Friday, February 27, 2015

Update: The Happiest Developers on Earth

Hey, everybody! John here, HJ's lead dev, to take over for Cameron this week. We told him he could go back to answering questions and being tantalizing next time.

The reason I'm here this time is because March is closing in on us, and with it our hoped-for deadline. The first thing to let you know is that, unfortunately, the book will not be shipped by the end of February, as we'd hoped. The core book itself is still in its final polishing phase and has not gone to the printer yet, and the novel is still at the printer as we speak. Dice, sketches, and prints are all completed and just waiting to go - it's all on us to get things to their final printing destination now.

For those of you who don't know us in real life (so, most of you), we want to reiterate for you that finishing HJ, and getting it out to all of you, has been our number-one priority these past several months and still is right now. It's obviously taken a lot longer than we anticipated, and we're sorry about that - obviously, part of being rookie game designers is that we didn't have the experience to accurately guess how long things would take, and we know it's been a long wait for all of you. We're at the almost absolute end, but even working our butts off, with 70 hour weeks and complete failure to have any life outside of finishing this project, we're still not quite there. Some things beyond our control have interfered: Anne's day job has been forcing her to work eleven-hour days on top of finishing her Masters, so she hasn't been able to do nearly as much final polish as we'd anticipated, and I write like garbage so I'm not allowed to pick up her slack. We've kept at it, and definitely gotten some things done (as Cameron keeps telling you), but February has sort of been a bust compared to what we wanted it to be.

So, to give you all full disclosure: since we anticipated we would be finished by March 1st (in fact, well beyond finished), Anne and I planned a vacation/rest period back in September, because we knew we'd need the downtime after we were done. Because we're super cliche, we decided to go to Disney World in Florida to celebrate (this was right after Anne got her yearly bonus and we were like food is stupid, let's have fun), and we booked a hotel and plane tickets. here we are, March about to punch us in the face, and we have tickets to go to Disney World. We already paid for everything, so we're still going to go, but we thought you all ought to know - both because you should know why we took a few days off from finishing the core book's release, and why, if you follow us on social media, we might mention that we're eating ice cream and sleeping in instead of shouting at each other and collecting shipping boxes. We are very sad and depressed that we aren't finished (not that we'll let it stop us but it's still depressing), and we'll be doing what we can from afar to make sure things to grind to a halt while we're gone.

I can promise you from experience that Anne is like the fastest writer ever when she isn't trying to do it on 11 hours work + 3 hours class + 4 hours homework, so as soon as we get back she'll be kicking everything in the teeth and the art department will be waving all their fanciness in your direction. Look for some updates of page spoilers on the Kickstarter tonight also.

Again, we humbly apologize. We promise to do better and to have only about 65% actual fun at Disney World because we'll be emailing the art team from the hotel room and constantly talking through the last outstanding problems.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Weekly Update 2.20

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

Hello! So it is another slow news week here at Hero's Journey. John is focusing all his will on continuing to grind through blessings. Anne in the meantime is burning the candle at both ends (and somewhere in the middle, it's not a perfect analogy) working through midterms, her day job, and Hero's Journey. But there has been forward motion on both trackers.

The thousand novels have not arrived yet, but the next update from the published will be something along the line of "Your books are ready!"

This week Blessings are at:

7 out of 10

John actually said seven this time, I let it pass because his initial instinct was to say eight, but knew that I'd talk him back down. You could potentially say 7.5, but that is me being generous.

So how about chapters?

3 out of 6

The final pass on the third chapter has been finished and there's actually a picture of some finished pages in the twitter feed. It should be on the right, but just in case here's a link for you!

So onto your questions! There was only one this week, but it will take some time to answer, but here it goes.

Why are art and empathy next to each other on the web of fate? In fact, why is the web is laid out as it is?

When John and Anne split The Web of Fate among the seven Aspects, they worked to identify the "core" of each Aspect. To use Warrior as an example; Warrior Talents are split between Unarmed, Athleticism, and Weaponry. John and Anne felt that Unarmed was a core to the warrior, because first and foremost a warrior is able to stand their ground in combat. Rarely do you see a warrior separated from their weapon, become completely powerless. On the same token you don't generally see someone embodying the Warrior Aspect who is athletic, but cannot fight.

The idea of an Aspect's "core" continues across the web. When you take a look at secondary talents, they are aligned with the Aspect that John and Anne felt that talent was closest to. So you wind up with Athleticism being closest to the Hunter Aspect, and then Pursuit aligning closest to the Warrior Aspect.

Art and Empathy end up next to each other after you look at the Lover and Creator Aspects. Art in one light is about evoking a reaction (or emotion) in the person or people experiencing the created art. On the other hand Empathy is about understanding the emotions of those around you which lends itself to the Creation of art.

When you're looking at the Web of Fate don't necessarily look at the connection between Talents instead, look at the alignment with adjacent Aspects. These alignments are by their nature subjective, there are probably arguments that can be made for other configuration of Talents and Aspects. Unfortunately, systems are all abstractions of reality, they provide a way of explaining the reality of a game world, and no system will ever perfectly capture reality.

So thank you for the excellent question!

That's it for this week, have a great weekend, and I'll talk to you next week.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Gods of Etruria

Today, our question-askers don't want much, do they? Today's question is a whole bucket of culture and religion and thicketed questions about cultural assimilation and borrowing. Can you guys tell us about the Etruscans and their beliefs, as they are the predecessors to the Romans and set up a complex system of divinations? What can you guys tell us about them for them to be totally unique from their assimilators?

Describing what makes an entire culture unique would... well, it would require describing an entire culture, which is something scholars spend their entire lives trying to do without managing to get all the way through the possibilities. We are just a humble mythology and game blog, so we'll mostly look at the religion and myths instead, and leave the historiography to others!

The Etruscans were the people of ancient Etruria, a civilization in central Italy (around where Tuscany is now, which incidentally is named from the same root) that existed for about three centuries starting around 800 B.C.E., and which was eventually succeeded by the Roman Empire, which took over its territories along with most of the rest of the known world. There are positive miles of speculation from scholars about whether the Greeks were the major inspiration for the Roman religion or whether it was really the Etruscans they borrowed from the most, but regardless of how much influence you think the Etruscans had over ancient Italy, they definitely had some.

Most of our recorded information about Etruscan mythology comes from archaeology and artifacts; they didn't write a whole lot down, although of course they did have the ability to write, and subsequent Roman influence made it difficult to tell what was originally theirs and what was a later development. Most Etruscan mythology is preserved, interestingly enough, on mirrors - there are a ton of lovingly-preserved mirrors depicting mythological scenes, often with helpful labels to tell us which deities are involved, and studying them has been the life's work of more than one determined Italianate scholar.

This particular mirror is depicting the Judgment of Paris, a Greek myth borrowed and repurposed here, complete with goddesses looking for their ego fix and one dude with a great deal of pressure on his decision. It's very common for Etruscan mythology to borrow from the Greeks; like the later Romans, they were heavily influenced by their eastern neighbors, who were already very powerful and widely-traveled by the time Etruria became a power, so they often borrowed Greek deities to add to their own roster of gods, or grafted Greek myths onto gods they already had.

But hey, who are those gods? The Etruscans in fact had a very colorful pantheon of deities of their own, many of which don't turn back up in later Roman mythology or among the Greeks, or who do so only as sideways influences on it. The leader of the Etruscan pantheon is Tinia, a thunder god who many people think is just a carbon copy of Zeus/Jupiter, but those people are wrong. Sure, he's a great sky-father god with lightning bolts, but that's where the similarities end. For one thing, he's also a god of boundaries, particularly in agriculture (i.e., separating fields from one another and preventing trespassers), something Zeus leaves on Demeter's shoulders. More interestingly, however, he actually has three distinct thunderbolts. The first one is the "benevolent" thunderbolt, which warns mortals and dispenses wisdom but doesn't actually hurt anyone; he can throw this whenever he likes. The second one is the "half-benevolent" thunderbot, which causes destruction and warning in equal measure; he can throw it, but first he has to get the consent of a committee of gods called the Dii Consenti (basically, the rest of his pantheon). The final thunderbolt is the malevolent one, capable of destroying en masse, and he can only throw it with consent of the Dii Involuti, the Shrouded Gods. Who are they? Nobody knows. They're shrouded. The point is, Tinia is cooler than you.

Then there's Uni, wife of Tinia and queen of the gods. In the same way, Uni can't just be relegated to being a copy of Hera/Juno without losing out on a whole bunch of her essence. For one thing, she's almost always shown as young, sexy, and alluring, more akin to Greek representations of Aphrodite than Hera; and she's no jealous wife to boot, even helping midwife Tinia's infrequently-born other children. I say infrequent because, unlike the famously randy Zeus, Tinia really doesn't stray all that often, and depictions of him with lovers other than Uni are far fewer than his Greek counterpart's chronicled conquests. Even more interesting, Uni doesn't sit calmly on the bench with Tinia the way Hera tends to do with Zeus; there's even a record of her kitting up in armor and going out to fight Hercle (Herakles, in a much more hilarious-to-say form), warring until they both get tired and decide to shake hands and make up. Most unexpected of all is the end of that myth, in which Uni formally adopts Hercle, welcoming him to the community of the gods, via a ritual wherein she nurses the adult man from her breasts.

Like Aphrodite, Turan is the goddess of love and sexytimes, but that's about where the similarities end. She frequently turns up with swan wings and has a giant swan familiar called Tusna, but, more noticeably, every appearance has about a fifty-percent chance to show her as either a man or a woman (or, in some memorable engravings, both at once). She's a gender-fluid being, which makes sense for a goddess dedicated to all love, pleasure, and sex without discrimination. She's also, interestingly enough, not a famous philanderer the way Aphrodite is - she isn't married to anybody and has no steady lovers except for Atunas (the Etruscan Adonis, who is usually shown as a young boy in her care), instead wandering her sexy way around as she chooses. (Turan is not the only deity that appears mutable in form, either - she may do it the most, but many of the other gods appear with different sets of genitalia or different gender signifiers, apparently without batting an eye. Scholars aren't sure if there was a secret and complex background explaining the meaning of various gender presentations of different gods, or if the Etruscans just weren't super bothered about making a god's gender a fixed thing.)

Menrva obviously lent her name to the later Roman Minerva, but she's not a simple copy of either her or Athena. Not only is Menrva a sky goddess, able to hurl lightning bolts just like dear old daddy Tinia (she does not, one assumes, have access to the thunderbolt of doom that requires escalated approval), but she often shows up with wings, and doesn't seem to be viewed as a virgin goddess, often shown suckling children or flirting it up. Of course, she's still a war goddess and is usually shown in her trademark helmet, but pigeonhole her at your peril.

Then there's our personal favorite, Fufluns, because he is the god with the name that is possibly the most fun thing ever to say. He's the second most important god in the pantheon, second only to Tinia, which already makes him somewhat different from his counterpart (Dionysos/Bacchus), but the fun doesn't stop there; his cult, focused on revelry and violence, was so rowdy that Rome finally outlawed worship of him entirely in 186 B.C.E. He was also a prophet, similar to Dionysos and his winter oracle at Delphi, and most interestingly of all is often shown with two different women who are apparently his lovers or in whom he has an interest. One is Vesuna, who is possibly a Maenad or a goddess consort, possibly related to Cybele; the other is Semla, who is actually his mom (you can see the similarity to the Greek name Semele). This fact does not seem to discourage him in any way from being very obviously banging her in some carven scenes, which she also seems perfectly sanguine about. Oedipus has nothing on this guy.

Those are the gods with the most "major" roles, which is why they are also the ones with the most Greek influence laid over their original personalities, but there are plenty of purely Etruscan gods, too. Usil is half the reason the Etruscans don't need to use Apollo for anything, since they already had a sun god - he's often shown juggling balls of fire, which is cool, and with a very bright and shiny halo of light around his head. Suri's the other half, as a prophet-god, and dispensed his wisdom of leaf-shaped pieces of metal. Aplu, imported but unnecessary, gets relegated to the position of Medic of the Gods. Thufltha is the god of luck, favor, fortune and good will - if he's happy with you, things go well, and he's called the "bird-catcher", because he's so lucky that birds just flutter into his hands without him having to put forth any effort. Tiv, Laran, Thesan, Nethuns, Culva - there are tons more, some with fascinating Etruscan-specific quirks and some with barely any surviving information.

You mentioned the Etruscan divination system, so we'll touch on that really quickly before we go! Really, it's systems; divination was a centrally important religious practice for them, and there were several different types of divination that could be called upon to help understand the world. Haruspexy, the practice of divining from the entrails of animals, was popular (and later remained popular when the Romans took it up), and other forms of divination included the scattering of metal leaves or sacred plates and interpreting the symbols on them, divination from interpreting the lightning strikes in storms and high-air weather, and divination from the croaking of frogs or singing of birds. The entire world was constantly revealing the will of the gods, as far as the Etruscans were concerned, so they spent considerable time and energy trying to figure out it was trying to say.

Interestingly, they didn't, as far as we can tell, have any really strong way of organizing their constant reading of signs and portents. The Etruscan philosophy was to read as many signs from heaven as possible, and try to cobble them together into a guide for living life with the best fortune possible and the best knowledge of the future that they could come up with. Divination was widely understood to be an inexact science, one that both regular people took part in for their daily lives and priests in an official capacity only slightly more accurately... so obviously, the more signs you could read, the greater your chance for getting something right!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Many Gods of Mexico

Today we have a religious spread question! I know that the Aztecs conquered their nearby neighbors, but did they convert them to their beliefs as well? This was sort of brought on by the Ainu question... Well, this is a complicated and weird question to answer, because there're a lot of factors at work, but we'll take a crack at it! (Most romantic Valentine question ever, I know.)

First of all, a quick terminology note: while most of us here in the west refer to the dominant kingdom at the time of the Mexican invasion as "Aztecs", in fact they did not ever call themselves that. The word means "people from Aztlan", with Aztlan being a mythical land that they believed their ancestors were first born in and from which they had traveled to found their empire far away, and while they did use it occasionally to refer to members of different ethnic groups that claimed descent from the people of Aztlan, it was never a word used to casually refer to themselves. As usually happens with these things, a nineteenth-century Prussian dude started using the word to refer to all the peoples in the area as a general whole, and then other white dudes jumped on the bandwagon because it gave them a convenient way to label the pre-conquest "savages" as "Aztec" and the post-conquest "civilized" people as "Mexican", and the rest is history.

So, generally, we try to talk about the Mexica instead of the Aztecs - the Mexica being the indigenous ethnic group that founded Tenochtitlan and was ruling the area at the time of the European invasion, and whose mythology is populated by such delightful characters as the warrior sun god Huitzilopochtli and the jaguar-spotted bringer of misfortune Tezcatlipoca. Different ethnic groups in what is now Mexico had their own mythologies and cultural features that can get lost when they get mixed into the general pot of "Aztec", and 95% of the time when folks talk about the Aztecs, they really mean the Mexica specifically anyway, so we try to make that distinction for them where possible. (There are moments where it is more appropriate, usually when discussing the Triple Alliance of cities in the empire, since not all of them were Mexica cities and territories, or the language branch, which is still referred to as Uto-Aztecan, so you may see that once in a while, though!)

Anyway, on to our question about proselytizing Mexicans. You are correct that the Mexica, once they managed to establish themselves as a power in central Mexico, did indeed set about conquering everyone they could come into easy contact with; prior to the founding of Tenochtitlan, they were essentially a people who spent most of their time being semi-nomadic mercenaries with no power or territory of their own, and once they got their first taste of structured power, they overcorrected in a big way. They came up from nothing, and so they believed that, in contrast to other peoples in the area who prized divine lineages or established dynasties, the only way they were going to get anything would be to make it absolutely clear that they were taking it. They saw their strength in warfare and conquest as direct confirmation of their right to rule - basically, if they could conquer someone, that was proof that they were supposed to, because it showed that they were more deserving of having power than the new conquerees.

And, as is pretty much always the case when it comes to a people with a strong unified religion, they tied that religion into their expansionism. Huitzilopochtli, the totem god of the Mexica, was also the god of martial prowess and victory, and so they were very easily able to say that from him came their power to conquer, and that their conquests were further proof of his power as well as their own. And since their god was so badass and clearly kicking all the divine ass there was to kick, it was easy to further reason that other peoples' gods were therefore just, like, way less cool.

Now, the Mexica were something of a baby empire, rocketing to power in central Mexico where there had been other gigantic and very influential empires (the Maya, the P'urepecha, the Olmec and so on) over the centuries, so they were heavily influenced by their neighbors and predecessors. Various deities and practices in their religion were closely related to those of other peoples in the area, which is why scholars find it easy to talk about features that all Mesoamerican religions tend to have in common, such as big goggle-eyed rain monsters or a reverential fondness for the ritual shedding of blood. That doesn't mean these religions were the same, of course - often they might share features in common but attach different interpretation or significance to them - but they had a lot of things in common, which meant that it was easy for them to be shared back and forth. The Mexica were not exempt from this sort of religious melting pot experience; they borrowed and traded deities and ideas as much as anyone else in the area, and perhaps did so even more so than most, since they were setting up a mighty empire in basically a couple of weeks in empire-building time, and they could use all the cultural support and material they could get.

(There's an entire dissertation, I'm sure, just in the Mexica interest in the culture of the Toltec people who preceded them, and the way that they modeled much of their own empire after it and claimed to be its spiritual inheritors, but there's enough going on in this post for now. Another time!)

So the Mexica were both heavily invested in their god being the coolest of all gods, and also in borrowing and making their own various other deities from cultures they encountered, which brings us around the the third facet of religious contact: encouraging (or, you know, forcing) other peoples to adhere to their religion. Some of this did in fact go on, but because Mexica religious thought was very different from what we generally think of as the European inquisition-style types of conquest conversion, it didn't come about in the same way. Certainly there was establishment of state religion in new parts of the empire, but there was not necessarily eradication of other religious traditions, especially when they could be considered just local variants on Mexica beliefs anyway, and the crowning form of "converting" people to the worship of the Mexica gods was simple: they just carried other peoples' gods away and said "these are ours now, so you have to be in our religion if you want to worship them."

Several different Mesoamerican religions include the concept of a sacred bundle; the Mexica called it the tlaquimilolli, and it was centrally important to the process of conquering and absorbing another culture's religion. The tlaquimilolli was a bundle of cloth that contained religiously significant items dedicated to a specific god, which might include items sacred to that god, a mask or statue of the deity in question, or offerings given to them in times gone by. The bundle was carried with the god's worshipers when they were traveling, or kept safe in a temple or holy location when they were not; it allowed the people to have a literal, concrete form of their god that could be touched and revered, without actually expecting the god to show up and lay down the law in person. The Mexica were extremely fond of the tlaquimilolli, which had allowed them to carry their gods with them when they were nomads, and which once they were established were seen as irrevocable proof that their gods had traveled with them and guided them to their new glory.

So I'm sure you all can see where I'm going with this: if the tlaquimilolli in a symbolic sense contains the god, and the god goes where the bundle goes, then all you have to do to transplant and assert power over the god is to literally steal that poor deity. A signature Mexica conquest move was to bust into the local temple of wherever they were conquering, find the tlaquimilolli of the resident deity, and then rush it back home to one of the official state temples to be housed with the rest of the gods, all the while yelling very official wartime variants on "look at your wussy god, we captured him because our gods are way better!" and "guess you know you lost the war now that we have your god!" and "he's going to go live with us where real gods go, you should start learning more about real gods!"

Which is a fairly passive-aggressive form of religious conversion, when you think about it, but the Mexica goal wasn't really to demand that everyone get on board with their exact religious practices. They just wanted to assert that they were the bosses and their gods were, too, and past that didn't much care if you continued to worship your obviously inferior gods, just as long as you participated appropriately in empire-wide religious observances and everyone understood that non-Mexica-approved gods clearly were inferior when compared to the glory of Huitzilopochtli and his cronies. And, like conquered peoples everywhere throughout history, many of the people they steamrollered nodded and smiled politely and then went right back to doing what they were doing, because if the Mexica weren't actually going to do anything about it and it wasn't going to cause any major problems, there was no reason not to. In fact, some peoples even just headed the Mexica off and placed decoy tlaquimilolli, allowing the Mexica to "capture" the god as far as they were aware but keeping the real bundles hidden safely away where they could be dusted off and remain with their people after the conquerors had mostly left.

It's no secret that religion often plays a key role in expansionism and warfare, either nominally or seriously, and that various cultures have attempted to convert those other people they conquer in order to unify their territories and head off dissent, but the form that such conversions take was often very different depending on the place, the history, and the religion in question. In Mexico, where half of every religion is a synthesis from three religions that came before it and a quarter of every pantheon may or may not also be in someone else's pantheon anyway, there was far less need for the kind of conquest that involved stamping out the local religion, and much more of a chance for conquerors to look at the religions they encountered, say, "eh, close enough as long as you remember who's boss," and just let them keep doing their thing.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Weekly Update 2.13

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

Hello! As we wind closer to publishing, there are a fewer and fewer things to report on. This week Anne received her second review copy of Children of the Sun which still needed a few corrections. These appear to be resolved, and assuming the next test copy is approved, the printing of the novel should move forward. Also, prints for the Kickstarter have been sent out to the artists to be signed.

This week has been slow going on Blessings, and we're now at:

6.5 out of 10...*

Still not quite seven, but getting closer!

So how about chapters?

2.5 out of 6

The final pass on the third chapter should be finished before the next update, and after that we'll be at the official halfway mark.

So onto your questions that I missed last week.

Anything you could tell us about Xibalba, the Mayan underworld?

I can tell you that it's an awful place and you probably don't want to go there. Seriously though, you don't want me playing telephone on this one, I can guarantee I will lose something in translation. After talking with Anne, it's been added to her queue of blog posts, I can't guarantee when it'll happen, but it is on her radar.

As for the ability of a character to be an Avatara of a god who is not your patron. The answer is more complex that I am able to satisfactorily cover and requires discussion on the blessings themselves. I am going to have to table this until the Blessings Chapter is finished, and the book has been released.

So, with that, have a great weekend, and I'll talk to you next week!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Sorrowful Moon

Today's question says "Back when John's Scion Resources was still up, there was a goddess in the Slavic mythology section who interested me, but I can't find anything on her anymore. She was called "Chors" and she represented moonlight or something. Do you know anything about that?" Well, as I'm sure you well know, we do know something about that, since otherwise you probably couldn't have seen it on a website we used to maintain. Let's talk about Chors!

Chors - or Khors or Hors, depending on the Slavic dialect and the transliterator - is a celestial deity who appears across different Slavic mythologies in different forms, and she (or occasionally he!) can be very difficult to pin down. All Slavic mythology is, to an extent; we have few records of Slavic religious practices before the arrival of Christianizing missionaries, since it was largely preserved orally and practiced in natural theatres, and what was recorded was almost all by outside sorces. There's only so much faith we can put in Greek writers talking about the strange and wondrous practices of eaterners or Danish historians who were primarily concerned with making sure their readers knew how incorrect the Slavic religion had been in the first place, so we end up with a lot of scraps and side mentions, and folkloric descendents that we have to interpret through a mythological lens.

What we know about the eastern Russian version of Khors, and the western Slovak/Czech version of Chors, is substantially different, so we all get to play a guessing game about whether they were originally two different deities, one deity with different regional forms, or whether our guesses about one are just wrong and the other one is the "real" Chors.

The Russian Khors is very sparsely attested, but we do know that the deity existed. Khors is named as one of the deities that had idols in the famous religious collection of Kiev in the tenth century, which were shortly thereafter torn down and thrown in the river when Christianity became the law of the land, and based on which of those idols survived longest and was destroyed most spectacularly, historians guess that Khors was probably considered the second most important diety (after Perun, the thunder god and personal favorite of like all of Ukraine at the time). The other major image of Khors in Russian literature comes from the Tale of Igor's Campaign, in which a hero must rush to arrive at their destination by "racing against Khors", which is usually interpreted as meaning that Khors is a sun deity, and the hero is attempting to reach their goal before the sun finishes traveling through the underworld and rises for the new dawn.

That mention is the only story-based evidence of Khors as a solar deity, but reconstructions of the name Khors itself also suggest it's based on old Avestan dialectal mentions of the sun, and some scholars have even gone so far as to decide that this must mean Khors is an epithet of the more commonly-known Russian sun god Dazhbog. You'll occasionally see mention of "Khors-Dazhbog" as a composite deity, especially in older books on the subject, for this reason.

You might have noticed that I didn't use any pronouns with specific genders up there, and that's because the Russian Khors doesn't have a clearly-defined gender, as far as we can tell. The very rare mentions of Khors usually use metaphorical language and don't directly describe the deity, which led most later studiers to just default assume that Khors was male, partly because they were dudes themselves and tended to think of important gods as being dudes, and partly because they were equating Khors with Dazhbog, who is specifically referred to as male. And since study of Slavic deities tends to be very Russia-centric, the male-sun-god-Kievan-idol version of Khors is the one you're most likely to find information about in English sources even though we know a lot less about that one!

So what do we get if we head west, though, and leave Russia and the Ukraine for the lands of middle Europe? Here Chors is less well-known through items of worship; we don't have any records of impressive shrines in her honor or idols that once held pride of place in a royal court. Instead, she is remembered in oral retellings of mythic tales, trading in her artifacts of worship for stories of her interactions with the other gods. Western Chors is, interestingly enough, not a sun deity; rather, she is the goddess of the moon, a nighttime celestial deity, which seems like an odd contrast with eastern Khors. But then again, both are deities of celestial light and the passage of time it marks, so maybe they're not particularly different after all, especially since we know so little about the eastern Khors. (There's even a theory that the eastern Khors is also a moon god, and that outrunning Khors in the Tale of Igor's Campaign refers to outrunning the moon before the morning, and another that Chors is perhaps a deity of both celestial lights, rather than being confined to one. So many possibilities!)

Unfortunately, the mythic tale of western Chors is a tragic one (and, unlike many other times we say that, it is not even slightly her fault). As the story goes, Chors was the most beautiful among goddesses, and the wind god Stribog had fallen in love with her. She took no notice of him, however, since she was herself in love with Radegast, god of the stars and nocturnal fires, over whom she quietly pined but who did not seem to recognize her passion. Because he was not nearly as handsome and well-liked as Radegast and knew he could not convince Chors to choose him instead, Stribog decided to instead force her hand. He stole the velvety cloak of stars that Radegast always wore when performing his duties, and waited until the night was almost over and Chors would be weary from her duties; wearing it, he sneaked into Chors' room, and in the dark she could not see his face and thought that Radegast was returning her affections at last, and he made love to her while she believed it was her love.

Radegast, however, noticed the theft of his cloak very quickly and was enraged that someone should be messing around with the tools of his trade, so he sent his subordinate spirits to discover what happened. When Stribog sneaked back to return the cloak, hoping it hadn't been missed, he was caught and the entire sordid story was soon uncovered. Infuriated, Radegast immediately demanded that a tribunal of the gods be called to punish Stribog for his actions, and Svarozhich, king and judge, agreed that Stribog would be punished - by the death of the child he had conceived when he raped Chors, who would not be allowed to be born and reward him for his behavior with offspring.

Chors, understandably miserable and devastated over the entire situation, however, knew that this was likely to be the gods' judgment, so she went before the court and made an impassioned plea to them, begging that she should not have her unborn daughter taken from her in order to punish Stribog (although she would be several thousand percent justified in wanting to punish him, if we're being honest). Since she knew that Svarozhich would require a reason beyond her maternal feelings to save the child, she came armed with a plan: she pointed out that while there were already goddesses of three of the seasons - Vesna for spring, Zhiva for summer, and Morena for winter - there was no goddess of autumn, and the unborn girl could take on that role and oversee a quarter of the year once born.

Svarozhich turned her down, alas; he said that there was no particular need for a goddess of autumn, and that creating one would just encourage the gods to think they could start creating deities of every random span of time they might encounter. At this, Chors began to weep, so movingly that the moon itself wept with her, and begged that she should be allowed to keep the baby at least for a day or two after it was born. Even Svarozhich couldn't resist her sorrow or refuse her, and he appealed to Prove, god of justice, for help, since he knew that he couldn't either punish Chors for Stribog's sins or fail to punish Stribog for his own heinous actions. Eventually, a compromise - at least, by the standards of divine law, which are apparently harsh and unforgiving - was reached. The baby was born, and the moment she left Chors' womb, Svarozhich took the infant from her and declared that there had never been any such baby. She had been only a dream. The infant dissolved into nothingness, but was not sent to the underworld; rather, she became a sort of anti-deity, a goddess who doesn't really exist but whose memory is still important to the universe, and (so the linguistic story goes), her name was Yesen, which is why the word yesen means "autumn" in several Slavic dialects, and why its root word, sen, means "dream".

So the child wasn't killed, so that Chors could be spared the death of he daughter, but she also was never allowed to live, in order to prevent Stribog from profiting from his evil actions. The moon's path across the sky at night is said to be the path of Chors, always searching for her lost daughter, in case she should someday be able to be found.

Alas, this isn't one of those myths with a happy comfortable moral at the end; if it has a moral, it's "there is no escaping justice, even when justice sucks and hurts the innocent", which is oddly enough a moral you get a lot in Slavic mythology, or perhaps "assholes never prosper and they hurt a lot of other people with their behavior as a result". Chors is horribly mistreated and violated by her fellow deities, and in pursuit of punishing them she is punished as well, although she takes a stand and mitigates the terms of that punishment thanks to the strength of her emotion and appeal to mercy. She is undoubtedly a tragic figure, and a rare one at that - normally tragic female figures like this in mythology either die or disappear from the story after terrible things happen to them, because they were created to prove a point and do nothing else.

But Chors remains, lighting the sky over and over, traveling without rest to seek her child (and she is also mentioned to help take care of Myesyats, the moon god, who ages with the phases of the moon, when he is the "child" phase of the early waxing moon), and seeing her continue onward is a peculiarly tenacious and determined role for a goddess with that kind of story behind her.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Divine Emperor

Here's a nice, general, global question that is way outside our scope to actually answer! Check it out: Perhaps you can do a post on the deified emperors and to which point they were actually worshiped? Woohoo! Seems like a simple question, but in actuality it totally is not!

I suspect that our anonymous question-asking friend here is probably referring to the deified emperor cults of ancient Rome, which are fairly famous and popular in western culture even now, but in point of fact, there are tons of deified emperor cults, and they aren't all from Rome! The idea of worshiping the emperor as a deity before or after death, or of viewing them as having been born inherently divine, is one that has been around for many millennia in many different cultures. I'm going to hit them in semi-chronological order, although really, chronological order of religion across the world is a crapshoot on the best of days.

The idea of the deified emperor dates all the way back to ancient Egypt, where the pharaoh was considered a god both during and after their lifetime. Egypt's pharaohs were around for a long time, and the pharaonic god-cult changed over time as well as having different features in the Lower and Upper kingdoms, but most commonly, the king was considered to be the earthly incarnation or representative of Horus himself, and due all the same respect as the god. Sometimes he was also considered the son of Ra, the sun god, thus also representing the great power that kept the world animated and supported, and various different goddesses were said to be either his mother or his nurse, including Hathor, Bast, and Mut (depending on who was the most powerful mother goddess figure at a particular time).

This wasn't mere lip service, either; the pharaoh was quite literally a god, and was treated accordingly. No one was allowed to touch the Pharaoh's person without permission, the rules for saying and doing the appropriate things to honor and behave in his presence were complicated and strictly enforced, and the spectacular palaces, statues, and tombs in their honor were nothing less than the people would have done for any other god. Upon dying, the pharaoh was sometimes considered to also become a new facet of Osiris, benevolent god of the dead, or at the very least to be accepted and welcomed by Osiris as an equal. This living deification is one of the reasons that the pharaohs were so renowned as war heroes; when the pharaoh went out in his chariot with the troops, it was literally equivalent to Horus, god of war, personally marching with the army, and it's hard not to find that inspiring.

The Egyptians were doing this for a very, very long time, starting somewhere in the third millennia B.C.E., so everyone else on our quick list seems something like an upstart in comparison. The first of the divine Japanese emperors arrived in around 660 B.C.E.; like the pharaoh, the Japanese emperors are also considered inherently divine, in this case because all of them descend from the great empress of the gods herself, Amaterasu. The first of the Japanese emperors, Jimmu, was her grandson, whom she sent to the world in order to conquer it on behalf of the gods and impose order upon it, and all subsequent Japanese emperors are directly descended from him, making their line an unbroken connection to the divine. Not every Japanese emperor is considered to ascend to heavenly godhood after death, but several of them have - for example, Emperor Ojin became the samurai god Hachiman.

Because the emperor is literally descended from the gods, he is generally considered, like the Egyptian pharaoh, to be the closest connection to the divine that humanity can have access to. Even up into the present day, the emperor is not just a head of state but also the head of the Shinto religion itself, since as divinity in human form he can interpret holy law and oversee religious practices in a way mere secular figureheads could not. He also possesses the Imperial Regalia of Japan, which serve as links to his divine ancestry and proof of his own divinity - the sword Kusanagi that was taken from the body of a dragon by the god Susanoo after he had defeated it, the Yata no Kagami, the mirror in which Amaterasu beheld her beautiful features and ended the long darkness she had allowed to descend on the world, and the Yasakamai no Yagatama, the holy jewel of the gods.

By about 220 B.C.E., China had begun their own imperial dynasties and rushed to join the fun. Chinese emperors, at least early on, tended to do the opposite thing from the Egyptian and Japanese versions; they were seldom divine during their lifetimes, but rather ascend to become deified after their deaths, based on how incredible their deeds were and how large a mark on history they made while they were alive. Such famous figures as Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, or Guan Yu, the famous warlord, were considered to have become gods upon their deaths, ascending to continue their important work of supporting and ordering the universe on a cosmic level after doing so thoroughly during their mortal lives.

By the time of the Zhou Dynasty, the idea of the Mandate of Heaven arose (largely to help the new dynasty justify overthrowing the old one), which claimed that the gods directly supported the dynasty and its emperor and therefore he ruled by divine right. This eventually led to the idea of the emperor as the Son of Heaven, imbued directly with deific power, which generally resulted in the emperor being considered to ascend to heaven after his death. As in ancient Egypt, the emperor being the literal expression of divine power on earth caused some truly complicated and draconian rules about what could or could not be said to or around him and what kinds of rituals and respect had to be shown to him.

(Fun fact: the Japanese idea of the divine imperial emperor was probably actually based on the Chinese model that they saw when visiting the mainland, but then they attempted to make themselves retroactively the first to do it by setting the time period of Emperor Jimmu previous to the rise of the Qin Dynasty, thus allowing themselves to claim they were the original divine emperors. You see what I mean about trying to do any kind of mythological history strictly chronologically.)

And then finally, we're at Rome, which is probably where you wanted us to start. Rome is comparatively a baby next to these older traditions; the first Roman emperor didn't begin reigning until 46 B.C.E., and, just like the later Chinese emperors, the idea of the emperor as divine was put in place in order to legitimize his power, making it obvious that the gods supported him and that therefore humans had no business trying to challenge his power. Unlike some of the others, the Roman love of voting meant that there was actually a vote for the emperor, after his death, to decide on whether or not he was deified, which meant that unpopular or unsuccessful emperors didn't automatically get to be gods, but emperors everyone loved were easily elevated to godhood.

The cult of the deified emperor, once he had been voted into place, could take a few forms. Sometimes the emperor was directly deified, which was the case with Emperor Augustus, who was thereafter worshiped as Augustus, divine lord; other times, the emperor (and his family members, usually) were identified with existing gods, and said to be or represented as images of existing gods, such as considering the emperor a particular epithet of Jupiter. Some emperors were also able to take on some of the divine power of their predecessors; Augustus, for example, was able to leverage having been so closely associated with or "created by" Julius Caesar that he was considered supported by Julius' divine power after death as well.

Obviously, while this is a quick sampling of the most common and popular divine emperors, it's in no way a complete list. Kings like being revered as gods, generally - it makes it much easier to get things done and people tend to respect you and rebel a lot less often when they think they'll receive a smiting from heaven for it - and therefore the device has been used by a lot of ruling powers throughout history, some more successfully than others. How sincere each imperial cult is depends largely on the emperor in question and the historical and cultural factors at work in the religion at that time, so that some emperors were quite literally and popularly considered divine, while others were only paid the lip service required and seldom actually believed in.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Terminology: Talking About Religions

We've seen some confusion lately about our terminology when it comes to talking about various pantheons and religions, so we figured now that things are moving inexorably toward the end of the project, we'd take a minute to talk about it! A particular example that we received a question about was the fact that some of our early promo materials referred to one of the pantheons of Hero's Journey as "the Indian gods", but we have more recently been referring to them as "the Hindu gods."

There's a great reason for that, and it's that after giving it some good hard thought, we realized that geography isn't a very good descriptor when it comes to myths, pantheons, or religions. Referring to Brahma, Lakshmi, and Indra as "Indian gods" of course isn't wrong, since they originated in India, but it's also not necessarily the best way to describe them.

For one thing, geography is always changing, and our conception of different countries and areas of the world today is very different from where they were historically. India is well-defined as a country today, but centuries ago it was broken up into various kingdoms, and different ethnic groups did and still do live in it that are not the same in spite of all being Indian. Saying something is "Australian", for another example, tells us nothing about who originated it except that it's on one of the seven continents - not particularly helpful, and sometimes confusing because it implies that everywhere in Australia has the same cultural history.

For another thing, calling any one pantheon by a geographical name excludes other religions that might be in that same geographical area. The Hindu gods are certainly Indian, but if we call them the Indian gods, we are accidentally implying that they are the only Indian gods, which erases deities of other religions native to India (for example, the gods of the Kalasha). And of course, there are plenty of people in India, both in the real world and in Hero's Journey, who adhere to other religions besides Hinduism, and we don't want to pretend that they aren't there.

And, finally, there are also plenty of places in the world where the Hindu gods are worshiped that aren't India. They have worshipers all over the world, in both our world and Hero's Journey's, so we don't want to imply, by calling them the "gods of India", that they aren't also the gods of faithful adherents in a hundred other countries as well.

So instead, we use the following guidelines when deciding how to refer to a particular pantheon and its religion:

  • If the religion has its own name, we refer to it by that name. For example, we would refer to Bön rather than a vague "Tibetan religion".
  • If the religion doesn't have its own name, we refer to it by the name of the culture it came from. For example, we would refer to the Yolngu religion and gods rather than referring to them as "Australian gods".
  • If the religion has a very common umbrella name, we refer to it by that name if there is not a better alternative. For example, we refer to the Norse gods, since "Norse" is an accepted and widely-known umbrella term for a historical culture in Scandinavia and northern Europe.

So, there you have it. Of the four pantheons currently in the game, we have the Hindu gods, who are using that first bullet point up there, the Greek and Egyptian gods, who are using the second bullet point, and the Norse gods, who are using the third. The Greek and Egyptian ones are a little weird, since they are names for ancient cultural kingdoms but also the names of modern territories, but we figured that it would be a lot of extra unnecessary text to say "Ancient Egyptian" and "Ancient Greek" whenever we refer to them (especially since those religions are quite current in HJ!), so we had to make a slight exception for them.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Weekly Update 2.6

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

Hello! So John, after a few travel delays, returned from the West Coast. Anne held down the fort, finished reviewing the novel, and sent it back to the publisher. Next week, they expect they will have those in hand. But the question that I'm sure you're wondering about is where John is with Blessings...

6 out of 10...*

*He actually says 7 out of 10, but I keep making him round down. He also spent time this meeting telling me he was done, there are whiteboards that also proudly displayed that fact. However he agreed, that despite being done, he would continue to do post done work until the core books have been published and sent. He is also gearing up to start running games.

He also introduced a new count, because I love tracking things with counts.

The new count that I'll be tracking is at:

2 out of 6

So what is this new count tracking? It is tracking chapters that are entirely complete, all of the pieces have been put together, laid out, and are ready to be sent to a publisher. These two tracks are moving concurrently, with Anne and the design team forging ahead on this track while john finishes his. It's become a race between the two. With these two counts hopefully you will have a clearer idea how close we are to having a completed book in our hands.

As for questions, there was one question that I said I would revisit this week regarding the Avatara, I failed in note taking and forgot to ask, so I'm sorry, but I will come back to it next week. Another came in after the meeting and I will definitely to it next week.

Finally, you may have noticed some odd posts popping up trying to sell what I think is Russian Sheet Metal? This is the work of bots we've been fighting, and while we are working on ways to combat them, we will continue to delete them as they appear.

So, with that, have a great weekend, and I'll talk to you next week!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Many Forms of Destruction

Back to India we go today! An inquisitive question-asker wants to know: Are there any avatars of Shiva? And indeed, there certainly are, and we would love to talk about them!

Shiva has an interesting relationship with avatara - at least, in contrast to Vishnu, who is pretty universally understood to have various avatara which are carefully catalogued and widely known. Shiva, on the other hand, may or may not have avatara of his own, depending upon who you ask; different sects of Hinduism and local traditions of worship have different opinions on the matter, which means that who's "correct" is a matter of religious debate.

In several sects, Shiva is not officially recognized to have any avatara; this is especially prevalent in Vaishnavism and other groups that are particularly excited about Vishnu, since they often treat the concept of avatar as something solely associated with Vishnu, or might consider Shiva primarily an emanation or version of a different deity rather than considering him on his own. In other cases, Shiva might be considered so singular and universal that he has no need of avatara. On the other hand, other branches of the religion name many avatara for Shiva, and at least two different scriptures, the Linga Purana and Svetasvetara Upanishad, list a number of avatara for him. (And that's not even counting the alternate forms of Shiva that are deities in their own right, like Rudra or Bhairava, but I think your question was asking about lower-level avatara. I hope I'm right!)

Anyway, so yes, there are definitely avatara of Shiva in various Hindu traditions, although they aren't all accepted across all branches of the religion. Different sources give the number of avatara as anywhere from four to eleven to nineteen to twenty-eight - obviously too many for one blog post, but we'll cover a few!

First up, we have the powerful and excessively dangerous Ashwatthama, who in the Mahabharata was born to the royal sage Drona after he performed many years of unceasing meditation and asceticism to honor Shiva, and then asked the god for a son that would have the same strength as Shiva himself. Shiva then icnarnated himself and was born as Ashwatthama, who did indeed bear an eerie similarity to Shiva; he was considered the most powerful among the warriors of the great battles in the epic, was said to be skilled in every weapon in existence, and had a jewel in his forehead that gave him great powers, similar to Shiva's third eye.

Ah, yes, riding in a war chariot, shooting people with deadly arrows... seems familiar.

Interestingly, just as Shiva and Vishnu sometimes serve as foils for one another on a divine scale, so do their avatara in the Mahabharata. Ashwatthama is friends with Arjuna and the Pandavas, along with Arjuna's best buddy and renowned mischief-maker Krishna, avatara of Vishnu, but he is tricked into becoming angry with them because he believes that Arjuna is competing with him for his father's regard. It's been foretold that Ashwatthama cannot be defeated in battle, however, because he's just too powerful, so the Pandavas lie to his father and tell him that Ashwatthama has been killed, causing him to give up in despair. The Pandavas kill him while he's being despondent and not defending himself, which, as anyone could probably have guessed, causes Ashwatthama to go on a massive murder spree, eventually blowing up the Pandavas' camp (fun tri-layered fact: he first speaks to Shiva to ask him for help in his attack, and then Shiva grants that wish by manifesting as Bhairava and possessing him, the Annihilator, so in this scene we have Shiva asking Shiva for help, and then Shiva helping Shiva by transforming into Shiva and possessing Shiva. Classic!).

By the end of the war, Ashwatthama is the only survivor of the entire violent episode, but unfortunately for him, Krishna curses him for his misbehavior, so he's forced to spend the next three thousand years wandering the forest, bleeding and wishing he could die, so really no one ends up happy.

One of my personal favorite avatara of Shiva is Sharabha, who is one of Shiva's more radical avatara (and that's saying something). Sharabha isn't humanoid at all, nor is he any kind of natural animal; he's an eight-legged super-monster with the ability to defeat any animal in existence, composed of parts of deer, birds, or giant cats, capable of leaping entire mountains and swallowing entire herds of lesser creatures. And if that's not fun enough, the reason Sharabha exists in the first place is because Narasimha, the lion-warrior form of Vishnu, got out of control and was on the brink of a rampage, so naturally the gods decided that the solution was to make an even bigger, meaner monster to go sit on Narasimha until he calmed down.

Which, as you can see, is exactly what he did. Much has been written about how the conflict between Narasimha and Sharabha mirrors the way Vishnu and Shiva are themselves at odds sometimes, and on a mortal level also mirrors the traditional rivalry between Hindu sects devoted to one or the other. In fact, in regional variants, sometimes one of the two gains the upper hand and sometimes the other does, depending on who's more popular in the area.

And then there's the perennial fan favorite Hanuman, monkey warrior and incorrigible danger to the universe, a hero with innumerable magic powers who generally doesn't remember that he has them and tends to solve all his problems by setting things on fire. Although Hanuman is traditionally the son of Vayu, god of the wind, he's also an avatara of Shiva; some versions of the story claim that he's only one or the other, but when he's both, usually the story goes that his parents fervently worshiped Shiva and asked him for a child, so Shiva asked Vayu to place some of his divine essence in the woman's womb, at which point Shiva inhabited it to make the resulting child his avatara.

We blogged about Hanuman at length recently, so I won't go super into detail on him, but suffice it to say that he's ridiculous, hilarious, and capable of destroying everything if the need arises. Just as we would expect of an Avatar of Shiva!

There are plenty of other avatara (or potential avatara that folks don't always agree about), some of them even stranger - for example, Shiva's vahana, the white bull Nandi, is occasionally considered an avatara of Shiva as well, thanks to the fact that it was Shiva who caused Nandi to be born and who imbued him with immortality as well. But to try to go into them all would eat up a lot of days - so for now, we're signing off!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

GM Appreciation Month

According to the fine article-writers over at Wizards of the Coast, February has just been designated Appreciate Your Game Master Month!

In the past we've seen various other GM celebration times declared, including the month of July and March 4th, but we figure it's never a bad time of year to appreciate the long-suffering folks who write our stories, mediate our disputes, put up with our rules-lawyering, and grin and bear it when we decide to ignore their painstakingly crafted plots and instead build a rocketship and go to the moon.

So love on your GM a little this month, whatever game you may be playing! Buy them a drink, sing them a song, run a game for them for a change, or just maybe let them get in a ruling even though you would normally fight them to the death. It's a rough job, so let's raise a glass to all those who do it for us.

(Psst, hey, our players - John likes exotic alcohols and being told how great he is. You know what to do!)