Once upon a time in the West . . . .
I mentioned early this year that I was running a Scion game set on the American frontier. Well, it recently occurred to me that the players have gotten far enough into the story, and uncovered enough of the metaplot, that I can now divulge publicly what the game’s about.
To follow this, you need to know three things:
1) Scion is a game about playing the half-mortal children of gods in the modern world, starting out as “heroes” and ascending in power and fame to become demigods and (if you survive) eventually gods in their own right.
2) The underlying enemies in this scenario are the Titans, the parents of the gods themselves. They’re truly impersonal, elemental powers: the “body” of the Greater Titan of Fire, for example, is more or less equivalent to the D&D Elemental Plane of Fire. However, Greater Titans can manifest more concretely as avatars, which are god-like beings reflecting a particular aspect of their concept. Prometheus, for example, is an avatar of the Greater Titan of Fire; so is Kagu-tsuchi, but they embody different things. The Titans aren’t precisely evil, but they’re not friendly to the world, and their influence usually isn’t a good thing.
3) One of the Scion books included material for how you could do a WWII-era game. In this, they proposed that Columbia (of the U.S.), Britannia (of the U.K.), and Marianne (of France) were all sisters, daughters of Athena sent out as an experiment in governance. It also proposed a Yankee pantheon, made up largely of tall-tale figures (Paul Bunyan, John Henry, etc), headed by Columbia and Uncle Sam.
So here’s what I did with those three things . . . .
The core of the idea is this: that Columbia and Uncle Sam were corrupted by an avatar of the Greater Titan of Hunger, which came to be known as Manifest Destiny.
Backing up a bit: at some point in Ye Olden Mythic Times, a group of Scions of native North American gods battled and imprisoned an avatar of Hunger. (The books generally provide each pantheon with a Titan that is their particular enemy, though the avatars are drawn from throughout world mythology. Hunger was my invention, as North America isn’t among the areas covered by game materials.) This avatar was all about conquering and assimilating one’s neighbors, so good riddance, eh?
Fast-forward to the sixteenth century or so, and the history kniedzw and I started working out before I got this idea. Athena has a daughter who becomes Britannia (ascending to demigoddess-hood during the course of the English Civil War, before veering off from democracy to become a goddess of empire a little later). She then has a daughter who becomes Columbia, and Marianne is the youngest. Britannia leaves the Greek pantheon to take over what’s left of the native English gods, with her mother’s blessing, but Columbia’s more fractious; she rebels against her older sister’s control and starts a revolution. With the help of Marianne and a Scion of Britannia — a fellow by the name of George Washington — she makes it stick, and creates the United States of America. During the course of that, she also somehow breaks her ties to Athena, and ascends to become the first deity of a new pantheon.
As part of a deal with Marianne, the U.S. gets the Louisiana Purchase, and send out the Lewis and Clark expedition from the Mississippi River Valley. (They soon acquire a young Shoshone Scion to help them, a woman named Sacagawea.) The progress of this expedition creates a disturbance in the river valley, and Columbia and George Washington realize there’s something of great power buried down there. They want to find out what it is, because Britannia’s still pissed, and there’s still a strong chance the U.S. and/or its gods won’t manage to survive. In 1811 and 1812 they make a series of four attempts to retrieve that source of power, causing powerful earthquakes, and finally free it —
Only to discover, too late, that what they have freed is the avatar of Hunger.
It corrupts the two of them, feeding the colonial aspirations of the United States until, in time, that drive becomes all-consuming. The War of 1812 starts almost immediately afterward, which sparks George Washington to ascend as Uncle Sam, and in its aftermath westward expansion gets properly underway. During the 1840s, the nascent American pantheon acquires something very dangerous: a chac mool that allows them to draw power from any soldier who dies in the name of the United States of America. This comes in very handy when the Civil War begins — driven, on the Southern side, by a pair of demigods known as Dixie and Johnny Reb.
Columbia and Uncle Sam strike a deal with various Scions of the Loa, led by John Henry, to capture the Southern demigods, promising membership in the American pantheon in exchange. But they renege on that promise not long after the end of the war, sacrificing John Henry at Promontory Summit, so that the Trans-Continental Railroad becomes a mystical binding holding the United States together. (He basically is the Golden Spike.)
So it’s 1875 and American colonialism is charging full steam ahead, to the detriment of pretty much all marginalized groups. The big event of the game’s first act was a summit meeting at the Seven Cities of Gold, drawing together representatives from those groups — Indian, Mexican, black, etc — to discuss possible alliances against the threat. (Under the leadership of Sacagawea herself. Thank you to whoever it was that told me about the legend of her surviving until 1884.)
There are so many other things chucked in here, too. The Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire, the Port Huron Fire, and the Great Michigan Fire were caused by the American Eagle battling and killing Gaasyendietha. The rise of “hoodlums” — anti-Chinese gangs in San Francisco — was driven partly by a behind-the-scenes attempt to prevent the Celestial Bureaucracy from getting a foothold on American soil. Ulysses S. Grant’s difficult presidency, his attempt to pass something like a Civil Rights Act and the resultant backlash from Congress, has partly to do with the opposition of Columbia and Uncle Sam to the plan. I’m running on an “as above, so below” principle: events are both historical and mythic, such that the corruption among the gods influences mortal doings, but mortal doings also feed back into the Overworld.
I’m also bending my usual rule for historical fiction, which is that I don’t want to take history away from the real, ordinary people who made it happen. Scions, even at hero-level, are movers and shakers; that means I’m saying a lot of major figures were actually half-divine. Emperor Norton is a son of Britannia, who claimed the title in an attempt to win his mother’s approval. Allan Pinkerton, of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, is a Scion of Forseti, and was helping Columbia and Uncle Sam gack “undesirables” until the PCs explained to him that his bosses might be Titan-corrupted. Zorro is a Scion of Huitzilopochtli, and a major enemy for one of the PCs.
But the fun thing about that is, I get to dig up fascinating people from American history, and figure out how to mythologize them. Given that the general tenor of the game is “subaltern populations against the hegemony,” I’m especially learning a lot about minority figures: Chinese in San Francisco, Hispanics in the Southwest, blacks in the South and elsewhere. (Harriet Tubman as a daughter of Papa Legba was a fun connection to make.) Most especially I’m learning about Native American topics, because I’ve been strict about requiring myself to be specific. Ely Parker isn’t just “an Indian Scion;” he’s a Seneca and a son of Ayenwatha. I kind of understand why Scion‘s writers didn’t attempt to address native North America — it’s complex, unevenly documented, and politically/culturally sensitive — but I can’t tell a mythic story about American colonialism without including that aspect, so I’m doing my best, and learning boatloads in the process.
(For the curious, I took as my jumping-off point a fan-created document for Native American gods, under the name of “the Manitou.” As suggested there, I’m treating different culture areas — the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, etc — as semi-distinct pantheons, but saying that necessity has led to a degree of alliance and connection between them. The major effect of this is there’s just one pantheon-specific Purview to worry about, which I took from the fan document; also, there’s a base set of Virtues, which gets modified for the different regions. I’m mostly doing my own work to stat Purviews and such for individual gods, though.)
Yeah, I know, I’m a masochist for doing this. (Surprise!) Even if I limit myself mostly to Wikipedia-level research, it’s still a lot of work, especially since the game is ranging all over the U.S.; the NPCs are kind of getting out of control. (Someday I will run a game that stays in one place and one time period. Someday. And it will be glorious.) But there’s a deep pleasure in figuring out how to render real history through a mythic lens, especially since I’m learning so much in doing it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to figuring out how Zorro can make problems for my husband’s PC. 🙂