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Sunday, 4 July 2021

Titanic Tales

The gods have always fought against the generations of gods that came before them. In Greek myth, the Olympians—the gods with which we are most familiar from Greek and Roman mythology—fought a decade-long battle to see who would have dominion over the world. This is the ‘Titanomachy’, or War of the Titans. It is this war and this intergenerational conflict of young gods rebelling against and ultimately defeating their parents which is a major influence for Scion, the roleplaying game in which players roleplay the mortal descendants of gods—or Scions—who grow to become both the agents and the active presence of their parents in The World, the mortal realms as we know them. Of course, such tales of intergenerational godly conflict are not confined to Greek and Roman mythology, and neither are the Scions. Thus, in Scion: Origin and Scion: Hero, they include not just the Theoi or Greco-Roman pantheon, but also the Aesir or Norse Gods, the Manitou or Algonquian pantheon, Netjer or Egyptian pantheon, the Kami or Japanese Gods, the Tuatha Dé Danann or Irish Gods, the Óríshá or Yórúba pantheon, the Devá or Gods of South Asia, the Shén or Chinese pantheon, and Teōtl or Aztec pantheon. And each pantheon has its own set of Titans, older deities more archetypal embodiments of a particular purview whose pursuit of their primal urges tend to have destructive effects, especially on the mortal realms. Consequently, the Gods, many of them children of the Titans, imprisoned the Titans, who have rattled their chains ever since, more recently weakening them and allowing their more monstrous offspring to enter The World and threaten humanity. However, the relationships between the Gods and their Titans varies from one Pantheon to the next, and it is these relationships which are explored in Titanomachy, a supplement for both Scion: Origin and Scion: Hero which brings the second War against the Gods one step closer.

Published by Onyx Path PublishingTitanomachy can be divided into three large chapters. The first of these is devoted to ‘The Titans’ and details the various Titans of Scion’s ten pantheons—or rather it does not. In each case, the Titan is fully detailed, including aliases, callings and purviews, relationships and agendas, view of other pantheons, and current priorities. There are typically three or four entries per pantheon, plus the Birthrights for the Scions of the Titans of that pantheon. These include creatures, followers, guides, and relics.

For example, the Titans for the Aesir are Jörð, Nidhoggr, Surtur, and Ymir. Jörð is described as the most beautiful of Aesir, an Earth Mother and creator of the Dwarves, whose father was killed by Asgardians and who was in turn abandoned by Odin, and ultimately, their son, Thor. Although she misses her son, her heart has grown bitter at the treatment by both him and his father. Jörð’s Callings are Guardian, Lover, and Primaeval,  and her Purviews are Beauty, Earth, Epic Stamina, Fertility, and Passion (Love). Her relationships and agendas primarily involve looking for companionship beyond the confines of the Pantheon, having grown bored of their repetitive behaviour, but as intelligent and skilled as she is, her own behaviour is often smothering and repetitive. Jörð holds the other Aesir in contempt, but is beginning beyond its confines for ideas and companionship, and her current priorities include protecting endangered species, and protecting and loving those Scions she creates—and of course, expecting much love in return. Automatically, Jörð makes for a great—or is that terrible mother figure?—especially if the Scion Player Character is related to Thor or Odin, or even simply red-headed. She could even be supporting radical eco-activists in their efforts to protect endangered species.

The other Titans of the Aesir—and of course, those of the other pantheons, are given a similar treatment. Thus for the rest of the Aesir, Nidhoggr is either the ‘Corpse-Chewer’ or ‘The Pretender’, who might be the serpent who gnaws the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, or who might be the nemesis or simply a trick of Niõhöggr, who also gnaws the roots of Yggdrasil. It is intentionally confusing, but Scions of either are bent on the destruction of the other. As for Surtur, he is only concerned with his duty—fiery destruction and causing natural disasters for regrowth, and lastly, Ymir, the father-of-himself and all of the Aesir, plots to take Asgard as is his right, but his head-in-clouds mind and drive to micro-manage his fellow Titans and his own Scions means that he is rarely successful.

In terms of Birthrights, the Scions of the Titans of the Aesir might have access to creatures such as the cows sacred to Ymir, which he uses to send messages—whether in the slaughterhouse house or on the dairy farm, whilst Jörð uses her Followers the Dvergar, as her Messengers and Guides. An unaligned Guide and Messenger is Ratatoskr, the squirrel of the World Tree, who when not annoying Nidhoggr (or Niõhöggr) carries news and spreads lies, surely a great role model for a scurrilous gossip mongering Titan Scion! Then for relics, the ‘Brains in a Bottle’ provides a means of very limited communication with Ymir, ‘Jörð’s Bracelets’ allow the wearer to draw power directly from earth, ‘Nidhoggr’s Tooth’ is a dagger carved from a tooth capable of piercing any armour and holding any poison, and ‘Ymir’s Skull Fragment’ enables the user to view anywhere visible from the sky.

Titanomachy does this in turn for each of the Titans for almost all of the Pantheons, giving the Storyguide a wide range of options and foes to bring into her campaign. Where this diversity gets really interesting though, is how each of the various pantheons relates to its Titans. The Devá or Gods of South Asia loathe not only their own Titans, but those of other pantheons and take exception to pantheons who are more forgiving of them. The Titans and the Kami or Japanese Gods simply hate each other over a betrayal which happened centuries before, whilst those of the Manitou or Algonquian pantheon are simply seen as troublesome members of the same family. Similarly, the Titans of the Netjer or Egyptian pantheon are also accepted, but more as a balancing counterparts to their corresponding gods who defeat them over and over. The Titans facing the Shén of the Chinese pantheon are mired and quantified into the celestial bureaucracy, whilst those of the Teōtl or Aztec pantheon work to destroy the world completely, just as they have four times before. Of course, the gods of the Theoi or Greco-Roman pantheon hate their Titans, whilst the Tuatha Dé Domnann are only Titans because they lost their battle against the Tuatha Dé Danann or Irish Gods. Lastly, the exceptions are the gods of the Óríshá or Yórúba pantheon, which lacks Titans and dismisses the concept, fundamentally because of the divisive and delegitimizing nature of the categorisation.

Having presented the Storyguide with such a diverse range of mythological creatures, would be gods, former gods, and more, the second chapter to Titanomachy delves into ‘Storyguiding’. This highlights the questions a Storyguide needs to address before bringing Titans into her campaign—how big a role, which pantheons, has the Cold War between the gods and the Titans turned ‘hot’, and so on. What level are the Player Characters involved in the war—hot or cold—at street level, globetrotting across The World, or delving in and out of Terra Incognita, increasing the mythic stakes at each level? Along with numerous plot hooks covering numerous Titans presented in the previous chapter, there is also good advice on how to use the Titans. As NPCs, they might range free, come to the Player Characters for help (or vice versa), languish in prison (which is traditional) and thus requiring a visit, and even serve as allies. One interesting option covered is as Titan Scions, that is as Player Characters, having a Titan Calling instead of a Scion Calling. This lends itself to some great roleplaying challenges and storytelling possibilities as Titans are often prone to inhuman behaviour due to their parentage (whether actual or adopted). However, this may not be welcome in every playing group, and the authors suggest that for this reason, the inclusion of Titan Scions as Player Characters be discussed first.

The various levels of play—street level, globetrotting around The World, and into Terra Incognita are supported with three extended scenario outlines, each three acts long and accompanied by stats for the Storyguide characters. The street level scenario is  ‘Diaspora’, a locked room type mystery where the room is actually a whole airport in which the Scion must find some stolen relics, uncover imposters, solve a murder, and survive an apocalyptic boss fight in the course of an afternoon. The World scenario, ‘Lunar New Year’ is more open and can either start a campaign or be dropped into it as the Scions investigate the disruptive activities of a chaotic Titan Scion in New York. ‘Bring Forth a Greater Thunder’ is the Terra Incognito scenario and is far more open in its structure, consisting of key scenes and various subplots. All three scenarios involve the three areas of play intrinsic to Storypath games—action-adventure, intrigue, and procedural, and all nicely show what a Scion scenario can involve.

Lastly, the chapter on ‘Storyguiding’ discusses another type of entity key to many pantheons and mythologies—dragons! Dragons claim to have existed before the creation of The World and to have been the first in The World, which many Titans find objectionable. This is exacerbated by there being some overlap between Titans and Dragons, so that there may be two beings of the same name, but be different all together and be the same at the same time. As with the earlier Nidhoggr (or Niõhöggr), this is intended to be slightly confusing. Potentially though, Dragons represent a threat that Scions and Titans can both agree on.

The third and final chapter in Titanomachy consists of ‘Antagonists’, a wide range of enemies, potential allies, and other Storyguide characters. There is a guide to adjusting adversaries up and down to match the Scions and building archetypes adding Qualities and Flairs like ‘Bringing the House Down’, ‘Entrap’, and ‘Miasma’ to  base Spawn or Titanic minions, before listing over eighty examples. These include the familiar creatures of myth and legend, from Banshee, Fomorians, Gremlins to Internet Trolls (Lesser and Greater), Phouka, and Wendigo, alongside the unfamiliar and the individual. The former are drawn from mythologies less familiar to a Western audience, for example, the Harionago, female monsters who stalk the streets strangling with their hair anyone who returns their smiles or the Tikoloshe, creatures of polluted water and spite born to make the lives of others miserable. The latter are individual Titan Scions, such as Ed and Edie Jackson, sweet old pensioners adopted by Prometheus who setting fire to buildings and even Timothy Allgood, a tireless advocate for the release of Titans everywhere, who may be simply a good talk show guest or an actual Titan Scion.

Lastly, an appendix provides a raft of new rules. These include Collateral, a means of handling damage or events  to the environment around them when the Scions face Titan Scions or creatures of legendary size, and numerous Birthrights, from Cyclops, Dragon Secretary, and Grigori Rasputin to Cursed Copper Goods, Silk Spider Shawls, and Sinister Hands. The appendix is rounded off with a wide selection of Knacks that any Storyguide character or Player Character Titan Scion can have, depending upon their Titan Calling.

Physically, Titanomachy is well written and well presented. The artwork varies a little in quality, but otherwise, this is a decent looking book.

Titanomachy could simply have just been a book of monsters and their stats. Fortunately, it is much more than that. Many of the Titans and creatures and Titan Scions are monsters and are likely to serve as enemies to the Player Character Scions, but Titanomachy provides and discusses options to make them much more—frenemies, potential and/or temporary allies, and thus more interesting. In doing so, it builds on the thoroughly enjoyable descriptions of the Titans given for each of the pantheons that in turn lend themselves to great story hooks, interesting relationships with the Player Character Scions, and good roleplaying. All that and the descriptions also serve as more great introductions to the stories and myths of each pantheon such that the reader wants to find out more. Plus there are the detailed scenario outlines and plot hooks and actual monster, creature, and Titan Scion descriptions and stats which all together almost feel like a bonus!

Titanomachy is not just a great read for the Storyguide, but an indispensable guide to both the obvious foes of the Player Character Scions and how to turn a few of them into something more than just foes. Once the Storyguide has her Player Character Scions on their paths to divinity, Titanomachy is a next-step purchase for both Scion: Origin and Scion: Hero.

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