Scion Companion Part Three: Celestial Bureaucracy

Book: Scion Part Three: Celestial Bureaucracy
Length/Type: 50 pgs., PDF (to be included in future hard cover)
System: Storyteller
Author(s): Dean Shomshak
Publisher: White Wolf
Licensor/Endorser: n/a

(5 0f 5 rudii)

As I said in a previous review, Scion is a game I drool over. I didn’t mention I’ve also got a Chinese mythology thing, so when I saw Celestial Bureaucracy, I jumped on it. The book did not disappoint.

Let’s lay this out a little: the Companion supplements to White Wolf’s Scion game, among other things, detail specific pantheons. These are the details that really let Storytellers (GMs) and players bust out the deep myth, deeply enhancing character creation and play. The book is historically accurate, stylistically engaging, and rich with material to enhance your Scion game.

Here are the numbers: 12 new gods with 11 purviews, 5 new birthrights, 5 detailed relics, 2 ready to play scions, delving into the nature of the pantheon, explication of the underlying cosmology, 5 enemies with which to plague your players, details on Hundun – the titan particularly antagonistic to the Chinese pantheon, 2 titanspawn, and more. It’s a lot packed into 50 pages. My only quibble: the book almost attempts too much in too few pages. I’d love for it to have been longer. It’s a quibble.

More: I found the book’s take on Chinese mythology delightful. They ramify the Celestial Bureaucracy through modern history, as called for by the games founding premises, matching imaginary motions within the Pantheon to real world historical moments with sly humor. Here’s one of my favorite passages, speaking to the falling out between the Chinese pantheon and the Japanese (the Amatsukami) during World War II.

World War Two, however, gravely damaged relations between the Celestial Bureaucracy and the Amatsukami. When Japan invaded China, the Celestial Bureaucracy lost millions of mortal worshippers. The Jade Emperor of the time sent Amaterasu a beautifully calligraphed, elegantly phrased demand that she exercise her ancestral prerogatives over her descendant, the mortal Emperor Hirohito, and order him to withdraw his troops from the Middle Kingdom. Whatever Amaterasu thought of the mortal war, she did not like being ordered about like a misbehaving child. She sent back a beautifully calligraphed refusal, involving some elegantly phrased suggestions of what the Jade Emperor could do with the Celestial Bureaucracy. Matters went downhill from there.

Or this little gem:

The shen [Chinese pantheon gods] also claim pride of place as the first pantheon to teach civilization to humanity. The boast is slightly tautologous, in that many shen deny that anyone outside China has ever been civilized.

This latter passage perfectly captures the classical Han outlook on the world. To top it off, there’s also an almost Kafkian undercurrent running through the rendering of the Celestial Bureaucracy; for example, allowing Scions to become Scions, not of a specific god or goddess, but of the Bureaucracy as a whole – by filling out the paperwork and receiving a caseworker.

Nonetheless, neither the humor nor the modern echoes undercut the sheer brilliance the author and developer exercise in encapsulating the world of Chinese mythology and rendering it down to the playable.

In Scion Companion Part Three: Celestial Bureaucracy, the White Wolf team succeeds again in overcoming a barrier inherent to modern fantasy RPGs. They seamlessly insert their cosmology into the playable world, which problematically and ineluctably echoes the real world. For example, the author takes the Chinese diaspora – the fact that millions of Chinese living in distant lands, like America – marry it to the Celestial Bureaucracy, and creates a conflict within the Pantheon. Should the Chinese gods pay attention to the world’s Chinatowns?

The answer that some gods say ‘yes’ and others ‘no’ opens the gaming throttle to the max by presenting an elegant rationale for the limited appearance of Chinese gods and demons within nearly every major city in the world, as nearly every major city holds a Chinatown. Playing this question out as a conflict within the pantheon only creates yet more opportunity for adventure; for example, minor gods on one or the other side of this issue might rationalize allying with titanspawn to their eventual dismay.

If gritty yet epic urban fantasy dosed on mythopoetic religious crack is your thing, then White Wolf has done it again! First they seduced me into picking up Scion: Hero. Now I can’t live without the Companions. 5 Rudii to you Scion. Damn you to hell for draining my wallet White Wolf; or, in other words, thanks!

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Eddy Webb said...

Thanks for the review! It's much appreciated!

- Eddy Webb, Developer

Rone Barton said...

Another fantastic 'Aggression from Agresta'. You have so convinced me to buy this book. I too adore Chinese mythology.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it! Writing the Celestial Bureaucracy was a blast, as well -- I could have done twice as much. There's just so *much* Chinese mythology...

-- Dean Shomshak