Friday, October 31, 2014

Weekly Update 10.31

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Dark Goddesses

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wolves of the Steppes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gods in Popular Culture

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have an awesome day!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Update 10.24

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

So I'm kicking this post off with a teaser poster because I like it when I have things to share. The above image is one of the posters put together by the art department in anticipation of the release of the Hero's Journey. The first poster can be found on the Hero’s Journey Facebook page… here.

So next thing I'm allowed to say is that from now on Fridays will now have a countdown. The countdown is the number of things left before the Hero’s Journey systems are done. It’s a mix of some small things, and some bigger ones. But right now it sits at…

25 Left

I can guarantee that some weeks will move faster than others and that this is not The Final Countdown. I will post this again when we get there. There’s still more work to be done after the systems are complete, but once this hits 0 it will mean all system work is done and ready to go.

So on to last week's accomplishments. First was escaping combat, this has been mentioned before, but now has been hammered out. Escape will not be simply a physical thing, as generally the players who are trying to escape are often those with lower physical abilities. So multiple aspects have a means to escape, and will escape differently. Those aspects that get escape mechanics, will have some of their blessings augmented to help your characters bravely run away.

Also Divine Favor was worked on. The systems surrounding Divine Favor were hinted at in Brent’s preview  have now been finished. Divine Favors are gifts from your patron god and can take various forms; They could be an item, a companion, or something more ephemeral like a a title or a prophecy. Your character will not necessarily get these at character creation, but they will probably have one before you meet the other players in your story. As your character continues their journey, they will receive additional favors.

In reviewing pantheon selection John and Anne felt they had lost a little bit of making pantheon's have a unique flavor. So to correct this, they added Pantheon Specific Blessings. These are small things that help to bring some additional flavor to you selected pantheon. For instance, the Greeks will be able to, on occasion, be able to inspire themselves.

In art news, aside from the poster, the final line art for Lakshmi and Nephthys have been completed!

Next week, Anne and John are heads down knocking items off the list, so I’m going to be hijacking the Monday post to talk about gods in popular culture.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Great Woman of the Night

Today's request for awesome mythic ladies says this: How about you guys talk about the Goddessesof Australia (or Polynesia, whichever you fancy about the moment)? Both together is way too huge an undertaking - there are myriad different religions with different goddesses all across Australia alone, and while Polynesia has many deities in common, the area also has plenty of specific gods indigenous to different islands and faiths - but we can certainly simplify down to talk about a few!

I'm going to take us to New Zealand, because if we're going to specify somewhere in the many amazing mythologies of Polynesia, it might as well be the one that was most likely the original source for many of the myths that later spread east to the other islands! While there are excellent and important goddesses all over Polynesia, I'm thinking of a particular Maori goddess today: Hine, the goddess of night, darkness and the underworld itself.

"Hine" just means "woman", so more often than not this particular goddess will be referred to by longer titles, the most popular being Hine-nui-te-po ("Great Woman of the Night"), Hine-ata-uira ("Woman of the Dawn") and Hine-titama ("Disgusted Woman"). Maori mythology, as well as many other Polynesian religions, often uses this device to distinguish between deities that have similar names or functions but are not actually the same, so that you can tell that Rangi-nui ("sky father") is not necessarily the same as Rangi-roa ("vast sky"), although often they are related in some way. It also sometimes allows gods to change names when they change function or go through some great transformative event; in Hine's case, she ceased to be Hine-ata-uira and became Hine-titama and then Hine-nui-te-po when her happy life was shattered by horrific events, but we'll get to that in a second.

Maori deities often look fearsome in traditional art, since sharp lines, large teeth and warlike glowering are the norm in that style, but even among the other gods, Hine-nui-te-po is generally pretty frightening. As goddess of the underworld, she receives all the dead who were not wicked or unrepentant in life, or who did not break severe religious tapu (prohibitions) that would cause them to instead end up somewhere nastier than under her care. She is generally pretty misanthropic; legend has it that she inflicts bad luck on humans seemingly at random or at least finds it entertaining when bad things happen to them, and that her laughter can be heard in the wilderness celebrating the end of human hopes and dreams that means they are closer to becoming part of her domain.

But she is also generally benevolent to those mortal dead who come under her care; often, she is portrayed as treating them like her own children, kept in the underworld but not mistreated, and she is frequently said to defend them from the depredations of Whiro, another underworld god who personifies evil and misfortune and delights in human suffering. Human beings who are still alive shouldn't bother her, since it's generally understood that she would refuse to let them out of the underworld if they were silly enough to enter it, but on the whole she is one of the kinder powers of the great unknown.

So, if Hine-nui-te-po is generally a nice person, how did she end up in the underworld, and why did she cease to be the carefree young Dawn Woman? The answer is, as it often is in mythology, that some dude was terrible to her - in this case, her father, the powerful creator god Tane.

Tane is possibly the most important god in Maori mythology, or at least definitely among the top three. Among other things, he instigated the separation of Rangi and Papa (sky and earth) so that life between them could flourish, created humanity from sand and gave them life, set the clouds in the sky and the lights in the heavens, and became ancestor to enough of humanity that he is a de facto father figure for the entire universe. This is all well and good, of course, until we get to the part where he's also kind of a terrible person.

Although he had created everything, Tane was lonely and wanted a wife, so after consulting with his mother Papa for instructions, he attempted to marry several of his ancestors and fellow deities, but all such unions only yielded new creations for the world rather than true offspring. After much frustration, he finally created the first of the goddesses, Hine-ahuone ("Earth-Born Woman"). With her he had a daughter, Hine-ata-uira, and decided that since she was so beautiful he would put Hine-ahuone aside and marry her instead. Hine-ata-uira had no idea that her husband was also her father, since he had raised her with the intention of marrying her, so life continued peacefully and they had several children before she eventually thought to ask him why she didn't have any parents.

Tane didn't particularly want to answer this question, most likely because while ancient Maori society had much less restrictive morals about sex, parent-child incest was still a very strict tapu, so he just laughed at her and put her off. Eventually, when she persisted in asking, he pulled a solemn old man act and essentially said, "Yes, who is your father?" with a lot of significant nodding, winking and pointing at the things he had invented, until Hine-ata-uira eventually realized that it was, in fact, him.

Hine-ata-uira took it about as you would expect; she was horrified, and immediately fled the house and ran as far away from Tane as she could, eventually ending up down in the underworld since it was the only place he would not follow her. When he begged her to come back and take care of their children, she told him that this situation was his own fault (Tane has trouble arguing with her on that one), that she would now be known as Hine-nui-te-po, and that she would never be coming back and would instead receive all of Tane's children and descendents to care for them after life was over.

Hine-nui-te-po went on to settle into the underworld, perform the important work of keeping a lid on Whiro's antics and eventually remarry the god Ruaumoko, but alas, her tribulations with guys who really need to learn to keep their hands to themselves were not over. Her second most famous problem is the Polynesian trickster extraordinaire Maui, who in addition to other greatest hits such as "devastatingly injuring the sun god forever" and "almost literally setting the entire world on fire" now decided to add "harassing possibly the most powerful goddess in existence" to his resume.

Maui, while visiting his aged parents, was cautioned by them against ever going to bother Hine-nui-te-po; his mother explained that she had actually forgotten to perform part of the ritual of his baptism at birth and was afraid that it would cause him to die, while his father extolled Hine-nui-te-po's great powers and fearsome appearance and cautioned Maui that it would be foolish to go anywhere near her. Considering Maui's track record, it shouldn't surprise anyone that he saw this as a dare rather than a warning and immediately departed to go to the underworld and look for her. He gathered together one of every bird native to the islands to help guide him and find his way, and eventually made it to the underworld, where he saw Hine-nui-te-po, much larger than himself, asleep in her home.

Maui then decided that, since Hine-nui-te-po was the goddess of death, he should be able to prevent her from ever killing him by passing through her body in the reverse of birth, making himself essentially "never-born" and therefore also never-dying (and also, he confided in his bird friends, he was pretty sure that he would be able to kill her by doing so as well). In what is possibly the most simultaneously reprehensible and poorly-planned move in all of Maori myth, he then made himself tiny (in some versions of the story, turning into a lizard) and crawled into Hine-nui-te-po's vulva, intending to travel up into her womb and then out through her mouth, killing her in her sleep.

The fantail bird that Maui had brought with him was so entertained by the sight that it couldn't help laughing at him, however, which woke Hine-nui-te-po up, and upon discovering that Maui was sexually assaulting her in her sleep, she quite appropriately crushed him to death with her vagina. Thus Maui, the most famous of all Maori heroes, came to an ignoble end, and his assault on her caused Hine-nui-te-po to declare human lifespans all mortal and subject to death after a very short time from that point forward, so we have him to thank for our current mortality rate. At this point in her mythology, it's hard to blame poor Hine for much of this; if anything, her restraint in not just permanently killing everyone is pretty admirable.

Hine-nui-te-po is an example of a goddess whose power is undeniable and universal, and whose importance and reputation have not suffered in spite of the many injustices done to her. No matter what the other gods of the pantheon have thrown at her, Hine-nui-te-po survives, thrives, and destroys the opposition in pursuit of her own benevolent goals. Young Heroes who have the good (or bad?) fortune to encounter her should probably be respectful and avoid in any way irritating her, because she is no longer subordinate to anyone, and she does not tolerate any kind of abuse against her.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

God of Great Fury

How 'bout some discussion of Greek gods? Today, someone asks this one: There are a lot of fictional adaptations of him, so can we talk about Ares, the God of War, and his place in the Hellenistic world?

I think this question is mostly asking about how Ares is usually characterized in Greek myth, and how that might differ from the average fictional adaptation version of him we might see in more modern media, which is a neat subject indeed. Modern fictional versions of Ares often appear as violent bloodthirsty types, rushing headlong into battle even when they shouldn't (in the 2011 movie Immortals, for example) or so rowdy and uncontrolled in their passions that they rebel against even Zeus (as the Marvel comics universe or Wrath of the Titans, the recent sequel to the remake of Clash of the Titans).

And you know what? As a matter of fact, that's not too far from the ancient Greek conception of their god of war, who was not among either their most popular deities or their most well-behaved epic characters. The ancient Greek god of war is a sort of chaotic personification of mayhem, battle-madness and violence, so it shouldn't surprise anyone too much that no one wants to stand super close to him unless things have already gone completely haywire.

Yes, it does say "Artemis" next to him - that's because she's on his left in the original painting.

Ares' name most likely means something along the lines of "disaster", "ruin" or "battle", which is perfectly appropriate since that is basically what he is all about. Ares is characterized as not just good at fighting in Greek myth, but as bloodthirsty, uncontrollable, frenzied and in utter love with destruction and bloodshed; where Ares goes, fierce and vicious fighting follows, which makes him an excellent patron god of warriors who need that kind of unfettered will to destroy their enemies in battle but also renders him a dangerous loose cannon at all other times. In fact, he is often a problem even in battle itself, when he encourages it to go overboard into mad slaughter and ruin when it doesn't need to.

Epithets and descriptions of Ares reflect this general sense of great physical power and intense danger that goes along with it. When the ancient Greek writers extol his virtues, they call him "great of strength", "unwearying", "mighty" and "unconquered"; but they also refer to him with decidedly frightening descriptions as well, including "destroyer of mortals", "gore-defiled", "savage", "mad", "the dread god", "manslaughterer", "grim", "deadly", "bloodstained", "evil-maker" and a thousand other ways of saying that he is a creature of destruction and death. Prayers and hymns to Ares most often revolve around asking him to grant warriors power in battle, but they also often include verses that ask Ares not to make them too slaughter-happy lest they become unacceptably bloodthirsty, or when used for worship ask Ares to please calm down and go hang out with Aphrodite and/or Dionysus so they can distract him with sex and wine and prevent him from just rampaging all over the place at the drop of a hat.

Our conception of Ares as "god of war" is actually pretty generalized; he's not really about war as a concept as much as he is about slaughter, mayhem and bloodlust, which occur most commonly during battle. He has very little to do with other aspects of war, like tactics, strategy or leadership of troops, which fall under his half-sister Athena's purview instead. And if that wasn't specific enough, he's usually accompanied by a gaggle of divine children who act as specialized representatives of his power, including Phobos (terror), Deimos (rout), Eris (strife) and Enyalios (warlike).

With Ares this much of a dangerous disaster engine, it's probably not too surprising that most of his most famous fights are against other gods and heroes who are at least nominally his allies. Among his greatest hits are his quarrel with Poseidon, who attempted to have him executed after he killed Poseidon's son Hallirhothios to avenge the rape of his daughter Alkippe, his indirect combat against Athena during the Trojan war in which she used the mortal Diomedes to defeat him by proxy, and his murder of Adonis, who was a rival for the affections of the beautiful Aphrodite and who he straight up killed in the form of a wild boar. Of course, he did his duty during the Gigantomachy as well, pitching in to murder many giants and save his pantheon, but it's still pretty noticeable that he's pointed at the other gods at least as often as he's pointed at their enemies, often with gruesome results.

Or, we could just give Zeus the floor for a moment, to tell it like it is (in Homer's Iliad) the way only he can:

Then with an angry glance from beneath his brows spake to him Zeus, the cloud-gatherer [to Ares]: "Sit thou not in any wise by me and whine, thou renegade. Most hateful to me art thou of all gods that hold Olympus, for ever is strife dear to thee and wars and fightings. Thou hast the unbearable, unyielding spirit of thy mother, even of Hera; her can I scarce control by my words. Wherefore it is by her promptings, meseems, that thou sufferest thus. Howbeit I will no longer endure that thou shouldest be in pain, for thou art mine offspring, and it was to me that thy mother bare thee; but wert thou born of some other god and proved so ruinous long since thou wouldst have been dropped beneath the gods of the bright sky."

Or, in plainer language, "Shut up and stop whining, you pain in the ass. I hate you more than all other gods because of how many problems you cause, just like your mother is constantly driving me up the wall. I'll get you healing, because you're my son, but if you were anyone else's kid I would have kicked you out years ago." This is after, incidentally, he earlier had a conversation wherein Athena said, "Hey, is it okay with you if I go kick Ares' ass?" and he responded, "Oh, totally go for it, he deserves it."

So Ares is in general sort of this wild and dangerous problem child who sometimes shows up to things and blows them up. I know you were looking for comparisons to modern media, but it's worth it to do a quick comparison between ancient Greek Ares and the first round of determined fan-rewriting about him - the Roman Empire, which conflated him with their war god Mars. Mars gets all of Ares' stories pasted onto him, including his love affair with Aphrodite/Venus, but the Romans were fans of very ordered and organized combat and definitely not into the whole wild slaughter thing, which they found embarrassing and abhorrent. So Mars became much less of a danger to himself and others in the Roman pantheon (or maybe it's more accurate to say that the Roman god Mars gained the stories of Ares' exploits but not his personality?), and became a god of battle in a more general sense, incorporating many ideas of honor and tactics that were not part of the original Ares toolkit.

Interestingly, this different personality for Mars made him much more of a dignified and respected figure as a god, and gained him widespread cult worship, which in turn made him way more popular in Rome than he ever was in Greece. Almost all of our Renaissance artwork is of Mars rather than Ares, for understandable reasons - he is way less problematic and dangerous, after all - and because of his association with honor and manliness as Mars, it is also the Roman myths that make his love affair with Venus so popular, as opposed to the ancient Greek myths that more often make fun of the humiliation of the two of them getting caught and the immorality of the adultery in the first place.

(Watching how very different Roman mythology is from Greek mythology, even though the same story is present in both a lot of the time, is a whole lifetime's worth of reading and research. Check it out some time, because it's a trip!)

I love this painting, by the way (which is by Guillemot, a French painter from the nineteenth century), because of how Venus looks embarrassed, Mars looks like "uh-oh" and Vulcan is just over there looking at them like "Dude, really?"

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Devotional Domain: Greek Divinity

And at last, we have arrived at the Devotional Domain specific to those Hellenic rockstars who represent the Greek pantheon!

Greek gods and Heroes are a little bit difficult to pin down when it comes to what they are all about. Some of their attributes are extreme, such as the fact that the gods themselves were considered by their religion to be literally immortal and incapable of death, which is why they are so commonly given eternal punishments like imprisonment or torture rather than ever killed; and there's a very sharp divide between gods and mortal heroes as well, with mortals absolutely capable of heroic action but also prone to death and disaster far more often than their divine patrons. There's also a lot of anthropological and religious untangling to do - thanks to so much of European philosophy being based upon Greek ideals and morals for the past several centuries, many of their ideas about being a hero and doing awesome things have reached a cultural status as the default type of behavior and values for any hero, at least to a western audience, which means that it doesn't feel as specific to readers who have grown up with those ideas as the Devotional powers of other pantheons' Heroes might.

But the Greek Heroes among us are just as powerful and specialized as their friends in other pantheons, and we're here to tell you how! The Greek version of the Divinity Sphere is concerned primarily with the idea of each Greek Hero and later god being uniquely concerned with single and specific areas of power.

Greek gods are extremely specific about their roles in the cosmos; they're often called a pantheon with a god for everything, with a thousand little gods of things as specific as opportunity, boldness or single specific ponds in addition to the great gods most well-known on Olympos. The Olympians themselves are primarily concerned with a single concept or totemic idea, such as Ares representing violence, Aphrodite representing love or Hera representing marriage; they have other smaller associations and occasional cult connections, but for the most part they are all very focused on single areas of influence. This tendency is one of the reasons that study of mythology, which for most European and American scholars was foundationally based on Greek and Roman sources, tries so hard to slot all deities of all cultures into the same "god of X" niche that the Greeks so often fill, which is one of those insidious things that seems like a "universal" trait to those who have grown up in western societies - in large part, we think of gods as being associated with and in charge of a single area of influence because that's what the Greek gods do.

(I could digress into a giant wandering post about how Greek theology, mythology and philosophy basically designed the entire framework that almost all mythographers and half of other humanities disciplines' scholars base their standards of "normal" and "universal" on and how that often leads to total confusion and gross misinterpretation of other cultures' myths that don't match up as somehow being "weird" or "primitive", but you guys came for the power previews, not for my History of Cultural Revisionism seminar. Another time!)

At any rate, the Greek gods are all about being the sole power over a specific area - perhaps with lesser assistants who handle yet more specialized aspects of it, but without any true competition for their area of influence. Connected to that is the pan-Greek idea among both gods and Heroes of utter excellence and skill in a specialized area, most commonly expressed as arete, which is a complex word that means a combination of moral virtue, incredible skill and the realization of one's fullest potential. Heroes of all kinds are commonly said to be striving for or embodying such complete mastery over a particular skill, from Herakles as the undisputed master of strength and wrestling to Penelope as the perfect expression of feminine virtue.

Blessings in the Greek version of the Divinity Sphere have to do with these ideas of specific mastery and eventual lordship over a very specific but totally owned domain. All Heroes can specialize in various things, but Greek Heroes can hyperspecialize if they so choose, trading the ability to invest in generally useful skills for the increased power to utterly dominate their chosen fields. This translates to not only the Heroes' personal abilities and powers, but also to the practices of their followers and eventual cults as gods, and the way they may be able to develop specific expertise that others, being less Greekly excellent, don't have access to.

As with all the other Devotional Domains we've talked about, this is just the Divinity Sphere, and we hope to get to expand into other Spheres sooner rather than later! This brings the Devotional teasers to a close, so if you have things you'd like to hear about next, Cameron is your connection to our secret hotline - drop them for him and he'll make sure to come looking for your answers!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Game Update: Gangs of NYC

This week we update on Gangs of New York. Its been quite some time since they've gotten an update, but I'll try to summarize as best as possible. First, lets give a reminder about the team line up.

Seif: Champion of Ninurta. Big man with a big hammer. Iraqi soldier who came to America to train with the military but quickly found it to be a horrible death trap of a place.
Michael: Champion of Ishtar. America's number one terrorist. Ex-sex-worker who currently waits tables at a comedy club.
Valentina: Champion of Bastet. International cat burglar from somewhere in the former Yugoslavia. In the previous story, Russell balked at dealing with the plagues and Valentina did so and was crowned Pharaoh of lower Manhattan.
Nic: Champion of Enlil. Party boy who suffered through the first terrorist attacks with Michael and recently returned from a long trip through europe.
Corey: Champion of Ninhursag. Pot-growing, Wall-Street-occupying, rage-against-the-machining, Fox-News-intern turned prophet of the masses. Corey lives a strange life.

The group is currently working on two related projects, a major one and a minor one.

The major one is a ritual that will permanently allow them to move in and out of the city as they please without fate hassling them.
The particulars of the ritual are being slowly fed to them by some secret gods. They are working on the first part. They need to get out of the city to the Dakotas to obtain further instructions, but getting through the invisible wall around the city requires some very specific set-ups and they're working on acquiring those.

All the while, the secret gods are helping them be hidden from fate (which would try to stop them from leaving the city), but when the PCs exert too much energy or are openly supernatural, the forces of fate is able to find them and punish them.

They have a secret foundry deep underground where they build parts. Corey, Seif, Michael, and a cyclops are there building parts for their escape. Valentina has gone to Nic's hotel room Nic is drinking in a bar.

Seif and Corey decide to go out hunting for "goblins." These are little earth creatures that go around the city secretly cleaning up the leftover sludge from the zombie infestation. They are harmless, but in their kidneys they have stones that Michael needs to build his creations. They are quiet and often difficult to find, but after over half a day of searching they find a couple. Corey is very delicate, but is brought along because after the "goblins" die, they have only a few seconds to have their kidney stones taken out properly or they explode. So Seif needs Corey's doctor skills. The goblins are not powerful creatures, and they try to flee as the behemoth comes towards them. Seif makes quick work of them and brings their little twitching bodies to Corey who is able to grab the stones out safely.

Michael is building containment units for the nuclear energy they're going to build into their ship. He and the cyclops work hard all day and then have some loving, but eventually they finish the units. The cyclops wants to know why Michael won't come with him back to his world. Michael explains all the work he has to do, but the cyclops isn't buying it. Eventually Michael convinces him his pantheon is forcing him to do all this hard work, and if only his pantheon were gone, Michael would be free to live with the cyclops. The cyclops promises to return to get Michael once his people destroy the Mesopotamian gods and creates a molten hole in the floor and leaves into the crust of the earth. This ruins the foundry room, and Michael starts packing up to head west through the sewers and find another place to work.

Valentina has a plan. Since they blew their chance with their investors, she's going to buy a plane on her own. She'll need a lot of money, but last night they did a massive fundraiser to help support people whose homes were ruined by a dragon attack. And all that money is still locked in Nic's room at the hotel. So Valentina breaks in and steals the money and puts it all into large sacks. Much of the money was in check form. She spends the next day exchanging the checks at shady moneylenders and loan sharks across Brooklyn and Queens. A pawn shop tries to rob her, so she steals all their merchandise and leaves the owner locked in his own safe. Then she sneaks into a hospital and searches for a terminal patient that looks a little like her. Valentina steals her IDs, writes down her social, and starts heading off to deposit large sums of money into this woman's account at different banks across Manhattan and then re-wiring the money through several of her offshore accounts. And she would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those damn kids...!

Nic has been drinking through the night, and early in the morning heads back to his hotel to find that he's been robbed. He calls the police, and when they show up explains to them what he knows (which isn't much).

Corey the prophet had felt a sense of impending doom since all of this started. A feeling he just couldn't shake that something disastrous was going to happen before they left the city. And as he and Seif are heading back towards Michael, it happens. It is October 2013, and a freak, horrible, hurricane/blizzard spawns suddenly and horribly on the island of Manhattan. Suddenly everyone is insurvival mode.

Nic is immediately attacked by "goblins" that were under his bed. The police try to protect him. Nic escapes the hotel only to find a blizzard outside. He rushes back inside to get warm clothes and finds the cops murdered in his room and creatures chasing him through the hallways. He gives them a good yelling and tells them to not fuck with him, and they get in an argument with each other. Nic heads out into the blizzard to get to the police station to report the newest crime.

Valentina is also surrounded by "goblins" in the bank. She grabs her giant sack of money, gems and guns and flees across the street to St. Patrick's Cathedral. She uses her death powers she acquired when she was afflicted with the zombie virus to beg ghosts in the graveyard behind the cathedral to help her fight off the creatures that are invading the church. They help her, but she is slowly freezing from the horrible cold.

Michael is crawling through the sewers when the walls around him start moving and trap him in a corner. A human-sized pair of arms reach out from under the ground and grab him. They slowly crush him as he blasts them apart with the energy of the sky, the fury of the storm above giving extra power to his attacks. He destroys the creature (which has pulled itself fully out of the stone now and appears to be a human shape made of the stones from the sewers), and performs immediate surgery on it to retrieve the stone from inside its kidney. He is successful, but the cold finally overcomes him, and he falls down in the frozen sewer water, dying.

Seif and Corey hear the storm above as they're attacked by the large stone crocodile they've been searching for. It smells Corey and wants to eat him, but Corey blinds it with light and attempts to flee it while Seif beats it and strikes it with thunder (again, the storm above seemingly powering his attacks). Eventually they destroy it. Corey is on his deathbed again, but survives because he is just a tree. The sewers are starting to flood and Seif drags Corey to the safety above ground. Its a snowy apocalypse, but they arrive outside a Chinese restaurant that they take refuge in. Seif runs off to find and save Valentina, and as he leaves the restaurant, a rainbow appears and the storm suddenly stops.

End of Game 1

I just realized I have two more games to go! Bullet points activate!

-Seif heads north through the quickly melting snow.
-Valentina is attacked by the same ghosts she asked for help because she is also trespassing in their church.
-Michael lies dying.
-Restaurant people consider using Corey as food because he looks like a plant and Seif, who they dislike, told them not to.
-Nic heads south.

-Corey wakes up and calls outside for Seif, Nic hears this and comes to talk to Corey.
-Nic orders food.
-Corey yells at him for mistreating the Chinese workers.
-The ensuing shouting match lasts an hour and they spend a lot of energy.
-This energy makes fate notice them and suddenly they are all teleported to the Bronx Zoo in front of the rhino statue.
-All five are teleported here including Michael who has gained consciousness.
-The statue explains that it is the Yoruba god Obatala and he has been trapped here because of something they did .
-He also smells the stink of fate on them all and suggests Michael and Corey have dealt with dark magics.
-He also mentions that the walls that trap them here have gotten much stronger and wider now, and says it's their job to get him out, quickly.
-He asks Corey to stay back and talk; they talk about how Corey is a monster and needs to fix it. He can offer him help, but only if he starts acting like his old self.
-He insinuates Corey should get high and be a stoner more to get back to his roots and away from the "monster taint".

-The other four decide to split up. Nic and Valentina want to go back to the hotel and rest (they have many wounds). Michael wants to go check out the border wall and see how it has changed so he can calculate any changes he'll need to make to his plane schematics. He wants Seif to come with him to protect him from the border guardian.
-Seif wants to go to see if his daughters house is now inside the borders.
-Seif and Michael head to Jersey. They see Seif's house is under watch. They sneak in and get some stuff before the cops stop them then head back into the sewers.
-They find the border wall and the nice minotaur that lives there. Michael inspects the wall for information while giving the minotaur Corey's # and saying they should hang out sometime.
-Michael and Seif travel all the way back to Manhattan, through the sewers with Michael still on the brink of death.
-Michael catches the first American case of ebola.
-Seif remembers Corey saying something about there being a Rat King down here that might be able to help.
-He searches for secret runes leading to the tunnels and finds them.

-Back in the city, Valentina lies around healing and then sneaks out of her hotel room to get back to work on her secret plan. She does not get very far before things go wrong, as usual.
-Nic deals with some more detectives and then heads off to the offices of Walter Bremman to demand a meeting.
-They won't let him in without an appointment, but Nic pretends to work there and does some accounting til he can make his way over to Bremman's office.
-Nic discovers that Bremman is in Connecticut today.

-Back in the sewers, Seif drags Michael's ebola-ridden body through the sewers, attempting to politely tell the rats that he comes in peace.
-Then anthropomorphic rat soldiers appear and tell him he's under arrest.
-A battle ensues and although he takes down half of them, Seif is overwhelmed.

End of Game 2

Game three... is gonna seem strange.

-Corey leaves Obatala and heads to the old foundry deep in the sewers in lower Manhattan.
-It is a long journey and he uses the sewers of the rat king as he is allowed to by royal decree (because the rat king thinks he is also a monster because he looks like a tree, and has obvious monster qualities.
-On the way, he finds Seif and Michael unconscious and locked up in rat prison.
-He heals Michael to wake him up and he gives them both tree-skin to speed the healing of their wounds and hopefully pretend that they're monsters as well.
-He tries to talk some rats into letting them out.
-He finds the king's vizier, Ri, and says that Seif and Michael are his slaves and he wants to bargain for them.
-She agrees and they head to her chambers.
-Michael hears this and thinks Corey is going to have them killed. He turns into a tiny winged fairy version of himself and flies to follow Corey (hiding in Corey's hair).
-Ri and Corey try to hash out a bargain, but they can't seem to find common ground.
-Michael tells Corey to suggest using Michael as a sex slave.
-Corey asks if she'd like a sex slave. She says she'll take one for a while to give Corey time to think more about the trade.
-Michael appears as a 6 foot werewolf and they get to sexin' as Corey leaves.
-Michael impregnates Ri.
-Michael also makes her fall in love with him... and she locks him up in manacles in her chamber as her favorite slave.
-Michael waits patiently for Corey to come back and save him.

-That does not happen.
-Corey realizes Seif will be healing and waking soon. And that will be horrible for either him or the rats.
-Corey heads over, blinds all the rats guarding Seif and escapes with Seif. (It's a bit more extended and crazy than that... but thats the gist.)
-Corey tells Seif that Michael is safe and not a sex slave.
-Corey and Seif run back to the forge and retrieve all the materials Michael left there when he got teleported to Obatala.
-They bring them to the surface.
-Corey explains that he lied about Michael, and that Michael is a sex slave now.

-Nic is coming back to his hotel when he is accosted by a robot.
-These robots are common from one of the first stories. They're powered by energy from Nergal, but work for the military.
-It says is a metahuman is being arrested.
-He swears he isn't a metahuman, but obliges.
-They go to the military base. Nic swears up and down he isn't a metahuman.
-Nergal calls to him but Nic ignores him. Nergal is not happy.
-Nic passes all the military tests. They are certain he isn't a metahuman. They apologize and send him back to his hotel.
-They bug his phone and get Valentina's number and tracking info from him though.

End of Game Three

So that was a wild ride. I'm impressed if you stayed around for all of it. I'll leave you with everyone's current sad details. They have incredibly stressful lives.

Valentina: Now being tracked by the military. Her flying out of the city got harder, and her cats are under attack and being tortured.
Corey: Monsterfied, Just stole prisoners from his one ally. Sold his nephew into slavery.
Seif: His daughter is kidnapped but he can't get out of the city to save her. He is a wanted terrorist. Nergal wants him to sacrifice everyone else to him.
Nic: All his plans are constantly ruined by storms and explosions. He is back at square one with talking to Bremman. He is broke.
Michael: Is a chained-up sex slave, living in a rat nest, being fed toxic hot dogs in the sewers deep beneath the city.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Weekly Update 10.17

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.

The above picture was supposed to be included in last week’s update, but John is bad with “the technology”. But I managed to get it this week after some technical wrangling. It's from last week's week's To Do List. Since the picture was taken, three of the items on the list have been completed... I'll be giving away one of them in this post, the rest is open to rampant speculation.

The work on the Hero's Journey Core Book is nearing the finish line. That means that John and Anne are hammering out the last systems, and pulling the book together. They’re now entering what they're telling me is “The Grind” phase of development. The Grind is a highly technical term describing a most magical of places where Anne and John work to ensure that everything is finished, polished, makes sense, and works. These things are mostly minor parts of other systems, they're the small loose ends that need to be tied up. They unfortunately don’t make for earth-shattering revelations.

For the item on the list that definitely was finished, it's the Health System. As well, they finished armed and unarmed combat which wasn't even on the list. I have been told that armed and unarmed combat are balanced, but are distinct from one another. So you should be able to make the combat character you want without feeling that you're missing something based on your combat style.

This week the lead editor is going to get all in progress chapters to begin the editing process. John and Anne will continue to grind through the last remaining systems, as they continue to get closer to the core book being in our hands.

In the art and layout world. The team is doing work on the cover. The sketches for the last unfinished gods have been approved and are going to inking. The Graphics team is also working on visual aids and layout for the Kickstarter credits page.

Next week Anne will be wrapping up the Devotional Domains with the Greeks.

We’re getting close to the final stretch. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Owner of Stallions

I know we've been doing a lot of posts about mythologies that aren't officially in the Hero's Journey lineup to begin with, but the questions are just too good! Today someone asked: If you are still doing the women of mythology posts, can we hear about goddesses and heroines of Persia?

Heck yeah, we can. There are a lot of awesome goddesses in Persian mythology, including the incomparable Anahita, the pious Daena and the celestial Mah, but I'm going to single out a particular excellent lady to talk about today: Banu Goshasp, knight of ancient Persia and ass-kicker extraordinaire.

Banu Goshasp is the daughter of Rustam, perhaps the most famous hero of Persian myth, and inheritor of his crazy battleworthy tactics and ability to defeat any and all comers without breaking a sweat on her most loveliest of brows. She's the main character of the Banu goshaspnameh, or Epic of Banu Goshasp, which is primarily concerned with her and occasionally her brother Faramarz generally bossing it up all over India and the Kingdom of Turan where they were born.

It's a crying shame that Banu Goshasp doesn't get nearly the recognition her father does, because it is clear from day one that she is basically exactly as competent as he is but with a hotter streak of wreaking justice upon the countryside. One of the earliest stories in her epic involves her running into Rustam himself, who has come from afar because he's heard that there's an awesome lady warrior around here that he absolutely has to fight, but since both of them are garbed for travel and haven't seen one another in a long time and Rustam only introduces himself as "the Sultan" so he can preserve his anonymity, they don't recognize each other and battle ensues (you know, like it does when you meet strangers in ancient Persia who you suspect might be as good at swording as yourself). Much to his bewilderment, Rustam finds himself fought to a standstill, unable to gain the upper hand on his opponent in spite of being himself the legendary hero who has destroyed many deev.

Luckily for everyone, Banu Goshasp and Rustam figure out what is going on here (largely because they realize that nobody could be giving them this much of a run for their respective money without being a relative) in time to not stab each other to death, but it's a near thing. Once they take off their obscuring clothing, of course, both of them realize what's been going on - Rustam is famous, and Banu Goshasp is simultaneously so gorgeous but also obviously dangerous to life and limb that he's basically like, "Oh, yeah, that would have to be her."

The most delightful part of Banu Goshasp's epic concerns her marriage, which like most marriages at the time is arranged to politically benefit her father and also provide everyone with as much free entertainment from battling suitors as possible. Word of her incredible beauty spreads far and wide, so of course various young swains pop up to attempt to woo her with their manly prowess all the time, but Banu Goshasp is thoroughly unimpressed by what she considers their substandard skills and frequently attacks them, capturing and imprisoning those she doesn't kill in combat as a warning to other dudes not to screw with her. Alas, however, attempt to screw with her they still do, and eventually Rustam has to institute a gamut of ridiculous tests of martial prowess and valor just to give them all something to do so that his dungeons can have a little room to breathe and Banu Goshasp can stop denuding the entire countryside of young men, just in case another war crops up or something.

As is traditional in these stories, of course, someone does eventually manage to complete the unnecessarily outrageous tests through skill, courage, pluck and a serious desire to spend quality time with Banu Goshasp: Giv, a famous Persian warrior, who is renowned as the bravest man in Persia and becomes one of Rustam's most trusted and beloved supporters in later shenanigans. Banu Goshasp is obligated to marry him, because those are the rules and even she occasionally pays attention to them, but it turns out that there's no law saying she can't physically overpower her new husband on their wedding night and chain him to their bed before ignoring him all night.

Rustam, doing his dadly duty, is not particularly pleased about this development when he finds out about it, since Giv being kept in irons isn't getting him any grandchildren anytime soon. He attempts to mediate by telling Banu Goshasp that she's being a jerk, since Giv won her fair and square, and extolling his friend's virtues by explaining what an awesome warrior he is and how great he'll be as a husband. Much to Rustam's confusion, she informs him that she's not especially pissed off at Giv himself here; it's not that he's not a great catch and all, but rather that she objects to being sold off to whomever is best at track and field that day, and is not about to take this situation lying down.

Rustam, like many other obnoxious dads, does not understand what she's complaining about, but Giv is more than just an athletic and pretty face, and he does. While Rustam unshackles him, he composes impromptu poetry in honor of both Banu Goshasp and her father, highlighting Banu Goshasp's awesome skills, thanking Rustam for letting him marry her, and claiming himself to be honored and respectful of the fact that she allowed him to be her husband. And wouldn't you know it, Banu Goshasp is way more interested in a guy who says he's lucky to be with her and acknowledges that she has to agree to the situation than she was when she thought she was being turned over to a jock who she could probably have beaten if she'd been allowed to compete, and marital harmony is achieved. (Ironically, Rustam usually gets the credit for "mediating" this arrangement. Rustam tends to get credit for everything he's involved in.)

Although Banu Goshasp does not appear in too many more major stories after her marriage, she does become the mother of Bijan, who goes on to star in Bijan and Manizeh, an ancient Persian Romeo-and-Juliet epic of star-crossed lovers whose kingdoms are at war. It's lucky for both Bijan, who gets to exist, and us, who get to read about it, that she did in fact finally find a guy who was worthy of her badassitude (although it may have taken a lot of beatdowns of the less than awesome before she got there).

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Risen Dead

Halloween is still a few weeks out here, but it is the season, after all, so let's check out this question that came into our box: With the Month of Fright upon us, what can you tell us about all the dead monsters that go bump in the night? Or the day, as the myth may be.

That's a topic that is enormous: the idea of the dead troubling the living, and creatures that are dead, though they were once alive, menacing the world in the dark and light alike. Most cultures have ideas about how the dead and the living interact and how the one might endanger the other, and along with that very often comes the fear of the power the dead might wield over the living if they intrude into the domain from which they should now be barred.

For many cultures (and of course their folklore), the problem of the dead or the undead endangering the living is fundamentally one of the rightness and wrongness of the universe. The dead aren't evil, of course - even in cultures that don't practice ancestor worship, wherein the dead are venerated and beloved as lost family members and wise elders, the dead are generally not malevolent in and of themselves. They pass away into the underworlds or the spirit realms or are reincarnated as new living beings or simply become one with the universe again, depending on the mythology in question, and this is a cause for grief for those they leave behind but not inherent fear or dread. The problem is when the dead end up where they aren't supposed to be - among the living, who may be hurt by their presence or actions, or even just edged out by the dead taking up space and resources that they are no longer entitled to. The idea that the dead might want to keep the things they had in life and therefore deprive or displace the living is one of the oldest and most basic fears in folklore and religion; after all, you can handle other living things, but over the dead, no one living has much power and there is no hope if they decide to interfere or assault the living.

Ghosts - incorporeal spirits of once-living people - are a staple of human belief about the dead, but they don't always take the same form across different cultures. Personified spiits that appear the same way they did in life have appeared in art for millennia, with the Egyptian paintings of the spirits of deceased pharaohs traveling to the underworld and encountering their gods among the first. Of course, the pharaonic spirits are going to the afterlife the way they're supposed to, so there is no fear associated with them; but ghosts who are in the world of the living are threats or at least unnatural problems to the safety and peace of humanity. For most peoples, funeral rites were designed not just to allow the living to say goodbye to their loved ones, but to give the dead peace (or, if necessary, ironclad restriction) to prevent them from hanging around and causing problems.

Every culture, even the ones big on ancestor worship, is usually afraid of ghosts that linger in the world. Japanese folklore about yurei tells tales of ghosts that murder, devour or mislead human beings to their deaths, often as revenge for what was done to them when they were alive or hatred that was instilled in them when they lost their lives. The ancient Mesopotamians believed in the gidim, shades of the dead who did not go to their final disposition in the underworld as they should have and instead became minor demons of the land of the dead, capable of harasing, sickening or even killing the living if they were not properly respected. Greek and later Roman ghosts seldom endangered people, but instead terrified and inconvenienced them, haunting the living with loud cries, frightening visions and disordered houses until they were appeased, usually by being given proper burial rites that had been neglected. The Dine people of the southwestern United States tell stories of chindi, ghosts who torture the living with sickness and death when they are doomed to remain on earth because they did not receive funeral rites as they should have, taking the living with them. And so on and so forth: when the dead remain in the world, there is no peace for the living.

Ghosts are only the beginning, though; humanity is incredibly creative when it comes to speculating about various types of dead creatures that might get up and come after them. Corpses are innately psychologically horrible to the vast majority of humanity; they look like living things but aren't anymore, reminding us that we, too, could suddenly stop being alive at any time, and the terrible things that happen to them, from putrefaction to dessication to the buildup of gases and discoloration of decay only enhance and heighten that horror. Ancient people also didn't always have a great deal of medical knowledge, so things like bloating, changes in skin color or hair growth in the dead sometimes seemed inexplicable and frightening, sure signs that they weren't truly dead after all.

One of the most popular versions of this idea is the vampire, a folkloric phenomenon that can be found, in one form or another, all over the world. Not all vampires are necessarily dead, actually; the earliest form of the Greek vrykoulakas, for example, was not a dead person drinking blood but a living monster or sorcerer that did so. Other forms of vampires, like the Romani mulo or Chinese jiangshi, are definitely dead, however, and their drinking of living blood is an extension of the mythological belief in some cultures that life is contained in blood. If enough of a person's blood is spilled, they die, so for many pre-medical-knowledge folkloric beliefs, it only made sense to view blood itself as being what contained the force of life. (And for the record, for the same reason some ancient peoples, including the Greeks, believed that ghosts were composed of breath, another thing that the living abruptly die when they are emptied of it.)

You asked about things that go bump in the night or day, and vampires are a perfect example. Although modern folklore makes vampires only active at night, even going so far as to say that sunlight is painful or even fatal to them, more ancient folkloric vampires were capable of appearing in the daytime at will than not, including the barrow-haunting draug of Icelandic myth and the daywalking strigoi of Romanian legend. Fear of sunlight didn't appear as a major element of vampire folklore until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, if you can believe it - even Bram Stoker's Dracula doesn't care about sunlight particularly except that he's more powerful at night which is his element.

Vampires are a whole other realm of discussion, since creatures that feed on humanity by in some way stealing from them goes well beyond blood, including such creatures as the Middle Eastern edimmu who feed on the spirits of lost mortals in the deserts and the pishtaco of Peru who suck not blood but fat from their victims. But most of these kinds of creatures aren't actually dead, and don't quite fit into the Halloween theme, so let's move on!

I want to hit a couple of common undead tropes in modern fiction and folklore that actually aren't dead things that go bump in the night, because I'm in a fun The More You Know mood and I love talking about them! Those two things are the ghoul and the zombie - both with very real roots in very real folklore, but neither one actually dead, undead, or in one case ever human to begin with.

The pop culture idea of the ghoul comes from Arab folklore, where you can find the ghul, a desert spirit that aggravates, frightens and even occasionally hurts human beings when it wanders into their environs. Ghilan (the plural form of ghul) are not dead, and in fact are similar to the jinn, spirits of invisible flame, than to any undead creature; they live out in the deserts, almost all appear in female form, and harass travelers and nomads by impersonating humans to steal or befoul food, frighten or mislead caravans, or occasionally steal children (although what they do with them is anyone's guess, since most tales just say they ran off with the kid and don't mention whether or not they actually hurt them; occasionally, they're said to eat them). They're certainly unpleasant and can be very dangerous, especially if pissed off enough to lead a lost person out to die in the desert or bewitch one person into attacking another, but they pretty much have nothing to do with the dead.

The connection to the dead for ghilan largely comes from 1001 Nights, which was first made pouplar in Europe through the French translation of Antoine Galland, who in spite of translating the majority of the stories faithfully also added several embellishments of his own. In particular, he added during the description of ghilan in one story that they were monsters that sometimes went to graveyards and ate dead bodies when they couldn't get living prey, along with characterizing them as uniformly male. This didn't appear in the original stories he was supposed to be transcribing (obviously, since calling the all-female ghilan all-male was a pretty big giveaway) and was a personal addition he made to sensationalize the story further, but since his was the first popular translation, it was the one that most people encountered; and then other translators used it as the basis for their versions, not the original, so the addition was repeated and circulated into English, German, Spanish and more. Scholars who wrote about mythology and folklore who didn't speak Arabic but wanted to learn and talk about Arab myths also used those translations, so the idea of the ghul as an eater of corpses persisted, and eventually became synonymous with the idea of the ghoul as a reanimated corpse itself.

The confusion was further entrenched later when western scholars equated the ghilan with the gallu, ancient Mesopotamian underworld demons that do the bidding of the gods of the dead. The words are etymologically similar, and it was (and still is) very in vogue to trace all Middle Eastern myths back to Akkadian/Babylonian roots and claim that they were essentially the same, so the ghilan became considered the same as the gallu, and the gallu are strongly associated with death. So ghouls became firmly entrenched in popular culture as a new breed of the undead, light years away from the original Arab folklore roots of the idea.

Zombies are a little more complicated, because they belong to folklore and religion that are very much alive and influential in the Caribbean, but in its original form, a zombi (from the Kongo nzanbi, meaning "soul") referred to a living person who had been mind-controlled by a bokor or sorcerer, a common phenomenon in areas where west African folklore has been transplanted to the Americas, particularly Haiti. Sorcerers considered to have the magical power to control the minds of those who defied them are able to make the living appear to be dead, and to wipe away their thoughts and free will in order to use them as servants as needed. Over time, it has also become common knowledge that bokor can resurrect the corpses of the dead to use as their servants, sometimes by temporarily placing a soul inside them to animate them, other times only via their own magical might.

It's likely that this idea has its roots in the concept of spirit possession by the orisha and loa of African diaspora religions; the spirits of the gods can and do possess their worshipers in order to make themselves known and grant blessings or curses, and the idea of inhabiting a body (living or dead) with another's will proceeds naturally from that religious concept. Some worshipers connect zombi to Baron Samedi and the other loa of the dead, who like the other loa might choose to possess and ride the bodies of mortals, but whose connections to death make them more suited to do so with the bodies of the dead than the living.

Zombies as seen in horror movies, though, like the ghouls above, are almost completely a modern pop culture invention. The dead rising from their graves and seeking to feed on the living is a general folkloric fear that you can find in a zillion different places and styles, that same idea of the dead intruding on the space of the living being a danger that we started this post with. Modern versions of the idea have posited all kinds of different sources and reasons for zombies, from viruses to evolution to pollution or nuclear fallout, but it's really just a repeat of the idea of the fear of the unquiet dead, now with a collection of brand-new modern mythology behind it.

Which is super neat, when you think about it, really! We're all aware that religion and mythology continue all around the world, alive and fervently believed by their worshipers, meaningful and impactful in billions of lives, but it can be easy to forget that that means that things change and no myths can ever really be set in stone and classified as eternal and inviolable. We're all making new myths all the time, because that's what humanity does, and humanity is pretty amazing.

So, while from a purely folkloric point of view you don't need to fear ghouls if you choose to lurk in a graveyard this Halloween season, there's plenty of precedent for terrifying creatures that lurk in the dead of night. Humanity has feared the dead arising for thousands upon thousands of years... it seems foolhardy to believe that they must all have been wrong all that time, doesn't it?