Monday, March 30, 2015

Mechanics Spotlight: Durability

Since Cameron briefly alluded to it on Friday and I can sense the storm of questions coming, I decided to head y'all off today and post about a so-far unknown Hero's Journey mechanic: durability!

In a nutshell, durability refers to the resilience of a weapon against damage and wear and tear as it is used. No weapon is indestructible, not even a magical one; each has a durability rating that governs how much it can be used before it falls apart and how much punishment it can take before being damaged or destroyed. Heroes can repair and restore their weapons with various skills and powers as they go about their adventures, or, if they prefer, simply accept that sometimes their trusty sword gets dented and blunted beyond recall and it's just easier to go find a new one somewhere.

There are two major reasons that durability is important in HJ and that we love it (and hope you will, too!). One is a mythological reason, and the other is a game mechanics and design reason.

From a mythological standpoint, the possibility of weapons becoming damaged by continual use or aging over the lifetime of a Hero's adventures is an extremely important one; weapons breaking at inopportune times often has heavy symbolic weight in myth, and many stories of the exploits of gods and heroes are affected at a key moment by the reliability of an important or legendary weapon. HJ seeks to allow Heroes to tell stories wherein their swords break dramatically at the moment of their deaths, they can break an enemy's weapon over their knee to signify their defeat, or they need to desperately seek out a new weapon in the midst of battle as they avoid the deadly sallies of their foes. Durability allows stories such as the tale in which Baal, thunder god of the Canaanites, must be rescued by his fellow deity Kothar arriving in the midst of battle to hand off new clubs to him, or the more modern mythic tale of Aragorn, the future king of men in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, seeking out and reforging the broken sword of his ancestors.

So a system in which weapons are not just indestructible eternal tools that no one thinks about after they get them was a necessity for HJ, the better to make sure no mythic door is closed. Of course, we don't want keeping track of durability to be a huge pain in the neck for players, so while I won't go into the way it's tracked here, rest assured that it's a simple system that doesn't require a lot of time or distraction from gameplay! (Or so our playtests seem to be telling us, thank goodness.)

The mechanical reason for the system is more down-to-earth, and has to do with the difference between heroic warriors who fight with weapons and those who use only their bodies for offensive actions. Heroes who use Weaponry rather than Unarmed to attack their enemies are capable of inflicting more lethal damage on their enemies - just as in real life, it's easier to kill someone with a hammer or a knife than it is to just punch them to death, so folks using Weaponry have a leg up when it comes to inflicting deadly mayhem. The tradeoff for this is that they are dependent on their weapons; they need to have them in order to be effective, and the durability system ensures that they need to pay attention to their upkeep or reserves of backup weapons in order to avoid suddenly finding themselves in a bad situation in the middle of a fight. Heroes can thus choose between being more dangerous but needing to do more work to keep their weapons in usable shape, or being less lethal but never having to worry about being caught in a fight they can't participate in.

There's a lot of stuff for non-fighting Heroes to do that pertains to durability as well - in particular, Creators are the main people who are capable of repairing damaged weapons or creating items that have increased durability, and Tricksters who are strongly into the Streetwise side of things may have to encounter durability in regards to vehicles they use to travel and transport people along their journeys. A few scattered Blessings here and there also allow Heroes to interact with durability and the weapons that it affects.

In designing HJ, we often found ourselves having to walk a fine line between making sure the game is mythically resonant and allows the telling of the kind of heroic stories we find in ancient myths, and making sure it is efficient, easy to play, and not so complicated that it cuts down on the fun factor for any of the players. In this particular case, durability is designed more to capture the spirit of the idea than to do anything gritty involving tensile strength and ammunition capacity and other boring things; as a Hero, you'll have the opportunity to tell exciting stories and overcome a weapons failure by the skin of your teeth, but luckily no one will require you to know the acidic damage point of the metal your handgun is made of, so you can continue on without sweating the small stuff!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Weekly Update 3.27

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

This week, John and Anne continued work on the remaining blessings, wrapping up nearly a dozen. Also, this will be another week without numbers, in favor of trying out a new format for the weekly update; instead I am going to preview one of the blessings that was finished this week.

These previews are going to avoid the detailed rules surrounding the Blessing and instead talk about the theme and role the Blessing is meant to fill.

The Blessing of the week comes from Creator, specifically the Art Tree. Creators tend to very broadly, fall into two groups. The first group are those that carefully plan out their work, then get to the business of creating what they intended to make. The other group is a bit more chaotic, they think on the fly, knowing what they want to make in broad strokes, and then improvise as they go using whatever they have available on hand.

The former group would first use Vision to to plan out their creation, and then follow on with Art to make their creation a reality. Making sure that they acquire the proper materials, and then build. But sometimes that's not possible, or maybe your creator falls into the latter category.

This Art Blessing is all about building as you go without a plan.

When used, it allows the creator to skip the Vision phase of creation and just go with their gut. Using this ability comes at a cost though, when you don't have time to think through building something the item will have a flaw.

This flaws can manifest in a myriad of ways. Maybe only the creator can repair the item, if it is repairable at all. The insane leaps of logic and ingenuity make the item indecipherable by anyone else, somehow against all odds, the item "just works" and it's best not to think how. Another possible outcome is that the item itself is unstable, making that sword you cobbled together more likely to break, and when it does it will shatter violently spraying the area with shrapnel. Or maybe you just weren't able to get all the kinks out, and the item will invariably damage its user.

So that's the preview for the week, onto the question for the week, conveniently on Blessings:

Are all Blessings (Talent and Sphere) actively used, or are there Blessings that are passive? 

Talents are all about your character doing something, as such their Blessings are all activated, in that you will use them to augment what you are actively doing. Devotional and Domain blessings will be a mix of both activated and passive or "always on" blessings.

That's it for this week! Let me know what you think of the format change, and have a great weekend!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Weekly Update 3.20

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

Hello! So this week I have updates, a whole bunch of questions, some good news, and some bad news. First, the good news; All of the Lover Blessings are done, and according to the Blessings Count we are at...

9 out of 10

Awesome right!? But there's the bad news, the last blessings are the big ones, the ones that John and Anne looked at and said "We'll come back to it." or they had "fiddly bits" that were difficult to pin down.

To give an example of the difficulty I'll use a blessing from Beauty. As I mentioned last week, it's hard to make beauty an active thing. In mythology, beautiful people tend to have things happen to them they don't necessarily make things happen. It's a difficult proposition to create a blessing that says "Use this to be abducted and start a war." or "Use this and be given to someone as a prize." or "Use this and be pursued by an amorous Zeus".

Most players are going to look at a power like that and say "NOPE!"

But the above things have happened in Mythology. Anne and John wracked their brains to make a power like that appealing, but that still reflects the mythical nature of beauty. After a long six hours, they came up with a Blessing that allows someone with Beauty to give themselves (I'm not specifying) significant bonuses, but using it risks having things happen to them. When the power is used, the GM rolls a die, maybe nothing happens, maybe one of the above things happen, or maybe something else happens.

Regardless of the outcome, using the power potentially changes the direction of your hero's journey.

The remaining Blessings are similar to the above, they have big risk/reward mechanics or can change a story with their use.

They're working, but from this point on it's going to be slow going with the remaining blessings.

The remaining three chapters, are dependent on Blessings being done. One of the remaining chapters is The Blessings Chapter, and is not complete for the obvious reason. The other two chapters rely on Blessings to also be completed. So they are in a holding patterns until Blessings are complete.

What else? John and Anne discovered that the majority of the novels were badly damaged. Not wanting to send out defective rewards, they worked with the publisher to reprint them. Fortunately the publisher recognized the issue and will be fixing it.

Which brings us to the question-nado!

With respect to Empowerment (Described in this blog post), does each Creator Blessing have a short note added that says 'use a Reserve to...', or is it only for certain ones?

There are a total of nine Creator Blessings that can be empowered. There is one blessing in each Talent at each tier Mortal, Immortal, and Divine that will be able to be Empowered.

Heroes get access to the three Endowments for their highest Aspect automatically? What happens if that list changes?

At each transition of your hero's journey (Mortal, Immortal, and Divine), you will get access to endowments for your three highest aspects. It will be at these milestone, moving from mortal to immortal and from immortal to divine, that your endowments may change.

What if two or more Aspects are tied for a spot?

If you have Aspects that are tied, you will be able to pick which one gets an Endowment

Divine Favors sound neat, could we have a blog post on them?

Maybe? I can see that is gets added to the list, but I can't guarantee that a post will be out before the book is published.

What is Renown?

Renown is the Hero's Journey term for Experience.

What counts as Unarmed in HJ?

When you are not using a tool or implement to add to your damage you are considered to be unarmed.

Would a boxer wearing gloves count as Unarmed or Weaponry?

A boxer wearing gloves is wearing them to do less damage to themselves and to others, not more. So boxing gloves would be unarmed. If you were to alter boxing gloves to do more damage (adding spikes for instance) they would be considered a weapon and you would be considered to be armed.

What about Bagh Nakhs and similar weapons?

Bagh Nakhs, and other claw type weapons are still weapons. They are an implement meant to do more damage than bare hands. The general rule is, if your character is using a tool to augment their damage dealing ability, they are using weapon.

Can Unarmed and Weaponry Blessings only be used while using the appropriate implement?

Most Unarmed and Weapon Blessings (not all) will require the appropriate status to use them.

Specifically, there was a Blessing in John's Warrior post that reduced incoming damage from the Unarmed Web...could a weapon user activate this Blessing to shrug off damage, provided he had the proper investment in Unarmed?

That is an example of a blessing that would be usable whether you're armed or unarmed.

If all Blessings in those trees are mutually exclusive then what potential motivation would a Warrior have to go up both trees?

Most of the Blessings in the armed and unarmed trees are mutually exclusive.

The motivation for going into both trees is to be a versatile warrior. Mythic warriors tend to be able to fight (in some capacity) regardless of their circumstances. They have a preferred method of fighting, but they don't become useless if they lose their weapon. This would happen if you only took armed blessings.

But maybe that's the kind of hero you want to have. Most of the plot of the first Thor movie revolves around the fact that he is kind of useless without Mjolnir. Thor loses his hammer, proceeds to be overcome by mortals with Tasers.

Do any other Aspects have a similar relationship as armed and unarmed?

One might be able to argue that there is a similar relationship between Knowledge and Mysticism in Sage. Both deal with acquiring and working with information.

Whew, thanks for the questions! That's it for this week! Have a great weekend, and I'll talk to you next week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

John Update and Playtesting

Hey everyone!
Wanted to start with some quick updates and then Im gonna talk about the playtest that is two weeks in.

First, its that time of year again! Time to play a mythology game based around college basketball. Like many of you, I dont really know much or care about sports, but its been pretty fun. Brackets and rules will be up tomorrow night. All the winners from last year and this year will get their prizes when she ship everything out with the game.

Second, As you probably know from Cam's weekly posts, we're back into the swing of things, "blessing-wise." We're at a difficult point that we get to as things are nearing completion. There are always a couple powers per talent whose system/rules are harder to nail down. Where we know what we want it to do, but not quite how to get there. Or we both have a different idea how to do it that we're quite passionate about, but we arent sure how to figure out which of our versions is best.
Its incredibly frustrating because sometimes you cant quite power through it. We find ourselves digging through things for inspiration and spending far longer than before getting each one done. We're also making small tweeks and adjustments as we find things in playtesting. Know that we're working incredibly hard to get this to you as soon as possible.

Last and most stupid, My stalling for doing our first year of business taxes is up. Im gonna have to take probably 2 days off this week and do them....not happy, and I apologize that Im not working on the game while Im doing them...I hate it.


The game features 5 players of differing experience with both rpgs and the heros journey system.

Anne - co-creator and avid gamer
Thomas and Amy - Long time players of rpgs who have been paying attention throughout Hero's Journey's creation.
Stewart and Katie - Brand new to Hero's Journey, and have some Dungeons and Dragons experience

Character Creation:
Went very smoothly, but they benefited from having me guide them through. I was able to see some possible problems for players that are common in games but might be worse then normal in heros journey.

1. There are a lot of powers you can start with. For an experienced player that adds fun and variety, but for a new player that can be daunting. We recommend statting your character based on who they are and what talents they should have(etc, etc), but I was definitely seeing as stewart was deciding which blessings to take, that with so many options, there could definitely be some analysis paralysis when it comes to picking which talents you start with to get the blessings you want. Its normal thing in games, but something Im keeping my eye on.

2. Archetypes. Players seemed to grasp the archetype system quickly and pick which they liked for their characters without problem. However we did end up with 4 explorers, 2 rebels and 2 scholars. So Im keeping my eye on that to see if the archetypes turn out to be what they thought.

3. Divine Favor: Apparently people like starting with prophecies about themselves. That would scare me, but it was a generally popular option.

4. Domains, If a patron didnt give free domains labors, people stayed away from domains at character creation(sometimes even if they did get free labors from their patron). We took a long hard look at this, and found that taking a domain at character creation was fairly crippling for a starting character. They had neat powers, but they had far fewer rolls they could make actually doing stuff. After several long talks about it, we decided to have domains not be a character creation option. Characters can still definitely buy it with renown as soon as they like, and a play-group could of course let their players start with a domain instead of an aspect, but we think for the base character, its best if they dont.

5. Back to divine favor. Players seemed to REALLY enjoy these while character creating. They're a part of the game I'm very proud of and I was glad they were met with so much excitement.

I might go into a play by play next time of what happened in the game next time. For now I just want to jot down some things that stuck out at me and things I've been thinking about re: the playtesting.

1. Really happy with how quickly Stewart and Katie adapted to the roll system and character sheet layout. Coming from a dungeons and dragons only background, I knew their ability to pick it up would be most telling about possible flaws. But they were on it almost immediately. The number of dice vs automatic successes they were getting took a bit longer, but by the end of the first chapter they were perfect.

2. Sometimes(especially with very well rounded patrons) a starting character might not have all the aspects and domains yet that they have free labors from their patrons for. Some players werent worried about this at all, but it became a focus of other players. They were frustrated that they didnt have powers that could use those free labors and decided to spend renown(xp) on those as fast as possible so they didnt have useless labors.
We already have a system for still being able to use "useless" labors, and although Stewart would use his "useless" labors for striving for glory, he still wanted to buy celestial as quickly as possible to use his free labors.

3. Saga labors. Very few blessings cost saga labors and these are usually the flashiest, coolest, story changing type powers that you are expected to only use a couple times per saga. They're balanced around that, but they're also the coolest. So players are having a tough time not using them....cause they're awesome. Im not yet sure how to fix that, or even if its really a problem, but its in the back of my head.

4. Healing powers in energy needed a tweek, we fixed them already.

5. We're about to hit a travel episode/the party is split up combo. Its something I have worried might be a strain on the system, but I wont know til next week. Ill tell ya how it goes :)

Im sure for some of you I've raised more questions than I've answered, feel free to bother me about questions :)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mechanics Update: Endowments and Why You Should Love Them

So, after our revelation of the completed character sheets on the blog recently, a few people asked what Reserves where, and why they had never heard of them. Actually, those of you following the blog have sort of heard of them and Endowments, their sister system, obliquely through Cameron's updates, but we've never directly talked about them. So, what are Reserves, and what are Endowments, and what do they have to do with one another?

Endowments are special powers that allow Heroes to do things simply because of who they are; rather than purchasing them as part of a large menu of possible powers (which is how Blessings work), they are inborn skills and qualities that relate to the Hero and the areas in which they are most famous and skilled. Each Hero has three of the possible seven Endowments, giving them a selection of heroic capabilities beyond just their rolls and the powers they choose to invest in. And that number seven does indeed have to do with the seven Aspects - each Hero has the Endowments attached to their highest three Aspects, so that Heroes who take on, for example, a great deal of the Aspect of the Trickster also have access to the unique Endowment that all Tricksters often display.

So, these seven Endowments... what are they and why are they awesome and essential for all Heroes?

  • The Creator Endowment draws upon a Creator's innate powers to make and sustain, giving them an Empowerment to use Blessings far more effectively than anyone else. They can increase the effects of specific Creator Blessings to heights that mere dabblers could not as they pull from reservoirs of sustaining energy within themselves.
  • The Hunter Endowment is their incredible Persistence in the face of hardship, which allows them to carry on with their hunts and tasks long after they should have given up. All Heroes can keep going for longer than they should be able to by purchasing Mettle to temporarily stave off the effects fo their exhaustion, of course, but only Hunters have the Persistence to simply decide not to be exhausted at all.
  • The Leader Endowment represents their Sway over the people and organizations around them, which naturally recognize their leadership skills. They can leverage that Sway to call upon people (sometimes even people they don't know) to perform tasks for them, go on errands, get them resources, or whatever else they need. Of course, those people don't always survive or have the ability to help again after the Leader's leveraged them... but all leaders have to manage their human resources at some point.
  • The Lover Endowment allows them to count on occasional help and affection from Faithful Allies, who are friends, lovers, family members, or any other people who have a strong and abiding love for the Hero. Faithful Allies turn up seemingly at random during the course of the Hero's adventures to perform grand gestures of their love, giving the Hero gifts, resources, or personal aid when they might need it most. Of course, occasionally they also need help or rescue from their Hero if they try to do so in a particularly dangerous situation... but these are the perils of being so lovable that people literally run into danger to make sure you know they adore you.
  • The Sage Endowment represents their incredible powers of Focus, which allow them to tap into otherwise inaccessible wells of resources and ability. They are capable of using their other Endowments more often than they should be able to, since they can channel their inner energies into powering them more efficiently than anyone else.
  • The Trickster Endowment is all about performing Gambits - ridiculous, ill-advised, and often only partially successful secret plans and gambles designed to allow the Trickster to get out of sticky situations or snatch triumph from the jaws of defeat with extremely sketchy methods. Gambits are always a risk, sometimes allowing the Hero to succeed against all odds and show off their incredible cleverness, but also sometimes resulting in ignominious failure and accidental misfires as the plan that seemed so foolproof a minute ago turned out to in fact be perilous and severely badly timed.
  • The Warrior is of course already strong and capable of feats of physical prowess, and so is anyone else who has Brawn... but only the Warrior can decide to put themself into Overextension, pushing their body beyond the normal limits of pain and ability to do ever more unreasonable feats. Overextended Warriors can lift heavier things and destroy more solid structures than anyone else, even those who have the most Brawn possible.

As you can see, three Endowments (Leader, Lover, and Trickster) are what we think of as "story powers", that have a large narrative effect on the game and are of varying levels of effectiveness depending on what's happening, and three Endowments (Creator, Hunter, and Warrior) are what we think of as "personal powers", allowing their users to boost their own capabilities. Sage is the odd one out, enabling either kind to be used more often.

As for Reserves, they're the resources that Heroes spend in order to activate their Endowments; Heroes have only a very small pool of them, but when they're used, big things happen in the story. Heroes will get more Reserves as they become more powerful and grow toward godhood, but they'll always have few enough that rationing when and how to use them is important.

We're big fans of Endowments as powers that everyone gets to support their character type, regardless of what else they choose to do. If you want to be strongly Warriorly or epically Loverful, you'll have the ability to do big things like Warriors and Lovers of old, regardless of how you specialize, because that's who you are and how you shape the story around you.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Goddesses of Above and Below

Today we go off to the jungles of Mexico, where are waiting some fabulous and highly underrated ladies! Today's question is Can you tell us anything about some Mayan goddesses? Awilix, Ix Chel...? and baby, can I!

Maya goddesses are the absolute bomb. They usually appear as representatives of important cosmic forces - not only the elements and celestial bodies of the universe, but also its underlying concepts, such as death, life, destruction, or chaos. Like most Maya deities, they are serious freaking business, too; there are no Maya goddesses that aren't metal as hell.

For those who haven't hung out with the Maya gods too much, there are in fact a wide spectrum of different forms of them; the Maya didn't have the same kind of unified territory as, say, the later Mexica, and were instead split into various different kingdoms in different locations, from as many different places as modern-day Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. They were also around for a very long time and went through several phases of different civilization and organizational kingdoms as well, so in addition to regional variations, there are also variations between the classical Maya kingdoms of Mexico, for example, and the later jungle Maya kingdoms that reigned farther south.

The oldest and probably most cosmically powerful of the Maya deities is Ix Chel, known as the codical Goddess O (for those who aren't sure what all this "codical god" stuff is whenever we talk about Maya deities, it's essentially a letter classification that scholars came up with to describe deities in classical Mayan art that couldn't be positively identified before we started being able to translate some glyphs and compare to other Maya cultures' figures. It's scholar code for "I have no idea who these people are but I need to be able to talk about them so everyone gets a letter"). She is usually represented as an aged old woman, bent and gnarly but nevertheless authoritative and somewhat terrifying, which sums up her general approach to deityhood pretty well. She often has jaguar features (particularly claws, teeth, ears, or the square jaguar eye), which are common in ancient art of Maya deities and represent fearsomeness and spiritual power, and occasionally also spider attributes, connecting her to traditionally feminine pursuits such as weaving.

Ix Chel is a goddess of feminine things; she's the patron deity of women and was especially believed to ease in their ailments, most notably childbirth and menstruation. Her power over the body wasn't considered to be restricted only to women, however, and she was generally believed to have and wield the power of disease somewhat capriciously over mankind (which might also have to do with the fact that she wielded the power of flood, a pretty terrifying natural disaster for the ancient Maya and one that invariably brought with it waterborn diseases and health issues). She is also the goddess of the rainbow (Ix Chel's name might mean "Lady Rainbow" in some Maya dialects, although it's hard to say whether her name or the word came first), signifying the end of the storm... although since some Maya groups believed the rainbow was a malevolent sign of illness to come, this is sort of a mixed blessing.

Like most Maya deities, Ix Chel doesn't have very many myths about her exploits preserved from the classical period in central Mexico; we mostly have artwork and ceremonial objects left over from that time period, meaning that any myths have to be guessed based on what figures are doing in paintings or on objects (and y'all know what scholars' track record with that is... I mean, they try, but there's just not much to go on). However, we do have living mythology preserved from later Maya people; the K'iche Maya of Guatemala are especially famous for their preservation of the epic Popol Vuh, and the character of Xmucane, ancient grandmother goddess to the Hero Twins who form the story's focus, shares many features in common with Ix Chel and may be a K'iche evolution of the old Goddess O.

Ix Chel's flip side - possibly literally - is Awilix (codical Goddess I), the young and beautiful moon goddess, who is likewise a healer but also represents femininity and sexuality in a way that Ix Chel does not. It's not surprising that she would also be strongly associated with the moon; since moon phases and menstrual cycles tend to go in similar cycles, many ancient peoples equated the moon with femininity, and the Maya were no different. Awilix maintains a sacred well in the heavens (possibly the moon itself) from which she can pour out healing rain, and her major area of control is over the fertility of humankind, who have babies only when she allows it. She also often appears with a rabbit, an animal traditionally associated with the moon, and although we have few surviving myths about Awilix, we know the rabbit tends to be with her and involved when she is, making it something of a companion for her.

I say she's Ix Chel's flip side because there's a rather heated, decades-spanning debate among scholars over whether or not Ix Chel and Awilix are actually the same person. Many scholars are fans of a combinatory approach to Maya mythology: all deities are probably just different aspects of other deities, even to the point where some like to theorize that the ancient Maya were actually monotheistic, and all their deities are just aspects of one central god (of course, some modern Maya communities are monotheistic in the modern day - many have converted to Christianity in the wake of the Spanish conquest, or incorporated Christian elements into their traditional beliefs). Other scholars point out that this may be influenced by a desire to push ancient cultures into a monotheism box because so many of our modern cultures live there, and different figures in art and myth may be exactly that - different figures.

Fans of the Ix Chel = Awilix argument point out that both are heavily associated with women and childbirth/fertility, have ties to water, and could be argued to be moon-aligned (Ix Chel's a little sketchy here but it's possible). Detractors usually say so what, lots of gods do similar things and they still manage to be different people. Only time and extensive archaeological or textual discoveries will tell.

Then we have Xquic, the Lady of Blood, who is a rare and interesting deity. She's a death goddess - or rather, a goddess of the realms of death, Xibalba, where she lived with her father Cuchumaquic (literally Blood Gatherer, most likely a deity of bleeding or hemorrhaging) until the Hero Twins - both sets of them - caused their rather spectacular splash. The Hero Twins you most often hear about, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, were actually the second generation; their father was also one of a set of twins who went down to Xibalba to challenge the Lords of Death to a ballgame, although sadly a way less successful one, since both of them were killed in fairly short order. The severed head of one of the two brothers, Hun Hunahpu, grew into a calabash tree, and although she was warned to stay away from it (death gods are traditionally not fans of weird life growing in their territory), she still went to investigate it. One of the fruits had grown into an eerily skull-like shape and begged her to take it, and when she reached out to do so, it spat into her hand, instantly impregnating her.

Of course, she had no idea this had happened (because why would you, seriously, it was a tree), but her father knew what her growing belly meant, and confronted her very angrily about who she'd been with. She answered truthfully that she hadn't been with anyone, of course, and of course he didn't believe her, and she was officially declared a criminal, her unborn children bastards, and she was sentenced to be sacrificed. Being a quick-thinking lady who had no illusions about whether or not they would actually kill her (because yes, they totally would), she convinced the deathly owl messengers of the underworld who took her out to be sacrificed to instead create a fake heart out of blood-colored tree sap, which was returned to the Lords of Xibalba, allowing her to escape without their knowledge that she was still alive.

Of course, at this point she was several months pregnant from a stealth tree assault and stuck in the normal world, where she'd never been before, so she did what many ladies in this situation might do: she went looking for the father's family to see if they would do anything about this situation. The brothers were of course still dead, weird skull-tree notwithstanding, but their mother, old Xmucane, was not, and Xquic introduced herself and asked if she could be taken care of as part of the family, which would be her right at the time (and the right of the incoming children). Unfortunately, Xmucane was not any more inclined to believe that her dead sons were impregnating people than Xquic's father had been to believe she was having a virgin pregnancy, so Xquic had to undergo a number of other trials to win her mother-in-law's trust, including filling an entire sack of corn from a single cornstalk, but she succeeded through magical badassery and Xmucane eventually welcomed her into her home, where she gave birth the the Hero Twins and the rest is history.

Xquic is known to us only through the Popol Vuh; she very well could be included in classical Maya artwork, but if she is, we still don't know which one she is yet.

Finally, since I know this post got out of control lengthwise, I'll closeout with a fourth lady: Ixtab (meaning Lady of the Rope), commonly called the Goddess of Suicide, although that's a fairly misleading representation of how she was probably viewed by the ancient Maya themselves. She is always represented in codices as being in the midst of hanging herself; hanging or strangulation were considered honorable deaths, usually reserved for Maya nobility who needed to take their lives to wash away a stain on the family's reputation or avoid disgrace, so despite her morbid connotations, Ixtab was a goddess of honor and the upper class. It's likely that she played a little bit of the role we would recognize in Europe as the psychopomp, guiding or at least easing the passage of those who employed her noose into the next world, and ensuring that they arrived at a peaceful and pleasant destination after death.

Ixtab is in a weird place because we know so little about her that there are theories and reimaginings of her happening all over the place. Some scholars think that even though Ixtab does seem to have existed as a deity, the depictions of women hanging in the codices might not be her, but instead refer to dangers to mortal women associated with the lunar eclipse (there's that moon = women thing again). The description of her role mostly comes from Diego de Landa Calderón, a Spanish friar who recorded a lot of Maya mythology but was also brutally anti-indigenous-religion and responsible for massive parts of its destruction, so other scholars note that he's not the most reliable source in the world and may have exaggerated her morbid associations or even entirely made her up for his own agenda. And, of course, the tantalizing uniqueness of her supposed role - you don't see "goddess of suicide" very many places - has gotten her a weird pop culture niche, with versions of her appearing as characters in both the Final Fantasy and Megami Tensei video game series, a Russian metal band named after her, and even a weird little browser game where she appears as the player's inscrutable boss and sends you out to shoot zombies.

Obviously, this post is too long to get into too much more (which is a shame, because there is more!), but it's someplace to start. Maya goddesses often appear as female counterparts or balances to male gods in the same pantheon - in the list above, Ix Chel is often prominently placed as the feminine counterpart to the ancient creator god Itzamna - but they are also extremely powerful and intricate deities in their own right. Be kind to the jungle; its goddesses won't necessarily be kind to you in return, but it cuts down on your chances of destruction, right?

Weekly Update 3.13

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

Hello! So here's the deal this week; John and Anne only got back from their trip to Florida on Monday and our weekly meeting happens on Wednesday. As a result they did not have much time to get anything done to report on. They are of course both working, most likely as you are reading this.

Immediately following the meeting, John and Anne were both set to work on the Beauty Blessings. Their challenge with Beauty has been that in mythology Beauty tends to be a passive thing, and blessings are more active powers. Gods and goddesses who are beautiful, are just that, they're passively beautiful. So you can look forward to your beautiful characters will not only be able to be passively beautiful, but be able to "wield" their beauty.

This past Tuesday, there was another beta game being played. If you're interested, and heaven't checked it out yet, you can see the insanity of what happened by checking out Hero's Journey Twitter.

So another minor update, have a great weekend, and I'll talk to you next week.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sample Characters: New York's Very Own Superheroes

So, we're in Florida right now (which means you're reading this from THE FUTURE), but we figured that was no reason there couldn't be fun while we were gone. Since Royce, who is a bamf beyond bamfing, recently completed the actually for real this time final version of the HJ character sheet, we thought we'd do a post with a set of sample characters and their stats, the better to show y'all some of how the sheet works, what's on it, and what you have to look forward to.

And who better than to show off these shiny new sheets than the crew of Containment Prime? For those who didn't follow us back in the day, Containment Prime is a superhero team put together by several of our players, who played Heroes in a previous system before converting them to Hero's Journey; as divinely superpowered individuals dealing with supernatural dangers in New York, they thought it was only reasonable that they go to the mayor, get official sanction, and sign Underarmor up to sponsor them while they save the day. As a grab bag of heroic figures representing a mix of divine patrons from the Greek and Egyptian pantheons, they cover a wide spectrum of skills and together make a formidable force when it comes to challenging the bad guys!

Anton Volconi (AKA The Hammer)

Anton is a crochety old mechanic when he's not saving the world - he loves working with his hands and repairing and restoring things that have been broken, which is easily evident in his expertise in the Creator Aspect and its attendant Talents, Art and Energy. He's not quite as creative as some of his fellow heroes, but he makes up for it by being handy with a stick shift and at home in the concrete jungle with copious amounts of Streetwise, and more than capable of using either a weapon or his own fists to take care of himself with Weaponry or Brawn. He has middling skills in a lot of areas, but all Heroes must accept their shortcomings; he's just not personable, and others don't like him very much thanks to his abrasive manner, illustrated by his total lack of dots in the Lover Aspect.

Isaac Green (AKA The Spyder)

Isaac is a hacker extraordinaire who is constantly on the run thanks to his habit of leaking government secrets on the internet, and the epitome of a Trickster, with tons of Streetwise for his familiarity with technology and a pile of Determination to back up his ideals, and hefty amounts of Legerdemain and Disguise to keep him successfully on the lam. His focus on cerebral pursuits means he also has a good number of dots in Sage, mostly in Knowledge (the better to help him find secrets and share information!), and he's no slouch in Lover (especially the Persuasion that allows him to talk his way out of danger) and Creator (with Vision to create new programs and technological ideas). The wilderness would put him completely out of his element, as we can see from his tragic lack of Hunter, and he's not much of a fighter, either, with only a smattering of dots in Warrior. His mixed bag of extra stats lets him do many things in a pinch, though - a true jack of all trades!

Russel Pride (AKA Assault)

Russel is the group's frontline fighter, rocking devastating powers of martial arts prowess in Unarmed along with the capability to perform feats of awe-inspiring Athleticism. He's so good at fighting (hence his superhero name) that he doesn't branch out into too many other areas, but he's also pretty good at Hunter, specifically the quick movement of Pursuit and the Mettle to keep him on his feet for the long haul, and the energy to not only keep himself intact with Willpower but also support others with Energy. He's also not too hard on the eyes, so while he may not be the most empathetic dude in the world, there's more than a little bit of the Lover about him.

Skylar Copperwithe (AKA Rocket)

Skylar is all about what's going on in his head, which we can see from his deep dive into the Sage Aspect; he knows all, sees all, comprehends all, and then explains it all to everyone who shows even the slightest interest and frequently also everyone else who doesn't. Unlike Isaac, who's all about theory, or Anton, who's all about working with his hands, Skylar is the best of both worlds - he can dream up designs beyond normal human ken and then build them with barely any crying about how tired he is and how no one has made him pancakes this morning. His close connection to technology, as a user of machines and electronics, gives him some clout in the Trickster area as well, although we're all better off not asking him to necessarily do anything particularly sneaky. Alas, he is pretty much terrible in all other arenas, though - he just doesn't connect with other people well, making Lover and Leader lost causes, and is physically frail enough to always want to leave combat to Russel and Zoe.

Zoe Vrontopoulos (AKA Skyblaze)

Zoe is the group's leader, and it shows on her sheet - the Leader Aspect is clearly her calling, with high doses of Diplomacy for mediating between a hostile population who isn't sure if superheroes are really a good idea, and a ton of Purpose to help her get the best out of the people under her command. She also excels at the Lover Aspect, making her capable of commanding attention and understanding and responding to the needs of others, always helpful to a budding superhero trying to save people and make their lives better, and is able to act as an Inspiration for both her followers and those who see them doing their thing. She's a decent Warrior, able to go into battle, but can't really compete with Russel's fighting savvy, and in most other areas is basically competent but nothing to write home about. She has very little capability when it comes to envisioning or making new things; Zoe is all about the here and now.

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between these characters - apparently the folks in Containment Prime loooove the Creator Aspect, as well as the Fire Sphere - but even though they have some things in common, they are still unique in how they combine them and complement one another. This set of characters has shades of difference in common themes - other groups may have several completely different ideas even farther removed!

(Yes, for those of you about to ask: this is just the first page of the character sheet, and there is a back page that contains Heroes' Blessings and a few other important things. But we have to leave something to your imaginations, right?)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Weekly Update 3.6

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

Hello! As you know from last Friday's update John and Anne are away this week. I am also traveling only my travels see me in the frozen hellscape of the Northeast U.S. The update this week is pretty light, so you have my apologies.

There has been no significant change to the counts (John estimates that they are at 7.6) I'm still going to be a pessimistic voice and rounding it down to 7. Which means we're still at.

7 out of 10 for blessings completion


3 out of 6 for finalized chapters

This is a little bit like the calm before the storm. After some relaxation on their trip, John and Anne are going to hit the ground running to get to publishing.

There are some things to note, there is some new play testing happening. John has given some scenarios for the team to play out so keep your eye on the Twitter feed. Also, John is going to get back into the blogging game when he returns, but you'll have to wait on the details for that until next week.

With that, have a great weekend, and I'll talk to you next week.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mother Moon

One of our recent submissions just said the name "Mama Quilla", which we interpreted as a request for information about this bomb-ass lady from Inca mythology. So let's talk about her!

Mama Quilla (also spelled Mama Killa, which is pronounced the same - both versions of the name literally mean "mother moon") is the moon goddess of Inca legend, an ethereally beautiful woman who was beloved for bestowing her light on the world to keep it from falling into darkness at night, and whose silvery tears fell to the ground and could later be mined from the earth as precious metal. Like many other moon goddesses, she was considered the special protector of women and their young children, thanks to the moon's connection to the ideas of female fertility and menstrual cycles, and the secret healing powers that allowed women to give birth to new life. And because she was in control of the moon, Mama Quilla was also the power that regulated time itself, since it was she who set the borders of the lunar calendar the Inca people used and ensured that the phases of the moon, representing time, proceeded at the correct pace.

All this is pretty excellent all by itself, but Mama Quilla is also the wife of her brother Inti, the sun god and patron of the imperial rulers of the Inca empire, which also makes her a political powerhouse by extension. Where Inti was considered the power behind the emperor, endowing him with the divine right to rule and his own magical ability to judge laws and maintain order, Mama Quilla became the power behind the empress, making her the symbolic mother of the empire as Mama Quilla was the mother of many of the gods, and conferring on her the ability to be held up as a standard of perfection in female form and behavior to be emulated by all. Since she was believed to be the mother of Manco Capac, the divine hero who founded the Inca empire, she was also the very concrete ancestor and mother figure for the entire imperial line.

Like many other goddesses who mostly appear as complements to a male partner, Mama Quilla doesn't have a ton of myths that are about her own exploits alone, but there are a few, nevertheless!

In the first, Inti is, as many sun gods are, something of a jerk; because they were siblings, Mama Quilla and Inti were originally equally resplendent in their light as sun and moon, but because Mama Quilla was so beautiful, she outshone her brother. Inti was jealous (or possibly just wanted to make sure people noticed him first), and burned Mama Quilla's face with ashes, thus making the light of the moon dimmer and creating the dark patches that can be seen on the surface of the moon. A less distressing version of the origin of the dark spots on the moon claims that there was once a fox spirit that fell in love with Mama Quilla, and the spots are the patches of its shed fur left behind on her face after she lovingly embraced it.

Mama Quilla's most ongoing myth is that of the lunar eclipse - as with many other moon gods, her disappearance during eclipses was a cause for extreme concern and even fear among mortals below. The Inca believed that an eclipse meant that a great puma (possibly Ccoa, a celestial puma believed to cause intense thunderstorms and to roam the skies looking for sustenance) was attacking Mama Quilla, attempting to devour her, and that she was in great danger unless they helped her, since Inti could not venture into the night to come to her aid. The Inca therefore took matters into their own hands, and whenever a lunar eclipse began, they made a concerted effort to frighten the puma away by screaming, banging on drums and any other loud items at hand, and hurling weapons into the sky in the general direction of the encroaching darkness - which without fail successfully frightened the creature away, just when it looked like all must be lost. (The Spanish, when they arrived to start ruining everything in the sixteenth century, were intensely baffled by this performance, even once it was explained to them by translators, and eventually ended up just writing down "I don't know, these people are crazy" in their notes and giving up.)

The lunar lady of the Inca isn't one of the most active of mythological ladies, nor does she have the most well-known myths, but she was still among the most important deities of an entire civilization, and the heart of its survival, keeping its children healthy, its nights comforting and illuminated, and the very flow of time itself from going awry. Nothing to sneeze at!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Painless God

Tell us about Hypnos and his sons the Oneiroi, someone demands today. Geez, so pushy! But we love Greek mythology so we'll put up with it, dear questioner.

Hypnos is a child of the Protogenoi, the greatest and most loosely personified of the Greek deities; he is the lord of sleep, dreams, and oblivion, and therefore it makes sense that he is the child of Erebos, the primordial god of darkness, and Nyx, ancient goddess of night. He is the twin brother of Thanatos, the god of personified death, because to the ancient Greeks, sleep and death were two sides of the same coin, the same oblivion but with different time limits. Hypnos was less feared than Thanatos, because his "little death" was only temporary... but he also had the power to bestow and control the dreams and nightmares of sleeping humanity, which was a terror all its own.

Hypnos basically spends all of his time asleep, so he doesn't actually do much himself - he's not an active running-around type of deity, and mostly is unconscious to illustrate that he represents everyone else's collective ability to be unconscious as well. The Oneroi, however, are a very active crew, one whose job it is to fly out from Erebos every night, described as dark-winged like bats, to carry their dreams to the minds of the sleeping world. Because dreams could often contain important portents of the future in ancient Greek thought, they were more than just the bringers of pleasant fantasties or impossible nightmares; they also had the power to warn sleeping mortals of the future, encourage them to arm themselves or give them important information, or (as they did on Zeus' orders during the Trojan War when he wanted to ruin some Greeks' day) directly impart the words of the gods.

There are literally hundreds of Oneiroi, an impressive brood for a god who is usually passed out (which might be the reason that they're sometimes said to be his siblings instead of his children), and there are several of them that distinguish themselves as leaders among the throng. The most famous, thanks in no small part to Mr. Neil Gaiman, is Morpheus (literally "shaper"), god of dreams, who is the most powerful of the Oneiroi and therefore their leader, and the one who most often acts as a messenger or bringer of prophecies. His very nasty brother is Ikelos, whose name means "seeming" or "image", and who was in charge of nightmares in which visions of terrible beasts or enemies appeared, making him extremely unpopular with humanity; and to round the trio out, the third named spirit is Phantasos, whose name means "apparition", who handled all appearances of fantastic, surreal, or unreal objects and places in dreams. Only Morpheus really does very much, as the other two have jobs but not much of a mythic presence, and all three, like their thousand compatriots, are more helpers to Hypnos than important deities in their own right.

Because of his continual narcolepsy, Hypnos doesn't have a lot of myths of his exploits, but the few he does are exercises in using his power over sleep and then fleeing the consequences so he can go back to bed. Interestingly enough, he often helps his brother Thanatos head out and pick up the recently slain; he may not be about death himself, but clearly the idea was closely related enough to convince the ancient Greeks to imagine him as participating in the death scenes of heroes anyway.

In the Iliad, Hypnos appears during the crucial episode in which Hera has decided to distract Zeus to prevent him from helping the Greeks attack Troy. She knows she can can definitely get Zeus' attention with her mad sexiness, and keep it for a while, but that she won't be able to hold onto him for long enough to make sure her plan can go into effect, so she seeks Hypnos out and offers to have Hephaestos make him a golden throne if he helps her out by putting Zeus to sleep as soon as sexytimes are over. A hilarious conversation ensues in which Hypnos tells Hera he would really like to help her, but last time she asked him to put Zeus to sleep so she could get up to stuff, Zeus woke up in a rage, pursued him across the galaxy, and would probably have murdered him if he hadn't managed to get to his mother Nyx and hide in her primordial darkness, where Zeus knew better than to chase him lest he anger the ancient lady.

Luckily for Hera, she is the goddess of marriage, so she was able to up the ante by saying, "Do it and I'll give you Pasithea, goddess of meditation, who is one of the hottest goddesses in existence and also I know you've been in love with her forever, as your wife," so Hypnos is like "Okay, then, back on board with pissing Zeus off." After getting Hera to swear to hold up her end of the bargain, Hypnos did indeed succeed in knocking Zeus out to allow shenanigans to ensue, and then survived the backlash by fleeing to the forst, turning himself into a bird, and hiding in the upper branches of a pine tree whistling innocently until everything blew over.

Most of the rest of the time, Hypnos actually does Zeus' bidding, rather than acting against him (which is, after all, the smart move for a god who wants to take a lot of naps and not be barbecued by lightning). Most of his appearances involve putting people to sleep on behalf of the gods, sending the oneiroi to get things done, or occasionally helping Thanatos carry off a particularly important dead person. Regardless of his seemingly pedestrian duties, though, his powers are deceptively great; he may not often simply render the king of the gods completely unaware and impotent, but he obviously can, which makes him at least as powerful as all the ancient and primordial deities who spawned him.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Spark of Creation

We got this question a while ago, and have been saving it because it's a fun one to talk about and we wanted to make sure we had time to be properly self-indulgent about it. What were your reasons for deciding to create an RPG? asks the question, and, well, it's a long and complicated answer.

Both John and I are long-time gamers; we've been rolling dice almost since we were old enough to understand how. John began reading game books (classic 2nd edition D&D, in the beginning, with a special love of the Dark Sun setting) as a child and running games for his friends and siblings by the time he was in middle school, and installed himself as a GM for everything from rules-light live-action roleplaying to heavy crunch with a thousand dice, running games for anyone who showed an interest all the way through his high school and college careers and into adulthood. I grew up with a mother who helped run the local gaming conventions, and I, too, spent my allowance on secondhand rulebooks, played with my sisters in a basement and strangers at cons, and headed into college with more different game systems experienced than people dated.

We've both always been in love with roleplaying games, is what I'm saying, a love affair that's lasted our whole lives. Games are at their root ways to cooperatively tell stories, and both John and I are storytellers by trade and passion as well. John is an actor, spending his time playing out stories only a little more scripted with others, making ideas and emotions and retelling themes and motifs each time he does, and I'm a writer, absorbing what's around me in my environment and retelling it for others to take in and mold to their own thoughts and purposes. (Or at least, that's what we shoot for, although we may not always be so grandiose!)

So it's only natural that, as creative people who love games, we would eventually want to create games. John's been doing his own version of game development training wheels for many years; he's been creating his own settings and adventures, modding existing game systems and splicing them together, and generally torturing players (usually in a good way) with his creations whenever possible. He and I have been talking about finally doing it - making our own game - for years now, egged on constantly by players (usually with some variation on "If you're going to make us suddenly start rolling d8s for unexplained sanity checks you might as well do it to everyone"), until finally one day we realized that we were doing it anyway, just by ourselves... and if we were going to do it anyway, we could do it and share it with the world instead of just our friends.

As for why we wanted to make this game, we've also always both been fascinated by mythology and religion - heck, John has a degree in it. We love the classics, and even more, we've also been inspired by the many other pop culture interpretations of mythology. Movies like Desmodn Davis' Clash of the Titans or Tarsem Singh's Immortals, TV shows like Xena: Warrior Princess or Stargate SG-1 or The Almighty Johnsons, books like Marvel's Thor comics or Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, or games like White Wolf's Scion, Harper's Agon or Pendelhaven's Fate of the Norns - they all draw on ancient myths and religions and relate them to modern life. They all say something about who humanity has been through the ages, and who we are now, and what we know about ourselves, and so on and so forth.

So we made this game, in particular, because as storytellers we love the ideas of stories that have power, that are as old as we are as humanity itself, that matter, that change but also stay the same, that have meaning no matter who hears them or tells them. And also, heroes doing sick backflips and rad lightning bolt stunts.

Over the years, we've also had an absolutely outstanding time sharing our games, ideas, and stories with folks in the rest of the gaming community - friends and fellow students, convention-goers, online systems theoreticians, people who just like to email us and talk about things. It's been fantastic, and in a little way, making a game feels like finally putting something back into that world that we've loved living in and sharing in for so long. Now we can create something - something good, we hope! - and share it with all of you, and then we get the joy of discussing it and learning from it and hoping it helps inspire the same way we've been inspired.

So basically, we love games, and we love mythology, and we love you. So that's why we made a game, and why we hope you'll love playing it as much as we have loved doing it.