As I’ve mentioned a couple of times on my blog, Fading Suns is a White Whale game for me. So I picked up the Character book from DTRPG...
...And let me pause to mention here that the series is now available as a Bundle of Holding, of course after I’d already bought two of the books—but better late than never. You can find that here.
…and I’ve read through it. It's not bad. In fact I’d say it’s pretty good—just from a read through. I’ve collected lots of earlier edition books and played several session, so I knew the system basics: Lots of dice, weird calculations, tons of numbers, asymmetrical point costs, etc. I remember players getting frustrated with the details, with rules spread across different books, with tons of mechanics for maneuvers and accents, and so on.
FS:Pax Alexius seems to cleans up a lot of things. There’s one roll for resolution and one die type, the d20. The mechanic feels more universal and easy to apply across different activities. In the past you’d have to go to d6s for damage. Now the roll generates points which you apply to creating effects. There’s a tightened skill list, which is great because Fading Suns had that 1990s skill sprawl across supplements.
The Perk/Ability lists has also been focused. Early Fading Suns followed the GURPs/World of Darkness model where you had tons of extras, all of which costs different points. Now if you get a pick, you just get a Perk. It’s more like 2d20 System in that. The character book also has an easier character generation system with stages and sets of pick lists in several paths. (However, and this is a stupid detail I’m hung up on. they call it a Lifepath system. And I sort of hate that because Lifepath for me implies *random* discovery via a set of charts and choices (Traveller, Cyberpunk 2020)).
That being said, this new Fading Suns still has trad trappings. Weapons have several details (damage, minimum ST, RoF, damage type) which you need to track. While the skill list has been tightened, we’re still talking 26 skills. You have more stats to manage than you really need to. It also has a token economy which requires some turn to turn tracking I'm not sure about. Let me dig a little into that.
When you go to do something, you have a goal #-- based on skill+stat (both range from 0 to 10 with middle ranges more common). Usually this isn't modified (except rarely for environmental effect). You roll a d20 and try to roll under the goal #. If you roll that # exactly, it is a critical. If you roll under, that's a success and you look at what you rolled. That number is your Victory Points or VP. So if I needed a 12 or less and rolled a 10, I have 10 VP. You then spend those VP to do things-- with the first thing usually being spending enough VP to overcome the target's Resistance (like armor). Let's say it is an attack, you spend to overcome the armor and now you deal the weapon's damage. If you have more VP left over, you can spend that to do things like deal extra damage.
You can use those VP right away for effects or you can hold on to them. If you hold on to them, they go away at the end of the turn. Unless you "Bank" those VP, in which case they go into your bank and can be withdrawn later. But your bank has a maximum. I think when VPs go away, they go to a communal pool or a portion of them do, which all players can draw from. I know there's also a big party pool in addition to the two sets of VPs you track for yourself. It’s a little like momentum from 2d20 System, but with much higher numbers.
But there's also Wyrd Points which operate like VPs and can get banked. Wyrd are generated by some other means (role playing, special actions). These are used to fuel certain powers, like magic and psychic talents. So you have to track these with their own color tokens. It adds another level of tracking.
But wait there's more.
Some maneuvers let you generate a pool of VP tokens which can only be used for certain activities. These are listed under the skills and perks and there are a bunch of them. So potentially players need to track those resources as well. It's one of those places where playing online might actually be better than face-to-face and trying to juggle those elements.
Another weird thing to me is that it uses Popcorn initiative (each player picks the next person to go), but if the GM wants to go, they have to interrupt and give the interrupted player a VP. I see that it is a way to bring the economy into initiative, but one a first read it feels like a little speed bump.
Outside of mechanics, the game also still includes Torturers (Inquisitors) and Slavers (Chainers) as an element, but doesn't have any discussion of safety in the character book at least. That feels like a significant oversight…at the very least that’s a choice…
I sound negative, but I don’t mean to. It’s a striking revision of the earlier rules, the layout and page design is clear, and the writing’s strong. On that score my only real gripe is: please provide printer friendly versions. Or at least provide a version where we can turn off the layers in Acrobat. As far as I could see, that isn’t an option. I am going to give this a try—probably putting it on the Calendar for September to try it out rules as written, like I did with Coriolis before I hacked that to Impulse Drive.
Coriolis is a good reference point. I really love a lot about that setting, though I’m not as fond of the mechanics or some of the system assumptions. (More about that here). Like Fading Suns, I find the look and aesthetic really compelling. But some of the substance of the setting bugs me. I appreciate the use of Arabian. Islamic, and Middle Eastern imagery and ideas in Coriolis, but I also worry about how much of that’s just trappings and potentially Orientalist. Likewise, Fading Suns has the trappings of Early Modern Europe, with a lot of focus on the Church and Sin and similar concepts.
So what I’m thinking about—and this is a prologue & set up to another post—is trying to create a structure for a more collaborative approach to the Archaic Sci-Fi genre. I’ve been revisiting The Veil, which does some things really well. In particular, each of the playbooks is given a kind of authority to define part of the world (what do cybernetics look like, what is faith in this setting, how does VR work). It has some default assumptions (cyberpunk elements, the presence of augmented reality, etc.). I’m wondering if you could build a playbook-like toolset for pseudo-historical sci-fi settings. And here I mean the trappings of retro history.
What I’m imagining is a set of default assumptions: there’s been some kind of collapse in the past, interstellar travel is possible, alien peoples exist, some tech has been restricted and/or devolved, nobility is present in some form, unpowered melee weapons are as cool as blasters, faith/church/mysticism as an institution, etc.
Then you would have playbooks for each of the Archetypes:
- The Nobility
- The Faith
- The Mystic
- The Alien
- The Guilder
- The Spacer
- The Techno
- The Psyker
- The Serf
The first set of choices the player makes when they choose an archetype would define those large scale elements. You would have pick lists for structures and institutions. This part would be more collaborative, with players negotiating where their choices intersect. But then the second phase would be about players choosing and defining their sub-archetype. Like for Nobles they would define a house; for the Faith, the would define sects; for The Guilder, different kinds of tradepersons and experts.
I think it’s a cool idea and one I’m going to work on. As it stands now, I’m not going to think about system, just about putting together some cool tools for world-build. Next week maybe I’ve have a couple done and we can take a look at those.