Heroes, so let's talk about the major ideas behind their Divinity Sphere: avatara and deity manifestation.

Hindu gods and heroes are very often strongly connected to the idea of avatara, literally descents, which refers to times that the gods intentionally take on different forms in order to perform various different important quests or fill roles that would normally be outside their areas of expertise. Avatara of the gods can be divine creatures, monsters, powerful animals, or new deities in their own right; in fact, many of the famous heroes of Hindu myth, like Rama and Sita, are themselves avatara of gods and go on adventures and do important things in their own right.

Similar to the idea of avatara is the concept of different manifestations or incarnations of various gods, who can take on, become or even create new personas as they need to, like Parvati emanating the goddess Durga from herself at need, and Durga later emanating Kali when the need was most dire. These deities are sometimes considered completely separate gods of their own, who act independently and can even interact with the god that they came from; other times, they are personas that a god takes on temporarily in times of great need, which are part of them but appear only when it is important and otherwise leave the deity to fulfill their usual roles. All Hindu gods are technically manifestations of Brahman, the infinite consciousness and divinity that is the only true reality, so in some sense every god and every hero that represents them is an avatara of Brahman itself.

Taking on new forms or manifesting as an avatara is most often the province of gods, which of course your Heroes are not (at least, not at the beginning of the game!). However, powers that involve this idea are not out of the question for Hindu characters, who may be themselves avatara of other figures without losing any of their own individuality. You might see Divinity Blessings for Hindu Heroes that involve revealing their connection to greater divine forces that they represent, calling upon powers and personality in times of need that they do not normally have, and at high levels even creating independent avatara of their own to go forth and act on their behalf.

We can't give you a thousand details right now, but trust that we're excited about this and hope you will be, too! Some of our major concerns include keeping this set of powers relevant to Heroes who represent some of the older Vedic gods who appear as avatara less frequently than do some of their compatriots, finding ways that Heroes who are still very mortal in their power to still partake of the powers of their patron's pantheon, and keeping them from getting too complicated or difficult for Heroes to use (being multiple people might be par for the course for the Hindu gods, but those of us more mortal might have a harder time keeping track of things!).

Feel free to let us know on the forums what pantheon's powers you might like to hear about next, and to sling any questions Cameron's way. Until next time!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekly Update 9.18

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.

Small update this week, John and Anne have been diving into feedback from this past weekend’s testing session. Work continues on the player chapter, but mostly this week has been devoted to working through testing feedback.

But, the update is also short because I had a bunch of questions to ask in this week’s meeting, so without further ado here is my mini questionado...

How many Blessings/Bonuses/Steps will be present in each Talent?
As it stands now there are 20 “steps” per talent, what these “steps” are going to be called is still being finalized.

Is it possible for two characters that focus on the same Talent to do different things?
Two characters focusing on the same talent, will have access to the same powers, there are not "specs" within a given talent. That being said, with all the options within Aspects it is very unlikely that two characters are going to develop in the exact same way.

Will there be Blessings that do the same thing in different Talents?
Yes, there are blessings that do similar (but not the same) things in different Aspects. In a previous blog post it was mentioned that you could potentially intimidate someone via powers in the Lover, Leader, or Warrior Aspects. The outcome of the use of these abilities would be similar, but the power used would not be the exact same.

Is it possible to have every single bonus on the Web of Talent?
Yes, this is possible, but it'd take a while.

How often will a character be acquiring new bonuses and powers?
Generally you should be able to buy something after every game, but you might have to save for a big purchase over a game or two.

Is there a limit to the number of Sphere a character can take?
Nope, you can have powers in every sphere.

Will mastery of a Sphere affect the appearance of a character?
There might be powers within a sphere that could allow you to change your appearance, but just gaining mastery of a sphere does not change your appearance.

Does mastery of one Spheres hinder the mastery of others?
Nope, the goal is for you to make whatever hero you want to.

Is it possible to have every single power in a Sphere?
Yes, but it will take a long time.

Will the different level of power limit the character progression?
The power levels are Mortal, Immortal and Divine. There will be gating mechanics that will halt progression between these levels. Passing through these gates will be a collaboration between a player and the GM.

Will worship have an effect on characters?
When your character becomes divine they will have worshipers but the number of worshipers will not automatically have an effect the characters. Devotional domain powers will potentially involve worshipers though.

Is there a way to replenish the Labor pool?
Labors are broken into three types: episode, chapter, and saga, They refresh based on their name, episode labors will refresh every episode and so on. An episode could be understood as a single scene, a chapter would be a single play session, and saga would be a collection of play sessions.

How the different pantheons interact with each other?
This will generally be up to your GM, in the core setting they don’t interact much. They know about each other, but are too caught up in their own politics to pay much attention to one another.

Will the visual effect of the powers be fixed in the rules or will the player be allowed to describe his power as he likes?
For the most part, the use of a power is part of your hero's story so feel free to embellish what it looks like within reason. Improvised visual effects cannot alter of the effects of the power. For example, as you summon a fireball your hair appears to ignite in a wreath of flame, you look very cool, but your “ignited” hair won't set anything on fire or do any additional damage.

How many octopuses will be present in the book?
I haven't seen any artwork with an octopus yet, but I've heard at least one, but it may be hidden. Maybe there will be octopuses in the second book, it’s a mystery.

Will there be such a thing as 'Passive Blessings'? As in, we have seen small previews of the Web of Fate, and they appear to have bonuses to the Aspects and Talents, but I mean things like 'your illusions now last twice as long' or 'fire attacks do more damage' (off the top of my head) or something similar?
Yes they're called augments and there are two per tier of a talent. Some examples that I got were: making powers last longer, having powers be usable more often, or have more powerful effects.

Will all the HJ products be released simultaneously, or will it be possible that some things may come out before others? 
Unfortunately due to fairness and the cost of international shipping everything will be released simultaneously.

That’s it for this week, next Monday look forward to talk on Devotional Domains starting with the Deva!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Game Update, 3rd week of September

Its been two weeks so every game has had a chance to get some action in. However, my memory is a bit fuzzy on the specifics of the games so they might be shorter than normal. Also, sunday had two games, so thats all muddled in my brain.

Hero game! Gangs of NYC. Saturday Morning.
The group is currently planning on using schematics given to them by a group of mysterious benefactors to build a jet that will let them escape new york.

Seif and Michael have just had another run in with Nergal and have fled custody.
Corey is healing in the deepest sewers guarding the forge and tools that Michael has crafted.
Valentina and Nic are heading to a meeting with a mystical fan of theirs that wants to invest in their magic act/escape plan.

As the guys escaped Nergal, there was a large explosion from the south where Nergal resides that rocked the city.

Corey wakes up and decides to travel the sewers in search of the New York Public Library. He made a deal with the spirits that live there which he doesn't think he is going to be able to fulfill and he wants to see if he can arrange something. He gets a little lost on the way there however and eventually runs into a anthropomorphic rat claiming to be the king of the sewers. The king of the sewers shows Corey the way to the library and tells him to come visit him in his throne room sometime.

Seif drops Michael off at the forge and michael gets to working again. Seif heads out to find Corey. He finds him halfway to the library and they begin a ridiculous series of arguments and events that only Seif and Corey are able to pull off.
They argue about how libraries work, and if Corey needs a library card or does corey's plant-like body mean that a library card won't help anything. Do they need to hunt the sewers for monsters? Is the rat-king a monster? Should they hunt this normal, but oversized alligator? Should Corey help fight it. Should they skin it even though more are coming and Corey is wounded? Should they take other trophies from it? They've skinned enough for some clothes for the rat king. Should they make armor for the rat king instead? Corey got eaten alive by another alligator, is he dead? While taking Corey home, get attacked by a cyclops. Should we fight it? When we flee, should we make sure to lead it through the rat king's sewers destroying them?

Back at the underground sewer-forge, Michael is also attacked by a cyclops. But he convinces it to clean up the mess it made attacking him and start building with because it loves him. They have a cuddling and crafting relationship until Corey and Seif arrive. They argue some about who the boss is and if they should kill the cyclops. The cyclops wants to kill them. Michael controls it but there is much bickering. Eventually Seif and Corey lay down for some rest. Seif reads a book by "corey-light" and Michael and the cyclops craft things. Afterwards Michael and the cyclops have some sexy time off in the sewers.

Valentina and Nic get to the New York Costume and Halloween Adventures, where they are meeting Henry, the attractive, heterochromatic store owner. But they find the doors locked and when they break in, no one is answering them. Valentina decides that this must be a date type meeting for Nic and leaves. She heads up town to find Grand Vizier Bacon. She had heard he was staying at the Rainbow Room. They have a clandestine meeting in the Rainbow Room's restroom. Bacon updates her on the cat kingdom wars. There had been some deaths in battle, and Bacon wished to start using torture techniques such as tying an enemy cat down, and putting food just out of reach or "running the vacuum." Valentina approved the torture and began planning some Northern Kingdom enemy combatant captures with Bacon. Then they snuck out and headed back to see if Nic's date was over.

Instead of finding a date, Nic found a very hurried Henry who was being distant and aloof. Henry was making up an emergency about his mother being sick and him having to leave the city immediately. He said he'd be back in three days to talk about their performance, but Nic knew he was lying. Nic tried to convince him that he'd given lines like that a thousand times as well, and that Henry didn't need to pretend to leave the city, he could just be honest. But Henry was definitely spooked by something and he hurried Nic out of the building.

Nic was accustomed to time moving incredibly fast when he was with Henry, so he wasn't surprised when 8 hours had gone by while he was talking. Valentina pulled up on her motorcycle just in time for a cyclops to come bursting out of the earth. She quickly explained that this is what it was like when the dragons attacked a few days ago. Nic lept onto the motorcycle and let his divine beauty shine through so that the cyclops wouldn't dare touch him. Valentina gave Nic the "wheel?" of the motorcycle and became invisible on the back of it. The cyclops, dazed and confused, went into the Halloween store.

So far this was going horribly. Nic and Valentina took a break a few blocks away and called in to the man they were hoping was going to bankroll their project. They got his secretary. Apparently there were horrible collapses in the downtown sewers that caused catastrophic building destruction. Their benefactor is an insurance mogul and is now swamped with work. The secretary, who loves Nic and Valentina's work said he'd get them an appointment as soon as humanly possible, but that it couldn't be soon.

Devastated, Nic breaks down and starts planning a weekend of alcoholism and meaningless sex. Valentina was already concocting a plan to get the money by robbing the charity they just started, and Nic being a drunk mess fits nicely into that plan.

God Game! Sundays!
God game is super crazy and complicated right now. After next game, the fate moot will be over(hopefully) and I'll try to do a synopsis of the insanity that has taken place.

Demigod Game! Eastern Promises, Wednesdays

Three friends and a charismatic slaver travel the world solving moon related problems for their patrons.

Having just succeeded in Paris, they head to Egypt. They have a ruined temple to Hathor that they have been slowly fixing up here and they're trying to convert the populace of the local city. Last time they were here, a magical spring appeared in the temple with an oversized crocodile, named Padma(yes, that is one of the character's names as well. They named it, not me). IT has been quite some time since they were here though, and the spring has flooded the temple and the surrounding desert. The temple has a giant crocodile sized hole in it, and they find themselves swimming outside in 12 feet of water. Whenever they arrive here, they are always greeted by frost giants, this time is no different.

While they're fighting the giants Padma(croc) attacks them as well(its very hungry). Padma was a gift from Sobek(a misguided one) and so they aren't sure how to deal with it. But after Padma the croc attacks Padma the person, Shadan flips his ship and murders it with a powerful surge of plant energy. Then they have a problem. Padma decides the best way to handle this faux pa, is to give the crocodile a proper burial and mummification. Shadan begins his search underwater for appropriate funerary items and tools. Padma tells Mohini she thinks Mohini would be best at performing the ritual, but Mohini "pulls caste" and assures them a woman of her station cannot touch and dissect dead things. So it is up to lionel. He begrudgingly handles the intricate ceremony and complicated surgery like a pro. By the end they have a skinned croc, a roaring fire cooking meats, and 4 properly filled canopic jars(and also a giant pile of brains they weren't sure what to do with).

Hrmm.....that episode of Eastern Promises was summed up VERY quickly. I guess the giant fight took a while....and there was a great deal of hemming and hawing about what to do. Players let me know if I left out anything important.

Also I just realized that NO games were playing this week so next week I'll have nothing to write about here. Maybe I'll talk about the playtest from here in greensboro?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

He Who is Swift as the Mind

I know John said no blogs this week, but I had already written this one, so you guys get it anyway (albeit on the wrong day)! Today, someone writes in to say Hanuman seems awesome. Let's hear about him! You are so right, friend - Hanuman is awesome!

Hanuman is a badass monkey warrior god who cannot possibly be anything but a barrel of fun. He's hard to classify; you can't really call him "god of X specific thing" the way you can some other deities, because depending on which scriptures he appears in and what area he is worshiped in, he might be considered a god of guardianship, of warfare and athletics, or of religious devotion as exemplified by his dedication to Rama, his bosom companion and an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Regardless of exactly what you consider his most important representation, he is undeniably popular, with legends of his exploits retold and reenacted with great verve all over India and in Hindu communities worldwide.

As far as what Hanuman does, he is a delightful mix of simian mischief and righteously pious spiritualism. Sometimes he is doing ridiculous things such as you would expect of any super-powered monkey, like trying (and almost succeeding, much to universal consternation) to eat the sun because it looks like a delicious mango or repeatedly blowing up the bridges built by the hero Arjuna until the latter decided he might have to commit suicide thanks to his substandard bridge-building capabilities. But at other times he is being the holiest and most pious of people, allowing himself to be intentionally captured and tortured in order to get information and deliver messages from Rama and forcing Shani, lord of misfortune, to allow all who worship Hanuman devoutly to escape his malevolent influence.

There are a ton of stories about Hanuman doing awesome stuff, so we'll have to pick and choose, but let's start with his conception and birth. Although there are a few different versions of his parentage, he is popularly considered to be the son of Vayu, god of wind, air and breath, who responded to the prayers of Anjana, an apsara woman who had married a monkey chieftain, to help her conceive. It's also very common to consider Hanuman to be an avatar of Shiva, god of destruction, who incarnated on earth in order to help out his fellow god Vishnu's avatar Rama, so occasionally it's said that Shiva directed Vayu to grant Anjana's wish in order to make sure his avatar was born. Just as Vishnu and Shiva are often inseparable and helpful to one another, balancing each others' powers as they do, so Hanuman and Rama need one another to succeed and form an unbeatable team of heroism.

But not yet. First, Hanuman has some serious growing pains to get through, starting with his solar escapades, which begin when, as a child, he sees the sun in the sky and mistakes it for a ripe, juicy mango. He decides to dedicate himself to eating that mango, and in his quest to grab it collides with Rahu, the disembodied head of an asura who is the lord of eclipses, whom he then beats thoroughly for trying to keep him away from his treat. When Rahu complains to Indra, king of the gods, that the scheduled eclipse he was supposed to cause now isn't happening because of this troublesome monkey child, Indra strikes him with a thunderbolt and permanently scars him in order to punish him.

Unfortunately for everyone in the universe, Vayu responds to this attack on his son by withdrawing all air from the world, which begins suffocating all life in very short order. Indra is forced to take his thunderbolt back and allow Hanuman to return to consciousness to prevent everyone from dying of asphyxiation, and then furthermore he and all the other gods have to provide Hanuman with magical gifts and boons to convince Vayu that everything is okay now and everyone should be allowed to have the privilege of breathing again. Among other powers, Hanuman receives invulnerability and incredibly long life, immunity to fire, water, lightning and all weapons, the ability to change his size at will, super speed, and the ability to cross oceans without any kind of aid.

As you might expect, however, no one is really thrilled about having an adolescent monkey god on the loose who not only already tried to eat the sun but is now basically indestructible and impossible to stop, so he is also cursed by the sages of his home forest to have no knowledge of his own ridiculous powers, so that he only whips them out in times of dire need or when someone reminds him that he can use them.

Hanuman's obsession with the sun doesn't end there, however; after giving up on eating it, he decides that he should instead learn from it, since with his newfound powers of wisdom he realizes that the sun god Surya is a teacher of near-infinite wisdom. Surya wants nothing to do with Hanuman's shenanigans and refuses, saying that he has to be constantly driving the sun in his chariot and couldn't afford the time to stop so that Hanuman could have proper lessons, which Hanuman responds to by making himself the size of the entire sky so that Surya can always be teaching him no matter where he goes. This is the beginning of Hanuman's shift toward responsibility, however; Surya is so pleased by his persistence (and his ability to use his powers for clever problem-solving) that he agrees and teaches him all his wisdom, and thereafter Hanuman is greatly enriched and becomes the divine advisor to Surya's son Sugriva, who is also one of the monkey sages of the woods and eventually becomes king over them.

This is all backstory to the most well-known stories of Hanuman, which are the tales of his friendship and service with Rama, avatar of Vishnu and demon-slaying hero-king. In Ramayana, he immediately recognizes Rama for the divine power that he is and dedicates himself to supporting and aiding him, starting with getting the rest of the monkey people on his side to help him in the coming war and most importantly helping Rama to rescue Sita, his wife and the avatar of the goddess Lakshmi, who has been kidnapped by the evil rakshasa king Ravana.

Since everyone is looking far and wide for Sita, Hanuman is with a group of his own people when he finds that the trail leads to a vast ocean which no one can cross. Thanks to his curse, he's depressed because he feels that he can't possibly succeed now, until the other monkeys remind him that crossing oceans is actually one of his powers. Once he realizes this, he heads across the ocean, encountering several obstacles including the sea monster Surasa who challenges him to fly into her gaping mouth before he can continue on and then says she was only joking when he makes himself incredibly tiny so he can dart in and out of her mouth without being caught, until eventually arriving in Lanka, kingdom of the rakshasa.

Once he makes it to Lanka, Hanuman finds Sita and attempts to rescue her, but is thwarted when she refuses to leave, explaining that it would be a blow to Rama's pride as a man if he weren't the one to rescue her. Hanuman has to content himself with instead waging an extensive terrorism campaign throughout the capital city, killing rakshasa, blowing up buildings and generally wreaking havoc, until one of Ravana's sons manages to corner him with the legendary Brahmastra, a weapon that destroys even the local environment when discharged. Of course, Hanuman is immune to weapons so he is totally unfazed by the nuclear bomb of the ancient Hindu epics being pointed at his face, but he figures that since the rakshasa don't know it won't hurt him, he can play along, be taken prisoner on purpose, and see if he can do anything useful from within the palace. Once "captured" and taken before Ravana, he informs him that Rama demands Sita's return and will agree to forgive him if he does so with no further fuss.

Of course, Ravana doesn't do so with no further fuss, and has his soldiers set fire to Hanuman's tail in order to punish him for being insulting (although they have a very difficult time of it, since Hanuman keeps secretly growing his tail longer so that they can't find the end of it or make much headway in burning it). Eventually he allows them to set it on fire, but only so he can then run through the streets of the city burning everything down with it, which is probably not what Ravana had in mind when he pronounced the sentence.

Hanuman's devotion to Rama and Sita is among his most legendary qualities; even later, after they are reunited and everyone is having a good time celebrating, he continues to impress everyone with his undying fixation on them. When, at Rama's coronation, Sita gave Hanuman a necklace of beautiful beads to thank him for helping them, he immediately broke it and then spend several minutes peering carefully into each bead; when the other guests asked him what on earth he was doing, he told them that he was checking to make sure Rama and Sita were inside each bead, because if they weren't, the gift was totally worthless to him and everyone else on earth.

And when, as you might imagine, the other guests didn't believe him and said he was being ridiculous, he ripped his own chest open so everyone could see Rama and Sita living inside it in his heart, because if there is one thing Hanuman does not joke about, it is how much he is all about loving and supporting these two people. And then he went home and carved the entirety of Ramayana and all the deeds of Rama on the Himalaya Mountains. With his fingernails.

There are so many more stories of Hanuman, including the ones where he pranks his brother in Mahabharata or gets on the sun's case again when a prediction that a friend of his would die when dawn occurred caused him to tackle Surya and hold him down until the guy could get medical attention to prevent the sun from coming up, and many more beyond those as well. He's endlessly entertaining as well as spiritually powerful - if you're ever looking for a template for successful Herohood, Hanuman is a perfect one to start with!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Phew that was a long week!

Two very eventful and informative playtests happened this weekend. Saturday we watched 7 local friends hold a playtest session and on Sunday our Canadian counterparts ran the same playtest game. Playtesting an RPG is a strange beast. You write an adventure built around certain things so that the players will use the powers and test the rolls that you need them to, but players are always far too inventive and surprising for that. So a lot of the things we wanted tested didn't quite happen, and we got some great notes on things we didn't think we particularly wanted tested. We worked hard to not but in on the game we were watching, and I was not ready for how stressful it would be to watch someone else play the game you have created. It was very fun, very exciting....and just incredibly stressful.

We now have pages and pages of notes and player feedback and we are ready to dig through them. Based on feedback we're already planning for some changes, and we have a list started of things that seemed to need some tweaks but we weren't quite sure how to tweak them. As we get deeper into the notes and start really going over things we'll of course let you know if any changes happen to things you already know about.

I worked myself into a sinus infection(thats what we get for living in the area of the country with the HIGHEST pollen count. Its true, google it!), so I'll be taking a couple days off, and I'm urging Anne to as well(we'll see how lucky I am with that) so that we can relax a bit and come back to all these playtest notes with a full head of steam.

We have another Canadian playtest coming up with weekend, and soon Stephen will be having a playtest in Atlanta. So hopefully over the next couple weeks we'll have even more people getting their fists on the playtest version and giving us some notes. With a mild break from the stress of working, we'll be available to talk more on the forums if people had some questions or just wanted to talk shop or mythology. We'll still meet with Cameron and he'll have a rundown for you on Friday as we get back to work and will be on full Blog swing again next monday with some awesome Devotional Blogging(starting with Devas as requested).

As always thank you everyone for your love and support. And a huge thanks to our brave playtesters this weekend.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Testing Today!

Short post today to let everyone know that today is the first big playtest day. From 12-5 there will be multiple games happening, and there will be twitter updates throughout the day. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weekly Update 9.12

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

This week kicked off with both John and Anne acquiring a lovely illness. Both of them have been valiantly working through it whilst they were dying. Anne has gotten the novel back from the editor, and is making a final pass on revisions before it gets handed back for final review.

John is furiously working on the first major playtest session this Saturday. The goals of this session as as follows:

  1. Ensuring that the Aspects, as described align with player expectations.
  2. Making sure that Purpose and Inspiration make sense to players and GMs.
  3. Seeing if Lovers and Leaders feel overburdened with Purpose and Inspiration.
  4. Analyzing the flow of combat and how different groups approach combat.

John is also looking forward to observing how other GMs approach running games with the system.

Quick art update, work is being done on the Hindu cosmology map, though I confess that I am much like John Snow in the matter of what the map depicts, but I am looking forward to finding out more when the book is in my hands.


Onto your questions, this one was asked privately. Feel free to shoot me question via PM, though I will continue scanning the forums.

Can you describe the use of magic in the world of Hero's Journey?

So this has two main different interpretations, if we didn't hit what you were looking for in our answer, please let me know.

If you're thinking about magic in terms of control of the elements, that will be done via the Elemental and Celestial Spheres.

If you’re thinking about altering fate, "magic" could occur in three different areas. The Sage is able to act as a seer, gleaning information about the future. The Trickster on the other hand can manipulate how events potentially unfold. Finally, the Fortune Sphere will allow users to play with the odds, making sure that they get tipped how they want.

That being said to a degree all Aspect and Sphere abilities could be considered as a form of magic, given they are all supernatural.

That’s it for this week, next week look forward to a bunch of questions and a recap of the events of the playtest!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lovely Ladies

Okay, so I am super horribly sick with the flu right now (thanks, plague-bearing players who know who they are) and wasn't able to get a blog post up for today.

But we missed a blog post for Awesome Mythological Ladies Wednesday the other week and I hated that! So instead, here's just a bunch of awesome artwork of goddesses from around the world to enjoy, and I promise to pick back up with the long essays about erasure in mythic history next week.

Amaterasu, empress of heaven, ancestor of the imperial line and goddess of the sun! (Japanese)

Astarte, goddess of love, warfare and seafoam! (Canaanite)

Durga, invincible goddess of warfare and power! (Hindu)

Freyja, goddess of sorcery, beauty, love and war! (Norse)

Ilmatar, virginal goddess of the air, sky and natural world! (Finnish)

Ix Chel, goddess of floods, creation and disease! (Maya)

Mama Ocllo, goddess of fertility and family! (Inca)

Milda, goddess of freedom, love and desire! (Lithuanian)

Na'ashjéii Asdzáá, goddess of creation, stars and spiders! (Dine)

Nüwa, serpentine goddess of creation and the natural order of the world! (Han Chinese)

Olumeye, goddess of ritual and messenger to the gods! (Yoruba)

Seshat, goddess of writing, recording and libraries! (Egyptian)

And a million more, but I need to go sleep off my exhaustion and fever. See you all next time!

Site Down Temporarily

Hi, folks!

This is just a quick post to let you know that we're aware that the main site is down, and that our fabulous webmaster Stephen is working to get it back up. I'm not sure exactly what made it have this hiccup, but we'll keep you updated as we know more.

In the meantime, keep on being awesome and we'll see you soon!

EDIT: And we're back up!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hail to the Day, to Night and her daughter!

It's time to get all northern European with this question about Norse cosmology: Hey guys, sorry to bother, but I have been wondering, is there any relation between Mani and Nott? Also between Sol and Dagr? They seem to do the same thing, or am I missing something?

They're definitely separate figures with different functions, but I can see where you could get understandably confused! Mani is the Norse personification of the moon, accompanied by his sister Sol, the personification of the sun; conversely, Nott is the primordial goddess of night, and Dagr the god of the day. The moon and sun certainly appear during the night and day respectively, but they're just a part of what makes up either period of time, and have their own gods just as those concepts do in other mythologies. For example, in Egypt, Nut is the goddess of night but there are several discrete gods of the moon, including Thoth and Iah, who are obviously separate deities, and likewise in Greek mythology there are separate deities for the day itself (Hemera, ancient personification of daytime) and the sun that rises during it (Helios and Apollo, most notably).

Essentially, the answer is that the moon is part of the night and the sun part of the day, but that doesn't mean that they're the same thing, just that they're linked concepts with their own deities representing them. So, let's talk about these neat folks!

Norse mythology is cosmologically vague, like a lot of other ancient European religions; it tells us about several things that exist and what their names are, but seldom describes them in thorough detail or gives us much of an idea what those things might have meant to those people who believed in them during their heyday. Only a few lines from ancient Norse mythological sagas tell us about these deities, but even those few lines are enough to be evocative (and to spawn centuries of battles royale between disagreeing scholars. Northern European mythological studies is a shark tank).

Dagr appears in the Sigrdrifumal portion of the Poetic Edda, wherein the valkyrie Sigrdrifa prays to him along with several other deities and hails him as the father of many sons, and also in Vafthrudnismal, where he is mentioned only in passing as the son of Delling, the personified god of the dawn. The Prose Edda expands on him by confirming Delling as his father and Nott as his mother, and describes him as radiant and fair like the rest of the Aesir; it also explains that Odin gave to Dagr a horse named Skinfaxi ("shining mane"), so that he can ride the horse around the sky every day and illuminate the world with its bright and golden mane.

Theories abound when it comes to trying to connect other Norse stories to Dagr, with the most popular being the idea that the famous Norse hero Svipdagr ("sudden day") is actually the same god, and his adventures in Svipdagsmal actually stories of his interactions with several of the other Aesir including Odin and Freyja.

As in many other cultures, Dagr as the day-god has the important job of constantly traveling the skies to make sure that there is light during the day. This is where it's easy to wonder if Dagr might be the same as Sol, because she, too, performs this sky-chariot job - but she's a completely different deity with different character, described separately in the same texts.

Sol's name means literally "sun", and she is the daughter of an enigmatic god named Mundilfari, possibly a deity of time and seasons (which would make sense since his children are the moon and sun!). Sol appears in the Poetic Edda as well, where she is described as not knowing where her home is in the disorder at the beginning the universe, which causes her to wander without any guidance until time is eventually set in order. Her travels, along with Mani's, are said to help provide humanity with the means to measure time, and Odin mentions when describing her that she is constantly pursued by the terrible wolf Sköll, a child of Fenrir, and that he will catch her at Ragnarök and devour her, plunging the world into darkness. He also notes that she will give birth to a daughter just before she dies, however, who will take over as the new sun when the world is reborn after the battle.

Sol also appears in the Merseburg Incantation (where she's called "Sunna", from which we get our modern English word sun) performing healing charms over Baldr's horse as she travels with several of the other Aesir. And in the Prose Edda, she is given a backstory in which it is explained that she and Mani were so beautiful when they were born that they were named "sun" and "moon", but that the other gods considered this to be unforgivably prideful, so they were banished to the skies to actually fulfill the roles they were named for.

Her brother Mani (literally "moon", like all the other literal names on this list) shares most of the same information with her; he, too, keeps time for humanity by driving the moon across the sky in his chariot, was also exiled there for being too beautiful and prideful, and is also fleeing a wolf, the terrible Hati, who will devour him when the inevitable apocalypse comes. He controls the waxing and waning of the moon at will - interesting, since for many moon gods this is something that has to be explained by a separate myth - and is accompanied by two children, Hjuki and Bil, whom legend says he kidnapped from the earth while they were drawing water. No one is really sure exactly what's up with Hjuki and Bil; one theory suggests that they might be personifications of the spots visible on the moon's surface, while another suggests that they represent Mars and Venus, the brightest stars in the sky.

No mention is made of Mani having a son to take over for him as the moon when he dies, but most scholars guess that this is implied, since otherwise humanity would be ill-equipped to start over in the new, post-apocalypse world with only a sun to regulate their lives.

And then finally we come to Nott ("night"), the personification of the nighttime hours who shuts the world down for the evening as opposed to her son's time during the day. Nott and Delling together producing Dagr makes cosmological sense; night unites with dawn to give birth to day, a quick description of the progression of time over the course of the day. Nott rides Hrimfaxi ("frosty mane"), the magical horse given to her by Odin, and draws night across the sky with her as she goes, while the foam from the horse's exertions falls to the earth and becomes the dew that apears on the grass in the morning.

The dwarf Alviss gives "dream-goddess" as a kenning for her name, probably referring to her role as deity of the night again since sleep and dreams are usually the province of the night for humans. And although she's just as faraway and sparsely described as the other gods in this post, she is more closely linked to the rest of the Aesir by virtue of being the grandmother of Thor through her daughter Jord, the goddess of the earth.

So we definitely do have four different deities riding about the heavens doing celestial things, but they are all distinct and individual figures described at various times in Norse myth. This isn't uncommon in mythology, especially when older gods are replaced by newer more popular ones who do the same jobs, gods are borrowed or absorbed by other nearby people or they specialize in different niches within the same overall idea. But they have their own unique character, so don't be surprised to see one or more of them on your journeys!