Scion has to be one of my favorite RPGs of all time, mixing the modern magical setting everyone who’s visited the blog knows I adore, and one of my big passions, Mythologies. Scion is a game about modern-day Gods, sons and daughters (the eponymous Scions) of the ancient pantheons whose stories we’ve heard and seen in various forms and media.
The Pantheons included (counting books and supplements) are:
- The Dodekatheon aka The Greek Pantheon
- The Amatsukami aka The Japanese Pantheon
- The Atzlanti aka The Aztec Pantheon
- The Loa aka The Voodoo Pantheon
- The Tuatha Dé Danann aka The Irish Pantheon
- The Devas aka The Hindu Pantheon
- The Pesedjet aka The Egyptian Pantheon
- The Aesir aka The Norse Pantheon
- The Celestial Bureaucracy aka The Chinese Pantheon
- The Atlantean Pantheon (a made-up one by White Wolf as an example of their Pantheon creation rules)
- The Yazata aka The Persian Pantheon (based on Zoroastrianism)
The game’s world is just like our own, just weirder, and it has no relationship to The World of Darkness, also belonging to White Wolf. In the setting, the Gods have come back because their ancient enemies, the Titans have escaped. In this game, they are not exclusively Greek, but instead all progenitors and ancients in each Mythology have been made Titans. The Gods locked them up in their various Underworlds but they escaped, sending those realms into disarray. Now the Titans are banging on the Overworlds’ doors, the realms of the gods, separate planes, one for each Pantheon (and yes, Olympus is one of them, not tied to the Mount, but a separate place altogether). The war has also spilled into the world; with the Titans’ agents and creatures and spawns furthering their masters’ plans, forcing the gods to go down and “awaken” their offspring, kids they might have had when they descended to the world once in a while during their “time away”. These kids are your characters. Imagine Percy Jackson the RPG and you’ll get a good idea of what Scion is like.
Characters begin at the Hero Stage, where they’re mostly human; then comes Demigod and the last stage is God.
Published by White Wolf Publishing, Scion was supposed to be a one-shot deal, just a set number of books to be published, but the amazing community behind them, who stood and patiently waited for the very delayed books to be published, forced White Wolf to expand their 3-book idea (one for each of the stages: Hero, Demigod & God and called just the same) to about five books and online supplements.
Scion’s currently under The Onyx Path’s hand, who bought the rights from White Wolf (after the latter decided it was going off the RPG market), and they have already released a hilarious “Extras” supplement with plenty of NPCs, including a Scion version of Korean singer Psy called, appropriately, Sci, with his hit “Scion Style”. They are also working on the 2nd Edition of this fantastic game, and to be honest, it seriously needs a new edition or a revision at least.
The game’s rules are a watered version of the Exalted 2nd Edition rules, with the usual White-Wolf treatment of their rule system. That being a palette change on the character sheets and terminology changes for the different power sources.
But, if there’s one thing Scion does completely different, and for which I wholly congratulate its writers for doing, is the sense of freedom you have. Unlike other White Wolf games, including Scion’s father-game, Exalted, where your choice of Caste, Clan, Tribe, or whatever else they decided to call what pretty much amount to “CLASSES” (more so in Exalted than other games actually), determines what your power-set will be, in Scion your choice of Pantheon and Godly Parent do not impose the type of character you’ll have to play. You can be Ares’ son and be a hacker with social anxiety issues and capable of only hurting himself with a sword. What powers and skills you develop are entirely up to you. The choice only determines your Pantheon-specific power (aka Purview, but we’ll get to that), the Pantheon’s specific “Virtues” and what types of powers or skills are easier for you to learn, on the basis that your Parent’s powers and abilities are more easy for you to pick up and master, since they’ve passed on the potential or affinity for them in their blood (i.e. they cost less experience to level up).
After that, you’re free to build your character as you please.
Aside from Attribute, Skills, and Willpower which are 99% identical to any other White Wolf game (9 attributes: 3 physical, 3 social and 3 mental), you have:
- Purviews: These are your powers, from controlling water, to calling animals to throwing lightning at people.
- Epic Attributes & Knacks: Epic attributes let you take your innate abilities to unnatural levels, from lifting up cars (strength) to dodging a firing squad (dexterity) to decrypting ancient Sumerian code (Intelligence). For each point of epics you have, you have at least one Knack tied to that epic, such as armor-like skin or the ability to parry bullets with a sword to changing appearances on a whim. Knacks are your go-to supernatural abilities for most things.
- Virtues: Each pantheon has a set of virtues tied to their behaviour and they limit and enhance your character depending on his choices. If he acts according to them, they can be used to boost your dice; if not, you need to roll against them just so you can perform the contrarian action.
- Birthrights: These are gifts from your godly mommies and daddies, in the form of Relics aka magic-loot, Creatures at your service, Followers, your own pack of thugs, and Guides, spirits or individuals who can help you in various topics or situations.
- Legend: Exalts have Anima, and Scions have Legend. As a Scion, your directives are simple: serve your parent, fight the Titans in all their forms and get to Godhood. You do that by increasing your Legend by becoming bigger and bigger, more and more renowned and famous. Legend starts as 2 for Scions and goes up to 12, with 2-4 for Heroes, 5-8 Demigods and 9-12 for Gods. Everything you use costs Legend Points, which are your score squared. Aside from powering your abilities, Legend also has a thematic element to the game. According to the back-story, the Gods left the world because their Legends (through worship and stories) bound them a bit too tightly to people, making them conform to what people believed of them. In game mechanics, your Legend can bind you to others, imposing on them or you certain roles, be it enemies or even lovers; and to be honest, to this day I haven’t seen a more fun approach to “the price of power”.
Character creation is the typical d10 White Wolf game affair. It’s simple at face value, but you’ll be spending some good time doing it, especially because of the game’s freedom in power choice. If your players are seasoned White Wolf gamers, it probably will go smoother and they’ll be impressed at how much more powerful their characters are, compared to other such games. To go into specifics, Scions can rip apart every single supernatural being in The World of Darkness, with various degrees of minimal effort, getting easier and easier the more powerful the Scions become. In fact, most of the creatures in Scion, including their own Vampires and Shapeshifters, can pretty much do the same to their WoD counterparts.
Game mechanics, aside from those mentioned above are your typical WW system deal. You spend Willpower points for a guaranteed success, you roll Attribute + Skill (no 2xAttribute roll here, this isn’t NWoD) and you track your health (which grows well beyond the standard 7 squares thanks to Epic Stamina) for Bashing, Lethal and Aggravated damage. And of course, the recommended XP rewards are as cheap and merciless as always, especially given the high cost of everything in Scion.
While the game is insanely fun and the mechanics simple and enjoyable, especially the Stunts mechanic (if you describe your actions over-the-top-ly enough, you get bonuses to your dice), the games suffers from balance issues that only get worse the further your progress into the game. There are plenty of house rules, and unofficial fixes, but in the end, you have to deal with a broken game. Let’s go over the various problems:
- Legend: There’s too much. It’s not felt at lower levels, Legends 2-6, but the higher you go, there’s no possibility of running out of it, taking the resource management of the game and throwing it out the window. For players it’s not much of a problem, until they realize the bad guys work on the same rules and they can spam their best stuff, without running the risk of going out of points. Even at the highest levels of Anima in Exalted, or Blood in Vampire, there was always the chance you’d run out of powers and be left defenseless, which added a layer of strategy to not only fights but all types of “encounters”. At the mid-demigod level that stops being the case with Scion. At god levels, you’re over the 90 points, with the highest costing powers costing 5 at most, and the rest costing 1-3. Only the ULTIMATE powers, for both Purview and Knacks can be a considerable drain, costing 30 points, but you need to be Legend 11 at least, and that gives you a whopping 121 legend points to spend, and those powers are usually a once-per-scene type of thing.
- Fights drag on, way too much. A purely physical character is a walking bunker and fights can quickly devolve into hitting the enemies enough to make him use all his damage-negating knacks (which are plenty), if you even manage to hit them. Dexterity and its epic, scale defenses ludicrously, with Dodge knacks taking that particular defense (there are 2: Dodge & Parry) into the stratosphere as written, and even with house rules it’s still too high. Stamina and the resistances it confers also scale extremely fast, making anything but Aggravated damage very ineffective before you have the chance to start dealing that type of damage.
- On the opposite side of the spectrum, Mental & Social abilities are extremely unbalanced and overpowered, most of them being completely crippling and worse, irresistible. The “Mental Defense” is also extremely underpowered, becoming all but useless once you get to Demigod levels, unless your players are of The Unbeatable type (for more information of them check the Types of Players & GMs piece I published days ago).
- This being a modern setting, modern weaponry should be more useful, but in Scion, the only way you’re ever going to be effective in battle is doing it old school, with bows and swords. Guns stop being useful at the Legend 4 mark, forcing you to come up with crazier stuff you’re probably comfortable with to keep your dual gunning player or bad guy from being even mildly effective.
- The same applies to Birthrights, with only Relics being useful on the long run. Both Creatures and Followers become extremely fragile as you go up, and you’ll probably out-grow Guides quickly.
- Purviews are 90% useless for most of the game, being more about fluff than mechanical advantage, and their uses being completely situational, if useful at all. Only at the later stages of Demigod and God do they become actually useful, and even then, the scaling is off, the powers growing drastically to powerhouses. Players will prefer Knacks to Purviews for most of the game.
- As an addendum, the opposite pretty much happens with the Elemental purviews, such as Fire, Water, Earth and Sky (Air), which are exceedingly powerful from the start. If the power gives complete immunity to the element ON THE FIRST DOT, you have to realize there’s something wrong with the balance.
- On the other hand, if self-immolation with incendiaries becomes a valid tactic, you can only sit back and say “Cool…”
- At each of the game’s breakpoints, you go through pretty much the entire character creation process again, just adding more points on top of your existing ones, making all characters jack-of-all-trades, since by that point they’d have maximized all their build-specific stuff. You end up with characters that are too good at too many areas. On the other hand, this makes all NPCs, even the Gods and Titans, seem pathetic in comparison. The most glaring example of this is the sample Scions, who are completely underpowered for all their careers.
- Pantheon Purviews are completely unbalanced between them, with some extremely powerful compared to others, and with some writing making it seem as if only the Greek pantheon can do some things, mostly crafting.
- Dice pools get to be too large, even more for Greek characters, which at worst will end up rolling over 60 d10s. This makes all actions drag to a halt while you wait for the results.
Enough of the bad stuff, now on to the good things:
- Scion is fantastically fun. It’s a very cinematic game. You’re encouraged to go out of your way to describe every little thing as big as possible, as epic as possible, leading to some of the best role-playing moments of your life. The game gives you a chance to go as wild and as big as you can.
- The writing of the books is fantastic, from the fiction (a 40-page-long one per book), to the setting, to the NPCs, gods, monsters, etc.
- The epic attribute descriptions are some of the best, if only because they include the phrase “high impact sex”.
- The fiction, while in most cases one per book, give you a definite glimpse into how much they’ve adapted classical myths, such as Demigod’s fiction piece with a post-fall Icarus, covered in third degree burns over his entire body, but still pretty much obsessed with the idea of flying. Oh, and he’s batshit crazy and surrounded by Minotaur Servants.
- The Gods are wonderfully depicted and given distinct personalities, one of the most notorious being Amaterasu-ōmikami, portrayed as the stiffest of all gods, almost anal with protocol and the proper way of doing things, and the JAPANESE way of doing things. If you read Japanese Myth, you’ll realize the depiction is spot on. A very funny example of this is Queen Himiko’s description (She’s a Scion), in which Amaterasu stops speaking to her without giving her a reason, but she later finds out is because when she bowed to her mother, she didn’t incline her head in the exact angle as she should have and Amaterasu saw that as a grave insult and cut her off.
- The Aesir and the Loa. Just read them, it’s enough.
- The Art is beautiful. In fact, all screenshots in this post are straight from the books, no sense in not showing these beautiful pieces off.
- It’s as over the top as you can expect and even more so. If you say Exalted is about comic-book heroes, Scion is about Anime Characters. You’ll fling cars, run up buildings, hell, throw a freaking Aircraft Carrier, charm an entire crowd into following you, make people kill themselves, become a Human-Torch-esque character, etc. If you can think it, there’s a chance you can do it, if not with the rules as written, then with a stunt.
- When useful, Purviews are fan-fucking-tastic and you can be as flashy as you want. As they say in a book, a Knack can let you pick up of an 18-wheeler and throw it, a Boon (what each Purview power is called) will let you fly while you do it, then cover it in flames before you throw it.
- Fate-binding, what happens when your Legend binds you to others, is wonderful in complicating a story or a set of characters. It’s even more so when it happens inside the group.
- All character types are useful, and physical, mental or social characters can resolve most situations, if they think things through. Even combat can be handled in a non-physical way. In fact, this freedom of approach is one of Scion’s greatest strengths.
If you can take the really good with the bad, this game is for you. I fell in love with it the moment I read about it, and I loved every second of my Hero to God game, even if the system’s faults sometimes made work a lot harder for me.
I’m eager to see what Onyx will do with Scion’s 2nd Ed and I know I’ll run a game when it comes out, and who knows, maybe you will be playing in it. I can only promise I’ll do the same thing I expect of you and what this game is all about: