Monday, May 4, 2009

Campaign Postmortem: Scion (Part One)

I've got the Scion rpg sort of stuck in my head. I mentioned yesterday that I picked up the Scion Companion and read through it. Now I'm running those concepts over and I think I'd better sit down and do a dissection of the Scion campaign I recently ran while those ideas remain hot for me. I approached running that game somewhat differently than others I've run, so there's some worth in analyzing what I did and what was successful about it. It was a game with a lot of stream of consciousness, on the fly planning and quick structural prep rather than the deeper background of something like the current Changeling campaign. There's a contrast of methods there that merits a closer look.

A little bit of background to set this up. The Sunday game group has been playing together in various forms for a long time now. We originally began with a Rolemaster Campaign set on the Third Continent of my fantasy world. That game had been an antidote for the RM game run by another GM who really represented a great deal of what I hated in a GM: absolute control, a focus on mechanics, competition with the players, shutting down options, and stifling role-play. I'm sure some people enjoyed the game for its old schoolness, but it wore on me after a while. I wanted to show what a good and rich campaign using those rules could be. That campaign ran for 2+ years and then we took a short break and I started another campaign set slightly later on the Third Continent. The player line-up changed slightly-- we lost a couple of players and gained Shari which I consider a coup. That campaign also ran for a couple of years. It finished pretty big and after that I was stuck for a time trying to figure out what to run. Eventually I settled on doing Legend of the Five Rings, but wasn't sure I had enough material, so I decided to incorporate that into a version of Rob's HCI premise. Eventually I'll come back someday to talking about that. That campaign ran for almost three years and then I finished it out. We took a break, with one of the players saying they would run and filler campaign while I prepped. They bagged out which forced me to scramble on what I was working on.

I ought to do an entry just on failed campaign premises-- ideas that I had and sketched out pretty fully and then ultimately rejected. I'd talked about something called the Empire of the Hours and the idea of Masks of the Empire. I kept working at it, but I couldn't find what I wanted in that. I couldn't get the hook for the game. In an earlier post I went through some of the material developed for that, but it never really felt like it had a soul to me. I thought about a couple of other extended campaign options, but nothing really appealed to me. One of the problems lies in the diversity of the group-- they have very different takes on what they want out of a game. When I did give them that list of a dozen game ideas, they got whittled down to just two. But before I did that I decided I would run a filler campaign, something I wanted to run that would last for a half-dozen sessions. I'd picked up Scion on Mr. Fenris' recommendation a few months before, and after flipping through it I decided to go with that.

The Scion wiki describes the premise as follows:

Scion: Hero, Scion: Demigod and Scion: God are a series of three games where the players take the role of the half-children of Gods, in the mould of Heracles, blessed with the power of their divine blood and the moral complexity of their mortal lives.

The game takes elements of the mythic, and places them firmly in the modern day world, allowing Storytellers and Players to create tales of epic heroism in a contemporary setting.

Scion's premise is that the savage Titans have escaped their eternal prison to wage war with the Gods once more. While the Gods battle them in the Overworld, they leave the conflict on Earth to their Scion children, fearful of being ensnared in Fate's thread should they intervene directly. Armed with abilities and weapons granted by their divine parents, the Scions stand as humanity’s only defense.

And that was about all I had in my head when I decided I was going to run this campaign. PC's as children of the gods running around and fighting bad gods. It looked a little like Exalted which I'd enjoyed running and it seemed to be close to the original Storyteller mechanics. I'd adapted and used those quite a bit throughout the HCI campaign, so I knew the players would be able to pick things up fairly quickly.

Here were my thoughts when I went into game prep:

-Pretty clear objective and story. Bad guy established at the start, have to fight minions throughout.
-A tour of Americana
-six sessions

I'd told the group we were going to play and that's about all I had in my head at that point. I gave the group a quick overview of the game background and asked for character concepts. I would do up the characters themselves as I usually do in shorter campaigns to help keep balance among the PCs.

Chris opted to do a Scion of Thor, a good and classic archetype. He'd be a former hockey player who'd left to follow his spiritual path. Or rather to keep his brother in line...

Alan opted to do a Scion of Loki, and it fit immediately that I could make he and Chris related. They'd share the same mortal mother, but would have different divine fathers. That in itself would make for an interesting story. But it would also provide an easy connection and a great parallel with those gods as they stood in their original mythos. Alan would also be a retired sports figure, but a football player who had gotten booted for gambling.

Sherri decided to be a child of Persephone. That particular goddess isn't in the Scion book, but we were able to build a quick version of what her child would be like-- caught between Fertility and Death. She built up a nice backstory involving a Scion of Pluto, and her role as a wealthy d├ębutante. As always she managed to invested her character with a lot of nice details (and I'm not just saying that because she's my wife).

Shari opted to do a child from among the Loa, the Voodoo pantheon. Her character Marguerite would have been a social worker in New Orleans who had felt the call of something greater. By GM's fiat I decided that she and Sherri's character would have met there and decided to travel together. So that gave me two pairs.

Will eventually bagged out on the Scion game as well, and I asked Rob to join us. He was playing in the Supers game I was running at the time as well as providing one of the most entertaining characters I'd seen in a long time in the off-again, on-again Exalted game. He was interested in a Scion from the Japanese pantheon and we came up with a version of Bishamon, another god not present in the core book.

So now I had my cast, but I still wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do. However, I'd been reading Tim Powers' Last Call, a modern fantastic tale set in Las Vegas. I decided I'd borrow a little from that and make the game about a journey towards that place. Eventually, I'd end up ripping off Powers' novel shamelessly for the game, but at the moment I just took the idea of an end destination and that there'd perhaps be some kind of card game of the gods. Amusingly, after I figured that out I noticed that the GM story in the Scion book was also set there. While I didn't like that story so much, I did like the idea of a rival band of Scions and decided to use that as well.

For the big bad I got stuck in my head the idea of Prometheus. The villains in the Scion books are literally called Titanspawn. Since Prometheus was himself a Titan, I decided to go with that. He'd be operating in Las Vegas trying to bring something awful down. I had that, plus a couple of other details in my head on that first day of play-- more references than anything specific.

All of the characters found themselves drawn to a crappy little side of the highway motel in eastern Nevada through various machinations. They met up and could easily recognize each other as Scions and started to chat. At the same time, two vans full of Yakuza pulled up and started to walk up on them. Alan's Loki-child jumped them and suddenly everything went into full melee in the parking lot. The appearance of three Shinobi spirits caused some havoc (including the destruction of all three of their vehicles), but the fight ended with the Chris's character nearly decapitating the last Shinobi by throwing the side door from his "Shaggin' Wagon", sending him flying through the front of the motel.

These bad guys had been sent by the rival Scion group. I had Rob's character following a bird, which was the archetype symbol of the leader of their rivals. I'd thought I'd go into that pretty quickly, but as things turned out they didn't end up crossing paths with the other group until halfway through the campaign.

When the dust cleared they saw a person in the attached cafe watching them. He introduced himself as Mr. Geier and invited them to join them. After offering them some canned pate, he cut to the chase. Big things were going down in Las Vegas and the Fisher King had made himself up for grabs. There would be evil bands of Scions heading there for the big game, and the PC group should get themselves there fast. He had a variety of other prophetic comments for them (one eyed jacks are wild, the big bad has drawn himself a full seven-card stud hand, and other bits I threw out there that I planned to figure out the meaning of later). the Yaks and Shinobi had been sent by a rival band of Scions hoping to keep the PCs from getting to Las Vegas. Geier offered them support-- and couldn't care really who actually won in Vegas, but he wanted a particular person who had managed to escape and was allying himself with the Titans, a little guy by the name of Prometheus. Most of the PCs got pretty quickly after that that Geier was the vulture of that particular myth. He offered them complimentary room at the Red Rock Casino and Spa-- which I thought was a nice joke on the Prometheus/Vulture myth.

I liked the Geier image and it let me set up a nice base for the group pretty quickly. I'd also decided to keep the patron out of the picture for the most part, simply providing material support. Geier means vulture in some language I can't remember, so that was another reference, plus the pate joke was a little too clever-clever, but whatever. In my notes I'd planned to have another scene with a nearby town that had been corrupted with a weird Americana spirit-- but I ended up tossing that when we got to the table for a couple of reasons. The idea of journeying around the Southwest was attractive, but I realized that Las Vegas would be a big enough space for them to operate in. Plus it made the first session feel like the first episode of a show-- with the next one having the characters established at their “locale”. It was a good decision and ended up really moving the game along.

Next time-- I actually have to come up with a plot and everything after the game's begun.

Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part One 
Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part Two
Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part Three

Scion Campaign Post-Mortem Part Four