Sunday, March 24, 2019

Scion: Hero - Chapters 9 - 12

CONTENT WARNING - RAPE

There was something I could (and perhaps should) have mentioned in my first post about this game, but I knew it would be relevant again here, so I saved it. Scion: Hero made some very dubious editorial choices with the allocation of its limited page count. Nearly 40 pages for its opening fiction and a little more than 60 for a sample adventure. And while these things weren't entirely useless, I can't help but wonder what a version of Scion that devoted 80-90 pages in the corebook to discussing its setting and/or genre assumptions might have looked like.

But there's little point in speculating about what might have been. Let's talk about what we actually got. The antagonist chapter is very good. It's really fun seeing figures from ancient myth updated to the modern world. Like the alfar who moonlights as a supermodel, or the "centaurs" who are half-human, half-motorcycle. It's 99% cool.

But I guess that 1% is something that I need to talk about. Scion: Hero is just the teeniest bit rapey. Not as rapey as it could be, given that Zeus is a major character, but well, 2007 was at the cusp of the Great Internet Wokeness Explosion, and this book in particular just happens to fall on the wrong side of the cultural divide.

To be concrete - there is a modern-day nymph, called Peggy Bluewater who is a bit of an urban legend. She threatens a small town with plague unless, one per year, they send her a virginal young boy for her to have sex with. No subtext here. It specifically calls out an age range: 14-17. Gross.

But maybe you're thinking "well, it is the antagonist chapter," and I'll admit, she'd be an interesting villain. But Peggy is listed as a potential 4-dot Guide. Immortal child molester is a mentor. (Also, while I'm calling things out, I'm just going to go on record with my discomfort in the book describing her migration to the Americas as "strange, red-skinned natives discovered . . .")

I don't necessarily want to give the impression that this is a dominant theme in the book. I mean, the real thing that's wrong with Peggy is the sexual double-standard that will hopefully be unintelligible to the next generation of scholars citing my blog in 20 years (hi there, keep up the good work!) And the thing with Horace Farrow's backstory, where he was conceived via rape-by-impersonation, well that was probably just a thoughtless recapitulation of a common mythic trope.


The only thing that's truly unforgivable is the scenario in the sample adventure where Dr Aaron Tigrillo has to kidnap a woman for his god to rape.

The book doesn't explicitly say that's what's going on, but it does dance around the issue. It describes the scenario as a test of Dr Tigrillo's morals. And it does come out and say that the reason Tezcatlipoca assigned him the mission is because he wants to have sex with Iseldia Alvarado. And the art that accompanies the scenario has the God looming on an altar while Iseldia lies supine and crying in a revealing evening gown. And it never actually talks about her agency or motivations. And an uncomfortably large portion of the scenario is about potential approaches to kidnapping.

Technically, it never uses the r-word. I'm not sure what else "kidnapping, coercion, potential adultery, or worse" could be referring to. But technically it gives you an out. I mean, describing it as "potential adultery" sounds consensual. Maybe you could approach it as a matchmaker. After all, gods tend to be pretty hot. And though Iseldia's marriage is described as happy, maybe she's open to a fling.

Let's be real, though. The scenario is about a woman getting raped by a dark god. And it very disgustingly centers the narrative on a male character's moral anguish at fulfilling his religious duties. The book's squeamishness at calling the crime by its proper name is not to its credit.

Maybe, maybe, the story could work as an arc on a prestige drama. But trying to run this scenario as a tabletop rpg is a surefire disaster.

And now it's time for me to move on and talk about the rest of the book!

Okay, now that I've written it out, it turns out that scenario affected me more than I realized. It was deeply uncomfortable to read, and I knew I would have to say something about it, but until I got the words down on the page, it wasn't really my dominant impression of the book. It would feel weird, after that, to go on to examine the intricacies of the fate system or to come up with some cutesy little contribution to my fake campaign setting.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive here. It's only three pages, out of 330. And it's not as if it's saying that rape is good. It's merely a piece of entertainment that uses gratuitous and shocking violence against a female character as part of a male character's motivation. And even that is only implied. Maybe it's not even there. Maybe I'm reading too much into the text.

I think what I'm going to do is call it a misstep. I am of a certain age, and though I've always considered myself on the side of social progress, I too have made mistakes in my attempts to write "mature" and "gritty" fiction. It's not an easy distinction between "depicting a bad thing doesn't automatically equate to endorsing that thing" and "it's not okay to casually use a terrible trauma that affects real-life people as a superficial shorthand for a bad character, especially in an otherwise light-hearted genre piece."

It's not a pass, because that's not in my power to give. But it is the difference between "the author should be embarrassed" and "the author should be ashamed."

UKSS Contribution: Because I mostly liked the book, I'm not going to let a single awful scenario completely derail me from tradition. I'm choosing the Shinobi, cultists so devoted to a sinister Titan of Shadows that they give up their voices, becoming stealthy and perfectly silent assassins.

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