P is for Phoebus Apollo – Mythic Mondays

Apollo as drawn by Rosalba Carriera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Apollo as drawn by Rosalba Carriera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ok, I’m cheating. I don’t know enough gods that begin with P – given that we’ve used Neptune (aka Poseidon) for N I’m short on good stories. There are far too many gods that begin with A – Artemis, Athena, Ares, Apollo and Amphitrite in Greek myth alone. So in order to fit to a neat alphabet, we’ve needed to look at some gods under their other names, or their assorted titles.

Apollo is an easy one to do this to, because he has so many roles – and the Romans loved handing out titles to the gods for each of their responsibilities – often where the principal gods had assimilated the worship of older deities. Phoebus was one of the most common titles, meaning “lightbringer”

He is god of the sun, healing, archery, hunting, athletics, music and the arts, military scouts and prophecy. He inspires the Oracle at Delphi, and slew a great monster there, Typhon. He is also responsible for plagues and famines – or preventing them. He is the defender of flocks, and by extension colonists – the Colossus at Rhodes was a great statue invoking his protection for the colony. He ruled over various Games – both athletic and dramatic competitions, most of which were festivals to Apollo and another god – the Thargelian Games was devoted to Apollo and Artemis, whilst the Olympics were dedicated to Apollo and Zeus.

Despite this wide range of domains, Apollo doesn’t feature in all that many myths.  Even where he does show up, it’s often in cameo, fulfilling the plot role of Gandalf – to give the quest and quickly leave, in order for the heroes to complete it.

So this is one of the few tales in which Apollo has a starring role. It’s another one of my blends of myth and fiction, but I claim the tradition of the Greek playwrights who first recorded these stories – where detail was insufficient, they made it up, based on the characters involved. After all, such dramas were originally part of the worship of the Greek gods – designed to convey the stories of the gods to a largely illiterate populace. As patron of the arts, Apollo must surely approve!

(if you want to read more about these early Greek dramas, start by looking for Euripides and Thespis – as in thespian)

Building the walls of Troy

Troy was little more than a village when Laomedon came to power as its king. There were a profusion of bandits in the area,and the town could not prosper unless they could protect their wealth. The king sent his daughter Hecuba to consult the Oracle, and she returned with instructions for a great sacrifice. For many days the town was not visible from the beach for the smoke. Through the smoke came a trio of builders, who promised to build the highest walls the folk had ever seen, in three days – but only if they were not watched.

The whole town went to the hills above the city to camp for the duration. And for three days, all they could hear was a strange music, of lyres and drums and voices, punctuated by a roaring sound as of the earth shaking

For two days, all was well. The people trusted to the compact their king had made. But the king’s daughter Hecuba, being ever curious, sneaked away on the third day to spy on the builders. She hid in a place she had played as a child, near where the great city was being constructed. And this is what she saw.

Apollo played his lyre, which had been made for him from a tortoiseshell by Hermes, and the stones danced into place.

Poseidon waved his trident, which controlled all the seas, and mud from the sea floor mortared the stones together and Artemis breathed on the spaces in the walls and the great wooden gates grew in their places.

And in three days the walls were builded, strong and tall, with watchtowers and gates and guard rooms.

The first of the builders stood on the beach, and declaimed to all the people, who had gathered there to see their new city

“Because most of your people kept their compact, the walls are strong, and will not fall whilst ever you possess the Palladium. Because Hecuba spied on our work, I prophecy that there will be a time when your walls will not avail you, for the enemy will walk through the gates with your blessing”

And the three builders vanished, whereby the people knew they had been visited by gods. So on the spot where the prophecy was spoken, they built a temple complex with shrines there to many gods, and kept there the Palladium, which was the form of a statue to Athena. And indeed, the city did not fall until Odysseus stole it, many years later, when the city welcomed the Trojan Horse into its walls

In your Games and Stories

Spells granted by Apollo are wide ranging – priests might be generalists or might be a sub-cult of specialists – Specialists in healing might follow Apollo’s son Asclepius, whereas combat support might be more a cleric-ranger than cleric-fighter and might follow his archer aspect Aphetor. Animals associated with Apollo, suitable for summoning, are lizard, wolf and raven.

Apollo had a monotheistic cult (more usually rendered Apollon) Interesting political shenanigans might ensue between a polytheistic cult and a monotheistic one – one being god of most things and the other god of everything. One being open to “your sun god is basically our sun god” and the other evangelizing that they have the only true path.

Followers of Apollo are likely to be as diverse as his aspects. You might come across a fellow believer willing to help you, but equally a vizier type character might be opposed to your protagonist without necessarily being evil. Think Cardinal Richelieu – he genuinely believes that his gaining power is good for the French State. And he may even be right.

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O is for Osiris – Mythic Mondays

Osiris and his family - a statue from the 22nd dynasty (photo by Guillaume Blanchard)

Osiris and his family – a statue from the 22nd dynasty (photo by Guillaume Blanchard)


Osiris is God of wheat and resurrection – this may seem like a strange combination, but to the ancient egyptians it was obvious: they buried dead wheat in the expectation it will live again, as a new crop. Most of the worship of Osiris focused around this dichotomy, that the Lord of Life is also the First Mummy.

The Ancient Egyptians divided the land of Khem – which either means Egypt or the Earth – between the warring brothers of Set and Osiris. Horus inherits Khem from them both, just as man inherits the earth from the gods, and Pharaoh was seen as Horus’s regent, invested at coronation with divine authority. Whilst Set was seen as dark – the god of the desert and the storm – he was also seen as the might of the Pharaoh

Osiris, however, is the gentler brother. He is usually shown with a crook and a threshing flail – not only for his connection to farming, but also as the shepherd of men – the example that men are supposed to follow to live moral lives – and on death, Osiris rules paradise, and is only joined by the righteous.

Early communities of monks – although very different from communities we would recognise today – shared a ritual meal of unadorned bread, in order to identify themselves with Osiris and gain part of his immortality. Such Houses of Life became centres of healing lore and may have been the earliest hospitals.

The story this time is less of a ‘known tale’ and more a composite from what we know about burial practices. Isis may or may not have written the Book of Going Forth – which tends to be known as the Book of the Dead. It seems poetically appropriate for her to have written it, so I decided she did.

Descent into death

As has already been told, Osiris was treacherously slain by his brother Sutekh. After conceiving him an heir, the falcon-headed Horus, Isis went to bury her husband.

At this time, people set the bodies of their loved ones to sail down the Nile to the sea, where their ka – their immortal souls – became the crew of the ship that carries the Sun.

But Isis had a dream that she should not set Osiris on a boat, but carry him instead into the desert. She wrapped him in cloth she had woven with her own hands and laid him on a bed of rocks. She sent word to everyone who grieved at the death of the Lord of Life, that they should come with a stone to place on the tomb.

And they came. Each with a burden suited to his stature – the rich and powerful brought mighty slabs, and the poor brought handfuls of pebbles. Each was piled into a great pile, and such was the wisdom and skill of Isis, that the body was not crushed.

For forty days she stayed there, and dreamed the journey Osiris took. Then Isis rose from her place by the pyramid, and went forth and wrote down all her dreams, in the book that has become the Book of Going Forth, telling how to make such pyramids, that the souls of the mighty would serve Osiris in his kingdom of the Dead, and fight with him to defend the world against the Outer Darkness. Then she walked back into the desert, and left her son to rule in Khem.

Osiris walked a long walk, through all the places he had known in life. He came at last to the great throne of the Goddess Ma’at, who is Justice.

She asked him his guilt in the crime of murder

She asked him his guilt in the crime of theft

She asked him his guilt in the crime of sacrilege

And so this went on all day, as the goddess asked Osiris to name his guilt of 42 crimes

As the sun set in the Underworld, as it rose in the world above, Maat plunged her hand into the chest of Osiris, and plucked out his heart.

“If your heart weighs less than my feather, you will be permitted to stay in Aaru, which is paradise, But if any guilt weighs down your soul, you will be consumed by the monster Ammit, and your soul will go down into Duat, which is hellish.”

Osiris’s soul was weighed and came out as light as the feather. And his journey was ended, that he became king in Aaru, and daily battles to preserve the world, for it is the kingdom of his heirs and his people.

In your games and stories

Temples to Osiris were grand and complicated – often resembling a small province, when one includes the supplying farms, sacred lakes, outlying shrines and so forth. But temples are not the best source of dungeons in Khem. Burial chambers – whether pyramids or the catacombs inhabited by less royal people – were protected by all manner of curses and traps. Looting them could be worth it, as even quite poor people took many goods with them to the afterlife.

The priesthood would have been agricultural managers, and societal planners. Ancient Egypt had many people who were described as ‘priest’ but few of them would qualify as clerics, and they had almost no traditions of paladins. Temples were guarded more by tradition than monsters. Osiris might grant his priests all kinds of spells of healing, but allied to this are the secrets of raising undead, particularly mummies.

Animals associated with Osiris are locusts and scarab beetles, but also all kinds of food animals. For priests who choose spells of fertility, a well-timed stampede of cattle can be just as dangerous as any lightning blast.

Fans of egyptian fiction might be interested in next month’s piece from Jigsaw Fantasy, the Sivatag Desert

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Clashing with the Naga Demon

An image of a Naga from “The Thirty Seven Nats” by Sir Richard Carnac Temple


Most creatives know that November is National Novel Writing Month1)Which is rather misnamed, given its international involvement (NaNoWriMo) – but relatively few know of its younger brother: National Game Design Month, or NaGaDeMon

I’ve decided that a good time to talk about the pair is right at the center of the month2)Or a few weeks before the start of the month, but my time machine is out of fuel. so that’s when this is going out.

But first, as this blog has mainly been home to our Mythic Mondays posts I should give a little irrelevant context3)If you want to skip it, simply go down to the next footnote along:

N is for Naga

Naga are a category of powerful beings in a variety of Indian and south asian mythology and folklores. Spread over such a wide area, the tales of Naga come in many forms, with only one definitive trait – their serpentine nature.

Though Naga are often depicted as evil, or even demonic, this is far from universally true as many Naga’s actions veer towards the helpful – whether they are many-headed water guardians or malevolent shapeshifting serpents they are universally both powerful and dangerous, imbued with strength and venom.

Tale of a Naga – Samudra Manthan

Indra, King of all Deva, was riding upon his elephant when he happened across the great sage Durvasa Muni. Out of respect for Indra’s position the sage offered him a gift, a special garland that had once belonged to Great Shiva.

Indra knew that he was considered an arrogant god, and so he decided that he would not immediately wear this great gift, but instead he set it aside upon his elephant’s tusk. His elephant, Airavata, saw that Indra wished to prove himself humble, but he knew that that humility was false – and so he took the garland from his tusk and threw it upon the ground.

Durvasa was enraged that Indra had allowed such a thing to happen to a religious offering, and so he cursed Indra and all of the Deva to weakness and frailty. Due to this curse, the Asura (the Devas age-old enemies) were able to overcome the Deva’s defences, and conquer their realms.

In desperation the Deva went to Vishnu and requested his aid. He offered them an opportunity to acquire the Nectar of Immortality, while overcoming their hated foes, and they eagerly agreed.

In order to obtain the Nectar of Immortality they had to churn the Ocean of Milk that lay at the pole star, and this would require two great armies to achieve. But first they would require tools to do so.

As a churning stick they used a mountain, but to turn this mountain they needed a great rope – and following Vishnu’s advice they asked Shiva for his necklace. This necklace was Vasuki, one of the three Kings of the Naga, and possessed of a great gem embedded within his head.

As Vishnu had foreseen the Asura insisted on standing at the head of Vasuki where they could be close to the glittering gem, while the Deva followed his advice and took hold of the Naga’s tail. As they churned the ocean, Vasuki began to exhale sharply, and from his mouth came the most virulent poison in all of creation.

The Nectar had only begun to form when the Asura collapsed, overcome by the venom – but as the Deva began their collecting they soon found that they too were being overcome. Indra, realising that his people were now in even graver danger, rushed to Shiva and asked for his aid.

Though he knew how destructive the venom was, and that it could kill even gods themselves, Shiva chose to inhale it all to protect the rest of creation. Only the intervention of his wife Parvati saved Shiva from death, by preventing him from swallowing the poison. Instead, the poison sat in his throat, eating away at it until his throat turned blue.

Back to Games and Stories

With our little diversion concluded, I’d like to get back to the topic at hand – NaGaDeMon.4)If you are skipping the story, click the up arrow by this footnote

At Artemis Games we’re generally somewhat perfectionist about our products, and as such we have no real intention of making a full-fledged game in a month – we’re just plain not good enough to meet our own standards that quickly without just reskinning someone else’s work.5)While we have made games that quickly for Concept Cards they were mostly variants of standard playing card games – fun extras, but not something we’d have been happy releasing as a standalone game.

But that’s not to say we aren’t participating – neither NaNoWriMo nor NaGaDeMon are about making a complete final product from scratch, they’re about getting things a few stages forward.

This month me and Loz are each focusing on a different project. I have brought Clash of Blades back, written up its rules in full, and intend to have the first two base decks ready by the end of the month.

Meanwhile Loz has taken on a rather different project, currently codenamed Clash of Brains6)It originated from someone mishearing Clash of Blades, a semi-cooperative game in which the players are psychics surviving in a zombie-infested college, each with their own bonus objectives but all seeking to put down the apocalypse before their precious (and powerful) brains become more Zombie-Chow.

We’re nearing a thousand words, so I’m going to call it here, but I’ll be back with more information on both projects when they’re further along.

In the meantime, join us on Facebook.

Be Well


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References   [ + ]

1. Which is rather misnamed, given its international involvement
2. Or a few weeks before the start of the month, but my time machine is out of fuel.
3. If you want to skip it, simply go down to the next footnote along
4. If you are skipping the story, click the up arrow by this footnote
5. While we have made games that quickly for Concept Cards they were mostly variants of standard playing card games – fun extras, but not something we’d have been happy releasing as a standalone game.
6. It originated from someone mishearing Clash of Blades

N is for Neptune – Mythic Mondays

Poseidon, God of the Sea by Genzoman

Poseidon, God of the Sea by Genzoman


Neptune is god of all the waters – seas, rivers and springs. He also has jurisdiction over horses, and by extension, travellers. For the Greeks, Poseidon was one of the most important gods – the brother of Zeus. and key to their coastal and island world.To the Romans, Neptune was less central – being a land-based rather than marine economy. But he was honored by certain segments of society – in particular, there was often a shrine to Neptune in any fort occupied by cavalry.

Like all the Classical gods, the Roman Neptune accepted sacrifices. He was honored as one of only three gods who accepted bulls (the others being Mars and Apollo) His temples were often found by springs and wells, or in tandem with Mars, or Minerva (with whom he made the first chariot), or as part of the three brothers of Earth Sky and Water – Pluto, Jupiter, and Neptune.

Possibly because of his multiplicitous origins – as a fusion of the sea gods of Sparta, Athens, and the Etruscans – Neptune has many spouses, and hundreds of children. This can be seen as symbolic of many rivers reaching the sea, each with their own guardian spirit. Wikipedia lists eighty, and other sources suggest more. There is also some indications that he may have also had male lovers.

The story I’ve chosen has Neptune (actually, Poseidon, but the two are closer than most Greek / Roman pairs) as an antagonist, but as well as being the father of monsters, Neptune also had a role as a protector from them. He is almost alway pictured with a trident, with which he was said to stir up storms or earthquakes, or calm them with the pommel end.

Story – Hubris Doesn’t Pay

Perseus was flying across Greece, carrying the head of the Gorgon Medusa in a bag. As he flew low over one coastline, he saw a figure by the sea. Thinking it to be some statue, he swooped down for a closer look. As he drew near, he saw the statue move as the cold waves sprayed over it, and he saw that is was no statue, but a young maiden, chained to the rocks.

“Why are you chained out here?” asked the hero.

“I am Andromeda. My mother, Cassiopeia, is Queen here. She boasted that I was more beautiful than the Nereids – the daughters of Neptune. To punish her for her arrogance, Neptune sent a monster to ravage our settlements and eat our people. We consulted the Oracle, and the only way for the monster will go away is for me to be sacrificed to it”

Perseus felt that this was most unfair. He sat and talked to the maiden, calming her fears, and receiving her promise that he would battle the monster, but she should look away from the fight. Andromeda tried to dissuade him, but heroes are hard to persuade.

As the monster appeared on the horizon, Andromeda closed her eyes, sure that the monster would tear Perseus apart, and not wishing to see such a horrid sight. Perseus, being careful to avert his eyes, drew forth the Gorgon’s Head. It still retained its powers of petrification, and the sea-monster was turned to stone. Taking good care not to see it himself, he stowed the Head in its bag.

He drew his sharp sword and split the chains binding Andromeda.

“Come” he said “there is no need for you to go home to a family who would see you die to protect their own cowardly lives”

And the hero carried her away, with his winged sandals, and lodged her with some peasant folk he trusted, before continuing with his quest.

In your games and stories

Whilst temples to Neptune were relatively simple affairs, sacred areas included coves and caves – underwater grottoes that would make excellent dungeons – assuming you can breathe water. Expect to find a wide array of monsters – some beastly and some sentient. Treasures might be anything that has been shipwrecked – from Spanish doubloons to the Antikythera mechanism

Neptune’s followers were anyone who depended on the sea – not only fishermen and sailors but pirates! Not all pirates are from the Caribbean, there are stories of piracy from the Classical world (Julius Caesar was famously captured by pirates, and his escape and punishment of them is the beginning of his path to greatness) all the way to modern day pirates smuggling guns and drugs.

Spells he might grant would include summoning of sea creatures or water breathing, and water control. As Lord of both the sea and horses, he is also master of all kinds of spells of travel – from phantom steeds to flight to interplanar travel.

Neptune himself is powerful, but he has whole tribes of people at his command – nereids, merfolk and tritons. Any of these could appear as protagonists, antagonists or support characters – what strange wares might a merman merchant carry?

For a city that might be blessed by Neptune, check out The Floating City jigsaw piece.

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(Re)Introducing Clash of Blades


Clash of Blades was the first of Artemis Games projects, beginning even before the Concept Cards line launched, but it has lain fallow for some time. Work has now recommenced, so I’d like to introduce it to all of you.

What is Clash of Blades?

At its core Clash of Blades is a two player card-game about swordfighting, where the players use careful timing to dodge and parry their opponents strikes, while trying to sneak their own in under their opponents guard.

The ebb and flow of combat is captured by the games unique mechanic: each card played takes up a certain number of “ticks”, representing the time it takes to perform the move – and the time it takes to get back into position afterwards.

You and your foe play simultaneously, so every tick counts – you can slide in with a quick lunge while they’re recovering from one of your parries, or be more ambitious and play a heavy strike in the hopes that it will leave them reeling.

If this sounds like something that would interest you, follow the updates here through Specific Feeds. Clash of Blades information will be appearing occasionally, alongside the pre-existing Mythic Mondays posts.

Be Well

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M is for Morrigan – Mythic Mondays

Morrigan alights upon the dying Cuchulain Photo by Kman999 - Kman999 on Flickr, CC BY 3.0

Morrigan alights upon the dying Cuchulain
Photo by Kman999 – Kman999 on Flickr, CC BY 3.0

We’re back with the Celts, who love their goddesses in threes. There are three goddesses of Ireland – Eriu, Banba and Fotla. Three goddesses of fertility – Brigid, Boann, and Etain. And three battle goddesses. Morrigan is sometimes one of these, and sometimes the sum of all three. Her sisters are Badb and Macha.

Modern witches tend to clump all these goddesses into a single triumvirate – the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. Not all sets of three neatly fit, but there are enough similarities for wiccans to represent the primal forces in this simpler fashion. In this way, they seek to conflate goddess-aspects from many pantheons, to better understand them.

Morrigan is the Crone aspect, signifying mortality and Fate. She is also, in her favorite form of the raven, the chooser of the slain of the Celtic battlefield, combining the roles of both the Norns and Valkyries

Most of the Celtic priesthood – the dru-vids, the Oaken-wise – would worship whichever deity suited their needs, or the needs of their king-host. Dedicated priests were rare, and the Celts saw their gods as merely a more advanced race than humans. Druids were responsible for communicating with the people of Annwn, the Celtic Underworld and Fairyland – not only gods, but any soul which had passed on, and not returned to a new life. Morrigan was appealed to for luck in battle, and in her role as psychopomp, to appeal to souls resident in Annwn

Story of the God

When Maeve stole the cattle of Ulster, all the men but Cuchullin were struck by a weakness. Cuchullin was only immune because he was only half a son of Ulster – half of his heritage was divine, being a son of Lugh.

So Cuchullin stood at the ford where the great river runs which borders Ulster, to fight against the champions of Maeve in single combat.

The Morrigan in the guise of a beautiful blond girl, came to offer him her love, and her aid in the battle. But Cuchullin rejected her.

So she went away and changed into the form of an eel. At the height of the fight. she tripped him, and he wounded her, but he won despite that.

So, Morrigan came again in her guise as a wily red headed girl and offered him magical aid in the battle, and her loving embrace. But Cuchullin rejected her.

So she went away and came back in the form of a wolf. At the height of the fight. she scared cattle over him, and he wounded her, but he won despite that.

For the third night, Morrigan came in the guise of a dark haired beauty, offering strength for the coming battle, and loving rest in her arms. And again Cuchullin rejected her.

So she went away and came back in the form of a red heifer. At the height of the fight. she led a stampede of cattle over him, and he wounded her, but he won despite that.

So, after the battle Morrigan appeared in the form of an old woman bearing the three wounds he had given her, and leading a cow. So Cuchullin knew that what faced him was one of the Tuatha de Danann. She offered Cuchullin a draught of milk, and he blessed her for it. His blessing healed her wounds, and in return she had nothing but the prophecy of his death.

“Had I known you, I might not have rejected you”

“You would have, for it is in your nature to be stubborn. And it is in this that your death lies, for in rejecting help, you rejected that which might have saved your life”

And so it came that a mighty army came, and one man could not stand against it. Whilst the Ulstermen recovered in time to save their country, it was not soon enough to save Cuchullin

In Your Games and Stories

As the weaver of Fate, Morrigan might give clerical spells of divination, and inspire works of craft – great swords, mighty shields, or tools to aid in foretelling the future. All the Celtic deities have a connection with song, so her followers would number bards as well as druids and clerics. Whilst her battle-aspect would imply her to be a favorite of fighters, few wished to incur her notice, preferring Ogma, Lugh or even Brigid

Castles belonging to followers of Morrigan would tend to be defended by puzzles and traps rather than monsters – unless you count hordes of fey warriors. Seek her in hollow hills and remote crags – or in Annwn, the Celtic Fairyland.

Morrigan could also appear in a political tale, in her role as outsider and observer. She might well know secrets unavailable elsewhere. But what price will the Lady of Fate require for her aid? Perhaps, like the blood-price for the Sons of Tuirenn, it will sound innocuous and be the source of a whole adventure to find.

If you’re looking for more Fae Fantasy, join Artemis Games Jigsaw Fantasy Patreon and put in your vote.

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