A Fading Suns core rulebook
Writing Team: Todd Bogenrief, Vidar Edland, Chris Wiese
Available for purchase here.
Fading Suns, Noble Armada, Criticorum Discord, and Fading Suns Player’s Guide are trademarks of Holistic Design, Inc. Fading Suns Second Edition material copyright ©1999-2015 Holistic Design, Inc. FASA and the FASA logo are trademarks of the FASA Corporation and are used under license. Published by FASA Games, Inc. under license from Holistic Design, Inc. Copyright © 2015 Holistic Design, Inc. All rights reserved. Permission graciously granted for book cover use in this review by FASA Games, Inc. and such use is in no way, shape, or form meant to be a challenge to any trademark and copyright held by any of the above parties. Thanks guys!
Hello again, your grumbling-stomached Dropbear reporting back for another RPG review. This will be the second in a triumvirate for the current lineup of Fading Suns Revised books. I hope you enjoy my take on the Fading Suns Revised Player’s Guide as I present to you what I like and dislike about the book.
I’ll start this shidig off by saying that this RPG book has many tater tots inside of it. I know that you know that I know what you’re saying to yourself right now. Fanboy. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve been a fan of Fading Suns since it was originally released in ’96. And I won’t deny that every book that’s come out since then for the game line has just made me fall in love with it a little more.
I was as excited as any Fading Suns fan to hear of its rebirth after a long dry spell. I followed the blog of the then-developer, and awaited a release patiently even though I wasn’t sure I’d care for many of the proposed changes. I listened quietly to many of the arguments made for those changes and bringing Fading Suns into a more modernized and updated system versus the argument for no change. I watched as RedBrick seemed to fall apart. And I was pleasantly surprised by the return of a familiar name: FASA Games, Inc.
Now I know there were many out there that were displeased with the decision to let go of what appeared to have been a great deal of work on the changes that were proposed for the next edition of the game. I’ve heard the arguments over it. The drama that dropped was pretty typical for the sorts of highly opinionated people that most gamers are. I, for one, was always fine with the Victory Point system despite flaws perceived by others.
The Player’s Guide begins, like this review, with a history. It goes into great depth, and yet remains quite concise for the stretch of ground it has to cover. Seventy pages gives us nearly three millennia since our own time, in which the Human race expands to the stars, evolves politically into two republics, unites nearly all faiths into the Universal Church, reaches out to makes first contact with an extraterrestrial race, makes war with next contact, and then falls apart with the intense battles to control the future of Humanity and all the alien races that have been discovered and assimilated.
I can never quite get enough of reading this section of the Player’s Guide. I reread it constantly, even when I am running other games. I feel like this history is one that could be, unlike what I have read from many other science fiction and science fantasy games and books that have come before and after Fading Suns. It also brings a distinct Arthurian edge to the table that I’ve always greatly enjoyed. Although the setting is one in which Humanity has fallen into a dark age of desperation, there is hope.
The next section of the Player’s Guide introduces us to the basic rules of the game. For those unfamiliar, the Victory Point system uses a d20 for task resolution. When the outcome of any task is in question, a Goal Roll is made with a d20, and the objective on rolling is to get a number on the die that is closest to the character’s skill rating that is in question, adding to that the characteristic that governs the character’s efforts (more on that when I look at character creation). Victory Points generated by this roll are determined by referencing the roll with the Victory Point chart, and the more one generates the better the effect if an effect is implied by the goal. There is a list of modifier ratings that may affect a Goal Roll in a range of positive and negative ways, based upon not every contingency that might come into play but by the difficulty of the task as determined by the GM.
The three divisions of characteristics are also detailed here. Body characteristics include Strength, Dexterity, and Endurance; Mind characteristics include Wits, Perception, and Tech; Spirit characteristics include Presence, Will, and Faith. These characteristics are fairly self-explanatory in the context of this review, and their use sets the basic tone for describing a character in the Fading Suns universe. Each is rated between 1 and 10, but the highest rating any starting character may begin with is an 8.
I grew up on the familiar six ability scores of D&D like many of you might have, but FSR’s sort of rating system has always made more sense to me from an ease of use standpoint than a system using a rating that in turn gives you a modifier to your rolls. In fact, the Victory Point system is one of my favorite systems next to my all-time favorite of Talislanta’s Action Table (which I will be providing a review of sometime in the near future).
After this, the Player’s Guide describes many other systems within the VP system that will affect your character such as Vitality (which are effectively Hit Points), various types of damage and their effects, healing, and the basics of how the system behind the use of occult lore in the Known Worlds works. There is a comprehensive Experience section that details the use and awarding of Experience Points to improve characters over the course of a campaign. The section on awarding XP feels more like in belongs in the Gamemaster’s Guide. I, like many people, waited a long time for that GMG and it was well worth the wait (a future review is in the works), but I also understand the idea behind players knowing exactly how what their characters do in-game will affect the earning of XP.
This section of the book is rather dense, as it describes in great detail how to create a character in Fading Suns. I’m going to condense my review greatly here.
In Fading Suns, you can create a freeman, a Noble, a Priest, or a Guilder. Freemen are those not tied to any organization; Nobles are the rulers of the Known Worlds; Priests command both respectable temporal and metaphysical powers; Guilders are those trade and hold the greatest knowledge of technology both current and past. In addition, you may choose to have psychic powers as these abilities were awakened through many spiritual and scientific means, although those who openly wield such powers are often regarded with fear and loathing.
There are two means of building a character presented in the Fading Suns Player’s Guide. One can use the Lifepath system (of which I am fond) to build a character in stages based upon their upbringing and training. There is an excellent resource that compiles all of this information into a more compact form called, appropriately, Lifepaths. You can acquire Lifepaths for free here. The second method is much more freeform, and is point based. It is a little more involved, and can customize a character to a slight degree more than the Lifepath system if a player so wishes.
The Traits, Skills, Psi, and Theurgy sections of the Player’s Guide really fold into this section even though they are their own separate chapters. Each details the choices you select when creating a character. The Traits chapter, covering Blessings and Curses and Benefices and Afflictions, provides a wealth of options for any character you could wish to create within the system. The Fighting Styles included here are an extrapolation and improvement over the original Fading Suns fighting styles.
The Skills chapter provides all the information you might need on the skills available in the system, and details natural skills that everyone possesses as well as learned skills whose knowledge must be taught in some manner. This approach is one I find favor with, as I often have difficulty as both a GM and a player with assuming every character should be able to learn and use any skill they want to within the game automatically.
The Psi and Theurgy chapters go over the powers and abilities those characters who reach towards the Pancreator or within themselves hold. They are considerable, and everyone who bears such powers is usually marked by stigmata. Each chapter goes into great detail about the psychic covens and Church pogroms that have a place in the Known Worlds as well.
This chapter describes the action involved in fighting. I always love reading how each individual RPG handles conflicts. Tater tots. Tater tots.
There’s a new addition that I rather like, Stance. Any character involved in a conflict declares their Stance first before rolling their Initiative: Aggressive, Neutral, Defensive, or Full Defense. Each Stance has a defined effect upon the variables of combat.
A number of attack types are available. For melee combat, there are Strike, Grapple, Disarm, Knockdown, and Knockout. For ranged combat, there are Shoot, Throw, Reload, Aim, and a variety of autofire modes.
The combat modifiers list is a bit more involved than the Goal Roll modifiers chart. It covers perception, range, and obstacle modifiers, as well as conditional attack and defense modifiers. It isn’t overly complex compared to some systems (here’s looking at you, my beloved but complicated Shadowrun of the past), but includes enough complexities to make things interesting and cover most eventualities. This section definitely begs a GM screen though. Maybe I will make one.
This chapter also covers advanced fighting techniques used with the various Fighting Styles of the Known Worlds and they are, in one word, cool.
For the purposes of this review, I’m again condensing several chapters of the book. These are the final chapters, and include Technology, Armory, Transport, Cybernetics, and Starships. In the context of the Fading Suns universe, high technology is not well-understood by most people. Starships and blasters exist side by side with swords and plows in many cases, and the common man holds an almost superstitious fear and reverence for the high tech. This keeps many in line with the Noble’s rule, appeases the Church’s high technology ban, and leaves such knowledge squarely at the feet of the Guilds who want to keep it for themselves anyway.
The sections detailing the disparate tech levels and their rating system isn’t really anything new among RPGs, but I’m not trying to be dismissive of it. It’s easy to understand and identify with as a player and GM, so it serves its purpose very well. What I really love about this section are the various notes scattered throughout about the quality of tech and the effect of building something low-tech with high-tech materials. Oh, and the clothing and jewelry. That whole section is amazingly detailed, and while some gamers might not find the utility in that, I love it. This is a game where your character will often want and/or need to dress to impress, and the rules reinforce and support that.
The equipment, weapons, vehicles, and starships get first rate coverage and offer items that give a great feel to the setting and the game. The cybernetics section…this is where I’d like to have seen a tad bit more detail, but what is offered is good and serves its purpose well.
Layout & Aesthetics
I’m going to conclude my review with an eye towards the book’s layout, artwork, and general look.
The PDF version has a great scroll-like color background, the typeface is clear and very readable, it is extensively bookmarked, and both the table of contents and the index are linked to their respective pages. I could have been more pleased with the artwork included, as there weren’t as many new pieces compared to the pieces taken from previous works and they were all in black & white. It’s still good artwork though, and very representative of the setting. All in all, the Fading Suns Revised Player’s Guide PDF is everything I could ask for in an RPG book.
The hardcopy shares the black & white artwork, but the background is grayscale. I’m not immensely pleased with that part about the background; as my eyes get older (imagine here, if you will, a nearly blind Dropbear!) it’s harder to read print on grayscale pages. Aside from that minor complaint, and I wholly understand the decision probably being based upon production costs, the Fading Suns Revised Player’s Guide physical book holds a revered position upon my gaming bookshelf.