Scion RPG First Impressions: Late to the party but I brought Pizzerias!

For those that don’t remember Pizzerias were a Doritos-like chip that were way better than Doritos. In other words, if someone actually brought them, that person should be excused for being late.

Yes that’s right, I’m late. Scion has been out for a good long while now and the follow up books to Scion: Hero (which is what this review is actually about) Scion: Demigod and Scion: God are already out as well. Perhaps if this was a review of Scion: God it would feel a bit less dated but since I have not read that book and I am writing about the game concept as I see it as a whole this will have to do. Now, I haven’t played a session of the game yet so this isn’t exactly a “review” per se but rather a collection of initial impressions. Most importantly I wanted to make statements as to what I think Scion is and what it is not and give you an idea of whether or not to look into the game further.

Scion RPG Overview

Scion Hero
Image source: White Wolf

Scion is a White Wolf Storyteller game about playing the child of a god in the modern age. The base books are divided into three parts: Hero, Demigod, and God that correspond to the life cycle of a Scion. In the first book, Hero, a player plays the role of a newly-minted child of a god. They receive a visitation from their divine parent or a messenger there of and then manifest amazing powers. They are instructed to use these powers to protect earth from the god’s enemies, the Titans. Just like in some of the mythology the game steals (mimics, borrows from whatever) the Titans were the original creators of the world but were defeated by the gods. Now the Titans want the world back (or destroyed or whatever).

The game book spends a lot of time developing signature characters, and includes the longest opening fiction I have ever read. (Another reviewer pointed out that Call of Cthulu had a longer opening fiction because it had Call of Cthulu as its opening fiction but since that was not made for the game I don’t think that counts.) Interestingly I did in fact read it. I often end up skipping a lot of the fiction in role playing games since it either bores me or confuses me. Too often the fiction depicts things in a way that does not mesh well with the actual play of the game.

Along with the opening fiction there is a rather long adventure in the back of the book that is meant to be played with the signature characters; this adventure covers over forty five pages of the 334 page book. Add in the nearly forty pages for the introductory story and you have a lot of information about, and time dedicated to, the signature characters.

The rest of the book is spent describing combat, the various pantheons a character can come from (there are six pantheons with a number of gods each that a character can be the child of) and the powers the scions can have. The back of the book has an example of different enemies the scions could face but since they are living in a world where all myths are real they could literally come into contact with anything and it would not be completely off the wall.

The whole book is a very attractive hard cover with amusing depictions of gods and monsters in the modern day. I especially like the giant in sneakers in the back of the book but all of the pictures are well done. This is to be expected from White Wolf but we are not disappointed.

What Scion isn’t…

Scion is not Exalted modern. Some people have called it this but I think that this degrades both games to a certain degree. Yes, Scion uses a combination of the Exalted 2.0 rules and the Aberrant rules (the original Aberrant rules since I think they made some D20 version of it that I don’t even want to acknowledge) but rule similarities alone does not make it an Exalted game set in modern day.

The entire feel of Scion is of this world. Scion focuses itself on our world’s history and mythology and strives to make those things come alive. Exalted is set in a before-time fantasy world. While there are inklings of fate in Exalted it does not play the same role as it does in Scion and while the Exalted are in essence children of the gods that turn of phrase has a very different meaning in the two games.

What Scion is…

Scion is a child’s imaginings put on paper. It is the dreams I had when I was getting picked on in high school, given rules and pictures. Scion is a power gamer’s wet dream.

In Scion the players are handed characters that begin with immense power that will only grow as the game goes on and while this is true in most role playing games in Scion they also know that they can one day become a god.

Another thing Scion isn’t…

Scion really isn’t my kind of game. I prefer subtle games with dark plots and bad guys that are not quite all that bad. I like making my players delve into the game and come out confused both because the plot is convoluted and because I forced them to make a moral choice that wasn’t easy for them or their characters. Scion really is not a game about making too many moral choices.

The interesting thing here is that Good and Evil are concepts that didn’t really come into their own until later in our history than the time most of these pantheons depict. Many of the gods of death illustrated in Scion are not really “evil” in any traditional sense and even Loki was not meant to be a strictly “bad” guy. (He is destined to betray the gods during Ragnarok but its not like he’s done it yet!) Of course in Scion while there is some interplay between the competing godships most of the conflict involves the players beating the snot out of titan spawn and it’s hard to depict creatures that want to kill you, your godly parents, and every human being on the planet as being “shades of gray” characters.

So, why I am going to play Scion as my next role playing? While I love deep dark bizarre plots where there are no good guys or bad guys and combat can’t really solve everything, my players seem more interested in something different. They have been great of course, and have not said that they find my plots boring or too complicated and morality-driven to enjoy (admittedly my most recent game, Werewolf, did not involve as many ethical quandaries as some of my campaigns) but after several months of twists turns and a little sub plot about a Ridden cutting off pieces of human beings in the way someone would cut a steak (a follower of Butcher of Angels from my Werewolf campaign outline) it seems like a good time for something a little flashier, something a little less malevolent.

A couple more things about Scion

After reading the rules a couple points stuck with me more than others. A few are things that I liked and one is something I am a bit iffy about.

One thing that I like the look of is the Tick system. I played Exalted but I played it back before it too had adopted this system. The Tick system for the uninitiated is a flowing combat system that does not use combat rounds. Essentially all actions have a speed and a defense penalty while they are being performed. The speed determines how many ticks it will take to complete or recover from an action. Weapons have different speeds so a fast weapon will often do less damage than a slower one since you will be making more attacks over a given amount of time than an opponent with said slower weapon.

I like this concept a lot. It always kind of bothered me when someone would say they were “holding their action” since the time it would take to make that decision and then wait for something to happen and then decide on your action and then act always seemed as though it should be greater than the 4 – 10 seconds most combat rounds encompass. I’m sure the Tick system will take some getting use to but I’ve heard that once you play it for a while it becomes fairly natural.

I’ve been rewatching the entire series of X-Files. I’m a big fan of the show and even accept the latter episodes. But to relate it back to my point, how many times did Mulder and Scully get called in to help someone investigate something only to discover that it just so happened to be an X-File? There are also numerous episodes where their personal lives entwined with the supernatural. While this is of course just one of those “willing suspension of disbelief” moments, Scion takes it a step further and actually gives us a reason.

Another thing I really liked was Scion’s handling of Fate. Fate is a funny thing to think about in a game since players want to of course have complete free will. In Scion Fate is used to explain almost everything that would be difficult to explain. From the question “Why did the gods leave?” to “Why don’t Scions just take over the world and force entire governments to do their bidding?” and especially “Why does all this wacky crap keep happening to our group?” Fate is the answer. Essentially Fate reacts to human impressions and thus those impressions can affect gods and scions. Not wanting to be entrapped by fate is the reason the gods left and similarly why most scions try to keep a low profile. What they call a Fatefull Aura is the reason stuff happens to the players. If something can happen near a scion Fate will make certain that it does. While some may claim this as a weak explanation for oddity, most games, novels, TV shows etc don’t even have this much of an explanation.

A final thing that struck me as interesting was a rule that allows a social character to use command to prompt his teammates to make a joint attack. While joint attacks are not exactly unique (often appearing and being prominent in superhero games for example) I liked the fact that a more social character can find a real place of importance in combat. In relation to this I liked that a person who makes a really good roll cleaning his weapon because he has put dots into weapon smithing should receive a bonus die for the next several shots he makes. This incentive to take skills a character should have warms my heart as too often the good role players get left in the dust by the power gamers because the power gamers tweaked the rules and took boxing (Rifts anyone?).

I should also mention that Scion, like Exalted before it, uses the stunt system wherein a player gets bonus dice for describing their actions (not just combat actions, a research roll could be a stunt if described aptly) and using the environment. This kind of thing can really make combats and other situations memorable and adds a lot to the game. I also plan to let the intelligent characters make rolls for creating a battle plan. If they roll well they will be able to add dice to other player’s rolls or garner some other advantage. While I don’t want my game to become all about combat, players like combat but not all players want to make a combat monster. These players should still be given something to do during combat times as these scenes often take up the most real time.

One point that I was iffy about was Scions lack of world. What I mean by this is that with a few exceptions – describing signature heroes and villains, giving examples of other things the players could encounter – nowhere does the game describe exactly what a world with Scions running around in it is like. It seems that this was intentional but I feel if I had not read so many horror novels that depict modern fantastic settings and American Gods (which Scion obviously borrows from) I might be a bit lost as to where to begin. Then again, perhaps that is the precise reason that the designers included such a long introductory story and such a detailed first adventure.

In a way, the lack of specifics allows the world of Scion to be far more vast than a world where the designers had described everything for us but at the same time it puts more of the burden on the storyteller.

Scion – Bottom Line

While Scion is not exactly what I would call “my kind of game” it does interest me a lot. It seems like it could be fun to play with characters doing amazing things on a fairly regular basis. There is still some room for shades of gray, unlike D&D there is no alignment to conflict with the realities of personality. I will certainly have to post more about this as we begin playing but I hope that this gives you an idea of what Scion is about.

Have you played Scion? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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    ojiepat Says:

    As one of Josh’s current players, I like his complex foes and moral gray areas. That said, I’m also looking forward to trying Scion. I tend to be one of the players who builds for character, so I am anxious to see how the system works with the more bizarre skill builds.
    My female Japanese, naginata-wielding, former teen-idol scion will probably have several skills most combat monkeys wouldn’t normally take. ;)

    -OJ

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    Dave Says:

    I agree with Pat (I’m also one of Josh’s players). I enjoy the complex story lines and forcing the characters to make the hard choices. However I do also enjoy big flashy stuff now and again.

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    Something I didn’t mention in my original post was that Scion disturbingly includes Apperance as a stat. While it does seem it has more of a place in a Scion game than it did in the old W of D I found it usless then and I doubt it will be of extreme importance in Scion either.

    I think that it would have been better if they had included a different related stat and then had epic apperance as some kind of Purview.

    Again, this is without having played the game so perhaps I will find more use for the stat than I am currently thinking.

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    I helped spawn a discusion over at the Scion Forum related to my ideas of using Inteligence as a combat ability to give smart guys something to do while people are beating things up.

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    You asked for comments from anyone who’s played Scion. The setting is a blast, despite appearing so minimal. The fact is there’s tons of setting material, it’s just that most of it was written by ancient greeks, celtic and norse bards, biblical prophets, etc and not by White Wolf. What I love most about the game is how wide-open that makes it. You can make all these great classical references, and play “what if?” as you port it over to the modern day.

    Like you, I generally go for byzantine shadowy plots-within-plots and hard moral decisions. While Scion’s default mode is more comic-booky or cinematic, it still works pretty well with that sort of stuff. While the Titans are presented as fairly alien and self-interested, they really aren’t much less moralistic than the Gods. One could argue that Prometheus is more ethical than Zeus, and more loving of humanity, for example.

    In particular, Scion characters have access to astounding truth-seeking powers that characters in other games would be very envious of. Takes One To Know One, Blurt It Out, Charmer, and similar knacks should allow PCs to punch holes through conspiracy and uncertainty really quickly, provided they think to ask the right questions.

    Things I don’t like about Scion are… well, the mechanics. Especially from Legend 5 to 11, when things can be very swingy and the disparity between PC power levels is huge. By Legend 12, there’s some tools in place (Avatars and Ultimates, mostly) to fix that, but getting there could be tough. There’s a lot of power balance issues. Luckily they are spread throughout the purviews, so it’s not like any one character concept gets all the power. I also don’t like rolling more than 20 dice for a single action, but it happens a lot in this game.

    Hope you found that helpful.

    P.S.: I particularly enjoyed your little side bar on the X-files.

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    I have to admit I have been worried about the higher level stuff. I’m hoping that I can keep the plot going through shear force of will (or through interesting acts of fate) but I have had problems with the power level in other games when it has gotten higher. In D and D it became an issue around level 10 – 12 and in Exalted it became problematic almost immediatly (though this was primarily because I was trying to run a campaign that was not really good in Exalted).

    Thanks for the input. As I said, I’ve enjoyed reading a lot of the things you have commented on over on your site.

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    Anyone that is interested in Scion and the discussion going on here should also check out r_b_bergstrom’s post below and the comments related to it.

    http://transitivegaming.blogspot.com/2008/04/scion-is-bad-game.html

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    [...] I am running a Scion game. If you read this blog at all regularly you know this already but I wanted to be thorough (or at [...]

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    Bearded Matt Says:

    I’ll agree, straight of, Scion doesn’t look like the most obvious game to run moral Dilemas in…. but it is perhaps THE game to run them in, in some sense’s.
    I think of Morality in the same way Nietzsche did… the scriptual dogma of religion. Compaired with Ethics, purely personal feelings of the right way to act, relying on no higher authority.
    Now, with that set up…. as the charecter’s rise in power, they gain followers, worhsipers, what ever…. surely atleast HALF the fun for the GM is showing the players how their choices not only affect how people see them… but also worship them. Off hand remarks at the wrong moment can become articles of faith central to their very being through no choice of their own.
    Other issues I’ve been having fun ‘inflicting’ on my players… every now and then, give them a sense of consequence.
    At one point I had the charecters set them selves up to storm a building, fight through hoards of guards, etc. It’s just that as they crested the final hill, ready for the charge in their armoured camper vans (I kid you not, it was their vehicle of choice to use)… the building was blown up by the group lead by another Scion who’d duped them into being there.
    They then spent the rest of the evening watching the effect of the employer of about 65% of the town they were in going up in smoke…..
    Final area I think you can get some interesting and DIFFERENT conflicts going with the players.. ALL of the pantheons came from a very different moral era to the modern world. Play with that. If the player can take it, explore what happens when Ra order’s his son to marry his twin sister to cement his divinty (an actual practices for Pharohs). Or how about an Aztec scion requiered at say demi-god or god level to sacrifice the thing they love most (wife, child, etc) as part of the 20 year cycle to save the world… can they do it? Play up the tearful lover not resisting, but not believing whats about to happen….
    Either way, my 2 pence, tell me what you think.

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    Natasha Says:

    Hi! I’m just starting up my own Scion campaign. I have a question that I just can’t find the answer to, and White Wolf’s forums are closed at the moment, so I came here. Now, this may be a stupid question (and I might just be search-deficient), but I’m going to ask it anyway. On the ‘Hero’ character sheet, what are the little boxes beneath the attribute dots? Are they to mark the Epic Attributes?

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    Natasha Says:

    Also, I completely agree. Pizzerias were/are the best thing ever.

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    > On the ‘Hero’ character sheet, what are the little boxes beneath the attribute dots? Are they to mark the Epic Attributes?

    Yep, the circles are the mundane attribute, the boxes are the epic attribute.

    It can be confusing, because further down the sheet, boxes are used to mark which Abilities are cheaper based on your divine parent, and are used to distinguish between temporary and permanent Willpower… but in the Attribute section, the shape distinction is, as you intuited, for Mundane vs Epic.

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    Natasha Says:

    Awesome. Thank you so much!