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!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Mythology Talk: Mothers and Monsters

A question from the comment blitz a few weeks ago!

I'd love a post about the Greco-Roman conceptual deities, particularly why so many of them were feminine in a patriarchal society.

It's true, Greek deities get treated very differently based on their gender; what they're in charge of, what they do in their myths, and how they interact with other deities is pretty markedly different along gender lines (although of course there are a few ancient Greek deities and heroes that aren't strictly gendered male or female, and they do often have different roles or purposes in their stories). So when you say "conceptual deities", do you mean the small orders of multiple related deities, or the big primordial ones? (I'm asking academically, I'm going to talk about both because that's who I am.)

The ancient Protogenoi, the oldest of the Greek deities who represent the most cosmic forces and exist earliest in Greek mythology, include more feminine deities than masculine ones, and this isn't a coincidence. These are gods who are ideas more than being fully personified like the later Olympians; they are the gods of the biggest and most fundamental concepts in the universe, such as water and earth, air and light, darkness and birth, and so on. Because so many of the Protogenoi are associated with the original creation of the world, the ancient Greeks envisioned them as female, capable of in a sense giving birth to all the familiar features of the universe. In fact, many of those big primordial concepts were conceived of as being feminine even before being personified - the ocean, for example, a deep unknowable void from which new life was constantly generated, was often associated with the idea of a womb, leading ancient peoples to see in it goddesses like Thalassa and Tethys.

So some of the Protogenoi are specifically connected with femininity because of the ancient Greek connection between women and birth, but there's a second and very common mythological trope at work there as well: the idea of feminine deities as incredibly powerful but unmoderated, dangerous, primal, and out of control unless in some way harnessed or gentled by the interference of masculine deities. This is a really common feature in ancient religions around the Mediterranean and up in Mesopotamia, all of which borrowed from each other some - from Tiamat, primordial and dangerous goddess of the oceans in Babylon, to Anat, horrifying war goddess of Canaan, to Sekhmet and every other escaped rampaging eye of Ra in Egypt, to Ananke and Nemesis, figures of fearsome terror for their implacable and inevitable destruction of basically everyone. Even Khaos, who is only nominally personified in ancient Greek myth, is explicitly referred to as female, making the original formless chaos of the universe a feminine principle from which order had to be withdrawn and split apart.

It can be easy to skip past how scary the female Protogenoi are, because for the most part, they're almost entirely passive; they represent and are things that put the very literal fear of the gods into everyone, but they aren't, for the most part, depicted doing active and aggressive things (the male deities like Ouranos and Kronos get to do those). This is another common feature in Greek mythology - female deities are, male deities do - which probably has its roots in a patriarchal social model where men are supposed to be active and powerful, and while women can have power, they can only do so when they do it passively and don't take direct actions. (This is a generalization - obviously, occasionally female deities do get to do things, like Athena's patronage of Odysseus, and occasionally male deities are the passive ones, like Hydros, Protogenoi of the waters - but it's true the majority of the time.) The big exceptions among the Protogenoi are Gaia, who starts the universe passive but takes an active role opposing her descendants once they start doing bullshit like castrating her husband, and Aphrodite, whose original primordial form is so different from her later stories as an Olympian that Greek philosophers came up with theories about how there must be two Aphrodites just to explain it.

The list of female Protogenoi, all of whom come from Khaos (the original formlessness of the universe), includes Ananke (inevitability and finality), Gaia (the earth), Hemera (day), Nyx (night), Tethys (fresh water), Thalassa (the sea), and Thesis (creation), and you can see that they're all Big Big Ideas that could be pretty terrifying in their own right. To the ancient Greeks, being feminine is part of that frightening mystery; as a patriarchal society, the idea of female deities in charge of big fat power concepts was frightening in its own right, and added to the idea of a personified concept like nighttime or the ocean as being something to regard with awe and fear. (By the way, I'd also like to honorable mention Physis here - as the Protogenoi of The Beginning of Everything in the Orphic traditions, she was generally referred to with feminine language, but was also viewed as being both male and female in order to position her as the first being emerging from creation from which all others came, so she will probably pop up in lists of primordial Greek goddesses but definitely has some gender-fluidity to her name. Orphic theogony is very big on gender-fluid deities.)

So those are the great and terrible conceptual Greek goddesses, and they're largely female partly because that makes them even more great and terrible, and partly because they mostly function as passive principles rather than direct actors, and because of the ancient Greek investment in the concept of creation needing male + female pieces to work and dividing up their gods accordingly. But what about the smaller orders of feminine deities - the nymphai, the nesoi, the ourea, the horai, the moirai, the kharites, and all the female orders of daimones?

Some of them are actually easy answers, just proceeding from all the Protogenoi goodness we talked about above: some of these orders are the small offspring, helpers, or attendant concepts of one of the big scary primordial goddesses, and as a result they're basically little pieces of her and therefore of course female. The Ourea, for example, are the goddesses of the hills and mountains of Greece, and explicitly created by Gaia alone as attendants; they're just little pieces of her, so when they're personified, it makes sense that the Greeks would consider them feminine as well. Likewise, the Nesoi, goddesses of the islands of Greece, are Ourea whom Poseidon kidnapped and dumped in the ocean to make it more habitable, so they still retain their feminine character from their original creator.

Others are feminine for basically the same idea as their massive forbears: either they represent an idea the ancient Greeks thought of as feminine, such as nurturing, growth, birth, or gentleness, or they represent an idea that is Scary and Must Be Controlled, which means that their very femininity is part of the scariness. Most of the nymphai fall into the first category - they're small goddesses of life-giving natural features like trees or springs or crops, and so they are automatically considered female because in ancient Greek society nurturing and life-giving were considered female jobs (see the opposite concepts for male jobs: vigorous murdering, for example, as in the majority male follower spirits of Ares, big boss of Vigorous Murdering as a Concept). These are also the ones most likely to have active myths, because they're doing things that are considered female jobs, which is why when nymphai and related small deities appear in myth, it's usually because they're nursing or healing someone, being someone's lover or mother, or otherwise fulfilling ancient Greek concepts of appropriate lady behavior.

Others, like the moirai as the guardians of fate and destiny and lifespan, or the horai as the keepers of time and cycles, fall into the second category, and represent concepts that are fearfully uncontrollable and yet also passive, constant, and unchangeable, leading ancient Greek thought to naturally consider them probably feminine (and you might notice that, even if they aren't always explicitly considered children or creations of them, they line up with some of those huge scary Protogenoi - the moirai and horai are both about fate and inevitability, just like ancient primordial Ananke who encompasses both time and destiny).

There definitely are a few orders of these "smaller gods", daimones who are all at least nominally male - the oneiroi, spirits in charge of dreams and sleep, are a good example, and depending on the tradition might number in the thousands. They're masculine for largely the same reason that beings like the Ourea are - they're outgrowths of already existing male deities (in the case of the oneiroi, Hypnos, the god of sleep), so they remain masculine in presentation. But there are fewer of them, and it's probably because there are fewer male primordial deities to start with, and fewer of those are considered to be creators of other deities because that's a lady job.

You get more variety, sort of, with the later goddesses who get to be major characters, especially if they're imported (like Kybele, who decidedly does not follow the Greek cultural mold and it is not a coincidence that people repeatedly tried to ban her cult throughout both the Greek and Roman empires) or deviating from the usual female narrative in the culture (like Artemis, who specifically opts out of being a woman by refusing to become an adult, thus giving her the freedom to do non-woman stuff). But for the many, many Greek goddesses who are conceptual, whether they're enormous ancient ideas about the universe and its construction or the small everyday deities in charge of its myriad natural features, they're generally presented as female because in this case ancient Greek patriarchy isn't refusing to have female characters at all, it's just only allowing them when they specifically fulfill their ideas of what femininity is supposed to be about. They're there; they're just all either your mom or a terrifying monster, because those are the options.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mechanics Talk: Augments

We had a comment request for more information about Augments lately, and Augments are a ton of fun, so let's jump right into them!

We talked about Augments a long time ago, but that was back in the dark ages. Back then, we said that Augments always refer to a Blessing, and that they affect its function in some way, changing it and making it better.

For the majority of Talent Augments, this is still true! Augments on the Web of Fate mostly refer to a Blessing in the same Talent, and modify it in some way; some of them allow the Blessing to affect new targets (for example, maybe you couldn't use it on yourself before, but now with the Augment, you can!), while others change its cost (making it less expensive, or allowing its user to pay a higher cost for a boosted outcome), still others let you mess with the mechanics a little bit (such as automatically adding to a random roll for a better result), and others add extra functionality to a Blessing (like allowing it to also deal damage or also regain a resource in addition to its usual use). Here's an example of one of the Augments from Naturalism:

Augment: Naturalism
When a Hero uses the Beast Tongue Blessing, they may choose to pay a Saga Labor instead of its usual cost. If they do so, the Blessing automatically rolls a 10, and remains in effect for the remainder of the Saga.

For perspective, Beast Tongue is a Blessing that allows a Hero to attempt to communicate with a type of animal (for example, penguins) for the rest of the Chapter for the cost of a Chapter Labor, and they roll a die that determines how well they managed to understand and speak (a high roll means they speak flawless penguin; a low roll means they're only getting some of what is being communicated or make severe translation mistakes now and then). So that's pretty great, but with the Augment, they could choose to not only be able to speak penguin for the rest of the Saga without having to use the Blessing again, but they can make sure their honks and peeps are flawless, too.

So that's what most of the Augments look like for the Talents... but as an astute reader looking at the spoiler web and trees noticed, those aren't the only kind of Augment out there! The Talents also have occasional Augments that grant a permanent extra Labor, which is a big deal since there aren't many ways to get those; in those cases, the Augment is giving a Hero more opportunity to use the Blessings they have, instead of juicing a single one up.

That's just the Talent Augments; the Spheres have their own set of Augment options! Because the Spheres are a little different from the Talents in a lot of ways - they don't roll for general actions, they have more Blessings with more magical effects, and so on - their Augments are a little different, too. They don't have Augments that buff their Blessings; instead, their Augments do a variety of other cool mechanical effects that Heroes normally don't have access to, such as broad reroll options, effects that increase the power level and availability of Blessings in general, and even things that interact with the Divinity system that the Devotionals use. They do also have the extra Labor Augments as well, but their purpose is spread out to large mechanical benefits instead of the Talent Augments being focused in on specific Blessings.

So there's your quick look in on Augments, which hopefully do exactly the job in their name - additional benefits for Heroes, but that aren't necessarily required and that can be mixed and matched for the best effect for individual characters!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Doing All the Favors

Time to do some more updates from the trenches.

Yo get over here, there's a blog

What's Up With Writing

Our big focus the past couple weeks was cleaning up Divine Favor. We haven't talked about it much, but it's the benefits or tools given to Heroes early on in their adventures, when they need something helpful to make sure they don't just go into the wilderness alone and never come back out again. The old system for Divine Favor was really messy, with too many options that weren't balanced as well against each other as I wanted (when one option is obviously better than the other two there's just no saving it with "but lore") and too much confusion. In playtests, it made choosing them too much of a headache.

So the new cleaned up version now has a smaller selection of options that have uniformly better and more balanced benefits, which is good stuff. We also removed some things that were kind of railroady as far as character goes to make sure people didn't have to take something very counter to their character's aesthetic just because they wanted the buffs. Some of the old ideas were shelved for the future, so they might resurface another day.

Now that those are out of the way, we're talking about a recent rewrite of the Archetype system. I know you're all groaning, because that's supposed to be finished, but playtests were showing us too many Feel Bad moments, so we made some changes that make it more about feeling good that you're succeeding at your Archs instead of bad if you fail at them. More carrot, less stick. In the next week, we hope to finish that plus do our go-over of the Devotionals, and that should be the last of the outstanding system stuff that needs to be tightened up.

This guy has too many accoutrements and the new DF options will fix that.

What's Up With Playtesting

We were hoping to debut Team Elk, the third playtest team, but too many things got in the way, so look for them next time. In the meantime, the two groups are doing some cool stuff. Now that they've had time to get into their first adventures, they're completing the steps of the Hero's Journey (as defined by the game which are slightly different from but based on Joseph Cambpell's monomyth) and both doing it in kind of their own ways. Check out the twitter feed or Anne's game recaps on Roll20 for specifics on what Team Python has been doing.

Also, they have contributed a lot lately to test-driving the fixed Blessings we finished a couple of months ago. Go teams!

Baby how about that call to adventure

The Personal Stuff

It's winter and winter is rough, so some of you probably saw the post last week that Anne died a little. She'll be okay, but she's resting more and we're going some slower as a result.

This is giving me more time to work separately on the Call to Adventure, though, so we're splitting that time up well. She's got queued posts coming for those who missed her!

Artist's depiction of arguing trying to get coverage from the HMO

Things are moving and we're all pretty excited about it around here. Stay tuned for next time!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Only People Who Run Toward Bees

Question: I'd like you to make a post about the times the Hittite gods threw a tantrum and almost destroyed humanity!

Oh, the Hittite gods. My favorite group of ancient and agitation-filled deities.

The Hittites were a people who lived in what is now Turkey, and they (along with the Hurrians, who lived a little bit southeast of modern-day Turkey and shared very similar deities and religious customs with them) had a pantheon of gods primarily associated with the natural world and its many cosmically powerful forces. Like most Mediterranean and Middle Eastern religions, there are a lot of familiar important associations - giant serpent monsters associated with the water, thunder gods throwing tantrums of epic proportions, tired mother goddesses who would like everyone to get their shit together, inscrutable and terrifying underworld gods who don't care about your feelings, and so on. But, also like every other religion, they have unique features to their stories and concepts in their cultural worship, and one of those things is a strong cult associating with appeasing their angry deities.

The vast majority of our surviving religious literature from the Hittites is about temple maintenance and rituals: what the temples were expected to do and when, how people supported this system, and what consequences there would be if they didn't succeed. This is because the empire was pretty thoroughly sacked, and most of the surviving documents are actually administrative and government ones rather than religious scriptures, so we know a lot more about the way the empire's temple system worked and what state-sanctioned religion was about than we do about personal worship practices. A good chunk of temple rituals had to do with calming down the Hittite deities so that they stopped being so angry, sometimes by symbolically draining their anger away with tempting offerings and then storing it in great vats or sinking it into the underworld, where it couldn't bother anyone among the living. If the temples didn't successfully calm the gods down, they might fly into a great rage, storming away into the wilderness and leaving humanity to fend for themselves, leaving them suffering from poor crops, diseases, natural disasters, and all the other misfortunes of having lost their divine patron.

So what are they so mad about, these gods? Well, it's not always clear. Obviously, there's a strong theme in Hittite mythology about the gods stomping off in a fit of pique, but while this myth is attached to multiple different deities at different times, they usually have different reasons for it, depending on who they are and what they're doing. Telipinu, the god of fertility and growth, is in one version said to just have become enraged by the general immorality of humanity and the spoiling of the landscape, leading him to disappear and let everybody start dying of famine; Tarhun/Teshub, the god of storms, similarly disappears in a huge rage and actively prevents everyone on earth from enjoying the benefits of sustenance and rain, but his version of the myth doesn't really say if anything specific happened to set him off (in fact, several of the gods blame and threaten each other, looking for a scapegoat, but they never figure it out). When Arinna/Arinniti, the sun goddess, disappears, inflicting frost and darkness on the world, the myth doesn't detail why she vanished, only that she has to be bribed with animal sacrifices to come back, and when the mother goddess Hannahannah storms out to fade into the wilderness, causing mothers to neglect or kill their offspring and the world to become incapable of reproducing, she is repeatedly said to be angry, wrathful, sullen, and even sinful, but there's no explanation of exactly why. Inara, the goddess of love and also hunting, seems to disappear because a dude behaves inappropriately toward her, but the myth is so fragmentary it's hard to get any good concept of what exactly happened.

Most of the time, scholars assume that all the different deities are pissed off about the same thing Telipinu is: general bad behavior in the world on the part of humans, which explains why so much Hittite formal worship is based around appeasing them by behaving respectfully and providing gifts and sacrifices to keep them happy. If humanity's general sinfulness and misbehavior is constantly aggravating the gods and putting all of creation in danger of falling apart when they flounce off in a snit, it just makes sense to have the entire empire have a pretty consistent system of calming them down and promising to do better all the time, just to keep everything from ending in a cataclysm of deity annoyance. You can't stop people from sinning, so you just have to apologize a whole lot.

So, when you're an ancient Hittite person, you live in a world where the gods are just sort of pissed off and easily offended by the constant bullshit humankind is getting up to, so going to temple isn't just a matter of being devout or making your family happy; it's literally part of making sure the gods don't finally get fed up with your nonsense and nuke the planet via negligence. And if that fails, there are also plenty of rituals designed to help assuage an offended god and encourage them to come back home; usually, the other deities have to look for the missing one and often dispatch Hannahannah's magical bees to scour the countryside and look for them, so offering sacrifices to encourage the other gods to succeed is a backup option for when preventing the world from falling apart has already failed!

It's tempting to make fun of the Hittite gods for what looks a lot like a habit of throwing a tantrum and running away from home when they get upset, but the disappearance and return of the various gods is part of a larger cosmic scheme of the relationship between the gods and humanity, one in which humanity has to do their part to be virtuous and appropriate, and in which the anger of the gods represents the delicate balance between humanity and the world in which they live. Also, there are a lot of bees.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Healing Sleeps

Hey everybody.

Anne had a relapse and had to go for emergency medical parties this week, so no Sunday post today, sorry. She said there will be queued posts in the future about Greek and Mesopotamian stuff soon, before she fell asleep eighteen hours ago.

Back to regular mythology soon.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Setting Talk: The Great Beyond

Question: Since in the Hero's Journey Universe all Underworlds are real, what decides which Underworld every person who dies goes to?

A good question, and one that you might just see in a Setting chapter in the HJ book. Let's talk about the concepts involved!

Like all universes that place multiple cosmologies and mythologies in the same world, there's always a question of whether or not conflicting ideas of various parts of the universe represent irreconcilable differences or can somehow be brought into line to work together. Worldbuilding with a bunch of different worlds involved is complicated; how do to you say everything is true when some things argue with each other? Who's "right" and who's "wrong", and why did you make that choice?

There are two options, really, for the underworld (or netherworld, or afterlife, depending on the conception of the culture) in a multi-mythology setting: universalism, or doubling down on individualism.

The universal approach is to say that there's one Underworld, with a capital U, and that every culture's different stories about it are just different people describing the same thing from their own cultural standpoint. The Underworld is where all the dead end up, and various gods administer entrance into it for their peoples; Anubis and Hermes and Xolotl all conduct people to the same place, and humanity tells whatever stories about it make the most sense to them based on how scared they are of the Underworld and what they imagine must happen there. It could be that there's just one big Underworld with all of humanity equal within it, and that the death gods of various cultures either fight for dominance among themselves down there or form a sort of council or collective who administer it together. On the other hand, you could also say that the capital-U Underworld has smaller "sub-territories", and that each death god is in charge of one for their local peoples, so there's just one Underworld but there's still some flexibility with who's doing what.

The individual approach is to instead say that there are many underworlds, each separate from the others as well as separate from the world of the living, and that individual death gods administer them as their own separate feudal territories. Each underworld has its own rules about entry, its own geography and inhabitants, and its own population of dead mortals, and dead people who end up there experience it based on their religion's processes and the whims of the gods who own it. This gives the setting ultimate freedom to set up each underworld its own way without worrying about whether or not it introduces rules that have to be universal to the big-U Underworld, but it also introduces the exact question this blog is about: if all these underworlds are completely separate realms, who goes where and why?

HJ uses an individual approach; each underworld is its own world. HJ actually has an uncounted number of potential worlds; every mythology's separate non-mortal worlds are potentially places that Heroes can visit with their own self-contained rules and entrance criteria, and that includes the worlds that are mostly populated by the dead. Yomi is distinct from Jigoku, which is in turn distinct from Di Yu which is distinct from Naraka, and they are all places that receive the dead and that Heroes or gods might have an interest in affecting or visiting. (In the case of underworlds, visiting them is generally not recommended, especially if you're not already a god, but that has never stopped people from trying to do it anyway.) We use this approach for a lot of reasons; some cultures have more than one underworld or an underworld that isn't overseen by a deity, making it hard to fit them into the universal model without problems, and some cultures don't have an underworld at all, which would lead to weird stuff like either making some pantheons/cosmologies "unimportant" in a political sense in the big-U Underworld or otherwise inventing made-up underworld features for them just to try to shove every culture into the same box. The convenience of "there's one underworld, everyone goes there, we don't have to figure out who goes where" isn't enough to make up for losing unique cultural features or beliefs or having to compromise on interesting stories, so individual it is, but that leaves us still asking about who goes where.

Generally speaking, there are multiple factors that are involved here.

  • Person's Religion. If a person is a believer of a particular religion, it makes sense that they should go to the afterlife that religion believes in. If a character is a worshiper of the Babylonian gods, for example, they expect to go to the Babylonian afterlife - down to the netherworld of Irkallu, to live in the great citadel of the dead forever.
  • Person's Ancestry. If a person isn't strongly religious, but they do have a strong ethnic or homeland connection to one particular culture, they might go to the afterlife that culture overwhelmingly believes in. For example, if the character is ethnically Egyptian and lives in Egypt, it might make sense to declare that they go down into Duat when they die, even if they didn't necessarily believe in Duat while they were alive.
  • Person's Location. If a person isn't strongly religious and doesn't have a strong cultural connection to their homeland, but they have lived somewhere a long time and are part of that place, they might go to the afterlife that their current location makes the most sense for. For example, a non-religious person of mixed European descent without any real cultural connection to any one religion or people who died while visiting somewhere in Ireland might end up in Tech Duinn, since they weren't strongly tied to anywhere else and therefore they just went to the closest, easiest realm for the dead.

These are roughly in order of priority, but there's also an undercurrent there of assuming that everyone who dies must go to an underworld... which may not necessarily be the case. As I said above, in some cultures there is no underworld; the dead might become a natural phenomenon (such as stars or clouds) that remains in the mortal world, or they might be considered to remain with their descendants, inhabiting shrines, homes, or their graves as ghosts. And what about atheists, or people who don't have strong religions who end up dying somewhere divorced from their ethnic cultures and inappropriate for their current location's traditional underworld? Are we implying that the Native American underworlds are chock full of atheist white folks just because they happened to die in North America and their highly mixed Finnish, Irish, German, French, British, Lithuanian, and Russian background didn't have a strong enough connection to send them somewhere else? (The answer is no. No, we are not.)

So, it is also entirely possible that some dead people don't end up in an underworld, either because their religion doesn't have one, or because they don't have a religion themselves and death gods are not out there desperately trying to meet some sort of quota where they run around trying to collect more souls, Pac-Man-like, than the next person. In these cases, a person who died might become a ghost, haunting their place of death, or they might simply "go to sleep", their spirit becoming inert and inactive until or unless some event that affects the dead were to wake it up or some Hero or god with Death were to intentionally call them up. Some people might be more likely to end up in an underworld if they have a connection to a religion with a psychopomp or guide for the dead - those religions often have strong feelings about the dead belonging safely in an underworld and needing to be contained there, so there are gods whose job it is to go find the dead and make sure they get there, so even an atheist who died far abroad and had no real connection to an ethnic culture might still end up in Hades if they had Greek ancestry, because Hermes might make it his business to go get them. People from cultures with important death rituals also might end up as ghosts or lingering souls if they weren't properly taken care of when they died, which might give them a vested interest in haunting their relations to try to get the proper funeral rites (or bothering passing Heroes if that doesn't work!).

So, to sum up the answer to the question now that I've drifted around it a bunch, nobody really "decides" where someone goes, except in the fringe case of people performing funeral rites or guide gods picking up lost souls; rather, they decide individually, based on their religious choices, or if they don't have a religion, their cultural ties might affect them instead. It's a complicated subject and I'm looking forward to the many fringe cases people will no doubt come up with during play!