Scion Second Edition – Book One: Origin by Onyx Path Publishing
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Update: I’m adding an addendum to this review to give my impressions of the recent Phone PDF format. The content of the book is the same but it’s presented in a really innovative way. You can scroll to the bottom to learn more!
At the end of my first month of university, I picked up a copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. My memory is that it had just been released but research suggests it was a few months prior to my purchase. Despite having two or three assignments due, I sat down and cracked the cover to dive into a gripping story of modern mythology. My academic irresponsibility isn’t really the point though. The point is I had been eager to read it for some time – I was ready for this book. I had been raised with mythology as my bedtime stories and knew the stories of Odysseus and King Arthur by the time I was in primary school. Throughout high school I fed myself a diet of urban fantasy, White Wolf roleplaying games, and the Sandman series. I had been waiting for a book like this for a long time.
When I heard about the first edition of the roleplaying game Scion I was initially excited – playing the descendants of the Gods in a modern setting? How cool! This could be like an American Gods RPG! Then I became wary as I read the system was similar to Exalted. I had loved Exalted but felt overwhelmed at the time by the weight of the rules and dice pools – I didn’t want to run combat in it because my initial experiences had those scenes take too long. These worries about Scion were confirmed by a friend who ran it, so sadly I never took the plunge. I should say he really enjoyed the game and ran a lengthy chronicle of it, so it’s more that it wasn’t to my taste at the time.
Upon hearing a second edition was in the works I got excited all over again, especially when I learned one of the goals would be streamlining the system. I think Onyx Path hit the nail on the head with this version and it’s a game I would love to play in or to run.
I’m only reviewing the first book here: Origin. Book 2 – Hero has been released and expands further on the game. Origin details the setting, rules, and allows you to make beginner characters – Hero raises the power level and scope of the game as your characters fully embrace their divine heritage.
In Scion you play…Scions. The descendants of the gods of mythology who have always had something different about them – particularly lucky, regularly followed by ravens, a tendency to engage in drunken revelry, and so on. You may even have a few magical tricks up your sleeve. Then one day your divine parent approaches you (your Visitation), informs you of your heritage, and pulls you fully into their world. You will adventure, perform great deeds, and build your Legend – eventually able to ascend to becoming a God yourself.
Scion takes place in The World. It appears similar to ours, but there’s a key difference …
All myths and mythology, all belief systems are true. Creatures, places, otherworlds, everything. All myths exist at once even if they contradict each other. The nature of these beings and places, or alternate versions are also all true – therefore Diana and Artemis exist at the same time (and there may be multiple versions of each), there is more than one underworld and heavenly realm, every Creation myth happened, etc. The World is simultaneously on the back of a turtle and on Yggdrasil.
History has progressed essentially the same way as ours up to the current era. In a sense though, our mythology is The World’s history. Imagine if the “old ways” were never pushed away by the dominance of monotheistic religions. Those religions still exist but at the same time people also give devotions and prayers to the Gods.
Everyday life is affected by the objective presence of the Gods. Television and movies depict their exploits, weather is attributed to the favor or disfavor of particular deities, sports teams praise gods of Victory after winning a match (one of my favorite examples), celebrities and politicians try to gain favor, and so on. They form Incarnations to interact with The World and involve themselves with their worshippers.
At the same time, the Gods collectively make a point of not directly intervening in The World or taking sides in mortal affairs, and mortal institutions don’t get involved with godly matters without very good reason. While the U.S. government may claim to be favored by particular deities they won’t send their soldiers to fight directly for the Gods and won’t levy taxes on divine lands in the middle of the country, unless those areas are throwing off the stability of the economy by magically creating gold.
One of the major conflicts of the setting is between the Gods and the Titans. Both immensely powerful beings, the Gods master The World, and the Titans are a part of The World – embodying the creative and destructive aspects without regard to the impact. The Gods oppose them, as the disregard of the Titans for human life threatens the nature of the Gods, who require human worship to identify and differentiate themselves from the Titans.
Long ago, the Titans were imprisoned and as they break their chains and escape, the war begins again with Scions on the frontline.
Fate is a powerful presence in The World, which makes sense considering how big a part destiny plays in the game. It guides people along certain paths to achieve particular outcomes, and is another reason the Gods don’t directly intervene more than necessary – they don’t want to risk the ramifications of messing with Fate’s plan. Scions are slightly less restricted and can twist Fate to work for them.
One of the other primary ways the Gods do get involved in the world, and make their power known, is through Scions. They are chosen champions – the offspring of the Gods. They use their great powers to adventure in The World and commit great deeds.
Scions are like superheroes but without the spandex (unless they want it). One may be your neighbor who works at the local library, be a captain of industry, or a movie star. They may not know their heritage (and may never come to know it) or they may have been raised by a society to prepare them for their destiny. They are as public as they want to be and, over time, may gather worshippers of their own, putting them on the path to their own godhood.
Character creation is a mix of point allocation and narrative construction that clearly determines the PCs capabilities, position in The World, and grants them some narrative control over the setting and their lives. They possess Knacks, which at the level of Origin are certain abilities that are just more than human, but not at the degree of power they will receive in Hero after their Visitation; these are tied to the portfolio of their particular divine ancestor.
As I mentioned before the first edition system made me wary to really try it out. However, the Storypath system used by the Second Edition is a delight, with a few particular elements that I really like.
Scion uses a d10 die pool system. Tests are performed by rolling dice equal to an Attribute (inherent capability like Might or Intellect) plus dice equal to a Skill (Close Combat, Medicine) and counting all the dice that roll higher than a target number (Successes) – in this case 8.
The difficulty of your task is determines how many Successes you need to roll. 1 is all that’s required for a successful attempt. That’s very simple and doesn’t require much thought, which is really nice.
What I really like is that a player can use any Attribute they and the Storyguide agree upon. This makes sense – in a duel, a Scion of a trickster god and one of a warrior god will fight differently. The trickster may use Cunning and the warrior Might. If the warrior god is a strategist, maybe the player rolls Intellect instead. Now you may think that would result in “spamming” the character’s strongest attribute and a) you’re right, they’ll play to strengths but b) they’ll need to deal with the in-game ramifications. Two characters may have the exact same number of dice to roll while attempting to open a locked door, but the one that opens it with Might is going to be a lot louder than the one who gracefully picks the lock.
The next thing I think is pretty elegant is that the specific dice-rolling mechanic allows for big effects without rolling handfuls of dice. Anything that would give you a greater chance of success doesn’t come into play until after you roll 1 success, and then they add additional successes, rather than add dice to your roll. These are then spent to overcome the Difficulty of the task and any other circumstantial modifiers, to gain extra effects or some narrative control, and then the leftover determines the degree of success. This is a very accommodating means of task resolution and accounts for a vast number of factors, including the relative size of opposed actors.
Besides the near-ubiquitous Combat rules, Scion also includes detailed Social Conflict Rules, Investigative Rules, Crafting, and more – covering everything your Godling might want to acccomplish.
There’s a lot of really good advice on how to guide a game of Scion. This book focuses on the Origin level, of course, but it’s applicable to the higher levels too.
Structuring a story, using the themes of the game, mythic tropes, incorporating mythology, and the role of the Storyguide are covered, unsurprisingly using myths as examples. There are a few alternate rule possibilities and an examination of the genre of Urban Fantasy, as it relates to Scion: Origin.
Antagonists are presented with guidelines and examples on how to design great threats for your players.
While I feel there’s a lot to get your head around cosmologically in Scion: Origin, it’s definitely worth it. It’s a fantastic and encompassing modern mythological setting with gameplay implemented via a particularly smooth task resolution system. This is a game definitely worth checking out and you can acquire it in traditional print through Indie Press Revolution, or from the below Affiliate Links and help this site!
DriveThruRPG (PDF or Print-On-Demand)
Divinity in the Palm of Your Hand
As mentioned above, I’ve returned to this review to talk about the Scion: Origin Phone PDF format. There will be some crossover with my review of Pugmire as both titles share features in this format.
Phone PDFs are a new initiative through DriveThruRPG to offer a product that takes into account the ubiquity of smartphones. They are formatted for a smaller screen and constructed so they can be manipulated with one hand (or thumb) if desired. There’s no need to zoom in, zoom out, or awkwardly hold a tablet in one hand.
If you want to read more about Phone PDFs you can click here to get the whole rundown!
I’ve read the book on an iPhone XR and with the Goodreader App. It’s my go-to PDF reader and displays the book just slightly larger than iBooks. It still looks good in iBooks, I’m talking only about millimeters of difference. Some Phone PDFs are optimized for iBooks though, so that’s certainly a safe choice for your own reading.
Scion: Origin is a really gorgeous book and it has maintained that beautiful design in its conversion to a Phone PDF.
- Text is presented in a single column. The font size is larger, suitable for the size of a smartphone screen while remaining perfectly legible. You don’t have the same control as you would with an ePub, but an ePub also doesn’t give you the same graphical display as the PDF. Because everything is in a single column it reads really smoothly, and sections you may want to reference quickly (like Skill Tests, Stunts, Knacks, etc) are all presented very clearly.
- Images have been reduced in size to fit the page. They fit the flow of the book well. Tables are also appropriately resized and easy to read.
- Key terms, setting elements, and rules are all hyperlinked in the text with embedded links, so you can reference them with a single click, then return to your previous location by selecting the “Back” link at the bottom of the page. Obviously this is really helpful as you can reference information without losing your place. There is also a “Contents” link at the bottom of the page, which leads to a well-structured Table of Contents (and quick-reference ToC). I would prefer if links without page references were distinguished in some way, maybe with a different text color, as I accidentally clicked a few while turning the page. But that definitely doesn’t ruin the overwhelming utility of them.
Since I have my phone almost constantly (at least more frequently than my tablet), I love the idea of Phone PDFs, and Scion: Origin is a great rendition of one.
It might seem strange to adapt to using a phone exclusively to run a game, but throw in a dice roller app and some scrap paper and you can adventure through The World whenever the whim strikes!
You can check out the Phone PDF alone here or pick it up here as part of a bundle with the regular format book and the second book – Scion: Hero!
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