Sunday, December 31, 2017

John Musings 1: Stress Test

Throughout my years of GMing (coming up on 25 years!), I've always been accused of spending too much time working on any given game I run.

And it's true! When I'm running a game, I spend way too much time each week on the game - writing new NPCcs, coming up with mini-games, writing sidequests the PCs might never encounter, etc.

Imagine I've littered this with YOU ARE HERE and YOU LAST KILLED A WURM HERE and ON MAY 2014 YOU TALKED TO ADVAR HERE,
and then drew snakes and ladders all over it

So I'm giving myself a test:

I've overloaded myself with work and games to run. There are currently three playtest games each week. There's no way I can work all week, design HJ, do other normal human stuff, run three games, sleep, AND spend as much time as I normally do writing the games.

So each week, I'm giving myself one hour PER game to write it. That includes encounters, NPCs, storylines, communication with players, everything. This is about 1/4 the amount of time I'm used to spending and it already makes me look for ways to cheat.

I'm doing this for more reasons than just because I don't have time, though - it's also to make sure that HJ isnt just a game for GMs who have a lot of time, but can also be run by GMs who have a WIDE spectrum of time available to them, OR GMs who just don't enjoy spending a ton of time working on the game. Games can have any amount of prep time baked in and be good, but we want this to be one that people can play without a ton of investment.

A man who is winging it

My expectations:

Things that I take for granted as things someone would want to create for themselves should probably be included. For example, Odyssey Event tables - right now we give a couple of tables and expect GMs to mostly create their own, but I expect I'll wish there were a bunch pre-generated in the book. Which will let us know to go add some. Encounters will also be an issue. We don't have the page space to put a LOT of creatures or encounters in the book, but I suspect that I'll be wanting more and will probably try to at least get them in a free-to-download PDF at or a little after release.

(Note: We definitely do have creatures and encounters in the main book. I just think we'll need more.)

We're a couple weeks in and everything is going fine so far. It's a bit overwhelming, but I haven't hit any major snags. I have had to do a lot more references on the fly than usual (pictures of NPCs, places, things), but other than that its been smooth.

What things do you all need when you're winging it or don't want to spend a lot of time on setup?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mechanics Talk: Fire in the Sky

All right, so time to talk about some more mechanics! There have been recent rumblings about Domains and Spheres, and since we already talked about their Talent counterparts a little while ago, now seems good.

Domains and Aspects use roughly the same mechanics - they provide dice to roll on the same scales and have sub-specialties, the Spheres, which provide mechanical benefit to those rolls just like the Talents do to the Aspects. And they have nodes to specialize in, so that just like the Aspects and Talents, two different Heroes who have Domains and Spheres in common aren't necessarily identical (although the trees for the Spheres are less extensive, so there's more overlap potential).

The Domains and Spheres are mostly different in that you don't use them for heroic actions, regardless of the situation. Adventuring calls for rolls from the Aspects and Talents, but there aren't any situations where you'll be called upon to just roll Elemental or Spiritual (at least, not in the base system, although I'm sure a creative Destiny might come up with a situation now and then where it might become relevant). They instead roll purely for their own Blessings, which are magical powers that by nature are the sort that regular, non-Heroic folks just don't have access to. (This is a little different from the Talents, which have Blessings that regular, skilled specialists like scientists or artists might have access to, as well as Blessings that are purely Heroic.)

The Sphere Trees look different from the Web of Fate as a result, with a smaller total number of nodes (because investment into Domains and Spheres is more optional than Aspects and Talents) and more of them dedicated to Blessings, which are the main point of the Spheres. There are still nodes that grant bonuses and resources, just like in the Web, but a smaller percentage. And the Blessings in them are, on the whole, more powerful than those in the Talents: the first reason is because they don't come with the side benefit of a dot that is relevant to everyday rolls in a Hero's career, and the second reason is because the Spheres are where the truly supernatural powers are, and being a wielder of them is impressive!

The neat thing about Domains is that characters can one hundred percent choose to get them, or not, and still be valid and exciting Heroes either way. There are Heroes and deities throughout different mythologies who both clearly have Domains and who clearly don't; the example we usually use when we talk about it in character generation is Herakles, who like many of the hyper-specialized Greek heroes just does basically one thing. Since that one thing is represented over in the Aspects - Warrior, for the most part - he's an example of an effective hero with no Domains at all. On the other hand, a Hero with obvious Domains might be the Sybil of Cumae, whose obvious powers in the Death Sphere allowed her to help guide the future father of Rome, Aeneas, on his journey through the underworld. More pop culture examples are everywhere - for example, in DC's Justice League, Cyborg, Flash, and Batman are great examples of Heroes all in on Aspects and Talents (Trickster, Creator, Warrior), while right next to them Superman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman are obviously asserting powers from the Domains and Spheres (Celestial, Elemental).

Neither is "better" than the other - it'd be hard to say Ares is "worse" than Apollo just because he only does Aspects instead of Domains, so a lot just depends on what a given player wants their Hero to do and represent. Domains are impressive, supernatural, flashy; Aspects are workhorses, needed all the time and capable of heroic feats without the aid of, to all intents and purposes, extra "magic". Domains are Heroes tapping into cosmic, universal forces to help them; Aspects are their own personal, inborn purpose and skills.

Since Domains are optional, and they require a Renown investment that isn't going to Aspects, most Heroes in playtests have tended toward not really expanding into them until they've had enough time to feel comfortable about their Aspects and Talents first, so progress in them has been slow. For the most part, the older a character is and the more time they've had to develop, the more likely they are to have Domains, which makes sense in a narrative sense - "higher level" characters in stories, heading up toward Immortal and Divine, usually tend to have more of those obviously cosmic powers! There are however, brief spates of Domain excitement now and then whenever a character uses a Sphere power and all the other players go, "oh my god, did you just call up mist out of the sea/set that guy on lightning/beat the house at roulette, where is that power", so the coolness factor sometimes overwhelms people.

Domains are expandable, with six more Spheres planned for the future after the first core set comes out (so if you're one of those people going "why on earth can I get an Elemental Domain but it doesn't have any Earth powers?", that's why!).

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Io Saturnalia!

It's right around holiday time, so we're on vacation in our living room for a day or two. In the meantime, please enjoy the season yourselves!

Whether you're observing Mandala Puja or celebrating Yemanja at the turn of the new year (or any other religion or festival of your choice), we hope you're having an awesome time!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Mechanics Talk: The Birth of a Hero

All right, y'all, tomorrow is my birthday so I'm queuing this up ahead of time, and I hope you all enjoy it! Here's a quick walk through character creation - let's follow a fictional player, Lola, as she builds her first Hero!

Lola is a playtester and has access to the character creation chapter of HJ, so she looks over the list of steps and starts with the basics: what kind of Hero does she want to play? She isn't really very sure on the details yet - she's more of a develop-as-you-go-along type - but she's pretty sure she wants to save people who need it, and she likes the idea of being a sort of action archaeologist like Indiana Jones. She considers the list of Archetypes, and decides that her archaeologist idea could work for Preserver (a character who wants to help find and put important artifacts into museums), but ultimately that Explorer (a character who wants to go new places and experience new things) is a better fit, since she might end up damaging or stealing things in the process. For her second Archetype, she considers both Champion and Savior; Champions are about meeting new challenges and overcoming dangers, which is appealing, but she decides that Saviors get to do that, too, when they're saving people from them, and it matches better with her idea of rescuing people who need it.

So now that Lola knows her character is an Explorer/Savior with a background of traveling the world investigating archaeological sites, she gives her a name - Julia Islington III, from a long line of intrepid lady explorers - and that gives her the idea that maybe some of her ancestors might have been part of the British archaeological craze in Egypt in the nineteenth century, and she decides it'd be neat that an Egyptian god remembers it and has chosen her as a Hero. She isn't sure which one yet, since she isn't very familiar with them, but she'll keep it in mind as she goes on to get her stats.

Each Archetype grants a package of specific Aspect and Talent dots, designed to make sure that a starting Hero can do things that their Archetype will push them to do. Because Julia is an Explorer, she starts with a lot of Hunter, designed to let her travel in the wilderness and survive outside the comforting embrace of civilization if she has to; specifically, she gets a dot each of Mettle, Naturalism, and Pursuit, representing that she's good at traveling and navigating in the wild, and two dots of Tracking to represent that finding her way and investigating things is something she's especially good at. The Explorer Archetype also gives her a little bit of Trickster, representing that she can also explore in more urban environments, and she specifically gets a dot each of Legerdemain, representing manipulating and maybe even breaking into places if she has to, and Streetwise, representing that she can find her way and blend in in human-settled areas as well.

That's good for exploring, but Julia's also a Savior, so Lola goes to check out the stats she gets from that Archetype. Saviors wear a lot of hats in their quest to help people out, so she gets three stats for this one; first, she gets a little Creator, with a dot each of Energy, which will let her sustain and heal people as needed; Vision, which will let her come up with creative comforts and solutions; and Willpower, which will help her keep going so she doesn't collapse when people need her. She also gets some Lover, with a dot each of Beauty (for attracting positive attention), Inspiration (for helping others be their best selves), and Persuasion (for convincing people to let her help or at least get out of her way; and she rounds out with a drop of Sage, giving her a dot of Mysticism so that she can meddle in magical forces if she has to in order to help someone (or at least not be completely clueless about it).

Lola notes that Julia doesn't have any Warrior or Leader; the first one worries her a little since it means that bad guys would be hard to fight, but she reasons that her archaeologist isn't here to fight people anyway - she's here to find information and maybe make her fortune, and rescue people from cave-ins along the way! She's not concerned about not having any Leader, since she's used to being more of a solo flyer and isn't interested in bossing other people around. There are other Heroes in the group as well, so she thinks it's likely someone will have some skill in those areas (and if not, they'll just have to solve bad-guy problems some other way besides punching them, like running away or leading them into hostile swamps).

Now that she has her base stats, Lola gets to choose her Endowments - the two extra systems she has access to as a Mortal. One of them is automatically the Hunter Endowment, Persistence, since she has two dots of it; she marks down that her Persistence applies to Mettle, since she plans to have more of that than the other passive Talent points. Normally, her other highest Aspect would give her her second Endowment, but since she has everything else tied at one dot, she gets to choose; after some deliberation, she decides to go with the Trickster Endowment of Gambits, since she anticipates that Julia's career as a tomb robber and people-saver might call for some close escapes from danger.

In addition to Archetypes and Aspects, Julia will start with one Domain and one of its Spheres, so Lola investigates the nine options. She isn't sure if the mighty powers of the Elementals are for her - they seem kind of bombastic - and the Celestials are neat but abstract, so she decides that she'll go for Spiritual, choosing Fortune so that Julia can have a little more luck than the average Hero. She also likes that in the future, she'll be able to spread easily out into the other Spiritual Spheres, Life and Death, which might help her in her role as a Savior because they could help people. She gets the first Blessing in Fortune, Lucky Break, and notes it down for the future.

Lola adds the basics that all characters start with: a certain number of health boxes, a Defense of 1, two Reserves (equal to her Archetype dots), and the base points of Inspiration and Mettle that she gets from having dots in them. She starts with three of each kind of Labor, but then realizes she has to choose her divine patron to get her bonus Labors, so it's time to go read up on the Egyptian gods! She doesn't know much about them, but she looks at their bonus Labors to see which ones she might get the most use out of, and decides on Anubis, since she's a tomb-robber and he's a tomb-guardian and she thinks he might find the idea of kicking her out to right some of the wrongs her ancestors committed cosmically appropriate. He grants her one extra Labor that can only be used for Creator Blessings, one that can only be used for Sage Blessings, and four that can only be used for Spiritual Blessings, so she has lots of motivation to keep advancing in Fortune!

Finally, it's time to go the Web of Fate. Each dot she has in a Talent gives her one node in the Web in that area, and once she's spent those, she gets twelve bonus nodes to put anywhere else she likes. Once she's done so (she puts her extras into Energy and Naturalism, and Fortune over in the Spheres), she ends up with ten Blessings in various areas as well as five more health boxes, three more passive Talent points, three bonus successes to resistance Talents, and an extra success to Disguise. Finally, she knows she's a Hero for the Egyptian gods now, so she begins with Serekh, the first of the Devotional Blessings on the Divinity track, and decides to choose Nefer on the Ritual track for her second one, hoping to progress down both tracks in the future.

And now Julia Islington III, professional ruin-crawler and rescuer of children fallen down wells, is ready to start her first Chapter!

Obviously, Lola will probably do a little more work to come up with things about her Hero's backstory and goals to help Destiny plan the story along, but she has everything she needs mechanically to jump in. In the future, she'll gain a node to put anywhere on the Web or in the spheres each Chapter, and one point of Renown to spend toward buying new dots - but for now, she's an exploration machine ready to start her journey!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Mythology Talk: Gods of Korea

Question: When/if you guys write up a Korean pantheon for HJ, who are your frontrunners for it?

This is one of those pantheons that would require a lot more direct research than we've had time for yet. We've got a few good books on the subject, but not enough to feel fully rounded out about things like overall divine landscape and Devotional themes. I won't lie; the Korean deities probably aren't up soon as new additions to the work of HJ, but in a beautiful future I'd love them to be, so here are some of their awesome deities who could be featured!


Chach'ŏngbi is the goddess of agriculture and fertility, helping ensure that crops grow and people have enough to eat, but she also has an incredible number of myths about her exploits before she took up this important role. A goddess with low social standing, she had to go undercover to convince her higher-standing deity husband to marry her, infiltrating his country while in disguise as a man, winning combats and suppressing riots, and eventually moving the entire family down to earth in order to reside where she could do the most good with the five new varieties of grain she granted to humanity.

There are tons of stories of Chach'ŏngbi being generally badass, but one of the perennial favorite myths about her is about how, during the time period when she was impersonating a man, she was nearly discovered because several of the guards were having a contest to see how far they could piss. Since she lacked a penis, she ran behind a tree and quickly invented a system of flexible reeds that she slipped into her pants, and then used it to not only successfully prevent anyone from noticing her different equipment, but also to piss twice as far as the frontrunner and demolish everyone at the competition. (She is also in charge of reeds, as an agriculture goddess, in case anyone was wondering.)


Sometimes a single goddess and sometimes the head of a group of similar goddesses who assist her, Ch'ilsŏng ("serpent") was a woman who was exiled from her family and community after it was discovered that she had an illicit relationship with a monk, and as a result she retreated to a remote island, transformed herself into a serpent, and gave birth to seven more serpent daughters, all of whom are now guardians of fortune and prosperity. She is usually depicted as a serpent goddess guarding a jar of grain, which represents worldly riches, and her daughters sometimes get broken down into specific smaller fortune goddesses who help her out (for example, one who is in charge of protecting outdoor riches, another in charge of savings, another in charge of gifts received from others, and so on).

Kaksi Sonnim

The Sonnim are a class of gods, in charge of good luck and happiness; there are a lot of them, with some of them distinct personalities with their own myths - like Kaksi here, who is specifically considered the goddess of smallpox. All of the Sonnim are prone to granting good luck to people who revere them and inflicting disease on people who aren't, but Kaksi in particular is actually famous for giving out smallpox as a reward: smallpox that is easily recovered from and then grants immunity for the future, so that families might pray to her for a quick and easily recovered-from bout of the disease to be sure their children wouldn't die of a severe case later on. Most of the other Sonnim just inflict smallpox on people who are misbehaving, but Kaksi here understands the finer points of the human immune system.

Kungsan & Myongwol

Korean mythology has several deities associated with the celestial lights, and Kungsan (a scholarly dude) and Myongwol (a beautiful lady) appear as personifications of the sun and moon, respectively. They appear frequently as deities to be impersonated in shamanistic ritual, and depending on the story they are sometimes brother and sister or sometimes a married pair, and were deified to become the moon and sun after their sacrificial deaths.


The Kunung are another class of gods, one made up of great war heroes who became deified upon their deaths so that they could continue to protect and serve their people, and their leader is also named Kunung and is the most powerful of the divine soldiers of the pantheon. The lesser Kunung are usually protectors of a specific area (probably related to where they lived or fought in life), but also appear as a unified force when Korea needs them most, such as when outside armies threaten the country and they must be called upon to attempt to defend their homeland from the spiritual threat of invasion. Their leader, the eponymous Kunung, combated the terrible Dragon King (probably a personification of tsunami storms from the eastern sea), and defeated him to permanently prevent the ocean from trying to swallow the land, although he continues to patrol even now just to make sure.


The great creator god of the universe, Mirŭk invented humanity (he made them out of bugs, actually, in at least one myth, so there's a nice ego bring-down for all of us) and set in place its natural laws, making up the overall landscape of earth, sea, heaven, seasons, and so on in a reasonable and orderly manner. This was mostly blown up by his counterpart Sŏkga, who is the leading cause of chaos and nonsense in the world after its original creation, but Mirŭk still hangs out up there, being sort of vaguely uncomfortable about how everything turned out. (In fact, depending on the version, he won several contests against Sŏkga before giving up in a snit when Sŏkga finally cheated at the last one, and basically giving the world over to him just to not have to deal with him anymore.)

In later Korean myth, Mirŭk becomes referred to as Maitreya, from the Buddhist boddhisattva; ironic, since Maitreya is the future Buddha who hasn't yet arrived on earth in most Buddhist belief and the two figures don't have much in common, but it makes sense that such a major and influential figure would be incorporated into the local pantheon in name at least.


Goddess of joy and pleasure, Onŭli is associated with life (human, animal, and plant), protection, happiness, and freedom from danger and worry, although she is not commonly called upon in shamanic rites and is therefore harder to convince to come grant her benefits to a specific person. She's considered to have had to suffer a long and difficult journey when she was young in order to escape adversity and come into her powers, and as a result she tends to attempt to spread her joy across the world where it's most needed on her own time, rather than being directed by anyone calling for help via prayer from below.


Paridegi (or Princess Pari) functions as a psychopompos, a deity who leads the dead to the underworld properly to prevent them from becoming lost between realms. She was once a mortal, a shaman famed for her healing and disease-curing powers, and was so powerful that she was able to project herself into the spirit world to assist the souls of the dead and dying; as a result, when she finally died herself, the gods of death were worried that she would be too powerful and usurp them, so they refused to allow her to become a god of death, and she took on the responsibility of delivering the dead to their underworld instead. (As a result, she's a much more positive and well-loved figure than many of the more intimidating death gods, and is called upon to help living shamans who want to bring the dead peace or heal those who are in danger of dying of illness.)

Sobyolwang & Taebyolwang

A pair of brother celestial gods in charge of regulating the heavenly bodies, Sobyolwang and Taebyolwang (literally "sun king" and "moon king", also referred to as Sŏnmuni and Humuni) are in charge of removing the excess suns and moons from the sky that threatened the orderly running of the world, as well as monitoring and controlling the remaining one of each we have now. Destroying and moderating the sun includes preventing drought and famine and controlling the advance of deserts, and destroying and moderating the moon includes preventing flooding and crop devastation. They also sometimes appear as rulers over humanity, with Sobyolwang as king over the living and Taebyolwang as king over the dead (often as the result of a bet on a game of chance, with the loser being stuck with charge of the dead), although other gods also take on those roles depending on the area and tradition.


Sŏkga is the opposite number of Mirŭk, above; while he could not create the world with the skill Mirŭk displayed, he could take control of it now that it existed and start messing with it for his own preference and gain. This is the reason that the orderliness of creation was disrupted and things like evil and chaos entered the world, specifically because Sŏkga played against Mirŭk in a game of chance in order to win the world and cheated to make sure that he won - Korean myth has a strong emphasis on stories of evil or chaotic figures cheating at games in order to mess literally everything up, and Sŏkga is the first and largest figure to do so. He's often reduced down to "god of evil", but might also be referred to less angrily as a god of mischief, cheatery, and selfishness, one who isn't actively trying to wreck things, but just causing problems as an accident of his behavior.

Like Mirŭk/Maitreya, Sŏkga gained names and attributes from the introduction of Buddhism, becoming popularly referred to as Sakyamuni - the name of the current Buddha, the one that Maitreya will supposedly succeed in the future. The relationship between the two gods doesn't really match up to that between the two Buddhas, again probably because the ancient Korean religion just went right ahead doing what it was doing and only layered a little Buddhism on top!


Samsŭnghalmang is the goddess of birth, in charge of making sure that babies are born healthy and alive and that their parents survive the delivery, and taught humanity helpful techniques for cutting the umbilical cord and cleaning wounds to try to make sure that they can manage it on their own when she's busy. Interestingly enough, her most major myth involves the fact that she took over the job from her grandmother, the previous goddess of birth, and that it wasn't a peaceful exchange of power; the younger Samsŭnghalmang began assisting with births only to be confronted by her predecessor for moving onto her turf, and the quarrel escalated until the older goddess physically struck the younger one, at which point they both had to go before Mirŭk for judgment and were forced to divide their responsibilities equally.


The king of the dead, Yŏmradaewang (King Yŏmra) is the ruler over the underworld and undisputed authority when it comes to those who dwell there (although he is not the only death god, and is in fact in charge of a team of nine other lesser kings who help keep the place in running order). Most of his myths have to do with making sure things are going the way they're Supposed To - for example, hearing petitions from heroes who want to let him know that someone's death has happened at the wrong time instead of when it was fated to occur, or tracking down people who have somehow evaded their proper deaths, which he considers something of a personal affront.

As his name suggests, he is probably fairly strongly influenced by the Hindu death god Yama, and has a lot of features in common, such as functioning as a judge for those who have died and aggressively administrating and keeping track of living people to make sure they wind up where they need to go.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mechanics Talk: Stats and their Mission Statement

All right, here's a great big post about base mechanics, because we've had people asking: how do stats work in HJ, and why do they work that way? So here we go!

So what are HJ's stats?

Hero's Journey doesn't use an ability/attribute type of mechanical setup, where characters have a certain score in a characteristic like Strength or Wisdom that affects how good they are at things. (To be clear, lots of games do use this sort of system, including some of the big ones, like Dungeons and Dragons or the World of Darkness games, and they're great! It's a solid approach.) Instead, HJ uses a role-based system, where characters have a certain score in a certain role, like Trickster or Hunter, and how invested they are in that role determines how good they are at things. It has a little in common with games that have classes (like Paladin or Mage), but differs in that these are the specific things you roll to do and achieve things, rather than signifiers that attach things to a character. (Which pantheon your character works for is closer to a traditional view of a class!)

These stats are rolled against a difficulty, for most actions - that is, Destiny will determine that the Heroes need a 6 or better to notice this sneaky ghost or to successfully disarm this bomb, letting different tasks be flexible on roll requirements depending on how difficult a task should be and how good at it the Heroes probably are.

What's the difference? Isn't one stat that means "dice you roll" basically the same as another?

Mechanically, yes - you can call a stat pretty much anything and just say "represents X dice", easy enough. But past the basics there, the difference is that when you build and play a Hero, you're not trying to get a score on how much of a certain static quality you have, and figuring out what you can do from there; you're getting a score on how good you are at being a certain type of character, and figuring out what you can do from there.

For example: in a game with an Agility/Dexterity type of stat, that stat would give you a measurement of how agile the character was. This might then be applied to a lot of different actions - am I agile enough to dodge an attack? To hit an enemy? To jump over a pit? To juggle a set of balls? To beat someone in a race? Depending on the system, there might or might not be additional skills that modified the stat (maybe I need to get the Acrobatics skill to juggle or tumble effectively, or at least better than my naked Agility can do), but at core, if I'm not agile, I can't do those things, or I'll be bad at them. Essentially, it's a stat that measures a real-life capability range and applies it to a character, which can be really neat because it allows for flexibility - it's a kind of stat that can conceivably be applied to anything that you could argue involves being physically agile in some way.

HJ, on the other hand, isn't concerned with measuring how agile a character is. Because it's a game about being a Hero - a mythic Hero, who does things because they're heroic and because the story is about them, rather than because they're gifted in X area - the stats are concerned with the kind of Hero a character is supposed to be. HJ doesn't really care about measuring how many miles per hour a character can run, or how many megatons of force they can employ against something, or exactly how measurably charismatic they are when confronted with other people; it cares about whether or not they're fulfilling the role of a Leader Hero in this moment of the Saga, and the stats are shaped accordingly. Instead of saying "which stat will let me do X?" and buying that, players are encouraged to say "what kind of character do I want to be?", and the stats accordingly are designed to give a character with them all the skillset they need to successfully do so.

This is partly because one of HJ's goals is to design around the ideas of what kind of Hero your character wants to be - who are they and what do they want to do? What heroic tradition are they following? Do they change the world by being a Lover who affects the hearts and minds of those around them, or by being a Sage whose knowledge and learning move things behind the scenes or bring new innovations to the world, or by being a Warrior who fights evil and saves the downtrodden? The packages of Talents that go with each Aspect represent the kinds of sub-skills that go under that umbrella, but the overall message is this: design your character based on who they are and what they want to do, not based on what an abstraction of their capabilities might be.

With ability-style stats, players have to try to match abilities to what they might eventually do with them - if I want to fight monsters, I need Strength to hurt them and maybe also Agility to chase them and maybe also Endurance to survive the combat, and are there other ones I'm missing? - and they also find that they end up sometimes with stat spreads that oddly branch out into other roles that may or may not be part of their character or role. A character with a stacked up Agility stat who purchased it because they're an agile rogue-type character who can juggle and throw knives and play card tricks with aplomb may also find that, bewilderingly, they're suddenly the best combatant in their group, because Agility is also used for accuracy in attacks, or that they're a faster marathon runner than the athlete in their group because Agility is also used for that, which can end up with some weird overlaps. (Not that having extra abilities is a bad thing, of course. It's just a different kind of theme than we're looking for with HJ.)

Okay, so stats represent a kind of character, not a kind of capability. Doesn't that make every character that is that "kind" of character kind of samey?

It doesn't, and the reason it doesn't is because HJ has lots of different avenues for nuance! We'd probably all agree that just because two different Heroes in mythology or pop culture are both "tricksters" doesn't necessarily mean they're identical - Odysseus and Maui are certainly not the same, nor are the Doctor from Doctor Who and Ed from Cowboy Bebop, but they're all great examples of Tricksters and they all invest in the same Trickster stat. Here are some of the things that let you have a massively wide range of different Tricksters that go in all sorts of different directions:

  • Additional Aspects. Every character has multiple Aspects that can interact in multiple ways - no character is ever just a Trickster, even if they're primarily a Trickster. Beginning characters start with some investment in a minimum of three out of the seven Aspects and a maximum of six, and anyone can purchase dots in any of them as the game goes on as they please. A Trickster-Creator-Warrior has a significantly different overall skillset and opportunities than a Trickster-Lover-Sage, even thought they have some skills and powers in common.

  • Talents. Every Aspect has four Talents, and which ones a character invests in has a significant impact on what they can do. Of course a Trickster has a leg up on Trickster Talents by virtue of their Trickster dots, even if they don't get the accompanying Talent dots - but only over someone who doesn't have Trickster in the first place. One Trickster who gets a bunch of Legerdemain and Streetwise is good at different things from another Trickster who gets a bunch of Disguise and Determination - the first one is great at sleight of hand, sneaking the streets, hiding, and manipulating machinery, while the second one is immune to mind-control shenanigans and excellent at forgery, disguises, and impersonation.

  • The Web of Fate. Within each Talent, the Web of Fate branches in a ton of directions, and even two Tricksters who invest in the same Talent might have very different benefits and powers depending on where they go in there. For example, here are two different Tricksters investing in Disguise:

    Not only do both of them have completely different Blessings, with only the beginning power Improvised Disguise in common, but they also have different extra benefits as well - the character headed off to the right is picking up a lot of extra physical bolsters by gaining extra Defense, Mettle, and health boxes, while the one headed to the left has instead invested in more Blessings and bonuses to less direct things like Art and Augments.

  • Spheres. Every character has access to the Spheres - which they may or may not invest in as they wish. Not only do you have significant differences between a Trickster who also has Fire powers and one who has the more subtle powers of Fortune, but each Sphere has their own branching paths, similar to those in the Web of Fate, and Heroes can get bonuses to different things as they navigate them.

  • Archetypes. Every character has their own set of two Archetypes, which describe their motivations and have a strong effect on what they're doing with their Aspects and why. A Trickster who is a Rebel/Scholar is likely use their Trickster skills to do very different things than one who is an Artisan/Ruler.

  • Pantheon. Every character has both their Devotional powers, which are specific to their patron's pantheon, and the bonus Labors granted to them by their patron, which are specific to each deity. One Trickster might be called to action by Vishnu, who gives them access to a wide range of extra Labors and the personalized powers of the Hindu Devotional tree, and another will have a very different experience when called to action by Ares, who gives them a ton of extra Labors for only one Aspect and the enhancing, amping-up powers of the Greek Devotional tree. Even before roleplaying based on their patron and relationship, they both have access to a very different range of resources and powers.

After all that... the odds of two Heroes, even when both are primarily Trickster, being even close to identical are extremely low. You'd really have to intentionally aim for that for it to happen. (Which of course we wouldn't stop anyone from doing if they had a concept for it, like "our characters are twins and are trying to be the same" or something, but the game is intentionally weighted toward customization and individuality within the broad Heroic Aspects.)

The time characters are going to be closest to each other will be right at beginning character creation, before they've had a chance to progress anywhere; it is technically possible to get characters who start identically, assuming that a lot of choices are made the same way, but they won't stay that way. (Character creation will get its own post later. Y'all are suffering through enough words in this one as it is.)

Isn't there overlap sometimes between things different Aspects can do? Can't Lovers and Leaders both sometimes have the same effect on a group of people, and how do we know which one does what?

Like all "what does X" questions in any game with any stat setup, there will inevitably be some cases where there's wiggle room, or more than one Aspect might theoretically come into play. That's one of Destiny's jobs, to make judgment calls on those things; usually, because the goal is to let characters do things based on their character types via the Aspects, just asking "is the thing we want to do here a Lover thing or a Trickster thing" and going with the answer will get you there. The book does of course give lists of common actions and what Aspects and Talents they roll, and hopefully those fringe cases should be few and far between.

What about things that really ARE qualities, instead of things only one Aspect has? Like Beauty, or Athleticism?

There aren't many of these, but there are a few! In those cases, they're under the umbrella of a specific Aspect because that Aspect is the one that actively uses those qualities in a way that changes and affects a heroic story. Beauty is the easy example; it's not that characters who aren't Lovers can't be beautiful. They can be as beautiful as you want to describe them. But their beauty isn't a story vehicle; their hotness or grace just doesn't affect the story around them, because that's not their role. Whatever else they invested in is what changes the story, whereas a Lover actually weaponizes Beauty into something that can effect political change or distract enemies at a critical moment.

It's important to remember that because your stats are about your role as a Hero in this story, you can describe your Hero however you want; you're not constrained by whether or not a stat says you're "allowed" to present your character in some way. If you want to describe your character as graceful and serene in spite of their complete lack of Athleticism, because they're not a Warrior, that's okay - they're graceful and serene and it's expressed when they're gracefully flitting through the woods with their Hunter/Naturalism or when they walk with utmost poise through the middle of a committee meeting and wow those assembled with their Leader/Diplomacy. They're not going to use grace and athletic ability alone to do anything useful (the Warriors are the ones doing Olympic athletic feats that actually affect the story's flow), but that doesn't mean they can't be described as graceful when they're doing the things they are good at.

So if I'm not a Warrior, I can't ever do basic stuff like dodging out of the way of a falling rock? That sucks!

That's what the Strive for Glory mechanic is for! Remember, Heroes can always Strive if they need to do something outside their normal role for a small cost, so that the Sages can still dive for cover in moments of crisis and the Creators can sometimes marshal their social resources and try to give direction to a team that is taken seriously when the actual Leaders are unavailable. It's no substitute for a Hero having the actual Aspect or Talent in question, but it's an option for moments when you need to say, "look, I'm a Hero and I need to be able to succeed here just on the strength of that alone."

Remember, also, that several things in the game don't require you to use Aspects at all. Your Defense in combat is a completely different stat that you get by investing in the Web of Fate or the Spheres, for example, and insignificant actions like jogging down the stairs in your building or making a sandwich for lunch don't require rolls, so no one is helpless to perform everyday, story-unimportant actions just because they don't have the stat that would correspond if this were an action that mattered to the Saga at large.

I think I hit most of the big questions, but comments are open, of course!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Elks on Parade

It's hard to be productive in December. But we soldier on.

This is both an example and an image of us realizing there are no rules for elephant combat

What's Up With Writing

Anne tanked some this week (she wants me to say sorry there was no Wednesday post this week). But she's working hard on some mechanics posts and is trying to get a queue up to carry through the holidays. We continued working on the Archetype update and then updating all the Blessings that relied on the old Archetype system, which was... more than we thought. It's always more than we thought. The playtesters are patient and good natured about the transition period, thanks guys.

Devotionals are going to need the biggest redraft after that, but we're getting close to all done there!

It'll be okay, they promised our Divinity power will work again someday soon

What's Up With Playtesting

Finally, Team Elk is ready to rock! They'll be playing on Thursdays, and are trying out some different things from the other group as well as being created with the updated character creation and archetype rules right off the bat. The game can be looked in on here.

Here are some quick peeks at the characters:

Team Elk: The Jock, the Brain, and the Dropout

Character #1: Miguel Micco, called by Ares

Miguel is a war veteran with the skills to match: he's the Warrior Champion ready to meet and overcome any obstacle, and his team is counting on him to kick ass and take names as needed (because their patrons all collectively know they probably aren't about to do it). He relies on his allies for skills outside the realm of action sports and woodscraft, which leads to...

Character #2: Mika Eriksson, called by Loki

...Mika, who is decidedly not the same type. Charming, smooth-talking, and liable to walk off with peoples' wallets and keys, Mika is a problem child who skates by on the strength of his ability to blame others or look innocent at the right moment, and runs for it when that doesn't work out. He may at some point stop couch-surfing and start taking responsibility for himself... but he hopes not any time soon.

Character #3: Randall Ivarsson, called by Odin

Randall is a classic Sage Scholar - smart, creative, and disdainful of those around him, full of grandiose schemes about changing the world but possibly not 100% solid on how exactly he's going to pull them off yet. His brains support his teammates' endeavors and theoretically contribute to mission success... if he feels like it, anyway.

Since they're just starting out, we don't know what their big moments will be yet... but we're excited to find out!

The Personal Stuff

The team is mostly holidaying this month, so there aren't a lot of personal updates to be had. We'll keep information and posts coming so you have something to read if you have downtime though!

Holiday revels or beloved family pets gone bad?

This was a small update, but hopefully better ones soon since Anne will have some time off work (which is time ON work for us). Until then!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Setting Talk: The Hero's Journey

So we haven't really talked about the Hero's Journey yet... which is ridiculous, considering that's the literal name of the game, right? So here's a quick rundown on what the HJ is, why it's in HJ, and what it does!

The Hero's Journey (also called the Monomyth after James Joyce's works, which influenced it), and is based on the work of Joseph Campbell, a notable mythographer and psychologist in the 1940s-1970s or so who was all about looking for patterns in worldwide mythology and comparing the stories of different time periods and cultures. The idea of the Hero's Journey is that there is a repeating pattern in most, if not all, of the world's mythological stories of a hero (divine or otherwise) going on an adventure, and that this says something about the collective psychology of human beings that we look for and retell that story over and over and over forever. (Campbell based a lot of his work on that of Karl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychology, who came up with a lot of ideas about different personality types and archetypes appearing in stories and what people usually mean them to represent.)

When people talk about the idea of a Call to Adventure that a hero has to answer to start their journey, or about the idea of "crossing the threshold" into an adventure proper, they're talking about bits of Campbell's Hero's Journey, which have at this point filtered down into our cultural consciousness and become part of storytelling theory. There are tons of videos and walkthroughs of what the journey looks like and how it's set up and why online, so we won't go into in depth here, but here's a personal favorite:

HJ is loosely based on this idea - that your Hero's adventures will likely follow that ancient pattern tradition, and that doing so is actually part of the game's mechanics and design.

So how does the Hero's Journey work in HJ? As you can see from the graphic above (and bazillions more like it online), there are a lot of "steps" a Hero goes through as they travel along the journey, with the overall shape being one of leaving a "normal" life, crossing into adventure or danger, confronting obstacles and unfamiliarity, changing and growing to become capable of taking on a new challenge or fulfilling a new role, and ultimately returning home again, changed forever. HJ lays out the steps for Destiny to take the Heroes through, and some of them have particular mechanical events attached to them, meaning that as the Saga progresses, Heroes find themselves experiencing their own unique journey somewhat organically in order, both through their efforts and Destiny's. We've found in playtesting that players tend to barrel directly toward the steps of the journey even without being guided - we've all seen so many movies, read so many books, or heard so many stories that use the format that lots of folks tend to unconsciously do it all on their own - so the goal is for the mechanical events to pop up as exciting and fun bonuses or appropriate moments when players and the story overall expect them to.

Mechanics in HJ also draw from works that Campbell based his theory on, most notably with the Archetypes, which are based on (but not identical to) Karl Jung's psychological archetypes of heroes in various myths. (Depth Psychology is a very deep well down which both Jung and Campbell inevitably journey in their attempt to apply mythological story archetypes and patterns to the lives and consciousness of everyday people, but since HJ is a game about literal mythological stories, we leave most of the depth theorizing to the psychologists!)

The Hero's Journey, as a concept, isn't an unflawed one. It's the product of a western writer who, in spite of traveling and studying religions and mythologies extensively worldwide, was still a product of his time and culture, and it doesn't always perfectly line up with every hero - especially ones who deviate from the general expected mythological hero mold (like, for example, being female, or being a child, or being heroic in a way that primarily involves social change instead of individual accomplishment, etc). There are stories out there that don't follow the journey, and they're valid stories in their own right. The concept has plenty of critics and should, and lots of very neat works have been written on how the idea of the Hero's Journey applies differently in different cultures or styles of stories, or may or may not apply to some things at all.

Since HJ isn't here to insist the Campbell's theory is an infallible reality in all mythology, but instead to use it as a tool for telling mythic stories, so the version of the journey in the game is altered and shaped to make it more accessible to all players; for example, some steps that make more sense in a journey that is explicitly about a male Hero have been altered so that they can apply resonantly to characters of any gender, and some steps that are more common in European mythologies but not as universal worldwide have been made "minor steps", ones that Heroes can (and should, if they want to!) fulfill as they go but that aren't required for every Hero to get to the end of their story. Our resulting journey looks like this:

The biggest question new players generally ask us is whether or not having a structure like the Hero's Journey will make all the Sagas seem samey - if every story has the same setup, or close to the same setup, won't they all feel the same, too? The answer is no: every story has individual features and there are an incredible number ways for a character to fulfill a step of the Hero's Journey, many of which substantially change the story; and genre and tone make a vast difference to stories regardless of their structure; and some Hero's Journeys skip a few of the minor steps but hit all the major ones, or might do all the steps but do a couple of them out of order, and those kinds of deviations are totally legitimate stories, too. There are parts of the journey that are basically freeform (the Road of Trials, for example!), and anything can happen within them. We've all probably seen countless stories that follow the Hero's Journey format in our lives, and the concept of leaving for a transformative journey and returning changed has endless opportunities for variation!

There have been hundreds of thousands of pages written about the Hero's Journey and its variants, so we're not going to cover them all in this blog post, but we're going to do a series of posts about how the Hero's Journey appears in various movies and TV shows in the future, so look in the future for us to yell about various story examples!

If you're interested in reading about the Hero's Journey on your own, the following are some great places to start:

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
The Hero with an African Face by Clyde W. Ford
The Heroine's Journey by Maureen Murdock
The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mythology Talk: More Deities from the Far East

We got a request in the comments for: Something on the Pantheons and Gods/Goddesses of Mongolia, Vietnam, and/or Korea, would be cool. It's hard to find anything concrete about those countries, and their Gods would be an interesting addition to any campaign.

This is true! They are super interesting and would be very neat in any game, although you're right, it can be hard to come by information about some of these deities in the western world. The reason for that is usually just because they're specialty studies even in their homelands; indigenous Korean deities were submerged under Chinese and Japanese invasive rule for a lot of centuries, while Mongolian deities were influenced by northward-spreading influxes from Tibetan and Hindu beliefs, and Vietnamese native religions have quite a few different features that lead to them sometimes being considered only branches from Chinese beliefs or animistic, non-deified, or ancestor-exclusive religions, which isn't always strictly accurate. That means most studies on these religions and mythologies are ones done by Asian scholars in their respective fields, and they don't always get translated into English for those of us in the west to read as well!

As usual, this is going to be a super simple surface-level run through these mythologies. Here we go!

Korean Mythology:

Korean mythology is a fun ride, although as noted above, there's a lot of Buddhist, Shinto, and Chinese influence to pare away when you're looking for religion and divinities that are uniquely Korean in origin. Natural features often have spiritual and divine protectors associated with them, which leads some scholars to call the religion animist instead of deity-based. Mythological tales from the area are big on virtue being your best weapon against evil, with a specific subtheme of not cheating at games unless you want to experience terrible consequences (there are at least three times that some deity decides to cheat in a game of chance in their own favor and is immediately slapped by the universe for their misbehavior), and on finding and fulfilling specific roles in the universe (but not before making sure they're the right role).

Korean gods of note include Taebyolwang and Sobyolwang, the creator gods of the sun and moon who are constantly arguing with one another over who should be the dominant power; Kangim, the lord of the underworld who works to reduce the fear of hapless humanity of his unknown realm; Chach`ongbi, the goddess of agriculture who is having none of your shit and, when asked to masquerade as a man, used a reed to make sure she could piss further than any other man around; and Hwang Uyang, the protector of hearth and home, who leads the spirits of divine ancestors and protects or lets languish the good fortune of the families who honor him.

Korean mythology has some of the most vividly drawn cosmic geography of these three, with well-rendered descriptions of the undersea kingdom populated by the ocean dragon gods, the ten underworlds full of punishments for those who sinned in life, the celestial palace of the gods of heaven and the earthly palace of the gods of the world, and the Gamangnara, the dark world, from which monsters come and occasionally succeed in plunging the universe into darkness by causing eclipses.

Mongolian Mythology:

Mongolian indigenous myths and deities are part of a religion that is basically shamanistic in nature; specific, spiritually gifted individuals are able to intercede with the divine on behalf of humanity, who for the most part can't really do much to otherwise interact with the terrifying world of unthinkably powerful and capricious forces in the universe. The influence of Buddhism from about the twelfth century onward laid compatible ideas over the top of the indigenous faith that was already there, leading to some shared myths (especially with Tibetan Buddhists, who are their nearest cultural neighbors), but it never actually replaced the original religion completely. (That's kind of how Buddhism rolls in Asia; every area to which it spread boasts its own customized version of Buddhism, usually with the local gods absorbed into the religion and reinterpreting it in a way that suits the local culture.)

Mongolian religion is sometimes called Tengriism, due to the idea of gods (or divinity in general) being expressed by the word tengri (which probably has etymology roots in either the concept of the heavens or possibly the idea of a sacred oath). Tengri (also called Mongke or Gök/Kök) is also sometimes considered the major deity of the pantheon, a sky god who often appears as a white bird, controlling rain and thunder and as a result the fertility of the earth opposite his wife, Etugen Eke (literally, "mother/womb"), the goddess of the land. Tengri also created humanity, and dogs and cats along with them, since he felt that they were going to need the help going forward and therefore decided to found the idea of people needing support animals. Modern-day Tengriism tends toward monotheism in some branches, with Tengri considered the only divinity by some worshipers, or the other gods considered expressions of him, but this is a pretty new development in the religion's long history.

Other gods include Bai-Ülgen ("magnificent creator"), who created all of the universe out of pieces of Tengri and is a fairly remote and passive but benevolent deity; Erlik Khan, the bear king, who is the god of the dead and is in charge of all misfortune and illness from his position imprisoned in the underworld due to his ongoing feud with the creator gods; Od Ene, the Fire Queen, who is in charge of marriage and not only physical fire but also the spiritual fire that is inborn in humanity (and who has a masculine counterpart, Od Khan, literally "king fire", but he generally doesn't do as much); Yer Ana, fertility and crops goddess who allows harvests and growth to occur when humanity needs them as long as the proper sacrifices are observed; and of course Qormusta, king of the gods, who introduced light to the universe and is in charge of organization and order in heaven and on earth, and who is busy feuding with Erlik Khan and has as a result of refusing to compromise started up a prophecy of his own doom in the future (as you do when you are in charge of a pantheon, apparently).

This is a small selection of Mongolian deities, just the highlights, really. There are ninety-nine heavenly tengri in the ancient religion, all serving under their king Qormusta, and the later Buddhist-import deities help create a truly impressive roster. (And because of Mongolian expansionism under the famous Gengis Khan, there are many other cultures with deities that share recognizable names or features with them - in fact, the Hungarian pantheon is more closely related to the Mongolian gods than to any of the Slavic pantheons it shares the same geographic area with!)

Vietnamese Mythology:

Vietnamese mythology involves a variety of different religions; even if you ignore the not inconsiderable influence of Chinese and Hindu beliefs brought into the area, there are multiple indigenous Vietnamese religions with a wide range of beliefs, including some that are monotheistic, some that are polytheistic, and others that are animist. As far as deities goes, there's a large amount of worship of female deities; Vietnam is a land of goddesses, with traditions about either one great goddess with many forms or myriad goddesses overseeing myriad parts of life. Mother-goddess worship as a collected idea is referred to as Đạo Mẫu, but the goddess tradition goes back millennia and isn't always collectible into a single coherent practice.

Major gods in Vietnam include the divine dragon king Lạc Long Quân and his wife, the mountain goddess Âu Cơ, who together gave birth to the first members of humanity and then tragically separated because they couldn't bear to be divided from their respective homelands in the ocean and mountains; the heavenly fertility and animal goddess Liễu Hạnh, who was banished from heaven for clumsiness and periodically sues to be allowed back in so she can stop being reincarnated as a human being; the Tứ bất tử (Four Immortals), masculine gods of the mountain ranges, and their counterparts the Thánh Tứ Phủ (Deities of the Four Palaces), goddesses of waters and skies; Bà Chúa Xứ, Lady of the Realm, a goddess of prosperity, wealth, business, and good health who also guards the Vietnamese border against invaders in order to complete her role as promoter of her peoples' welfare (and if you wondered, yes, she has enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity since the American war on Vietnam made a deity who could protect and promote her people from outsiders even more important); Sơn Tinh, god of earth and fertility, and his arch-nemesis Thủy Tinh, god of wind and sea, whose squabbling causes the monsoon season; and Thiên Y A Na/Pô Nagar, creator goddess of the earth who has ninety-five husbands and created plant life to help support living things throughout the world.

By the way, Vietnam may be a single modern country, but it has more than one ethnic group; the Viet and the Cham peoples, in particular, have their own deities and the pantheons fused somewhat when the Viet moved south and conquered Cham territories. Vietnamese gods, much like gods everywhere else, are not a single contiguous group across all of history!

Any one of these mythologies could easily give someone years and years of specific study, so we can all remain hopeful that more English-writing scholars get in on the act and publish for us to enjoy!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Crowing About Numbers, I Get To Do Numbers

These two weeks have been awesome and productive and we're feeling GODLY about it.

Also kingly, feeling very kingly

What's Up With Writing

Like I mentioned last time, Archetypes got cleaned up and holy shit, they're so great now. I won't apologize for the hubris, we love them. They already affected a lot of things in game (especially character creation, but also motivation and roleplaying and checks on leveling and jazz), but now they're even better: coherent, tied together, really doing their job representing heroic story ideals but also now better at mechanics that help players. They don't have arbitrary gain/loss conditions anymore (well, not arbitrary, but based on rolls), because those were bumming everyone out in playtesting, and when they kick in to affect the game after character creation is now clearly defined and relies less on stressing Destiny out by making them remember yet more things.

Riding high on finally having that system in a really good place, it's final systems sweep time. Anne can no longer distract me from dedicating some time to fixing all the crunchy tiny numbers, so we're going to fix Brawn tables, revisit damage suggestions, make sure penalties line up, and all the things that make sure everyday stuff in game has reasonable-feeling results that give characters reasons to act the way they do.

It will also give us a good time to go back over Blessings that were based on any of the things we changed/fixed recently. You'd think you would get used to sometimes going through a chapter and having to stop and say... this is just a blank paragraph that says SADNESS POWER in all caps... did we delete the sadness Blessing out of Empathy and not replace it... but no, it's a bummer every time. Hopefully finally we get done with that and don't have to be mad at our past selves for being irresponsible. Devotional finals also remain in the future, since they mess around with base systems so doing them first is just going to make us yell at ourselves later.

Pictured: consequences waiting to kick the hubris out of us in the near future

What's Up With Playtesting

The draft of this post said ELK THINGS MAYBE for a week but Team Elk is still trapped in scheduling hell, so stay tuned. Team Basilisk is currently celebrating their narrow escape from making The Entire Ocean Hate Them, Forever, and Team Python is getting fabulous in preparation for affecting national policy.

They'll both be giving the revamped Archetype system its first road test!

Lol so what if we tell YOUR team they have to go to SPACE we haven't done that one yet

The Personal Stuff

Somehow, having health problems always makes Anne do this thing where she decides to do a lot more things, like she thinks she can scare everything into submission or something by assigning herself more homework. So we're talking about a new series of fun posts on the blog we might start in the near future, looking at modern movies and talking about how the Hero's Journey appears in them and what stuff in them is modeled in the game. Keep an eye out.

She also outlined a new novel, but I'm not supposed to say anything else about it, something about Pressure and Expectations.

Us finding a way to do unnecessary amounts of too much yet again

The fun never stops, see you next time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Setting Talk: American Gods

We had a big question in the comments recently about American history in Hero's Journey! There are a lot of moving parts to that discussion - because there's a vastly different religious landscape, with a large number of major religions instead of a handful of dominant ones, the difference between majority monotheistic and polytheistic populations, and how those line up with politics and historical events, it's a very big area to cover. We're obviously not going to do all of it in this post (or in the book, really - there's just too much, and there needs to be room to explore things in the future as well as for individual games to make their own calls!), but we can talk about the basics of a few things!

How is history different in the Americas?

In a lot of ways, actually: not very.

One of our main goals with HJ is for history to be, by and large, the same. Obviously, you have to roll with that some; if there had been a vastly different religious landscape for literally hundreds and hundreds of years, history would have been different, and there are literally endless scenarios you can come up with to talk about why and how, many of them conflicting with each other. How different would the history of the conflicts between Ireland, England, and Scotland be if Christianity and its different sects weren't the major powers there? How many laws in the United States would be different if majority religions had different moral hangups about things like gender or sex or warfare? There are countless answers and you could literally write endless speculative fiction about it, and that's fun, and we encourage it for those people who want to go for it!

But for the base game, we don't want to have players have to walk in learning an enormous alternate history for the world in order to play in it or understand the context of it. (There's nothing wrong with RPGs that do that, it's just not our goal for this one.) Setting the game in a modern world that is in broad strokes "the same" lets players start right away without a lot of prep work or cultural whiplash, and gives them all the space they need to slowly build the world out of its differences as they go, rather than needing to figure them out ahead of time.

You're going to notice, in this book, that there isn't a ton of page space devoted to things like "how the Catholic vs. Protestant conflicts in New England in the nineteenth century were instead Celtic deities vs. Mediterranean deities", and it's on purpose. It's not that those things aren't interesting, but because there are endless permutations and for the vast majority of games, it doesn't actually make any difference, we're saving the wordcount there for future supplement stuff. For one thing, if your game doesn't involve any characters being historians investigating New England religious conflict in the 1800s, you don't care; for another thing, even if your game does care about it, there are so many ways to do it that we prefer in a lot of cases not to give a "canon" event or explanation, so that players have room to choose the version that works best for them.

So for the most part, if a historical event happened in the real world, assume that it happened here, too. If it would be weird, because it had a religious component or motivation that doesn't seem to match the HJ setting, there are examples for how to go about choosing a version for your game!

What are the major religions in the Americas?

Just as in the real world, the Americas are completely lousy with immigrants from various time periods, which means that they brought their religions with them. In the United States, influential religions include Celtic, Hindu, Mexica, Norse, Roman, Russian, and Yoruba (and diaspora religions) beliefs, but these are just the most common, and there are huge numbers of people of other faiths actively practicing, existing, and affecting things, many of them varying depending on where you are. (The west coast, for example, is likely to have a greater presence from east Asian religions due to the larger concentration of people of east Asian descent there; the southern states are more likely to have Mexica and southwestern Native American beliefs prevalent, and so on.) Canada tends more toward Celtic and Norse than any of the other religions mentioned above, but has a strong Inuit religious presence, especially in the north; Mexico tends more toward Celtic, Catalan, and Roman religious presence, but with the very widespread prevalence of Mexica, Maya, and other native Mexican religious exerting significant control over various parts of the country.

Someone mentioned the "four dominant religions of HJ" in this comment question, by the way, I think, so I wanted to just note that the four pantheons represented in the core book here are not necessarily the dominant pantheons in the Americas, or various other places in the world. Hinduism, for example, is massively influential worldwide, but while there are strong Hindu communities in the United States, it's not one of the majority religions there (but go anywhere in southeast Asia and the story is completely reversed!). Egyptian religion is very influential in northern Africa and around the Mediterranean, but the Americas have a comparatively small northern African diaspora - a game set in Europe will probably see more Egyptian religion than one in the US or Canada, even though it obviously exists in both places as well, and a game set in Africa will probably see it as one of the dominant forces.

(If you're wondering, Roman, Celtic, and Norse beliefs are so prevalent in the Americas because they were carried there by the European invaders and later immigrants whose descendants now make up the white majority there. Other areas of the world - middle Asia, for example - that were not colonized or where those groups did not arrive in more than small numbers are going to have much more negligible presence for those religions.)

What does a world with all these religions in play look like?

Really complicated!

Imagine how complicated cultural and religious things are now. For example, in the United States, there's a perennial social argument that comes up every winter about winter religious festivals - how they should be practiced, how commercial they should be, what's appropriate to incorporate into government and public events, and so on. Christmas is the religion practiced by the majority of the country, but other religions and cultural groups have major holidays during this time period, too - Hanukkah for Jewish folks, Kwanzaa as a celebration of African-American heritage, the winter solstice for various pagan religions. Everyone is constantly arguing about how to include various people, whether they should have to include various people - there's even constant debate about whether or not it's sensitive to give a greeting/blessing from your own religion, or a generalized one (such as "Happy Holidays"), and there are ENDLESS thinkpieces about it all season long.

We have that now, with a comparatively small number of majorly influential religions. Now, imagine that there are potentially dozens more holidays and cultures or religions involved (not even instead, but in addition to - monotheistic religions still exist as minority groups!), and none of them are necessarily governmentally dominant, and this is happening all year long. In the world of HJ, people who work in cultural branches of the government are administrative wizards who try to provide safe and cooperative celebrations and forums for a LOT of different people, and that's not even counting community and individual practices. And think about the tax codes, y'all.

Holidays aren't the only thing that are happening all the time in a rapid and impressive array; different religions have houses of worship, if they use them, all over the place, so players are probably familiar with various kinds of temples, shrines, churches, and open-air worship spaces as a normal part of everyday life, just like the average midwestern American probably doesn't bat an eye at the different denominations of Christian churches they see all over the place. Commerce is another big place you'll see major differences: capitalism doesn't care which religion you want to buy stuff for as long as you're buying stuff, so various religions' deities, symbols, or heroes are going to be all over the place on products and advertisement both religious and secular.

And, of course, people are going to fight when their religions are in conflict, just like they always do. The potential for conflict is large-scale, and will probably be a major component in a lot of folks' games.

How do politics line up with these religions?

Obviously, we're talking about the Americas at the moment, and Canada, Mexico, and the US are all countries with secular governments and no official religion, so in their case, theoretically politics should be differentiated from religion. Separation of government and religion is even more important in a world with so many religions having major impact on the population, but that doesn't necessarily mean no one is trying to legislate religion - on the contrary, people are trying to do so just as much as they do now, and the lobbying industry is off the charts. Representatives are swayed by the religions of their voters and constituents, not to mention their own beliefs, and social movements frequently have to deal with powerful blocs of religious sentiment from various sources, usually with the most widespread religions (or the ones with the most powerful adherents) getting their way more than others.

Not everyone is badly behaved, of course, just like every single politician in the Americas isn't out there trying to legislate religion, but in practice, it's just as inescapable and pervasive in HJ as in the real world. The difference is in how many different religions might be having an influence, and how they might affect each other and the people involved as a result. (Obviously, in other parts of the world theocratic or enforced-atheism governments are causing other problems for their people, just in different directions.)

So how do I know what the religious landscape looks like? Can I just map major religions now onto major religions in HJ?

Not really, unfortunately, or at least not accurately (well, except for in areas where the major religion is one that is unchanged in HJ, like Hinduism or Shinto). Christianity is the dominant religion in North America because it was the major religion of the various European peoples who invaded and colonized North American countries, but because there were multiple different cultures involved in said colonizing, it isn't as simple as just saying, "Okay, Christianity now = Norse religion". The Americas don't have a single dominant religion - or two, or three. They have tons. They have their native religions, and they have the diaspora and syncretic religions created by people who traveled or were forced to move there, and they have all the religions that were brought with every wave of new people who moved into the place and put down roots there.

In general, the easiest way to not have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out religious demographics in an area is just to attach them culturally - if you have a large Chinese-American population, Shenist and Chinese Buddhist practices are probably more prevalent in that area, and if you have a lot of white folks descended from the Irish making up the majority in the area, religious influence there is probably Tuatha-de-Danaan-centric. But that's pretty simplistic shorthand, since people of all kinds of backgrounds can be followers of different religions, and the long-term influence of certain groups being in power will affect cultural context through laws and customs (for example, since white folks are the people in power in the US, their majority religions of Norse, Celtic, and Roman beliefs have probably affected a lot of the general culture). And, of course, minority religions still exist and are important, so everything boiling down to just "who has the highest percentage ethnic group here" isn't reflective of a balanced game world or the right call for every story.

We assume there are going to be some of y'all who get all in on figuring out the intricacies of the religious landscape in a given area, and others who go, "eh, it's Maine, everything here is Celtic/Norse gods", and either approach is probably fine!