Scion: Dragon Review

I’m here today with the latest Scion goodness from Onyx Path. This time we’re taking a break from god’s and heroes and delving into the new and mysterious world of dragons.

Dragons, Heirs, and Themes

In this game you will, unsurprisingly, be playing a Dragon. This is both similar to playing a divine Scion but also different in some key ways. Like the Gods and Titans, Dragons are ancient creatures from the dawning of the world, by their accounts they were the first beings in existence. As these primordial beings grew larger as life developed and evolved around them, eventually giving rise to sentient mortals whose belief created the Gods and Titans in their many wars. Today, Dragons still stand apart from the divine struggles and often are victims of revisionist history as the pantheons of the world recast them as monsters, Titanspawn, or dead legends not worth worrying over. The truth, of course, is that Dragons are very much alive and staying below notice to pursue their own concerns. In the wars between God and Titan, the Dragons are a third party that is unaligned but not always uninvolved. Games of Scion: Dragon share a lot of commonalities with other Scion games but they are a brand new and focused take on the setting.

Image © Onyx Path Publishing

For instance, the themes listed in Scion: Origin are Relationships (between Scions and between groups), Modern Myths (today’s stories that feel ancient), and Myths in the Modern Day (ancient stories today). These always felt like pretty general themes which left a lot up to the Storyteller and players, but Dragon is definitely a little clearer in what the authors expect your game to be like. The first theme is Self-Discovery, which applies even more to Dragons than to Scions, and the another is Pulp Spy, the sort of stories that fill the stories of James Bond and Jason Bourne. The other three themes indicate how the authors intend for you to engage with the story: Shadow Moves (stay out of sight), Decoding the Myth (you have a broader purpose), and Politics (look at the big picture). Personally, I found these to be helpfully limiting and made me think hard about what stories to tell. If you like a wide open field and want, for example, dragons fighting in the sky overhead then this might be a part of the game you adjust.

So where do your PCs come in? Well, one important change in this game is that you are not a Scion but a Dragon. This is more than just rewording (although there is a lot of that for good or bad), you are the Heir to some Dragon but also a Dragon in your own right. Importantly, this means you have access to the web of shared Memory carried by every Dragon in the world so from the start of the game you can tap into flickers of remembrance of lives that are not your mortal life. Sometimes you start as an Agent of a Dragon, with draconic blood but clandestinely called into action, or as a Reincarnated Heir who is the reborn form of a dead Dragon resurfacing from the shared memories. Draconic Heirs go through a Bequeathal where they are tapped to become part of the Dragons’ mission, and are overseen by a Handler Dragon that gives them missions. They often work in Broods of Heirs pursuing the same missions (if not the same goals) and they also interact with Dragon Cults who are mortals with some small draconic lineage, working on the outside of the Dragons’ greater purpose.

Image © Onyx Path Publishing

The Draconic Flights

Dragons are not organized into pantheons but instead into Flights. These groups don’t interact nearly as much as the belief-powered pantheons but are mostly neighbors who know each other and generally cooperate. They don’t have common beliefs but instead follow “methodologies” of how to pursue their purpose and to protect each other in the face of dangers. Though they keep it secretly, the purpose of all Flights is to see the World returned to what it was before the gods mucked everything up, but they rarely see eye-to-eye on how to see this through. They also aren’t keen on sharing their business with younger Heirs so learning about the dynamics of your Flight, about the relations to other Flights, and about exactly how your Flight interacts with the various pantheons is all part of that Self-Discovery theme.

The Draq are a western Asian Flight made up of Dragons that may not be the biggest in popular culture but their founder is almost certainly known to roleplayers: Tiamat. This chaotic being of wrath and destruction was the first Draq and her example has created a Flight that values trials by fire and enacting change through great upheavals. They obviously deal a lot with the Anunna of Mesopotamia and it’s generally not a pleasant relationship, though the Draq see a lot of common ground with the destructive Titans of the World. Nearby, The Joka of Africa are characterized by hunger and growing power. They were founded by the great serpents Apophis and Ammut, until Apophis’s hatred of the Gods led them to become the Titan Apep of the Netjer. Now the Joka tangle with the Netjer, the Òrìshà, and any beings who want to enter the Mediterranean or Africa without care for the regions’ oldest inhabitants.

Farther north, The Lindwurms carry some of the best-known Dragons in European and American culture, principally because they lair in northern Europe and were inspirations for Wagner, Tolkien, and other authors. Fáfnir, Jörmungandr, the Loch Ness Monster, Níðhöggr, and Vishap are the principal members, deeply tormented by Fate’s twisting of their stories. The Lindwurms are classically draconic (fire-breathing, winged, gold-hoarding), have direct beef with the Æsir, and are organized in their effort to exact revenge from the Gods. Before you read any of this review, chances are the Lindwurms were who you were thinking about when you pictured a game of Scion: Dragon.

Image © Onyx Path Publishing

The Lóng are the dragons of East Asia, known locally as lóng or lung in China but as ryu in Japan, as mireu and imugi in Korea, as ròng in Vietnam, and as taniwha in Polynesia. They are a large flight, owing to their veneration by many cultures in East Asia and to their generally positive history with the Shén of China and Kami of Japan. They also get along well with many of the Titans that focus on Asia, making them a true third party in this part of the World. There are many well-known members of the flight and (being so large) there are several subfactions of the Flight, mostly social cliques depending on where they prefer to live. The Sea Lóng live in the deep ocean, the Shallows Lóng along the coast, the River Lóng in inland waters, and the Heaven Lóng up in the skies. Further south and west in Asia are the Naga, mostly focused on the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. They are many-headed dragons, some with hundreds of heads, who sealed off a Divine Realm of pure knowledge from intrusion long ago. They are a fallen dragon flight, husks of their former selves, but they choose Heirs to become embodiments of their lost heads to carry on their learning and knowledge.

Lastly, the Serpents are a widespread flight covering the geography of the Americas and across the Pacific into Oceania and Australia. Personally, I’m skeptical that there are strong enough ties for all of this and the flight seems like a catch-all flight for all of the “New World” cultures and legends of the world. To be fair, Australia are included in the discussion but all of the prominent dragons in the flight come from Central and South American legends so there’s not as much shoehorning in the actual description. Silence on Australia, home of the Rainbow Serpent, is a little strange but between figures like K’uk’ulkan and Witz’ from Central America and Ndengi from Fiji there is plenty to talk about. Those three actually worked together to construct a Midrealm called Xol, a realm of wild jungles and seas reached through remote Fijian caves and deep ceyotes in Central America.

Image © Onyx Path Publishing

Character Creation and Traits

Onyx Path never lets you down with their ready-made characters, and this book is no exception. There’s a Pakistani Heir of the Draq, an Heir of the Joka hungrily taking out corrupt cops in Seattle, a vengeful heir of the Lindwurms hunting neo-nazis, a charming Heir of the Lóng from Hong Kong, and an Heir of the Serpents who is an environmental and social activist. These are all written at the Hero level since Heirs don’t know anything is up and have no special powers at the Origin level (unlike Scions). If you want a pre-Bequeathal Heir, that’s just a normal Joe that you can make using the Scion: Origin book.

A lot of the character creation process for Heirs is the same as for Scions, right down to the steps of character creation. The details of the steps do vary a bit, though, and the eventual character will feel different from a Scion character without having to learn a whole new system. The first step is coming up with a concept and three Deeds, though different Deeds than Scions. You’ll have a Short-Term Deed and a Brood Deed representing your personal goals and the group’s goals, and then a Draconic Deed which is your current assignment from your Handler. The Draconic Deed effectively takes the place of your Long-Term Deed from Scion: Origin as a mission that you should probably wrap up in a few sessions, after which your Handler will have something new.

Image © Onyx Path Publishing

Heirs also have Paths: Origin, Role, and Flight which you can interpret easily from the Scion side of things. There are also balancing points like the Virtues of the pantheons, but for Dragons these are Remembrances seen as a balance between a Cypher (following the flight’s mission) and a Defection (rejecting the shared memories). The Draq have a Cypher of Chaos and a Defection of Order, for example. The Joka push their Heirs towards Indulgence and away from Moderation. The Lindwurms, like the Æsir they hate so much, focus on duty and discourage making up your own opinion on their ancient feuds. The Lóng wear their history on the outside and fan the pride of their Heirs, discouraging any signs of humility. The Naga have a Cypher of One-of-Many (their shared existences as heads of a single dragon) while an Heir’s human connections can push them towards One-of-None (asserting individuality over the whole). The Serpents encourage taking direct action and stopping to negotiate is seen as a defection.

Skills and Attributes are handled the same as for Scions, as are Callings and Knacks, although there are draconic versions of both. Dragons can choose from eleven Callings: Collector, Destroyer, Guardian, Healer, Judge, Mystic, Nomad, Predator, Primeval, Ruler, and Watcher. You might recognize some of these from Scion: Origin and others from Scion: Titanomachy but even the old ones have a draconic spin such as a listed craving to indulge in. Each Calling has a Memory Condition associated with it, allowing the character to dip into the pool of Memory to add to the setting in a specific and helpful way. Knacks, on the other hand, can e related to Callings and every Calling has one Knack that lets the character do a thematic Feat of Scale. There’s an exciting list of general Knacks too called Transformation Knacks and let you transform your body into something draconic. You might gain Dragon’s Breath or Poison Blood or wings of a Soaring Dragon, although you can also get more subtle Transformation Knacks too.

Image © Onyx Path Publishing

Birthrights are also handled the same (although Lairs is a new and fun one) but Heirs have Dragon Magic instead of Purview Boons. Dragon Heirs gain different Dragon Magics similar to Scions gaining Purviews, powered by Inheritance rather than Legend, and each flight has a Flight Magic as well. You can have Spells in Animal Control or one of our Elemental Manipulations, Flight or Luck, or even Understanding. Plenty of fun options.

Interestingly, the book also throws in as a sidebar that draconic Heirs are effectively immune to divine Fatebinding. Given how important this becomes at Demigod and God levels, this is kind of huge.

Storyguiding, Antagonists, and Legendary Creatures

So if you’re playing Scion: Dragon, what sorts of stories are you telling? Well, I think the default has been made clear so far, with a group of Heirs coming together for the good of all dragonkind, while also carrying Draconic Deed orders from their individual Handlers. This could be fairly chaotic with a Brood of Heirs also following the designs of different flights, even more so than a mixed group of Scions from different pantheons, but the book provides some good plot hooks and also a short glossary of Intelligence terms (a primer, nothing extensive) as well as a much more impressive section on Tradecraft and Operations.

Image © Onyx Path Publishing

One thing everyone is probably thinking about already is games of Scions and Heirs together. The fiction throughout the book is even just such a story, two of the ready-made Heirs teaming up with Rhiannon and Eric Donner from the iconic Scion Band. Some team-ups are easier than others, such as a group of Lóng Heirs teaming up with Scions of the Shén or Kami or Heirs of the Serpents working with Teōtl or K’uh (from Demigod). There are also enmities to watch out for such as between the Lindwurms and the Æsir, the Draq and the Anunna, and the Theoi with fully half the flights. In theory this isn’t such a problem but in practice, given players’ desire to stand out and be different from their neighbors, a Storyguide needs to dictate what’s off limits or just be prepared to have it be a constant thing. In the example fiction of Scion: Dragon, for instance, one of the Heirs is with the Lindwurms and Eric Donner is with the Æsir. There’s a tense moment but they put it aside and ultimately work together, but in a longer campaign this will be a source of narrative and mechanical derailing whenever either character meets with their associates and the partnership comes up. I think I’ll continue to leave such team-ups as one-shots.

Dragons grow in power just like Scions into Lesser Wyrms and then full Dragons. Given their larger-than-life nature Heirs make more use of Collateral Damage and Field Complications than Scions so these get some extra treatment, and then there’s a section on antagonists. Heirs might be facing spies, wyrm slayers, wyrm trackers, and rogue Draconic agents, but you can just as easily borrow Scion antagonists (and vice versa). There are some dragon-related abilities and flairs to fit dragon legends. Finally, some Legendary Creatures are presented: devouring Scourges, Ruling Serpents, and Reptilian Destroyers. As with Scions, these could be Antagonists, Birthright NPCs, or even non-Human starts for an Heir.

Image © Onyx Path Publishing

Conclusion

It’s hard not to admit at this point that Scion books can get a bit disorganized. While Scion: Dragon follows that trend in places it is overall a step in the right direction. It’s both accessible as a game in its own right (with the addition of Scion: Origin for the rule basics) and also full of deep connections and fun twists that add to the world of Scion. Playing Dragon feels like something new and yet the mechanics all had an echo of the same thing. It’s a lot like the World of Darkness games (somewhat unsurprisingly) where going from Vampire to Changeling means you can take a lot of experience with you (and you can easily play both at the same table), and yet you’re not likely to forget which one you’re playing in the middle of things.

That said, I’d like to see a bit more. I’m already finding that I run short on new mechanical options in Scion when reaching Demigod and God level and this is apparently the upper-tier resource for Dragons as well as the intro. What’s more, demigods and gods have new ways of playing while this book makes it seem like dragons keep going on clandestine missions until they retire. Can this book sustain high-tier play with dragons that feels like the world is spreading open instead of the walls closing in? Honestly, I don’t know; I haven’t tried yet. It might actually feel thematic to have those walls close in but I think a lot needs answers still… Then again, that’s what the Storyguide Nexus is for!

As it stands, though, you can make some Dragon Heirs that are fun, exciting, and have a lot of power. They also have a clear mission and a deep-seated place in the world of Scion. I’m a fan!

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