Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Five or So Questions with Geoffrey McVey on Scion 2nd Edition

It is rare that I do multiple interviews for one game, but when Geoffrey asked if he could talk a little about myths and Scion, I couldn't turn it down. Geoffrey talks about his work on Scion, myths, and scholarship in the following interview. You can check out the Scion 2nd Edition Kickstarter while you're here, too - it's only got a few days left!


Tell me a little about Scion and myths. What excites you about it?

A little background: I started my academic career in comparative religion with a focus on mythology. I taught classes in it along with other, more general, courses in how to approach religion in an historical context. Ever since I've been writing roleplaying games, I've been interested in ways to represent religion authentically, and this game gives me the opportunity to do that.

It helped that Neall told me that I was the person he wanted to have joining the team in order to take care of issues of myth. Honestly, given the people he's gathered, it feels like some sort of heist movie in which everyone has a very specific set of skills to contribute. Everyone else has their own particular talents that I respect immensely; my own is "theories of myth and religion," which almost never affords a person the chance to walk down a street in stylish sunglasses while being accompanied by one's allies. It's a pity, really.

As for Scion and myths: I've tried to bring a lot of classic approaches to myth into the game and plan to include a full bibliography of my sources. I will freely admit that they're all dated ones—the 1920s to the 1980s—but I think I've touched them up enough to be applicable and, I hope, interesting. Some elements (specifically, Joseph Campbell), we've set aside in favour of others. The reason behind that is another conversation entirely. I've been looking at storytelling structures from outside of the general Western European style and have offered ways to incorporate them into Scion games. If I had time, I would include more, but I may start to share some ideas once the game is out.

As for what gets me excited: think of the Táin Bó Cúailnge as an argument in the Canadian Maritimes about who has the best truck. Think of what it would look like if Hercules had to do community service to work out his anger issues. Think of the Ramayana revolving around a group of teenagers in a Midwestern small town. These are all things possible at even the smallest level of Scion. Just imagine what it becomes after the first few books.

For those unfamiliar with myths, what are some core concepts you think are valuable for understanding that aspect of the game?

From my perspective, what's most important to understand is that myths never stand alone. Every story is part of a larger collection, which means that every image or theme connects to another one. Understanding the mess between Hephaestus, Aphrodite, and Ares means knowing the smith-god's birth, its connection to the birth of Athena, the concepts with which those specific gods were associated, classical Greek ideas of physicality, and approaches to sexuality. It is, in short, a mess, and it's supposed to be. That's the most important thing to understand for Scion: that mythology cannot, and should not, be reduced to "X is the goddess of Y." The writers for this game bring an amazing array of knowledge to it, and none of them approach the material without a careful consideration of all of the variations of myth.

For people who are unfamiliar with myths, I will say this: read one. Now read another, and, if you can, another. They probably won't agree, but that's okay. One of the examples that I used in my section is the fact that the Irish god of healing also killed his own son in a jealous rage (by throwing a sword at him repeatedly!), and messed up his daughter's attempts to make the process of healing easy for everyone. Does it fit with our general ideas of what a healer should be? Of course not. It's not supposed to, and it highlights the ways that real-world mythologies don't fit into tidy categories.

Tell me a little about approaching myths through scholarship. How does that apply to Scion? How does it impact you as a creator?

This is a question that turns more complicated the more that I try to respond. On the one hand, I've linked my writing for Scion to some very traditional scholarship: Vladimir Propp, Emile Durkheim, Lord Raglan, Mircea Eliade, Northrop Frye, and others that any decent scholar of religion would wince at seeing mentioned. On the other, I've done my best to subvert their approaches, or at least turn them into something that translates well into a game. There are parts with which I'm pleased (Frye, for example, and a little bit on Stith "bane of my existence" Thompson), and there are parts where I recognize that I haven't yet done enough to challenge the common approaches. It's only the first draft, though, so I should still have time to mend things.

Can you tell me a little about the ways you've subverted the approaches of other scholars for the work you've done for Scion?

It's a little difficult to go through in any relatively short form, but let's see what I can manage. The scholars that I'm working with have had their theories tested, challenged, and (in some cases) entirely discarded. That doesn't mean that they're useless. Instead, in the way that I've tried to write it, it means that their own ideas are a sort of game in and of themselves: what would the world look like if (for example) Freud were right? So what I've tried to do is to take all of these rather outdated bits of scholarship and turn them into something that is both playable and entertaining.

Subversion, in this case, has to do with taking works that focus so much on the trope of the lone (white, male) Chosen One and finding ways to apply it to groups: a range of individuals with vastly different backgrounds and experiences whose interactions make stories more interesting. Think of it as something like the story of Jason and the Argonauts, where you have a whole collection of heroes with their own stories but who also come together to make something that isn't specifically about them. That's what I'd like to accomplish in this game: to remind players that the best thing they can do is to ignore the traditional approaches to myth and make their goal "find ways to make your fellow players seem awesome."

What are your favorite things you've worked on in the Scion text, and how did you make them happen?

So far, my favourite has been to work up ways to play a range of supernatural characters. Neall handed the task on to me (despite my frequently and likely tiresome refrains of "I'm not good with game mechanics, because I'm old") and I ended up writing twenty-four possibilities that covered all of the game's myths. You want to be a Nuckelavee? We can do that. You want to be a Goetic sorcerer? Sure. You want to be a Deer Woman? We've got you covered. Taking an already flexible system and using it to explore so many world myths has been lovely.

To answer your second question, I have no idea how I made it happen. I will default to my usual answer, which is "sorcery, blackmail, and organ theft."

Thanks so much to Geoffrey for the interview! It was a good read, and I hope you all like it as well. Check out Scion 2nd Edition on Kickstarter if this piqued your interest!

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