Saturday, May 31, 2014

Talents in Hero's Journey: The "Second Stringers"

Last time we talked about Talents in-depth, we discussed those that fall under the Leader and Lover archetypes. Interestingly, a lot of players (of all kinds of games, not just this one) view people who can take on the leadership role and deal with NPCs as important to the group, and people who can fight off monsters as important to the group, but for some reason those characters who do other things tend to be thought of as "auxiliary" in some way - not nearly as necessary or important to the story. They get called "support characters" or "niche characters" or even "group filler", which can be depressing if you're being the best you can be and still not getting any RPG respect.

But one of the awesome things about mythology - and by extension Hero's Journey - is that there's really no such thing as an unimportant or unuseful character type. Cultures all over the world want different things from their heroes; some of them respect tricksters and their resourcefulness as the most effective heroes imaginable, others believe that only through spiritual enlightenment can a hero truly be great, and still others look not at the hero's fleeting deeds in life but at what they leave behind afterward. Which is why we're excited to talk today about the Talents of the three "second string" Aspects, which are really no such thing - the Creator, the Sage and the Trickster.

The Creator Aspect contains the Art, Energy and Vision Talents, as well as the passive Talent of Willpower.
The Sage Aspect contains the Knowledge, Mysticism and Perception Talents, as well as the passive Talent of Enlightenment.
The Trickster Aspect contains the Disguise, Legerdemain and Streetwise Talents, as well as the passive Talent of Determination.

Mythically speaking, Creators are among the most fundamentally important archetypal heroes across all cultures; without them, civilizations cannot rise, enduring monuments and artwork cannot be created, and the very world itself might not exist in its current form. Their Talents are geared toward creation and maintenance of the world at large, a critically important function that often goes unnoticed by their peers unless something goes catastrophically wrong. Art is the stat they use to actually perform acts of creation; it is what they roll to build something, carve something, weave something, or in any other way physically make something new. Energy, on the other hand, is the stat devoted to the repair and maintenance of the universe, allowing them to impart their awesome energies of cohesion and creation to both living things that need healing and inanimate objects that need to be fixed or protected. Finally, their powers over Vision are those of creativity and new ideas, allowing them to concieve of new projects and attempt things that have never been done before.

The Sage is the mythic gatekeeper of knowledge and important links between the strange, unknown world of magical or divine information and the human seekers of it who normally cannot reach beyond the veil to learn more. They roll the Knowledge Talent to represent their capacity for understanding, remembering and interpreting information, as well as for learning new things or testing their mental limits. Mysticism is the stat that governs understanding of those things beyond normal mortal ken - identifying and comprehending supernatural phenomena, performing magical rituals and even seeing into the mists of the future. Perception, the last of the Sage's formidable arsenal of mind-enhancing talents, is rolled to notice things, be aware of their environment, and glean information from what is happening in their immediate vicinity.

The Trickster is mythology's master of cleverness, wit and shenanigans, taking up the spotlight of the story when ridiculousness must be highlighted or revealed or those in authority taken down a peg. The Disguise stat is used to misrepresent the Trickster themself or other people, places or objects they're trying to obscure, in any way from impersonating someone else to camouflaging an object as a different item. Legerdemain is the Talent of thieves and magicians, and is rolled to steal, pick locks, perform street magic, or do anything else that involves sleight of hand or quick and nimble fingers. And Streetwise is the stat used for manipulating and interacting with humanmade environments - everything from operating machinery to scrounging for materials to hiding in a dumpster.

As for the passive Talents, these three Aspects control some of the most critical in the entire game. These particular passives are rolled rather than spent, but they're no less important or potent!

The Creator's Willpower represents their ability to force their body to keep going, no matter what punishing conditions they do it under or what outside forces try to break it down, and is an extension of the same creative and supportive energy they use to help others. It is rolled to resist the effects of bodily dangers such as poison, disease and intoxication.

The Sage's Enlightenment allows them to wield the formidable power of their minds and hearts to clear away any fog or shadow that might try to blind them. It is rolled to see through illusions, pierce deceptions and allow Heroes to resist the effects of any supernatural force that would try to obscure reality from them.

The Trickster's Determination is the Talent of the Aspect that fights authority, refuses to conform and does whatever it wants no matter the consequences. It is rolled to break free of the effects of supernatural meddling that would take a Hero's free will from them, including any kind of manipulation of their thoughts, emotions or actions without their consent.

Since I know someone is going to read these and panic because they're going to assume any character who doesn't invest in these Aspects is going to be automatically helpless, let me head you off: take heart. Even if you don't have a single dot of any of these Aspects, you can still get bonuses to these passives from the Web of Fate, allowing even those who aren't inclined toward these kinds of heroic deeds to still compete on the divine playing field (although of course those who dedicate themselves to these Aspects will have a leg up).

These three Aspects are more inwardly focused than some of the others, and often coexist with one another or others of the Aspects as complementary facets of the same Hero. They are present in gods and heroes all across mythology, including the trickster-creator Maui of the Polynesian isles, the wise sage-trickster Odin of Norse legend and the ancient, all-knowing creator-sage Ptah who built the world from his sacred words.

We'll cover the Talents attached to the Hunter and Warrior Aspects next time, and then move on to some of the more gritty mechanical details of the game!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Art Sneak Preview: Kali

Art day is the best day! Because the Kickstarter is doing so awesomely, we're releasing a set of four of the finished god portraits that will appear in the book, each in a different place around the web. And here on the blog, it's the Black Mother herself, fearsome Kali.


She carries the severed head of human ego, which she has cut free to allow the attainment of enlightenment, the kapala skull-cup in which she catches its blood to sate her thirst, the trishula whose forks represent creation, balance and destruction, and the sickle she uses to inevitably destroy her enemies (both spiritual and physical). Her skin is dark to represent her connection to the pure and uncontrolled power of shakti, and she wears no clothes because she is beyond all illusions and attempts to hide anything - except, of course, for the garland of skulls of slain enemies around her neck and the skirt of severed human arms, representing that all works of humanity (especially violent ones) eventually come from and return to her.

We must presume that Shiva is down there under her foot somewhere, and the edge of the portrait is just hiding him.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Game Recap: Week Four

This week's recap is a little late thanks to getting some friends shipped off to the airport, but here we go! Thanks to us being out of town this weekend, the New York game and the all-gods game did not meet, but we've still got some nineteenth-century action coming at you.

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

Characters:

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

Having just returned to Paris after Padma and Shadan's wedding and gotten caught up in the impromptu peoples' revolution being led by the actor Alfonse, the game picks up with Mohini (who doesn't speak any French and really has no idea what's going on) marching and dancing with the revolution while Padma and Shadan look on from the rooftops, Lionel participates for his own glory and Hao wonders how to keep everyone in one piece. It looks like things are about to get ugly as churchmen and members of the aristocracy begin to come out to oppose the artists and laborers, but before human-on-human violence can erupt, Padma and Shadan spy some of the silver moon rabbits that previously attacked them, apparently being led by a strange knight on a white horse. They warn the group below, and Lionel rallies the mortals to fight while Mohini takes off to defend her friends. Alfonse also tries to jump into the fray to protect Mohini when the knight begins to try to drag her onto his horse, and together with Lionel he manages to hold him at bay. Shadan kills one of the rabbits while the others beat on him and Padma, until Mohini climbs up to them and destroys the others with her urumi, and everyone is struck seemingly at random by dangerous bolts of moonlight. Finally they defeat the knight, but not before he impales Mohini on his spear, leaving everyone injured, drained and exhausted. Hao saves the day with medicine and prevents anyone's demise, and everyone retires to the inn to recuperate.

Padma decides to figure out what's going on with the random moon teleportation thing once and for all, and settles down to meditate and search for an answer to all these occult goings-on, with Shadan waiting impatiently in the background; meanwhile, Alfonse invites Mohini to spend the night with him, which she agrees to after some initial hesitation, believing that because he is clearly magical he must be an avatar of her divine husband. Hao, upset by her apparent infidelity, attempts to break in and stop the assignation, but she refuses to leave and he doesn't believe her explanation, and he eventually ends up leaving in a huff. Shadan, Hao and Lionel go out into the city to look for clues and meet contacts while Padma continues to try to come up with an explanation for what is happening to them, but they are not able to discover too much, and after Hao tells Shadan that Alfonse might be a homewrecker, they all hurry back to the inn in case Padma needs rescuing.

Meanwhile, the French police have arrived in response to the riot last night and are looking for Alfonse, who is well-known locally and wanted for being the ringleader. He and Mohini escape out a window and manage to sneak past the guards, and everyone meets up again near the Moulin Rouge to discuss what to do next. Alfonse goes back to getting ready for his next performances, and Padma explains that they seem to be being transported from several important locations in response to the needs of a specific group of goddesses, each of them acting as patron of a certain area or situation that they are being called upon to help. She has determined that Ishtar is the one who wants them in Paris, and that she probably wants them to stop the government from cracking down on the Moulin Rouge and the performers and artists of the city. Lionel suggests assassinating the king and performing a coup, but everyone else is hesitant to initiate violence, and instead they concoct a plan to convince the king and other nobles to come see performances and become patrons of the arts themselves so they'll stop opposing them. To that end, Lionel announces himself as President of America and goes to see the king, taking Mohini along so she can demonstrate if necessary, and leaves the rest of the group to get ready to put on a truly spectacular arts festival.

As the curtain closes, Shadan and Padma discover that they are both pregnant again, with a second set of spore children each. Hao is disapproving.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lady of the Words of Power

It's Wednesday, which means it's time for some exploits of an awesome mythological lady badass, and someone has sent in a special request for one today: Hello! I'm really enjoying the Wednesday posts about women in mythology and all kinds of cool things, and I would really love to see one about Isis. She's definitely my favourite among the Netjer, and for all her shenanigans and ambitions, I think she deserves a mention. I could not agree more. Let's talk about Isis!


Isis - which is a later Greek corruption of her name, which was probably originally closer to Aset - is the lady in charge among the Egyptian gods. She isn't one of the oldest goddesses in the pantheon; her worship seems to have begun around the fifth dynasty, making her much younger than the elder mainstay goddesses like Hathor or Neith. She also wasn't initially one of the most important, appearing at first as an assistant to the pharaoh and helper to her significantly important husband and son. But somehow, powers over life and death a-blazing, she stole the spotlight to become the most popular and important of Egyptian goddesses, completely overshadowing the competition.

In fact, Isis was so popular that she literally started to absorb other goddesses, as part of the millennia-long process of intra-pantheon sycretization in which different Egyptian cult centers combined, recombined and recreated various deities to suit their local needs and changing religious trends. Isis became associated with Hathor, taking on her horned headdress and sun imagery, in order that the two goddesses could both be said to be nurturing forces to aid the sun in the forms of both Ra and Horus, Isis' kingly son. She completely superseded the role of the Sothis, minor goddess of the star Sirius, becoming the preeminent goddess of the heavens so that her starlight could herald the annual flooding of the Nile thanks to her husband Osiris' powers of fertility. As her cult grew more and more important, she eclipsed various other minor goddesses, making herself a power rivaled only by the most well-established and traditionally important ladies of her pantheon.


Isis is an interesting contradiction: on the one hand, she's beloved as a benevolent mother figure, lauded for her protection of children, patronage of the pharaoh and renowned dedication to her family, making her the ultimate model for every Egyptian woman to aspire to. And on the other hand, the tales of her adventures make it clear that she is also a lady with such ruthlessly crafty scheming chops that she would win the Game of Thrones in one month flat and then get on with her hobbies. (In fact, she did that, basically.)

Isis is a goddess who goes to any and all lengths to protect her family, and further to ensure that their place in the world, as rulers and beloved deities, is secure and unchallenged by anyone else. Her journey toward political domination begins with the story of her poisoning of Ra, the sun god and for much of Egypt's long religious history the preeminent and most important deity in the religion. She persuades the cobra goddess Wadjet, normally a protector of the pharaonic line and the kings among the gods, to bite her master, and then when Ra lies dying, offers to cure him of the poison on the condition that he give her knowledge of his true name. Ancient Egyptian philosophy believed that a being's true name was the sum total of their existence, akin to the words of creation spoken by Ra and Ptah at the beginning of time, and therefore that to know someone's name was to have utter power over them. Ra was forced to tell Isis his name to escape death, and once she had learned it she wielded it to force him to teach her the secrets of heku, ritual magic, which she distributed to all the other gods, and the powers of healing, which she thereafter embodied instead of Ra. Both actions diminished Ra's power so that he could no longer be the unquestioned ultimate authority over the pantheon, and made Isis, wielder of his name, a political power second to very few.


It's probably not a huge shocker that the next time Isis appears in Egyptian myth, her brother-husband Osiris is the king of the gods, having inherited the title from his father and grandfather, Geb and Shu. As Osiris' wife, Isis is the picture of feminine beauty, grace and political support, which all goes great for everyone until their other brother, Set, kills Osiris and takes the throne. Isis' mourning over her deceased husband is one of the favorite tragic scenes in ancient Egyptian art, and once she comes to her senses, with the help of her sister Nephthys she scours the world for Osiris' dismembered body parts, eventually managing to find and put back together all of him except for his phallus (eaten by a fish, or in later versions by Set himself). Although she is a goddess of life and has no true power over death, she still uses her mastery of healing magic to revive Osiris briefly, granting him a working phallus that she fashions out of gold for him, and then has sex with him in order to posthumously conceive their son Horus. Osiris is forced to return to the land of the dead, but Isis has just gotten started, because she now has a legitimate heir to the throne she can use to start taking back power in Egypt.


Possibly because he realizes how massively outclassed he is in the political maneuvering arena, Set begins sending out troops to attempt to capture Isis and her newborn son, correctly assessing that they pose the only real threat to his rule. She enlists help from Thoth, god of wisdom, who gives her an escort of scorpions from the guardian goddess Serket and sends her off to hide. Isis travels the countryside with baby Horus, inflicting scorpioid wrath on those who refuse to help her and benevolently healing those who do, and manages to successfully hide Horus until he's almost old enough to take on his uncle by systematically discovering the true names of literally everything in nature so that she holds their power and they cannot harm her or her son. Unfortunately, while hiding in the reeds where she placed him, Horus is stung by a scorpion Isis did not capture and dies, and her grieving is so loud and heartbreaking that all the other gods arrive to see what's wrong, and Ra even stops the solar barque in the sky to send down some of its passengers to go comfort her. Depending on the story, Thoth returns Horus to life for her in order to stop her lamenting; in other versions, Isis herself returns him from the dead, calling upon the healing powers she gathered from Ra.


But this was all the prep work, and now that Horus is an adult, the real show is about to begin. Isis brings Horus to Set and sets the two against each other, Horus challenging his uncle for the throne as its rightful heir, and the famous battle for succession begins. The gods call a tribunal to try to decide what to do about the two equally legitimate claims to the throne, and Isis acts as Horus' lawyer, shooting down Set's arguments and providing burning counter-points to paint him as a usurper. Set, who is not nearly as stupid as people think he is, specifically stipulates that Isis can't be at the trial anymore, because she's clearly rigging it with her powers of intense manipulation, which the other gods agree is probably not conducive to due process. Isis is sent away from the trial, but doubles back, bribes the ferryman to take her back to the meeting place anyway, disguises herself as a foreign but beautiful woman, and shenanigans Set into admitting he stole the throne in front of witnesses, after which everyone pretty much gives up on her not getting her way.

Horus, who has inherited his mother's capacity for sneakery, then defeats Set in both subsequent challenges for the throne through trickery, and eventually accedes as king once again.


So here we have a lady who is the ultimate in political craftiness and intrigue, but also the ultimate in motherly love and healing devotion, which she spreads around to not only her own son and husband but to all the gods and the families of the pharaohs alike. It's no wonder the ancient Egyptians were so impressed by her, and such big fans of worshiping her and hoping she sent some of that good political mojo their way.

But Isis is even more popular than that; once they began to hang out with Egyptians, several other cultures also discovered Isis and liked her so much that they imported her into their own religions. The Greeks equated her with Demeter, mother of fertility, and Aphrodite, beautiful goddess of love; the Romans didn't even bother pretending and simply worshiped her under her own name, with cults not only in Roman-controlled Africa but in the city of Rome itself. The Arab peoples of the time thought of her as like their own al-Uzza, the Phoenicians equated her with their Astarte, and even the Celts in Roman-controlled areas borrowed from her imagery for their own gods. The Greeks were such big fans that they even incorporated her into their own mythology, and said that when Io escaped from Greece to evade Hera's wrath after she had been Zeus' lover, she made her way to Egypt, where Isis took her in and made her a priestess of her cult. Even Christianity got in on the action, often using images of Isis as templates for the Virgin Mary in the hopes of impressing the locals with the motherly similarities.


Isis is simply a social powerhouse; where other goddess influence events by using their great beauty to confuse or entice others into doing it for them, Isis gets right in there and gets her hands dirty, pulling the strings herself and never shying away from becoming the power behind the throne in a very direct and real way. She is the ultimate in love to those she cares about - and the ultimate threat to anyone else who might try to take anything away from them that she considers theirs. Stay in her good graces!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lore of the Old Gods

Today when we went to look for an appropriate mythology topic to discuss, lo and behold, there was a question in the box from one of you fine people. We've been talking about this very subject for a while, so now's a great time to bring it up. The question reads: In the setting, you guys says that the gods of the old religions and mythologies are still being worshiped, but what about the religions that we barely know anything about like the Gauls or Arabs? How would you guys do that?


This is one of the pitfalls (although a minor one) of using a setting that is close to the real world, but not exactly the same. It's never been a secret that we're all about as much mythological accuracy in this game as we can rustle up; we want to approach each culture's religion and beliefs respectfully and in the appropriate context, and also provide players with all the unique and interesting facets of their stories and religious practices possible, thus filling the game with neat stuff to do. To that end, we do a ton of research and reading and investigation to try to come up with the most accurate portrait of a given mythology as we can.

However, for some mythologies, like the aforementioned two, there's very little information left. This can be for a variety of reasons - the culture was irrevocably damaged, superceded or wiped out by colonization or wars with its neighbors, the religion was eventually absorbed into another set of beliefs and lost its original character and format, the culture was pre-literate or primarily preserved their stories through oral retelling or visual imagery, making it difficult for later scholars to try to go back and understand it, or a slew of other historical and cultural factors. But, in the world of Hero's Journey, these religions are alive - the Arab gods are still worshiped in the peninsular deserts, the gods of the Ainu still known in cold Hokkaido, and the wild-eyed lords of the continental Celtic lands still paid homage to in shrine and ritual.


The problem then becomes that if these religions are still alive and well and being practiced visibly in Hero's Journey, then those knowledge gaps don't exist within the game world itself - no one has to ask what a particular ritual really meant or what a particular scripture's worn-away words were trying to say, because those things aren't lost secrets. It hasn't been hundreds of years since these things happened, or even hundreds of days.

We have two options here: we can either try to guess what the ancient religions mostly gone in our world would have been like if they still existed, and use that as the basis for the religions of the game, or we can decide to move forward on the assumption that what we know about those religions is the way they actually appear in the gameworld, even if it's piecemeal. Hero's Journey takes the second approach, and decides that what we know about the Gaulish gods in the real world - guesses from inscriptions, inferrals from nearby cultures, secondhand accounts from outside forces - is an accurate and true portrayal of the Gaulish religion in the game.


This is totally weird, we understand. There's approximately zero percent chance that even with the best scholarship at our disposal we can actually get an accurate idea of what traditional Asante religion looked like five centuries ago, and even if we could, we would still have no idea what it would have looked like after being practiced all that time instead of syncretized with monotheist religions. To put it bluntly, assuming we can portray a religion accurately under those circumstances is just plain wrong.

But, on the other hand, inventing what we think it could have been like would also be plain wrong. Our guesses would just be guesses, not necessarily shared by anyone else with an interest in the subject, and since we are not even from any of the cultures in question and completely lack perspective on their worldviews, it would be ridiculous for us to try to decide what they should look like in an alternate setting. Damned if we do and damned if we don't - the nightmare of the mythology scholar who doesn't want to be caught not knowing if they're doing it right!

So, we're sticking with what we do know, even when that isn't a lot. In the case of the pre-Islamic Arab religions, to use an example, we assume that what we know about those mythologies is correct, and therefore is what is happening in the game's world - Hubal is a war god who divines via arrow-throwing, al-Uzza's cult celebrates her great beauty as evidenced by the female features of her ansab, and so on and so forth. Sometimes that means picking a theory and running with it if scholars disagree on what's actually going on; and yes, sometimes that'll mean it's wrong, although we can't prove it one way or the other so no one will ever know. It means that players don't have to learn any extra constructed mythology or history; they can go out and look up ancient Arab religion and have just as much information about it as the game does, instead of having to try to learn several metric tons of new mythology reconstructions set up just for the game. History still happened as it happened, simply with alternative forces substituted for those of monotheism, so while Islam never arrived to get all up in the Arab religions' grill, they may still have interacted with other major religions in the area (such as the Egyptian or Canaanite ones) and entered into historically similar conflicts as a result.


And this way, we can provide as much information as possible on those myths and religious practices we do know something about, and let individual games take it from there. If your game decides that Celtic worship in France experienced a resurgance after the fall of the Roman empire that allowed it to re-extend its influence in place of the Christianity that never arose there, that's groovy. If you instead decide that the Roman decimation of Celtic culture made it more of a minority religion with less powerful gods, so that it is still practiced widely in France but not as much abroad and sometimes alongside imported Roman mythology, that's groovy, too. We'll give you all the basics we can and suggest our best estimations of the modern cults and world of those gods, but you'll always have room to interpret how they fit into the world of Hero's Journey as your game sees fit.

The game world's default assumption is always that the religions of a given area's historical cultures are alive and well in the modern age (and that if monotheism is the norm in our world, they take its place), but when it comes to filling in the gaps where our knowledge of an ancient religion is incomplete, there will probably be many different approaches we (and you) can take. Which is part of the epic challenge, we think!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Spheres in Hero's Journey: Powers of Heaven and Earth

All right, we're back from the road! A little late but definitely not forgotten, it's time for the Monday spoiler. Several of you have been asking about Spheres lately, especially now that the Kickstarter has gotten us a brand new additional one, so today they're our topic of choice.

While all Heroes can do amazing things just by virtue of having invested in the supernatural Aspects and Talents and using the powers associated with them, the truly divine powers in Hero's Journey come from the Spheres. Spheres are areas of cosmic influence that affect the world and all things in it; they are the powers that allow gods to control the seasons, smite mortals with plagues or flood the landscape to express their anger with human misbehavior. Heroes, as representatives of the gods, gain access to those same Spheres on their journeys, and can become more proficient in them as they go along, leaving the realm of merely superhuman feats behind for the truly magical.

Spheres are organized into one of three Domains: the Celestial Domain, which contains all the powers of the heavens and celestial bodies, the Elemental Domain, which contains all divine powers over the natural elements, and the Spiritual Domain, which contains all powers over life, death and the essences that support the world. Within each Domain, Heroes can specialize their powers into individual Spheres - so, for example, if your character put some points into the Elemental Domain, you could then choose to advance in some or all of the Fire or Thunder or Water Spheres as you wish.

The core release of Hero's Journey contains seven Spheres (unless of course the Kickstarter explodes and adds more, in which case we'll talk about those later!), three each from the Celestial and Elemental Domains and two from the Spiritual Domain. Let's do a quick run through them!

The Death Sphere, part of the Spiritual Domain, gives Heroes access to powers over the afterlife and the bodies and souls of the dead. With it, they will be able to communicate with and manipulate those who have passed on, sanctify bodies or become inured to the effects of the very underworlds themselves.

The Fire Sphere, part of the Elemental Domain, gives Heroes access to powers over flame, smoke, heat and the destructive forces of combustion. With it, they will be able to light fires or quench blazes, provide comforting warmth and light to their allies and heat their own bodies to a dangerous inferno.

The Heaven Sphere, part of the Celestial Domain, gives Heroes access to powers over air, breath, wind and the vault of the heavens itself. With it, they will be able to grant or deny breath to others, use the wind to move objects or to carry themselves along, and manipulate the ephemeral powers of the rainbow to uplift their spirits.

The Life Sphere, part of the Spiritual Domain, gives Heroes access to powers over health, disease, and life in all its forms. With it, they will be able to heal allies of their injuries or inflict sickness on their enemies, call upon the bountiful plants of the earth to become fruitful or wither, and bring unbounded fertility to fields and humanity alike.

The Lunar Sphere, part of the Celestial Domain, gives Heroes access to powers over madness, moonlight and the silver disc of the moon itself. With it, they will be able to clear their allies' minds or muddle those of their enemies, bring gentle light to the darkness and call upon the moon's phases to aid them.

The Solar Sphere, part of the Celestial Domain, gives Heroes access to powers over light, warmth and the daystar in the skies above. With it, they will be able to shed light into darkness, inflict heatstroke or soothing warmth on others, and even control the path of the mighty sun itself.

The Thunder Sphere, part of the Elemental Domain, gives Heroes access to powers over rain, thunder, lightning and storms. With it, they will be able to use electricity to smite their foes or power their inventions, call rain to fall, and become forces of natural destruction second to none.

The Water Sphere, part of the Elemental Domain, gives Heroes access to powers over the waters of natural bodies and humanmade reservoirs alike. With it, they will be able to create refreshing liquid to quench their thirst, seek for treasure in the depths of the oceans and treat the waters as their own natural domain.

These are not all the Spheres that Hero's Journey will ever have; while we would have loved to include every possible divine power in the game from the start, reality has (as usual) forced us to choose some to begin with and plan for expansion in the future. We chose this beginning set of powers because they are among the most common in mythology, both for the gods to wield and the heroes who represent them to tap into, but there are other cosmic powers out there, and we hope to release those quickly once the initial game has been completed.

In the meantime, we hope you'll all be as jazzed about these as we are. Powers for days!

Late post today

Hey everyone!
We just got home....a few mistakes and a few traffics made us get home INSANELY LATE. Normal monday post will be up today, but itll be a bit later in the day and we wanted to give you a heads up. See ya then :)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Talents in Hero's Journey: Doing the Deeds

Okay, folks! The Kickstarter is in full swing, and we made it to our Facebook goal, so that means it's time for some spoilers about game specifics! Today we're going to talk just a tiny bit about Talents, the attendant stats that accompany the Aspects.

Whereas the Aspects represent general heroic archetypes that your character can choose to embody (such as Trickster or Sage, et cetera), the Talents that those Aspects govern are where their true skills and powers lie. Each Aspect has three active Talents attached to it and one passive one, and it's these stats that really allow a Hero to shine and perform deeds that will be remembered forever in song.

Aspects provide the basic ability to perform any action that falls into their area, but Talents are what allow Heroes to be really good at those things. Without the Talent needed for a particular task, you'll probably be about as decent at it as a mediocre human, but with it you instantly rocket past the competition.

The Leader Aspect contains the Diplomacy, Sovereignty and Tactics Talents, as well as the passive Talent of Purpose.
The Lover Aspect contains the Beauty, Empathy and Persuasion Talents, as well as the passive Talent of Inspiration.

The Leader's mythic role includes leading others to victory, making tough choices and finding ways to motivate or support their followers, and the Talents associated with it are designed to do that. Diplomacy is the stat used to mediate, negotiate, defuse or discuss; it's an indispensible Talent for those Leaders who specialize in political roles or interaction with other people of import. Sovereignty, on the other hand, is the stat used to command authority and demand respect, and is rolled for Leaders who want to give orders, lay down the law and be seen as the power in their particular sphere of influence. And, finally, Tactics is the Talent of choice for Leaders who command troops in battle and have to make weighty decisions about war maneuvers and issues of the chain of command.

The Lover, on the other hand, is mythically associated with uplifting and inspiring those around them in one way or another, and has an arsenal of Talents designed to bend the hearts and minds of those nearby in just the right direction. The Beauty Talent measures a lover's strikingness of appearance - not necessarily in traditional "standards" of attractiveness, but rather in how important their presence is and how much it makes others want to be near and see them. Empathy is the stat used by Lovers who want to play on the emotions of others, coaxing out feelings buried far beneath the surface. And Persuasion, the last of the Lover's specialties, involves using their charms to convince, cajole, or even outright lie in order to get their way.

This is all pretty standard stuff (although new, since we've never released it before!); you encounter a situation that requires Tactics, you roll Tactics, things happen based on how well you did. However, the passive Talents are where things get really neat. Not all of them are rolled, and in the case of the Leader and the Lover, both are resources they can use to affect the game around them.

The Leader's Purpose allows them to motivate others around them, even when they would otherwise be drained and spent. Leaders can spend points of Purpose to give their allies the ability to take heroic actions even when they would normally have exhausted all their resources and lost that chance. A savvy Leader who knows where and when to spend Purpose can help their friends snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, or give them that final push they need to make it the extra mile before collapsing.

The Lover's special skill is instead Inspiration, which allows them to provoke greatness in others from the sheer elation of their presence. Lovers can spend points of Inspiration to enhance the rolls of those around them, allowing them to turn a middling roll into an acclaimed success, or a success into an unheard-of triumph. A Lover who shares their charms and provides the comfort and joy that their allies need makes any group they enter more likely to win their way to victory in spite of the odds.

And remember, of course, that this hypothetical Leader and Lover could be one and the same person; Aspects are not exclusive and Heroes may invest in any or all of them as they see fit. Many famous gods and heroes clearly had more than a touch of both of these Aspects at once, including the beloved war general Nuada, the famously beautiful Dido who ruled the kingdom of Carthage, and a certain Norse giant who shall remain nameless here.

Talents also grant you access to the special powers and bonuses of the Web of Fate... but that's a whole post in and of itself and will have to be saved for another day. These were only two of the seven sets of Talents available to Heroes, but we'll cover the others in more posts to come!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Art Sneak Preview: Baldr and Hel

It's art day, and we're here with the final round of pantheon sneak previews: the Norse gods! These guys are all over popular media right now thanks to a healthy marathon of movies and television shows, but the artists went back to the basics to try to get some good old-fashioned Nordic feel with them. The results are pretty great.


Speaking of great, here's Baldr, looking hella like a guy you would like to spend some time with, drinking, laughing or playing a rousing game of hurl-weapons-at-his-face. He is a manly delight and we all want to drunkenly hang out with him.

On the other hand, nobody wants to hang out with Hel.


Our favorite things about these sketches are that not only are there no punches pulled about Hel's connection to death and half-faced appearance, but that she looks like a queenly, no-nonsense monarch of her realm without even having to try very hard. She is not having any of your whines about how you don't want Baldr to be dead. (I mean, would you want to kick him out of your house?)

We've done sketches for each of the pantheons in the upcoming release now, but never fear, there will be more art previews on the way later!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kickstarter is Live!

Hi, everybody!

The Kickstarter for Hero's Journey is now live! If you'd like to help support us as we create an awesome mythological adventurescape, head on over there and check it out.

Thanks to everyone who has so far helped bring this game to life. Let's help it along just a little bit more!

Game Recaps Week 3

It's game recap time! This week the NYC group was not in session.

Sunday, 4pm to 12am

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

Characters:

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

Part 1: Jioni and Folkvardr hang out with Tezcatlipoca:

Folkvardr collects his son, whom Tezcatlipoca has apparently been babysitting (or something) in the ruins of Pyongyang, and invites Tezcat to the Fate-weavers moot he's throwing. Tezcatlipoca explains that he doesnt see any reason to go. Folkvardr pleads with him and eventually comes to an agreement. Folkvardr will get on rebuilding the city, and/or return with a female companion for Tezcat here in Korea. They note that Tezcat is being very weird and depart back to New Iceland to get this baby some clothes and food.

Part 2: Eztli and Sowiljr climbs the steps of the pyramid so that Sowiljr can take one of his tests of faith with Xipe Totec. On the way, they are once again stopped by Quetzacoatl's man-sized quetzal secretary. This is the third of such birds to exist because Eztli's nahualli eats it everytime they visit. There is an exchange and much taunting, but eventually Sowiljr convinces Eztli not to eat the bird. And as she turns, her nahualli, angered at the lack of bird eating, goes into an insane rage and eats the bird, causing her to immediately experience a crisis of faith and go even further off the deep end. She spends a lot of time insane over the course of the game. Sowiljr is forced to contain her as much as possible, keep up appearances of her sanity and try to replace this bird before Quetzal notices. He succeeds on most fronts, but his wife's suicidal rages put a heavy weight on his heart. Jioni comes to help get them off the pyramid and into the safety of Eztli's underworld, but there Eztli demands that Sowiljr punish her with death for her crimes. It was a painful, brutal day that they eventually got through.


Part 2a: This probably deserves more explanation. There are a lot of moving parts to the Eztli meltdown. She's overcome by self-loathing at her failure. She must commit suicide for failing her duty. She stabs herself, which does tons of damage. However, Folkvardr is currently dedicated to her welfare and has the power to take damage in her stead. Sowiljr doesn't want to let either of them take damage lest he start having an even worse day, and he also has that power, so they roll off to see whose reaction time is fast enough to take the hits. Sowiljr wins and almost dies from the one Eztli power blow. Eztli realizes she hurt her husband and is further mortified. Knowing that Sowiljr will die if this keeps up, she begs Sowiljr himself to kill her. He does so, doing just enough damage to knock her out. As she then regenerates every three hours he must do it again, for 24 hours. It was brutal... and kind of the second time all this has happened. Various gods also pointed out repeatedly to Sowiljr that he should figure out how to "fix this kind of thing".

Part 3: Sowiljr's test: This one is pretty simple. Xipe Totec is testing his training with plants and understanding of Mexica dogma. He was presented with three fruits growing on vines that he had to talk to, figuring out which of the three he was supposed to eat. After what seemed like an eternity of frustration, one of the fruits back-talked him, and he responded by growing 150 feet tall and shoving all three (along with a great deal of dirt and vines) into his mouth. This technically let him pass. He has a long history of fruits giving him lip.

Part 4: Eztli's test: With her father missing, Eztli is receiving training from Marduk. Marduk had told Sowiljr at the end of the Kingsmoot to bring Eztli by in a week, but with her recent insanity he thought it'd be good to bring her early. Marduk, however, was busy copulating with his wife still and so they had some time to blow. They are greeted by Utnapishtim who gets them all their hospitality needs and asks Sowiljr if he'd like to see his boats(he does. Sowiljr fucking loves boats). He and Sowiljr take a long peaceful ride while Eztli waits and her nahualli pigs out at a feast of magic delicacies. Sowiljr and Utnapishtim almost descend into the primordial realm of water in order to continue their awesome time at sea, but they both steel themselves and head back to shore. As a gift, Utnapishtim gives the boat to Sowiljr. He also reminds him that there is definitely not a flood coming, so he definitely doesn't have to worry about anything like that... but he totally needs this boat.


Part 4a: Eztli's test got long and I didn't even talk about the test yet! Eventually Marduk greats them and is slightly annoyed at Eztli's lack of understanding of basic concepts, but he gives her the test anyway. She must solve a difficult (for her) political puzzle based on hierarchy of loyalty in a feudal system. Through force of will and determination she figures it out, and the prize is being forced to survive a horrible firestorm. The horrible firestorm was far easier than the political test. Marduk is still frustrated with speaking to her however, and stresses that she must be able to read and write (at least) before she returns.

Part 5: Currency: As they're leaving, they see Sin flying the moon across the sky. Sowiljr asks him to use his powers over the moon's madness to heal Eztli of her temporary insanities. He agrees, but for a price. He wants payment in the form of an ancient magical currency that only the gods have... but Sowiljr has never heard of. He agrees (paying interest if he can't get it soon) and Eztli is healed.

Part 6: I kinda forget what happened, it was a late night. Eztli and Sowiljr headed back to New Iceland to consult Jioni and Folkvardr about what this currency could be and where they might get it. Folkvardr pulled the ol' pretend-to-be-a-hermit-and-beg-for-clothes and then rewards the humans that give him clothes. And like something else happened with everyone... but it was a long night and I've forgotten. Players, any ideas?

Wednesday: 7pm - 12am

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

Characters:

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

The wedding day starts well for the ladies and difficultly for the men. Agni guards Shadan's cell, making sure he isn't attempting anything sneaky, and generally torturing him when he feels like it. Shadan finds out that he is meeting Vishnu today somewhere and needs a gift. He gives Hao some gold to go purchase a suitable gift (but unfortunately, this task is impossible). Agni taunts Shadan by giving him time limits to pick out the correct outfit and then lighting all the other outfits on fire. Lionel relaxes and enjoys temple life. Mohini and Padma excitedly get ready for a wedding.

(Reminder, Padma and Shadan have kinda been married for four years already, but now it's official!)


Lakshmi arrives and takes the girls on a parade through the city, making sure everyone sees her beautiful daughter on her wedding day and blessing the populous with luck and happiness.

Shadan, on the other hand, is taken in Agni's firey chariot to the mountain of trials, where he must prove that he is willing to brave all sorts of tests of pain and illusions. He is stuck there, bleeding, hungry, thirsty, dying, for what seems like months before he reaches the top to find Vishnu. After a long talk about responsibility, the evil of his people, how useless Shadan has been so far as a person, and many other topics, Vishnu agrees to let the marriage take place with a few caveats. Shadan must spy on his family for Vishnu, and he must swear an oath to be a loving husband to Padma. He agrees to both of these. The oath changes his perspective on his responsibilities, and Shadan willingly gives his magical Tesla knife (that almost killed Padma) up to Vishnu because he doesn't want it ever accidentally hurting his wife again. Then servants clean him up and he is brought back to earth for the marriage as the parade ends.

The marriage takes place over Agni's sacred fire in the courtyard of a gorgeous temple. They circle the fire seven times, saying their vows, and at the end are completely engulfed in the flames as Vishnu says the final prayers of the service. Vishnu gives Shadan a golden sword as a symbol of his new responsibility and reminds Shadan that he has just taken the first few steps, of many, in acceptance among the deva. Everyone is happy as the moon rises and they are taken away from the temple, back to Paris (for some reason the moon has been teleporting them around the world for the past few weeks, they still aren't sure why yet). Shadan and Padma head to their honeymoon suite, and the rest of the group go to the Moulin Rouge (constructed 40 years earlier than it was in real life). They watch a show and try to assess if anyone here remembers the horrible fight that took place that almost killed Padma, but no one seems to remember.


After some music, an impressively technical version of The Tempest takes place. The part of Caliban is played by a particularly charismatic dwarf named Alfonse who attracts Mohini's fancy.


After the show they meet and go out for drinks across the street. Some confusion in translation between Hao, Lionel, and Alfonse has Alfonse thinking that Lionel is President of America. Some more drinking and singing and dancing later, spurred on by his want to impress Mohini, Alfonse whips the patrons of the bar into a frenzy, and starts a mob intent on rallying the people against the locals who are trying to shut down the theater.


Everyone heads out singing at five o'clock in the morning. Shadan and Padma hear the songs as they bathe together. As they rush out to meet the mob, they each realize that the other is pregnant... not with a child, but with plant spores. They are confused, but dont mention it to each other. That's something to deal with later.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Enchantress

So we all know that mythology, as a general rule, prefers the male hero over the female one; ancient cultures were all about some dudes heading out to conquer in the name of awesomeness, sword in hand and muscles a-bulging, but the ladies seldom get the same opportunity. (Although a few do. Get it, Anat.) Women are certainly present, and we don't lack tales in which women are the heroes of the story or the major actors who get things done, but they usually do it with less punching and more emphasis on what various ancient cultures considered "womens'" talents - things like guile, magic or their feminine attractiveness. So today we're going to talk about one of the most excellent of all mythological femme fatales - the divine Mohini.


Mohini is the archetypal lady of irresistible charms in Hindu mythology; as the only female Avatar of the god Vishnu, she was created when the deva and asura collaborated to churn the Ocean of Milk in order to beguile the evil gods into being cheated of their share of the divine amrita. She used her incredible beauty to convince the asura to give her the amrita and then distract them while she distributed the amrita to the deva, keeping them charmed until they had been excluded without even realizing it, and when the asura Rahu was the only one with the ability to focus up and try to sneak in and steal the amrita by posing as a deva, Mohini lopped his head off before the sacred nectar could get all the way down his throat, denying him true immortality.


But the fun doesn't stop there. Whenever the special charms of an incredibly hot and crafty lady are called for, it's Mohini who steps up to the plate and solves problems of universal import and major difficulty. In another myth, the asura Bhasmasura gains the power to turn any living being instantly to ash by touching them on the top of the head after performing penance for Shiva, and immediately sets about trying to use this power on Shiva himself in order to steal Parvati for his own. When Mohini appears before Bhasmasura, her beauty is so great that he immediately falls for her and begs her to be his wife, but she claims that she is such a devotee of dance that she will only marry him if he can exactly mirror all her dance moves and thus prove himself to be her perfect mate. Enchanted, Bhasmasura agrees and dances alongside Mohini until, too enraptured by her movements to pay any attention to what he's doing, he imitates her putting her hand on her own head and kills himself with his newfound power.


Bhasmasura isn't the only demon that Mohini takes out with her irresistible badassness, either. When the asura Virochana receives the crown of good fortune from Surya and immediately begins abusing it to dethrone the deva, Mohini works her wiles on him (literally, he "falls into the whirlpool" of her beauty) until he pledges to give her whatever she asks, and when she asks for his crown and the head that it sits on, he beheads himself at her request before even thinking about it. When another asura, Araka, threatens to conquer the countryside because his incredible asceticism has made him strong from the power of his mighty chastity, Mohini simply appears and marries him, and when after three days his vows of chastity are well and truly destroyed, he is easily slain by Krishna, another of Vishnu's Avatars. When the divine prince Iravan must be sacrificed to the Pandavas to ensure victory and demands that he be given a wife before he dies, it is Mohini who fulfills his request and spends a night with him, convincing him to offer his sacrifice to aid Krishna instead of his enemies. When a group of sages foolishly begin to consider themselves deities because of their great spiritual powers, she teams up with Shiva to drive them mad with desire and make them chase her through the forest. And in the Ramakien, the royal Thai version of the epic Ramayana, when the asura Nontok uses a vajra given to him by Shiva to begin wreaking havoc it is Mohini who appears, charms him into dancing with her, and eventually tricks him into breaking his own legs, whereupon she kills him with a promise that a later Avatar, Rama, will also destroy his reincarnation as Ravana in the future.


Most famously, even Shiva is not immune to Mohini's considerable allure; after seeing her bewitch the asura at the Ocean of Milk, he can't stop thinking about her and eventually begs Vishnu to see her again (or, in some versions, prays to other deities that he can see her again). When she appears, he loses all ability to function and begins chasing her all over the world (much to Parvati's dismay), attempting to grab hold of her, but she eludes him and he eventually ejaculates on the ground, whereupon he is overcome by shame at the realization of his lack of self-control. In another version, he successfully catches her but isn't able to complete the act of copulation thanks to his own overeagerness; and in yet another, he fathers several children on her, but she keeps him at bay from marrying her by forcing him to constantly go home and ask his wife for permission in a series of escalatingly unacceptable demands, eventually turning back into Vishnu so that Shiva realizes the folly of his endeavor and pledges to take care of the children.


Basically, Mohini is an unstoppable force of sensuality with the power to take down entire kingdoms and destroy demonic forces that menaces even the gods, and she does it with quintessentially female powers that have no equal among her male heroic counterparts. It can be tempting to write Mohini off as not really being female because of her status as an Avatar of the male god Vishnu, but that would be inaccurate - Mohini is female (although many people can and do discuss the implications of her connection to Vishnu and what that might mean in terms of dual-genderism or fluid sexuality), and Vishnu becomes her when femininity is what is called for to solve a problem or overcome an obstacle. Mohini is powerful explicitly because she is female; her myths imply that the power of bewitchment and fascination is a feminine one, and that while masculine heroes may win the day through cleverness, persistence or strength of arms, they cannot compete with a woman in the arena of allure and manipulation. And Mohini certainly is a hero. Her exploits prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. All that differs is her weapon of choice.

Mohini isn't alone in the annals of myth, either. The idea of the fatally attractive female, who can destroy the most powerful with the slightest effort and who can and does shape the course of heroic events, is one that pops up around the world over and over again. When you're out on the Hero's Journey, never let anyone tell you that you can't win the day with a pretty smile and a cunning plot. Odds are, they're afraid of you doing just that.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Storm from the North

Today we're going to talk about a contradiction in terms: the Norse gods, and how insanely popular they are in western culture.


It's not that they aren't super neat or cool or awesome to read about - those are totally true, and very good reasons for them to be popular. And it's not even that they aren't relevant to modern-day readers, because thanks to being the gods of an influential religion that spanned Scandinavia, Germanic countries and much of the British Isles, they are "ancestral gods" for many Europeans and European-descended people (especially in the Americas). And of course, their adventures are classic tales of heroism, defeat and destiny, which have been popular themes in religion and literature alike for pretty much all of human development.

What's odd and contradictory about them is that there aren't very many of them, and we know so little about them compared to other religions' gods. There are not a large number of Norse gods - about sixty to seventy, all told, with much debate over how many of those are really distinct deities and how many might just be different aspects of a single god, which is a very small number when compared to the hundreds upon hundreds of unique figures in Egyptian religion or the literal thousands listed by the ancient Mesopotamians. And of those gods, only a handful are known outside of a single mention, with many referred to only by name and never expounded upon at all. Furthermore, we have very little surviving information about them; the tales of the gods preserved in Snorri's Edda are almost all of the written record we have, supplemented by a little archaeological evidence here and a little Germanic historical evidence there, and we know only the barest sketched outlines of how they might have been worshiped and what kind of relationship they had with their people. To an outside observer, it seems absurd that they get a disproportionately massive amount of press in western countries compared to cultures with much larger complements of gods or collections of stories (the Hindu gods, for example, blow them out of the water on both counts).


So, what's up with these guys? Most likely, it's a combination of influence from European settlement and conquest around the world, and their frequent use as figures of cultural symbolism in the pursuit of those conquests.

To begin with, the Norse gods (and their probably-close cousins, the Irish deities) are as close as you can get to the ancestral gods of several northern European peoples. They are clearly the dominant pantheon once worshiped in areas far to the north, including Iceland, Denmark and Sweden, and we have plenty of historical evidence that their cults and practices were widespread in ancient England and Germany as well. For most cultures, their own historical beliefs and past are more interesting to them than those of others, so interest in the Norse gods has been quietly booming in the parts of Europe affected by them for centuries, long after their worship was suppressed by the introduction of Christianity. Those European peoples, in turn, were the major forces for colonization around the world during the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries, which means that they brought and seeded their own cultural values and history in new places, spreading its influence. Modern North America and Australia both contain a very large population of people descended from Europeans from areas that were once under Norse religious control, which in turn extends the idea of the "ancestral gods" to them. They maintained those old stories, wrote books about them, were interested in them, and eventually created things like Marvel's Thor or the Canadian television show Vikings that continued their popularity to successive generations.

But, if the main reason the Norse gods remain so popular is European expansionism, why aren't other European pantheons equally as beloved? Why don't we have a glut of television shows about the Tuatha de Danann, the legendary deities of Ireland, or the anciently mighty gods of the Slavic lands?


Alas, all European countries' histories with one another are not equal. The Norse gods were a subject of interest especially for Scandinavian, Germanic and British people, and those happened to be the countries that had the most enormous influence in shaping culture and scholarship during the past several centuries (not to mention holding an overwhelming majority of the conquered territories during imperialist expansions). The Enlightenment in Europe, a period of increased interest in scientific examination of the world and historical study of cultures beginning in the seventeenth century, saw European scholars begin to heavily examine and discuss various mythologies, but while they looked at the ancient beliefs of everyone from faraway Japan to the barely-discovered peoples of the Amazon, they did not give all those cultures an equal amount of time or credibility in their discussions. Especially popular were the Greek gods, who had been the symbols of the Renaissance and represented many idea of philosophy that Enlightenment writers and scholars wanted to expand upon; the Egyptian gods, who were at the time considered evidence of an ancient master race of Europeans who had once ruled Africa and whose aesthetic and mysterious writings were very popular in art and fashion; and the Norse gods, who were the "locals" and were often looked to as symbols of the ancient values of the very people of Europe itself.

In contrast, Celtic deities, although studied, were less "important" and easier to ignore in discussions of "serious" philosophy; the Irish, as well as many other marginalized European groups at the time, were considered to be less of a noble and important people and certainly weren't at the forefront of fashionable scholarship at the time, so their gods simply weren't paid as much attention to as the Greek and Norse deities that most European scholars identified with most strongly. Their history was studied more as a curiosity than as a religion or a philosophy worthy of serious consideration, and as a result for a long time information on Irish beliefs survived as mere folk beliefs, practiced among people in Celtic countries as a matter of tradition or carried over by immigrants to new lands. Other European pantheons, including those of Baltic, Slavic, Finnish and Albanian cultures, were similarly underrepresented in scholarly work, although they were often included in a general way for completeness' sake.

So the Norse were part of the exclusive European Mythology Club, which shaped a lot of the literature and popular ideas of gods in Europe, Australia and the Americas for the next few centuries, giving them a leg up on several other pantheons in spite of their relatively small base of deities and myths. And finally, they got a popularity boost from somewhere that probably nobody really wants their popularity boost: Nazism.

Nazism in Germany is way too complicated, in history when it was powerful and now when it still survives in fringe groups, to really go into all the philosophical and religious ideas underlying it, but one of the possible motivating forces for its philosophy and eventual atrocities was Ariosophy, a philosophical branch of thought that claimed that the original European race (called the Aryan race in this context, in spite of the fact that the term originated in India and originally referred to the Indo-European races, rather than any ancient pure European line) was the pure and powerful super race intended to control the world, and that the current state of affairs in the world was a consequence of Aryans interbreeding with "lesser races" (i.e, everybody who did not meet their absurd standards for "pure" humanity) and diluting their bloodlines. Several branches of Ariosophy called for a rejection of Christianity, a religion that had clearly originated with "lesser peoples", and a return to the pure European religion of their ancestors... which of course was usually said to be the worship of the Norse gods, who were about as far north and European as it was possible to get, and who had a strong cultural resonance with Germanic people. The Norse gods were held up as examples of the power and values of the supposed master Aryan race, and their stories were revived as political propaganda to inspire people with their great deeds and draw a parallel to show them how great they would be themselves if they only got rid of all these other, inferior people.


The most obvious example of this boom of interest and political support of the Norse gods is Wagner's opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), a massive operatic retelling of the myths of the hero Sigurd, the exploits of Odin and Loki regarding the stolen ring, and the eventual doom of Ragnarok. Wagner was sympathetic to the idea of the inherent greatness of the Germanic race and created the operas as a national epic to inspire the people, and the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, who was a fan of Wagner's work and believed it helped present the sort of vision of the master race that he wanted to advance, thereafter publicly supported the operas and used music from them at Nazi events and even in concentration camps.

(Seriously, though, Ariosophy is possibly one of the grossest things you will ever read about, and we barely scratched its surface here. If you want to go forth and learn more about it, the internet is your oyster, but be prepared for some examples of truly inexcusable human behavior. Alas for the poor Norse gods who were associated with it centuries after the fact.)

So it's been a long, weird road for the Norse gods, who have remained incredibly popular despite being smaller and less storied than some other pantheons. But then again, every pantheon's history and preservation is weird. I promise. Every single one. History is crazy.

And regardless of how they got here, with merchandising deals and curriculum in public schools and The Almighty Johnsons, the Norse gods are here, and they are awesome. Their exploits, slaying dragons, pranking one another, fighting large-scale wars, sneaking into giant territory, transforming into animals and more, are the stuff of classic heroic legend, making them ripe for rip-roaring stories and perfect as inspiration for great deeds. We love to read their stories and retell them in new ways, and at the gaming table we love to take part in those legends ourselves and create new and compelling characters to continue the tradition of the heroic saga.

Overcoming adversity to arrive in the modern day as conquering heroes is certainly a very Norse thing to do. Syngjum heilar!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Announcement: Kickstarter Coming!

As we hinted at recently to all of you, the time is fast approaching for us to start our Kickstarter campaign!


We're optimistic and excited... and hope that all of you are, too. Woohoo!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Aspects in Hero's Journey: Let's Try That Again

Okay, everybody. Last week we released a video giving some teasers about the Aspects, the major stat system for Hero's Journey. Like all self-important authors and developers everywhere, we were super excited about our plans and thought we communicated them clearly and concisely, and went about our business afterward with many high fives.

But, judging from the confusion and questions and even opposition on the forums and in social media, we weren't as clear as we could have been. And while there's certainly something to be said for the tantalizing mystery of an unreleased product, we know all of you want to know what's awesome about this game in particular and why it will knock your socks off with its mythic adventuring. So, today I'll explain a little more about Aspects, and why they are awesome and your characters using them will be awesome, too.

The seven Aspects - Creator, Hunter, Leader, Lover, Sage, Trickster and Warrior - are the central stats that describe a character in Hero's Journey. They take the place of more traditional RPG stats like Strength or Charisma; and while those stats are widespread in a lot of games and there's a reason for that, because they do a decent job of modeling a character's abilities and impact on the world around them, they were not the perfect fit we wanted for this game.

Essentially, traditional game stats like Dexterity or Wisdom or Stamina operate on a "modeling the real world" kind of theory; they are intended to give players the ability to project what their characters might be able to do based on various kinds of strengths and/or weaknesses that people have in real life. We know how what physical strength is because we see and use it in real life, so we create a Strength stat that models that; we know what social graces look like because they're an active part of everyone's social life, so we create a Charisma stat to model that, and so on.

However, HJ isn't trying to model real life. We want it to instead model and enable unreal life - the off-the-wall deeds and incredible feats of mythology and legend. We noticed a lot of confusion specifically over a particular line we said in the video, that it doesn't matter how strong your character is, and that's absolutely true: it doesn't matter how strong they are. "Strong" is just a way that we describe a character based on what they do. Those things that they do are what matter, and that's where Aspects come in.

Mythological heroes, gods and popular legends perform a lot of amazing things, which is basically what the requirement for being remembered in myth is in the first place. Aspects cover the spectrum of the many different kinds of heroes, encompassing the general archetypes important to their characters and the skills that they require to do the things they do. Doing is what's important in mythology, and that's what Aspects are here to enable: instead of looking to a set of semi-realistic statistics for basic capabilities, Aspects enable us to say, "What kind of heroic feat are you trying to perform?" They give characters the tools to do those things that they want to do, and leave the descriptions of them - beautiful, strong, deadly, hilarious - to the onlookers who write the myths about them.

The goal of Aspects is to allow you to do your job as a character without worrying about not being able to do it because it requires a bunch of different stats. If you want to do things that tricksters do, investing in the Trickster Aspect will allow you to do them; you don't have to figure out which stats you need most often as a trickster and try to purchase some in all of them, but rather just actually put your points into Trickster, plain and simple. Where another game might say, "Well, if you want to be good at combat, you need Strength to hurt things, and Agility to dodge things, and Constitution to survive things, and Wits to respond to things," HJ says, "You want to be a warrior? Cool beans, you need some Warrior."

We can't go through all the possible things you could do with Aspects, because that would be... well, all the possible things. It would be a really long list. And obviously there is specificity within the Aspects, depending on how you choose to specialize them with their attendant Talents - you may be able to do most basic wilderness tasks as long as you have some Hunter, but if you invest heavily in Tracking and not so much in Naturalism, you'll have some variation between your awesometastic skills at tracking down prey and your less stellar rapport with the local wildlife. Those who are worried that they won't be able to customize their characters uniquely or that Aspects will take away the ability to have areas where you get to shine above your party members shouldn't be; those things are amply supported by Talents, which are a whole further ballpark in terms of stats to talk about.

A few other things to note: while the names of Aspects could be confused for descriptions of "kinds" of characters, they are not classes. They describe mythic roles that characters can take on, and many heroes will take on more than one over the course of even a single tale. Most heroes are hybrids of several Aspects, although there are a rare few that might dabble in only one or two; you won't choose just one and ignore the others, but most likely have at least a little investment in most of them, just as you would in the stats of any other game. That doesn't mean you can't decide that you want to be all the Leader you can be and head as deep into that stat as you can go, of course, but most of the leaders of myth still have the ability to take a shot at an enemy as a Warrior or pause to provide advice as a Sage every once in a while.

When we say it doesn't matter how strong you are, that doesn't mean your character isn't strong; it just means that measuring it in newtons doesn't matter to anything happening in the game. People won't say that your character's objectively strong in a vacuum; they'll say they're strong because they were Warrior enough to wrestle down a monstrous beast. They won't say that you're beautiful because you happened to look nice walking down a street doing nothing; they'll say you're beautiful because you were the Lover who toppled a kingdom with their charms.

At their core, Aspects aren't about measuring, and are not designed to mirror real life skills as much as they are meant to give characters the ability to succeed at heroic feats. They're about allowing Heroes to do and be as incredibly as they can possibly be. The rest will follow.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Art Sneak Preview: Lakshmi and Yama

It's Friday - time for art, and we have two whole pantheons that haven't seen the light yet! Let's take a look at a few gods of India, in all their delightful artistic sketchy glory!


We love the motion and sensuality in these sketches of Lakshmi, who with her lotus flowers, coins and sunny smile looks like the very embodiment of prosperity and happiness. Which is what she is, so the artists have struck again.

And on the other end of the spectrum, we have the lord of Naraka, who as you can see they experimented with between his manly Hindu incarnation and his more monstrous and frightening Buddhist face.


He's a serious person and he will have a serious underworld discussion with anyone who needs it.

These guys are actually still under a lot of construction - the artists are working like madwomen and the many sketches they are sending us have more arms, eyes and symbolic iconography than a single blog post could contain. As usual, you can find Sam and Steph at their Deviantart homes if you want to show them a little love!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Game Recap Week 2

It's game recap time! This week the nineteenth-century crew was not in session, but problems in the halls of Asgard and the wilds of New York abound.

Sunday, 4pm to 12am

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

Characters:

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

In his anguish over difficult kingly decisions and his wife's miscarriage, Sowiljr plumbs the hidden mysteries of the ocean's depths for information. He finds proof that as the war began, the Teotl were making surgical strikes against the weakest members of other pantheons and making it look like enemy attacks. This added to his tough decision about whether to side with Vishnu or Xipe Totec in an upcoming conflict. To save everyone from the weight of the knowledge, the Allfather wiped their memories and buried his own feelings deep with a new quest to save his youngest (though physically eldest) daughter, who had been trapped in a constellation. With much difficulty, the four were able to drag young Ahuiliztli from the stars, and Sowijr and Eztli left to bring her to Mexico and set her up as a guardian of Mexico City, as well as bringing livestock to the people.

Meanwhile, Sowiljr left Folkvardr and Jioni with the task of consulting Fate to find Maquicelotl (Jay Ortiz), who they hadn't seen in quite some time. They learned that Tezcatlipoca was hiding this information (and probably other information), and there was a bit of an improptu fate-war. Folkvardr and Jioni won, but at a pretty terrible price, and probably gained some very dangerous enmity. Folkvardr also learned that his son was alive and actually with Maquicelotl. They left to go meet Maquicelotl in Korea in the ruins of Pyongyang, but before they left they felt a horrible menace in the area... but didn't see what it was. When they arrived in Korea, Folkvardr's son was there. Maquicelotl was not... but Tezcatlipoca was.

Finally, Sowijr and Eztli went to visit their son Cuatecuani, fledgling lord of Mictlan. He had made much progress taking over the realm and constructing armies of the undead to defend his lands. He and Eztli argued over proper ways to run things, and he made Sowiljr a present so that Sowiljr can come visit him in his unpleasant home more easily in the future.

Saturday: 10am - 3pm

Characters:

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

On the west side of Queens is a hospital camp for those left homeless or injured from the recent destruction of the city. Everyone except Valentina (who was still on the new Cat Island) relaxed there for a day. Corey and Seif rallied the injured and doctors alike into a new Mesopotamian-centric cult. Valentina arrived and took Seif and his daughter out for Chinese food.

Earlier, Skylar had informed them about a hospital that contains a creature of great healing powers that they're going to have to convince to commit suicide in order to save the city. Long story short: They get there and discover that the creature is a giant gila monster. It is keeping a ward of cancer-ridden children alive and safe from zombies. The creature senses their plans and refuses to go with them, but Valentina convinces it that they could save the children better, and then they'll talk about possible "suicide," or not talk about it at all and just save the kids. Skylar stays and works in the labs with a very bored Seif and Russell because the creature said it would only travel with Valentina and Corey.

On the way out of the city, a tragic series of events happened. Corey forgot to tell the gila monster that sometimes when you leave the darkness of NYC and head into the light, you suffer from its spiritually draining effects, and in addition, no one helped prepare or bolster the creature for this ahead of time. So it left the city, lost its mind from the effects, and starting attacking the kids, cracking open the tops of the ambulance they were traveling in, so it could reach down and snack on them. Valentina dove out of the car to heroically save the children and succeeded, but was struggling with the giant creature on the bridge. Corey tried to heroically escape with the children, but had never driven a car before... and the attempt to flee caused him to be overcome by his own cowardice and to react violently. He crashed the ambulance, knocking himself out and killing several children. Seif received psychic warnings that they were in danger, and he and Russell forced Skylar to leave his research and come to battle, while he begged them not to but was helpless to resist. They arrived on the scene... and Seif crashed the car, almost killing Skylar. Seif and Russell saved Valentina and got her out of the creature's stomach before killing it, and Valentina trapped the soul of the creature in the Ghostbusters-like containment device Skylar built before collapsing near death herself. The children are dead... and all is not well.

There ya go! See ya next week!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mythic Identity: When Genders Collide

Mythology, being a sort of repository of the ancient collective psychological consciousness of countless people and cultures over millennia, is full of thoughts and ideas. People turn to it for everything from religious meaning to historical information to entertainment value, and today, someone would like us to turn to it for social commentary with this question: In the modern world we have people promoting a biological view of gender and people promoting a social view of gender. Would you say that a mythic view of gender could be seen as an alternative to biological or social views, and if so, what might it look like?

There's a lot going on here. Concepts of sex and gender are crazy complicated, varied and differently presented all over the world and across history, and the myths that have to do with them are likewise not what you would call neat and tidy. But let's talk about the basics first.

To begin with: a "biological view of gender" is not actually a real thing. Gender is specifically a social construct; it is the way a person is perceived as part of one or more of various social categories, and what expectations, roles and pressures their society puts on them as a result. Sex, on the other hand, refers specifically to the biological construction of a person, and in this context usually refers to what reproductive organs and physiological sexual characteristics they possess.

In essence, your sex refers to your body's construction and makeup, while your gender refers to your social understanding of who you are and how others respond to you because of it. When you're talking biology, you're usually talking about sex; when you're talking about personality and social roles, you're usually talking about gender. It's an important distinction because, while we tend to be most used to a binary view of society in which you have men and you have women and everyone fits into one category or the other, this isn't actually the case. We're accustomed to assigning gender based on sex - that is, if someone has female sex organs, we call them a woman, and if they have male bits, we call them a man - but there are millions of people who don't fit into those categories. Some people are born with physical characteristics of both sexes, making it impossible to try to assign their gender based solely on their genitalia; others might be born with no clear characteristics of either sex, making them similarly uncategorizable based on biology alone. Some people have a set of genitalia commonly assigned to one gender but identify as another gender, which they might do in a variety of ways including using social cues such as clothing or hobbies that are associated with their gender rather than the gender most often attributed to their physical sex, by having surgery that changes the configuration of their biological organs, or even by making no outward changes at all, simply knowing their gender without the need to participate in most of their cultures' ways of expressing it. And some people might identify as neither male nor female at all, or both at the same time or in a fluid, changeable state, and take part in various different gender roles as is appropriate for them.

When you talk about a "biological view" versus a "social view" of gender, what you're really talking about are two opposing beliefs: that gender always must be dictated by biological sex (meaning that those without clear sexual organ definition are deformed and those who identify as different genders are wrong or mentally ill), or that gender, being a social creation, is based on psychological and social responses and exists independently of physical bodies (meaning that it is possible for anyone to identify as any gender, regardless of sex organs).

A "mythic view" of gender is therefore really just getting involved in all that sociology up there. Mythology is, after all, the creation of humanity; it's a giant conglomerate ball of important concepts regarding psychology, society, laws and morals, and therefore any subject like gender that has to do with social ideas and peoples' behavior toward one another will bring all that social commentary to the table in myths. And because people of all sexes and genders exist among mortals and have existed for countless centuries, so they also exist in mythology, where their treatment and the general view of them relies upon the beliefs of the culture that created their story.


A mythic view of gender is completely dictated by what culture's myths you are referring to, and what level of connection they consider there to be between the practices of their gods and heroes of legend and the doings of normal humans in their society. There are tons of examples of beings with whose genders fall outside the binary in ancient myths; Hermaphroditus above is one of the most famous, and as the god (who became a being of both sexes when the nymph Salmacis called upon the gods to join her with her reluctant male lover) represents both the perfect form of masculinity and femininity together but also the punishment of the female forcing its way to intrude on the male, so it tells us that ancient Greek society considered people with sexual characteristics of both male and female to represent a unity of the sexes and to be physically attractive. but also that masculinity was inherently above femininity and could only be brought down by fusing with it. In Western Africa, many of the Yoruba peoples' deities were frequently said to be male, female, or to appear as both or to swap between them in various stories, and the fact that this was very rarely commented on in the myths themselves tells us that the ancient Yoruba considered gender, at least for gods, to be fluid and impermanent except when it serves the needs of the story. And in ancient Mexica religion, male priests of the cult of Xochipilli were said to wear female clothing and ritually perform sex acts reserved for women only, and the fact that those caught behaving in such a way who were not part of that rite were castigated and looked down upon tells us that this culture considered gender roles rigid in some areas of life but mutable under certain conditions or for certain purposes.

The world is a big place, so we can't talk about every possible treatment of gender roles in mythology, not even with a year of dedicated blogging time. But I think there's a more interesting question here: what exactly is a "mythic view" of gender, and is the fact that it belongs to the realm of symbolism and story enough to make it effectively different from social genders?


When gender appears in mythology in an important way, it's almost always in order to make a statement in some way. If it's important that a character is a female, her femininity must affect the story in some way, and therefore the story is saying something about what it means to be female. If it's not important that a character is male, then his masculinity doesn't matter to the story, and therefore the point it's trying to make is not about masculinity but some other quality or representation that god or hero possesses. For example, when Amaterasu and Susanoo compete to create new gods from their divine treasures, one of them creates females and the other males, and the fact that it's considered obvious that whomever created the males is the winner tells us that the culture telling the story considered male offspring automatically more valuable than female. On the other hand, in the tale of Heracles cleaning the Augean stables, his maleness has no bearing on his eventual creative success at the task, so we can understand that the story is praising his qualities of strength and resourcefulness rather than trying to comment on gender. When both Loki and Odin take on female forms, the former as a mare and the latter as an old woman, before later taking on male ones again, the fact of their genderfluid transformations is such a big deal and so clearly not accepted by their culture that it becomes the worst insult they can think of to hurl at one another, which tells us that failure to adhere to a single gender role is a source of shame for the culture telling this story.


So in a mythic sense, gender is about making a statement: a mythic view of gender is designed to tell the person hearing or reading the myth an important truth (in the opinion of the myth's retellers) about what it means to be a particular gender or to be fluid between genders or to exist completely irrespective of gender, or for two or more genders to interact or for gender to be defined at all. A god's or hero's gender in a myth matters because it needs to tell the audience something; it allows that god or hero to stand in as a representative of the entire gender concept they are partaking in, if that happens to be the focus of the story. On the other hand, it's entirely possible to have heroic feats and tales that place little importance on the main character's gender, in which case the mythic view of a gender is irrelevant; but while this happens in a short myth, in the longer context of a hero's entire career, issues related to their gender almost always appear eventually.

So, when you play a Hero, a transformative being who tells stories that all of humanity watches, your gender is as important and indispensable a part of your story as you want it to be. Some Heroes are examples of the gender roles of their societies, while others break rules, push boundaries, and force their people to examine and accept things outside their normal definitions. No matter what gender (or genders) you choose to embody, your stories will bear that mark. And where ancient cultures' heroes were products of their time and reinforced beliefs and gender roles that their societies gave them, you have the power to take on whatever roles you choose and tell whatever gender story is in you to tell.