New preview: Writing the Manitou
Hello, it's Rose again. ^_^ I'll just turn the floor over to Neall and then Allen...
Hey folks, Neall here. A few people have asked about the process that pantheon writers go through in writing their pantheons - the research, what they draw from, etc. So I asked my Manitou writer to detail his process and talk about his gaming life a bit, and he very kindly obliged.
I’m Allen Turner, and I’m the author for the Manitou pantheon for Scion 2nd Edition. Neall asked me to write a post and talk a bit about myself and my working process for this group of gods. First, a little about me. I’m a mixed (Black/Irish/Lakota) Native guy who lives in Chicago. Despite my multi-ethnicity I’ve been raised primarily on the Native side of the fence. I try to find ways to portray those sensibilities in my writing and gaming.
I spent most of my young adult life gaming. As I got older, I found myself doing a lot of social work and prevention work in the Chicago Native community working with at-risk youth, doing programming and community organizing with them at American Indian Health Services and the American Indian Center. One of my major ways to engage the kids was through traditional storytelling. I love telling stories. As a gamer I quickly began to introduce my kids to roleplaying games to get them playing with their imaginations and to build literacy and problem-solving skills. As we looked at what was available at the time, it quickly became apparent that Native myth and characters weren’t well represented in games (when they were represented at all), so I started early on mixing in the stories I knew with the characters the kids were playing (and by kids, I mean the age range was about 15-20).
The experience of those days, back in the early nineties, stuck with me and continued to influence the goals of my personal work. Some of that fueled what eventually became my roleplaying game Ehdrigohr, and the rest inspired other strange areas of my mind. The game we were playing back then, though, was really something a lot like Scion, and I had always meant to do something to bring those ultra-heroic, badass gods and goddesses back into a play space.
When I came across the first edition of Scion, I was excited, but I was disappointed by what I felt was a lackluster representation of Native mythology. I didn’t have sufficient info to play well a Native-based Scion; I had to roll my own. When I finished Ehdrigohr, I kept saying to myself, maybe I’ll get around to working on my god stuff again. Lo and behold, out of the blue, Neall reached out and asked if I’d be interested in doing the Manitou pantheon. I was ecstatic and said yes, though at the same time I was a bit hesitant, because I wanted to do things right and respectfully.
While I knew a lot about my own tribe’s myths and spirits, I was considerably fuzzier on what was being called Algonquian. I knew a lot of people from both Anishinaabe and Six Nations (Iroquois) traditions. A couple were storytellers; most were people who know an anecdotal story about a spirit or two. So I decided I would reach out to some of them to figure out some good sources for these characters, and try to access versions of stories that weren’t kid’s tales, weren’t too Christianized, and weren’t New Age-ified pan-Indian strangeness. That’s a tall order. There is a great tendency to just have “Native American” stories with no real attention or respect paid to the fact that we have greatly varying cultures and religions. Even though there may be overlaps, there are distinct differences.
After looking at the cultural area I was tasked to target, I quickly realized I needed to focus in on a culture, with my choices being basically Anishinaabe or Iroquois. There was this interesting overlap cosmologically, but the cultures went in different directions with spiritual beliefs, spirit relationships, and stories of gods and divine things. On top of that, there were so many variations to sort through. Despite all the variations, I was going to have to pick one main stream of “truth” and focus on that AND make it fit into the conceits and fictions of the new Scion setting.
I managed to connect with my friend Elizabeth Lapensee (Anishinaabe/Metis/Irish) who is very well schooled on the Anishinaabe myths and whose opinion I respect greatly. We talked about many of the spirits and interpretations. She takes inspiration from her own traditions for most of her work as an artist, writer, blogger, and game designer. She pointed me at some work her mother, a folklorist, has done, which widened my perspective on her people’s stories.
I also talked a bit with my friend Eli Suzokovich (Cree/Serbian), an artist, folklorist/storyteller, and ethno-botanist to get his take on how to approach some of the stories. I settled in on Basil Johnston’s telling of stories, Manitous: Spiritual World of the Ojibway, the Ojibwe versions of the myths, as the foundation to work from. I further supplemented with online sources, books from my library, and my own experience from connecting with the material I was running for my kids back in the day. I especially liked Basil’s stuff, because his name spellings were mostly phonetic, making it accessible for non-Aanishinaabemowin speakers to sort out how to say them. He does a great job of bringing out the heroism of the characters he’s writing about.
From there, I built out the characters, focusing on a core set, to fit into the fiction of Scion but still, hopefully, maintain their cultural truths. I’ve built in connections to the character variants, and overlaps with the Iroquois versions (including two twin gods) while acknowledging that the Six Nations version of these myths are a different beast that I’m still addressing. Overall, I was approaching this work from a living, breathing, Native eye. Even the Manitou signature character, Rose Aishquaykezhick-White, reflects this: she’s inspired by some good friends of mine.
I’m feeling good about it. They definitely speak to what was fun about some of those characters for me and the kids back in the day when I use to run their adventures. It’s not perfect. It’s kind of hard to fit thousands of years of culture into 8000+ words, but I feel like it’s a good start. Hopefully, it will get some of my Native relatives to be inspired to find ways to bring their own spirits and stories into their experience of Scion. Neall’s said he wants me to tackle some other Native pantheons, including my own Lakota pantheon, in the future.
I hope people find a connection to the Manitou and enjoy walking and playing in their World.
Check back tomorrow for a preview of Dodaem, the Manitou Signature Purview!