Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition)

Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition)
From: FASA Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition) is a new RPG Player’s Guide from FASA Games.

Much anticipation surrounded the much fabled Fading Suns 3rd edition, at least in the circles of Fading Suns fans.  Unfortunately, due to many difficult situations, 3rd edition never really made it to fruition.  Instead a “revised edition” was released with fewer changes to the core system and a new approach to the format of the core rulebooks.

According to the publisher, the goal of the new edition was not to make past published material obsolete but streamline the system while maintaining compatibility.  I say up front, I was not the biggest fan of the Victory Point system.  In so many words, it was anti-player to me.  Perhaps they did not want the players rolling skills as often as I did but I wanted my players to have a sense of accomplishment and most that played the VP system did not get that out of it.  My hope with any new VP system was to make it more player friendly and fun to play.

From the website:
“Nobles… Priests… Aliens… Knights. It is the dawn of the sixth millennium and the skies are darkening, for the suns themselves are fading. Humans reached the stars long ago, building a Republic of high technology and universal emancipation — and then squandered it, fought over it, and finally lost it.”

The hardest part of any game system is updating the system without making previous stuff obsolete.  When you are a big company with lots of backing, you can try to pull that off, but even then it’s not always successful.  The rumors of 3rd edition was that it was too much of a departure.  Call of Cthulhu had a similar situation recently with 7th edition.  Reaction to 7th edition CoC was not entirely positive (although I liked it a lot) and as far as I know that edition has been shelved.  The crazy thing is that it was backwards compatible with a little more.  But the feedback they got was it was too much of a departure from the original.

Fading Suns 3rd edition died a sudden death and so the publisher went with their plan B.  Being a smaller publisher under the watchful eye of the original publishers, Holistic Designs Inc, it was no surprise.  They did not want to see a bookshelf worth of source material just fade away (pun intended) and the new publisher did not want to be stuck with republishing the old books for a new system.  With a game like Fading Suns and it’s fan base, you really can’t do that.

Publishing explanations aside, the new Player’s Guide PDF is a nice looking book with a nice layout and some nice cover art.  Much of the book is reprinting of previous stuff.  Most if not all the flavor is from the second edition book or other books previously published.  In this review, I’ll try to approach it assuming the reader has had no experience in the system.  However, for those that have had experience in the system, I will point out the changes.

The Setting:  The hardest part to describe to newbies about this game is the setting.  I usually default to “… Frank Herbet’s Dune crossed with Call of Cthulhu, with a little Stargate mixed in.”  I might throw in a little Babylon 5, if I think the person I am talking about knows what that is.  I am old school that way.  Basically, the game is a science fantasy setting set in the far future – around year 5000.  After a long period of a utopian society that was the Second Republic (which I related to as Star Trek’s Federation), a new Dark Age has fallen.  Noble houses rule the people, trade guilds of the Merchant League rule the economy and commerce, and the Church of the Celestial Sun rules the people’s souls.  It is the Dark Ages in space, in many ways.  There is an Emperor, a Church patriarch and a lot of people subjugated by the various powers.  Also, long forgotten colonies of the Second Republic have banded together and invaded the Imperial space.  Quite literally, barbarians are at the gates. Players can be anything – a noble questing knight, a eccentric cleric skilled in the art of theurgy (magic), a uncivilized barbarian, or a tech-obsessed cyborg.  The people to whom I have introduced the setting say it is the like the meshing of sci-fi with fantasy.  There is a lot of both in this setting.

What people are most intimidated by, however, is the depth of the setting and some of the terminology.  Theurgy is basically the magic of the system.  Wyrd is a measure of arcane energy a character has access too.  There are many other names and factions, drawn from real life sources that might be a little confusing to the initiate.

The setting is steeped deep in intrigue and political maneuvering.  You are always questioning people’s motives – either NPC or PC.  Because the setting is so rich with background and plot, there is a lot for a GM to choose from.  There is adventure abounding as well, as PCs can explore not only ancient alien ruins but also discover lost Second Republic relics or whole worlds.  One of the things I like most about this setting is its vast opportunity for adventure.  You can have a mish-mash of different things every week – from hard science fiction in the dark depths of space to high fantasy adventure on a lost world of barbarians and alien creatures that might appear like dragons.

There is also a darkness behind this setting that is always lurking.  For the past several hundred years in the setting, suns have been fading.  What that means is unknown but distant stars are just winking out. Also there are dark creatures living in the “darkness between the stars” – demons, leviathans, space krakens, and old gods.  The church hunts down demon worshipers and those that tap the demonic powers to perform evil magics.  There is also a twisted alien threat invading the known worlds called the Symbiots –a cross between the alien creatures of Species and John Carpenter’s The Thing.  If the constant conflict between bickering factions of humanity were not enough to bring us down, there are forces beyond our imagining plotting our demise as well.

Iconic to the setting are these huge jump gates that have been found throughout the galaxy connecting systems in what is called the jump web.  Much like the Spacing Guilds in Frank Herbet’s Dune, one particular guild in the Merchant League controls the means to travel through these gates.  This is one key element (among many) in the setting that really sets the tone.  Another is the conflict that the church has with magic.  On the one side, the church abhors non-sanctioned magic expecially demon magic.  However, at the same time, it approves of certain theurgies because they have proven effective against the Symbiot threat.

I could go on and on with just how fantastically rich and deep the setting is.  The above only gives you a sampling of what the setting is about.  I have said it once and I will say it again – this is my favorite gaming setting.

From the website:
“Fading Suns is a saga of humanity’s fate among the stars — a space fantasy game of deadly combat, vicious politics, weird occultism, alien secrets and artifacts, and unknown and unmapped worlds.”

The System:  In past editions, the system was a major issue for me. Between having to learn a new system and the clunkiness of the native system, it was a hard sell to my players. It always felt like the system was fighting the players every step of the way – something I call anti-player.  Then came the d20 version.  I reviewed the d20 version of the game.  That conversion was not a satisfactory product.  Although I think the d20 system would work for the setting, that particular work was not done well.  I myself have run it in various systems other than the Victory Point system just because I love the setting so much.

Fading Suns was first published in 1996 and the first version of Victory Point System (VPS) was born.  It is based on a d20 roll, with a characteristic (ability score) added to a skill level.  The GDW house system back in the early 90s was similar.  Where it gets interesting is the “roll low but not too low” concept.  It has been described as a “black jack” dice system.  It takes some getting used to.  It switches up conventional thought in dice rolling and instead of making the lowest roll possible the critical hit value, it makes it a moving target.  If you roll a value equal to the skill and characteristic total (Goal Number), a critical success is made. The Victory Point system gets its name from the result of the roll.  If the roll is under the Goal Number, the result is Victory points.  The closer you are too the roll, the greater the success and the more Victory Points you get (found on the Victory Point table).

The new Revised Edition claims to streamline the old Victory Point System.  As I said, the VPS uses a “roll as close to the target goal number as possible” mechanic.  From this roll, Victory Points are derived.  Victory Points can be used for a variety of things – from additional bonuses to damage.  The updated system has been modified to use Victory Points as both the number of successes and as a quality of success.  All of this is displayed in the Victory Point table.  It’s an interesting expansion and streamlining of the system.  For those that know the table fairly well, they expanded the ranges to give more options for Victory Points and make it easier to remember.

The original Fading Suns system had two sets of ability scores or Characteristics – Body (Strength, Dexterity, and Endurance) and Mind (Wits, Perception, and Tech).  In this new system, the characteristics are expanded as well.  There are new Spirit characteristics: Presence, Will, and Faith.  The spirit characteristics can be used to allow characters to perform acts above and beyond what they would normally be able to perform. For example, Faith allows a character to tap into their passion and ignite the fire within. One of my favorite concepts from the original system was inciting a character’s passion and it is good that this was retained.

Characters are made up of more than just characteristics.  The game has a system for advantages and disadvantages which they break out into two different areas – Blessings/Curses and Benefices/Afflictions.  Blessings and Curses represent a character’s psychological quirks or physical endowments and/or handicaps where Benefices and Afflictions are based on the individual’s place in society.  I never really understood why these needed to be separate but that is how it has been since the first edition.  One simple advantage and disadvantage system would work just as well.

One big change from previous editions is Fighting Styles have been added as a Benefices/Afflictions trait to allow characters to choose a fighting style for their character and to provide a guideline for GM or players to create their own unique styles.  They are also tied into the Stances mentioned later in combat.

The Magic of the system is called Theurgy but it also has Psychic powers.  This is not your D&D-style magic system.  Every supernatural (or Occult) has its down side.  Theurgy, for example has Hubris, which is a representation of corruption and separation from the Pancreator, the greater power in this game.  Psychic powers have Urge which represents the breaking down of one’s mind as it is used.  It’s a little more difficult to use these powers early on, and there are not a ton of spells or powers to choose from, like in D&D.  In that way, it attempts, at least, to keep things balanced between non-Occult characters and Occult-using characters.

Changes in this area from previous editions include making Psychic powers more flexible. They can be modified by spending extra Wyrd Points before the power is used or by spending Victory Points after the power is complete to reduce the effect but make the duration longer.

Wyrd Points fuels theurgic rites and psychic powers, but can also be used by any character to reroll a failed goal roll or to reroll effect dice.  This is a common house rule that took the place of their horribly designed Accenting system.  It is good to see a system that I have always seen as somewhat anti-player finally integrate a pro-player element here.

Fading Suns regardless of edition has always had the basic skill list you would expect in most RPGs.  There are some uniquely named skills (Redemption for repairing, Think Machine for computer use) but they are what you would expect.  In the new edition, skills have been streamlined and narrowed in focus. More skills have been added for combat, instead of relying only on a few skills to perform all combat actions. Other skills like Lore and Science have been combined to allow characters to quickly specialize in technology and science skills without sacrificing skills in other areas of the game.

Combat system from the last edition to this one has changed significantly.  Nothing in the old or new system really stands out as innovative or different from other combat systems, but the changes from one to the other are interesting.  Instead of using the activate skill level as the initiative, characters now have a separate initiative stat.  The system introduces something called Stances where combatants can choose different types of Stances, based on whether they want to act aggressively, defensively, or balanced. Those characters that specialize in fighting styles have special stances available to them that can add to or improve the standard stances. Instead of dodging attacks, all characters have a Defense trait that represents their ability to avoid harm. The more attacks they face in a turn, the lower their Defense.  Other than the interesting mechanic around Defense and the introduction of Stances, the overall feel of the combat system felt like a watered down d20 combat system.  However, it is a significant change from previous editions and might be worth trying out.

In conclusion, Revised Edition (or Revised Second Edition as it should be called) does not really feel much different than the old.  Although there were some significant changes to the system, it felt more like window dressing and minor mechanic shifts.  Is it enough of a change to the system to make me rethink my opinion of it? I would say no.  But it is an improvement over the original system.  I love this setting, without a doubt. There are rumors of a possible Pathfinder/d20 version and a Savage Worlds version.  Either one would be fantastic to me.  I think Savage Worlds would work really well with this setting.

I give the writers credit for their effort in this work.  The book itself is cleaned up and much more sharp looking.  I do like some of the subtle changes but perhaps they are too subtle.  This is supposed to be the Player’s Guide. A Game Master Guide is supposed to have been released as well, but I have not seen it.  In fact, I am not seeing a lot of activity on the Fading Suns front.  Perhaps that is a bad sign.  It is disappointing as this setting is very deserving of a good system and it has yet to find it.

For more details on FASA Games and their new RPG Player’s Guide “Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition)” check them out at their website http:// www.fasagames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: (setting) 20 (system) 10

Product Summary

Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition)
From: FASA Games
Type of Game: RPG Player’s Guide
Written by: Todd Bogenrief, Vidar Edland, Chris Wiese
Contributing Authors: Richard Ashley, Thomas Baroli, Brandon Van Buren, Phil Cameron, Tristan Lhomme, Rubén Ramos, Mark Stout, James Sutton, Dennis Watson
Game Design by: Bill Bridges, Andrew Greenberg
Developed by: Bill Bridges, Andrew Greenberg.
Cover Art by: Simon Powell, Dawn Sutton
Additional Art by: John Bridges, Mitch Byrd, Tim Callendar, Darryl Elliott, Jason Felix, Sam Inabinet, Mark Jackson, Jack Keefer, Andrew Kudelka, Brian LeBlanc, Larry MacDougall, Alex Sheikman, Ron Spencer, Ken Spera, Joshua Gabriel Timbrook, Jason Waltrip, John Waltrip
Number of Pages: 386
Game Components Included: RPG core player’s guide
Game Components Not Included: RPG core gamemaster’s guide
Internet: www.fasagames.com
Contact:
fadingsuns@fasagames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung