Posted on October 20, 2008 by Flames
The Celestial Bureaucracy is the third offering for the Scion companion and a new pantheon – of sorts – delving into Chinese mythology which, to quote the great sage Egg Shen:
“Of course the Chinese mix everything up, look at what we have to work with. There’s Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoist alchemy and sorcery. We take what we want and leave the rest… Just like your salad bar.”
This makes the Celestial Bureaucracy a great hook for Scion, it fits the mould of the game perfectly, kung fu, magic and a huge ‘pantheon’ of sorts with plenty of room for all manner of characters. Indeed, in my opinion, this would have been a far better fit in the original book than the Japanese pantheon would have been.
This opens with a little bit of fiction, as per usual, but thankfully continuing the new tradition nothing essential is packed away in the prose. This is a good thing as the font is nigh unreadable, especially against the background.
Section-wise we then fall into:
The Mandate of Heaven
The Celestial Bureaucracy
The Mandate of Heaven gives a broad overview of Chinese mythology – in far too small a space – and its history, tailored to fit the Scion universe as best it can, intermingling factors from the physical China’s turbulent history quite well (though I think someone’s bound to be offended by the ghost of Mao warranting a brief mention).
The Celestial Bureaucracy details the workings and organisation of the Pantheon and, importantly, how it differs from some other pantheons, in that it’s a sprawling, huge affair, not just a few gods with specific remits. This is even an option for play, you can play a Scion of the bureaucracy, rather than of a specific god or functionary. Still, I doubt most people willbe able to resist being Scions of Monkey, for the nature of Monkey is irrepressible! If being a less specific Scion doesn’t appeal and you don’t like Monkey there’s a good selection of other lords and ministers who you can be Scions of in a more traditional manner. There’s also a purview to do with Chi and all the usual good stuff you’d expect to get to round out the Pantheon.
The Cosmology feels a little scant but covers all the main important basis, the grab-bag nature of Chinese mythology makes research fairly easy and, frankly, so long as you’re grounded in Wu Xia or have read Journey to the West you’re pretty much set.
I found the artwork, other than the crest, more than a little disappointing. Over the top, kung fu action and great artwork, either in a traditional or more cartoonish style, would have set this booklet on fire. As it stands the artwork is a little insipid and uninspiring and falls flat compared to the potential and enjoyment of the text. While I might not read the fiction in White Wolf books if I can at all help it the font and background choices made it painful to read the opening fic.
The writing is mostly rules and is fairly straightforwardly laid out. China is a convoluted and sometimes difficult topic and cramming Chinese mythology and history into so few pages along with the rules is a difficult feat, I think this has been pulled off remarkably well and as a whole the book is a far better effort than the more disapppointing Celtic pantheon one.
Seem balanced – so far as anything is in Scion – and all seem thematically appropriate. I do think the ‘Scions without portfolio’ are a little off though, they’re fine as starting characters but feel like they’d have problems later on. This is a pity as the rules for them would be good options for players in other pantheons or creating their own, peculiar sidelines.
* Fantastic material.
* Competently crammed into the available space.
* Artwork is uninspiring.
* Could have been twice the size and still would have missed things.
* ‘Free Agent’ Scions not quite thought through enough.
Style: 3 (Let down by the art)
Substance: 5 (Bursting at the seams)
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough