By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 17 October 2018
I frequently find myself gravitating to Scion and games like it (including The Dresden Files, Part-Time Gods, and City of Mist). There’s just something about playing someone gifted with powers beyond their imagination, often from a legendary being, and playing that growth from mere mortal to (possibly) becoming a deity themselves.
As I mentioned before, Scion crossed my path years ago when I picked up Scion: Hero at a local game shop during my college days. While we frequently joked that it was “Percy Jackson done by White Wolf”, my group and I absolutely loved the premise, even though we had issues with the implementation.
While it’s been a good decade and change since I’ve run my last game of Scion, I have always hoped for a chance to return to the wonders that it offered.
Now that Onyx Path has made a new edition a reality (at least as a early version for backers), I think it’s time to see if this new version stands on its feet well enough to be considered divine, or cast into the Underworld and spoken of only in whispers.
Scion: Origin is the first book of a new edition of the Scion RPG. The game had a successful Kickstarter campaign two years ago, and the first of the two books of the line landed onto digital bookshelves this summer.
The book offers very much the same as the first edition: a roleplaying game in which you are playing the child of a deity from one of the many known pantheons, beginning your journey as a Scion. You’ll face Gods, Titans, beasts of legend, and feel the tugging of the strands of Fate pulling you in ways you never expected.
In addition to revisiting the old setting, we are given a new approach to the old mechanic, as well as a different process for the advancement of the game. Specifically, instead of starting as an already established Hero (as we were in the original Scion), Scion: Origin begins your journey at the literal beginning of your quest, and then progresses along the other books as they are released (namely Hero, Demigod, and God, each relating to the scale of power within the book).
==What You Get==
The PDF of Scion: Origin comes in at 181 pages (179 if you ignore the covers).
I touched on the mechanics within my review of the Quickstart and sneak peek of the system chapter last year, and the mechanics are largely unchanged. The final version still uses a d10 dice pool mechanic, utilizing Attributes + Skill + Mods, to determine successes. A full rundown can be found in the aforementioned Quickstart Review, as nothing majorly has changed: Enhancements/support add successes to your rolls, there are sixteen skills, nine attributes, and the die roll needed for a success is still an 8 (but later a 7 at the Demigod level).
The game also utilizes a lifepath-like system for character creation, and anyone who’s played the first edition of Scion or any World of Darkness game will recognize how Attributes and Skills are assigned (primary/secondary/tertiary). Unlike the aforementioned games, we see some “quality of life” changes, in that character creation is rather robust and filled with options while being narrow enough to avoid decision paralysis. These changes also go into other mechanical elements, such as the use of Concessions when combat goes awry, or a Tag system for weapon creation or determining relationships.
The setting offers a world like our own, but one that never truly stopped believing in all of the gods of old. Prayers are offered (and answered!) by a number of gods, and the children of these gods walk the Earth, fulfilling their various duties to their own Fate. We see a world in which governments know of, and sometimes interact with, divine beings and their ilk, where children play as their favorite Scion in their games, and some areas are gateways to realms unknown to mortals.
As always, I need a moment to talk about the artwork. Scattered throughout the book, but primary at each chapter start, we are given a full-page bit of artwork that is just simply beautiful. We go from bright and verdant landscapes with a beautiful stereotypically Irish woman to a dark alleyway crime scene with a man of Mesoamerican/South American heritage checking the corpse; the details in the art as well as the selection here is just top notch.
While some of the small art falls short (much of it doesn’t feel as crisp), there are some fun aspects of it, whether it’s a nod to specific myths (such as a strongwoman wielding a hammer and taunting something looking like the Nemean Lion) or to artwork from the previous version of the game.
Which brings me to another point: the fanservice to those coming back to Scion is much appreciated. In Origin, we see a return of Eric Donner, a Scion of Thor and, if the previous books are any inclination of what is to come, a future God of Thunder. We also see artwork and various hints at the other nascent deities (and foes!) we saw in the the previous version, at least in the artwork, and I hope we will see these new gods as well as a return of the others in future books.
But to what’s new and good in this book…there’s plenty, honestly.
Right out of the gate, we are presented with a short bit of fiction called “Apple,” telling the story of a Scion of a deity known for being beautiful and having his Visitation. We are later given a two-part story about Eileen Bran, and how she experiences her Visitation and first adventure. These are, in my opinion, absolutely vital to the feel of the game. In Scion: Origin, you are playing someone who is taking their first steps on their journey to divinity, while in the previous Scion: Hero and in Part-Time Gods, you are already aware of your divine nature and what that entails. The fiction showcases the feeling you should have for this game: you are playing the Origin Story for your characters, not a modern Heracles, Cu Cuchulainn, or Rama.
When it comes to the setting, I’m loving how they blend and mix all of the mythologies together. We still see the battle between the various Pantheons and the Titans, but the regular world itself has been fleshed out a bit more. Unlike other games with a similar idea, the world knows that the gods and their children exist in the world, and cope with that existence as best they can; any appearances of a “Midrealm” (world that can be found from the moral world) is usually ignored by the local governments and sometimes viewed as a curiosity by humans. Additionally, instead of saying that all of the gods of the sea have the same name, it boils down to who is getting the attention/credit for an event. If a volcano erupts, it all depends on the location of said volcano to see who is blamed or credited for it, and the various gods are fine with that. They may argue, but they leave it at that, and humans are none the wiser for anything beyond what they perceive or believe.
That said, there are reasons why the impact of the various gods is not as major as one would expect; the setting dictates that the divine presence brings about “fatebinding,” which causes the world around them to be directly influenced and shaped…as well as painting a giant target for the Titans to take aim for. When a deity does come to the mortal world, it’s only as an aspect of themselves, and it’s possible for many versions of the same deity to exist, clearly a nod to Gaiman’s American Gods, which is direct inspiration for this work.
For me, the setting is a solid win.
Mechanically, the game is rather easy to grok. By taking the tried-and-true d10 dice pool mechanic, veterans of the World of Darkness line of games, Scion, or Exalted, will have a simple time making the adjustment. In fact, the adjustment is small enough that it was condensed on a single page. The game itself is also simple enough for new players, in that you have a straightforward mechanic that is abbreviated to avoid decision paralysis (such as with the lifepath-like character creation and limited options from each path), while also being open enough to allow for some really fun options (like a “Wolf-Warrior” Scion of Loki that excels as a black ops assassin, or a Kitsune Scion of Parvati).
We also see a number of additions that weren’t common at the time of the previous version, which really opens the doors for both players and GMs: a robust item creation mechanic via a Tags system (similar to Aspects in Fate), a teamwork and long-term project mechanic that is both simple and versatile (much like in Star Trek Adventures), and a simplified Antagonist section to allow the GM to just jump right in and make any necessary tweaks on the fly. All of these are excellent changes to the previous edition of the game, and combined with the dice mechanic, make this a solid game to suggest to anyone.
I’m not going to lie: I am a bit salty about how long this has taken. The Kickstarter launched two years ago, with an expected delivery date of May 2017. We are now in October 2018, and all we have so far is this copy of Origin (which is missing elements, sometimes entire sentences/paragraphs, and has frequent typos) and a version of Hero that hasn’t gone through the layout process yet. It is running late, and I wonder how long it will take to see the final book released if this is the estimated speed; will we be waiting another two or more years after Hero is released before we see Demigod and God come about?
Which brings up a quality issue. As mentioned, there are random typos and various editing issues in the book, and in some cases a sentence just suddenly stops at the end of a page. The number of these things is frustrating, but that’s nothing compared to actual missing rules. While some of these are intentionally done due to the publication goal of multiple books, others may have been an oversight. For example, during character creation, you need to choose three Paths, each unlocking special abilities (Knacks; minor powers) and skills. While all of the mundane paths are fully fleshed out, none of the Supernatural Paths have skills associated with them. I wish that this was just a one-time issue, but due to the aforementioned publication goal, this is a growing headache.
On that note, some elements of Origin are near useless, as one must have access to the rules of Hero to actively use them. Namely, anything with Sorcery is unavailable due to not having access to the Purview rules, yet we have opposition that is fitting for our nascent deities in the form of Sorcerers and the Aos Si that rely on those rules. In the character creation chapter, we are given a note that a character may purchase Birthrights, which are physical objects (or creatures/followers) granted to the character, but the rules for them are in Scion: Hero. This is doubly frustrating for returning fans, as the various artwork we see of Eric Donner, a pregenerated character, has him carrying around Giantsbane, a massive revolver that requires his epic strength to wield properly.
If anything, this currently reminds me of what I dislike about D&D: to run the game effectively, you’ll need multiple books. Unlike D&D, we’re dealing with a bit of a delay to even get started.
All of this makes this “core” rulebook feel incomplete. Between the aforementioned typos and lack of an index, as well as the issues of needing Hero to properly work with the game, I feel that the book was cut down to a small size as a marketing ploy to sell more of the later books. In a way, I kind of feel cheated, as this book feels more like a “Here’s how to build a barebones character” that non-backers will have to pay $35 to pre-order…and then pay another $55 for Hero once it arrives. Just a bit of a frustration here, that makes me wonder about the cost-benefit side of things. Granted, this may change once I have Hero in hand and I see just how heavily weighted the “Requires Scion: Origin to play” statement is (and from what I skimmed of the Hero preview, it is absolutely necessary).
Honestly, I’d like to compare it to the Chronicles of Darkness publication approach, but at least that core rulebook felt complete and didn’t refer to other books unless it was a specific, thematic thing (like playing a Werewolf or Vampire). Scion: Origin just feels not as well done in comparison, as it doesn’t quite stand alone as a core rulebook, but rather acts as the literal doorway to the game.
As much as I want to give Scion: Origin an epic score due to my love of the idea, I have to tone it down and give it a mortal rating of 3 buns.
I’ll be frank: a part of me wants to drop it lower due to the inherent issues with the game as a stand-alone product, but it’s got too much going for it to go below this mid-range rating.
The setting is pleasant to play with, the fiction is fun, the art is (mostly) sharp, and the mechanics are much nicer to work with than the first edition, especially with all of the additions of things that have made gaming more enjoyable or accessible over the years. All of these things would normally warrant a rating of at least 4 buns.
Sadly, with an uncertain (and frequently postponed) production timeline and the game essentially requiring later titles to make the game properly playable (doubly so for a campaign), I’m honestly wary to suggest it at this time, but my love of the setting and overall being impressed with the changes has bypassed this part and leaves me clinging to the hope that we’ll see this sooner rather than later. If Onyx Path can fix some of these concerns, the book (and later materials) could be 4 or even 4.5 bun worthy, but at it stands, I’m holding firm at 3 buns.
Scion: Origin is the first book for the second edition of the Scion RPG, published by Onyx Path. It is available to pre-order from their BackerKit page, but a final release date is still in flux.