Tuesday, October 4, 2022

(Scion 2e) Demigod

How much do I deserve to be pandered to? Or, at the very least, how much pandering can I reasonably request before I start to sound ungrateful? Those are the questions at the forefront of my mind as I try to come up with a coherent reaction to Scion: Demigod (2e).

Because what I want from the demigod book is actually pretty simple - divine-themed superheroes in the power tier between street-level and cosmic. And when I ask myself whether Scion: Demigod delivered on that, my honest answer is "yeah, on page 187 of Scion: Hero, where it describes Feats of Scale." It's finally time to play a character that can dropkick the Statue of Liberty or sway multitudes with a speech and that's represented by a certain number on my character sheet going from 1 or 2 to 3 or 4. Demigods don't need new powers because the Scale system is robust enough that they can just use their old powers . . . more.

Yeah, okay, but I was expecting a bunch of cool new Boons, and I'm kind of disappointed (the new Knacks were pretty good, but I can't get over my distaste for Knack slots and swapping out your active Knacks). Tell me how to inundate a small town with a thunderstorm, damnit! I am a little baby and remembering to invoke a Feat of Scale through one of my Legendary Titles while using a Purview Marvel is just too many steps for me.

And speaking of too many steps, the new Demigod mechanic: Dominion Boons. So, technically, there are new Boons in this book, and they are universally underwhelming in their outlines, but may in fact be good if they're invoked judiciously enough to shape the overall tenor of the game. The way they work is you spend two Boons (remember you get precisely one per Legend rating, and it's unclear whether you can retrain your existing Boons or whether you just have to bank the Boon you get at Legend 5 to unlock your first Dominion at Legend 6) and you get sort of a magical aura related to a particular purview. This allows you to perform minor (read: "not mechanically helpful") miracles for free and for your allies to benefit from extra options for spending their excess successes (called "stunts" in Scion jargon - i.e. when you make a melee attack roll, you can spend one of the roll's successes to knock your down or, if your friend has the Darkness Dominon active, you can spend 2 successes to steal the target's dreams and get the equivalent of a point of armor for the rest of the scene).

I mean, I kind of get it. You're a magical being, and that magic is spilling out into the world around you, manifesting through casual gestures and the smoothing of mundane details. That's what the Dominion aura does - ensures that you are surrounded by manifestations of your divine power, and it's not really that big a deal to you because it doesn't require resources to maintain. However, I have two nitpicks.

Nitpick the first: stunts aren't really that good. I mean, they're great as a mechanical innovation of the Storypath system. Your characters will be using stunts all the time and every single time they're going to be like, "oh, sweet, a stunt." But extra successes are not going to be so abundant that spending 3 successes to benefit from the Scion of Dionysius' Bacchanal Dominion Stunt is going to be anything but a niche move (oh, I only rolled 2 extra successes on that Encourage Behavior roll, I guess I'll stick with the universally useful Enhanced, Complicated, and Difficult stunts). Most of the Dominion stunts are pretty cool, but they're another thing to remember and another thing to compete for your limited successes.

Nitpick the second: when you enable Dominion Stunts, that's your magic, but it's your friends who are using the magic. I'm so in touch with the universal concept of Death that people standing nearby me can animate dead corpses as zombies. If my Dominion is Epic Strength, then my allies get the ability to toss around cars. That seems a little weird. I mean, sure, if my concept for the character is just "a strong god" rather than "the god of Strength" then I don't have to take Epic Strength as a Dominion. And I'm in control of what stunts get handed out, so I could easily avoid my Demigod of Death being necromancy patient 0 by just, you know not enabling necromancy, but sometimes the Dominion mechanics feel like they're diluting the characters' theme. You're the Lord of Winter and you can make people as unbothered by the cold as you are - perfectly fine. Or you can give people the power to decide to be as unbothered by the cold as you are, if they're willing to make the effort. Functionally very similar, but I can't help feeling that the person who has the power should be the one with the agency.

Still, I don't dislike Dominions as a mechanic. They do definitely add something and I can see how they could shape a campaign's feel. I'm not sure they're worth two whole boons, or even just one. They could probably stand to be baked directly into the Legend progression chart (the main benefit to giving them a cost seems to be that it allows for the option of not having one), but it makes sense that a player would want one (or two, if they're willing to go the entire Demigod tier without buying any more Boons). There's a part of me that's a little salty that we got Dominions instead of larger-scale Demigod Boons, but I just have to calm myself and remember that the larger scale of Demigod games is baked into the foundational logic of the system. I don't need the book to explicitly remind me that I can do bigger, cooler stuff now.

Except I kind of do. Just on an emotional level. Which brings us back to the question of pandering. I've probably never felt less pandered to than I have when reading this book. Open with the storytelling advice chapter? Why the fuck not? Open the storytelling advice chapter with an offputting and highly specific campaign arc that ties your mechanical progression to a series of five predetermined literary themes in the apparent aim of making this squad-based game of modern-day occult action into a solitary, introspective look at the nature of divinity? Yeah, sure. (I mean, some kind of alarm must have sounded when you were commissioning the interstitial fiction about the signature character Brigitte de la Croix and the plot is about how she has to say goodbye to all her friends because the journey to apotheosis is one that can only be completed alone).

Focusing the first part of the apotheosis arc on the supposition that you are on the path to usurp your divine parent and recapitulate their defining myths - that is probably a step too far. I mean, the text later swings back around and advances the much more palatable notion that you'll forge your own destiny and become an entirely new god, but it's weird that this is the afterthought. Right? Like, I'm not some kind of pervert coming into this book with the idea that it would be more team-based, divine-themed superhero action, just on a bigger scale. I didn't really need to break down Legend levels 4-8 into five thematic steps: The Second Calling, the Parting, the Threshold, the Descent, and the Theophany. I was content with: The ass-kicking, the ass-kicking in the underworld, the monument drop-kicking, the more bigger ass-kicking and the token philosophy episode. And even if I wasn't, why would I want to usurp my divine parent? Like, the whole reason I chose them as a parent is because I liked them in the role of a patron or an antagonist, what with the being of a whole separate person and all as parents and children usually are, and even to the extent that I might want their job, I've probably become at least somewhat attached to my personal brand. 

It's weird that this is a thing. And it's even weirder that it's the first thing that book decides to do. The book as a whole isn't bad, and I wouldn't even say that it's bad that this material exists, but it's not what I expected, and it's not what I wanted, and at times it made me feel like I accidentally picked up the wrong book by mistake. But maybe it's okay that I didn't get exactly what I wanted, because what I wanted was embarrassingly basic - 1st edition's Demigod book, but with mechanics that actually worked. This is a unique thing with a unique point of view. It challenged rather than pandered and it made me think about the middle chapter of a Scion game in a new way. I grudingly respect it.

Ukss Contributions: One of the "casual miracles" of the Order Purview is "Impel animals to obey human laws (squirrels obey traffic Do Not Walk signs, rats vacate a building after closing time, etc.)" - it does not yet make much sense to me as a setting conceit, but it's an adorable and hilarious image, so I'm going to figure out a way to make it work.

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