Archive for October, 2011


If there’s another impression that I got from those who love (and hate) Fading Suns, it would be that the mechanics are somewhat wonky.  I will admit that I don’t have a very strong head for numbers, but upon first reading, it seems pretty straightforward.  Perhaps actual exposure to the rules in play will change my opinion of it.

The basic mechnic of the game is the Goal Roll.  This is essentially a 1d20 roll, where the objective is to get as close to the goal number as possible without going over.  The goal number is determined by adding together the character’s relevant characteristic rating to their skill rating.  Therefore, a character with Dexterity 7 and Shoot of 6 would have a goal number of 13.

The closer your roll is to a 13 (without going over) determines the degrees of success of a roll.  These degrees (called Successes) are then referenced to a Victory Point table.  Every 3 successes scored  (rounding down) awards a Victory Point, which are indicative of how well the character did in their attempt.  Scoring an exact number to your goal roll doubles the number of Victory Points awarded, resulting in a critical success.

A roll of a 1 is considered an automatic success and a roll of a 19 is a failure, with 20 being a critical failure.  Given that a single d20 follows a flat probability curve, this essentially means that you have a 5% chance of automatically succeeding, 5% of scoring a critical success, a 5% chance of failing and 5% chance of failing horribly.  The rest of the 80% therefore is your wiggle room in terms of success or failure based on Characteristic and skill.

The GM can modify the goal number up or down depending on the difficulty involved.  Moving it up makes a task easier, and moving it down makes it harder.

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A tiny part of me balks at the 1d20 roll, and almost immediately I was wondering if I could substitute a 3d6 implementation instead, with a 3 as an auto success and an 17 as automatic failure and 18 as a critical failure.  This ought to preserve some of the mechanics while introducing a bell curve, but honestly, without having given the basic system a try, I won’t really know if this is a good tweak or just my knee-jerk reaction to seeing a system that relies on a single d20 roll.

After all, sometimes it’s good to not think too much of the probability involved in a system, if it works, it works.

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Fading Suns has a reputation of having carved out its fame in the RPG community due to the sheer awesomeness of its setting.  And now that I’ve read up on the History and Society of the Fading Suns universe, I can pretty much say that I believe it.

Of course, that’s not to say that the Fading Suns doesn’t show some of the more common trends of the RPGs of their generation.  Much like Legend of the Five Rings, 7th Sea and the World of Darkness, Fading Suns has a strong political angle with multiple warring factions among three main societal lines: The Noble Houses, The Church and The Merchant Leagues.  Each of these groups are further divided into individual Noble Houses, Church Sects and League Guilds.

History

I must admit that I was surprised that they actually went as far back as our near future as a starting point for the History of the Fading Suns universe, taking off from a decidedly Cyberpunk aesthetic (hey, it used Zaibatsu as a term) and evolved from there, as humanity expanded beyond Earth and to the reaches of the solar system, beyond Pluto to find the alien jumpgate that allowed mankind to traverse incredible distances.

The history is a sordid tale of human ambition, greed and fear, peppered with moments of nobility and sacrifice.  Time and again mankind experiences both highs and lows of epic proportions, losing knowledge and faith in some of their greatest technologies, descending back into superstition and fear.  Ultimately humanity’s massive civilization collapses in a New Dark Age, and only recently has humanity managed to bring themselves back to some measure of stability.

This is the point where the player characters come into play.  It is a time of hope, ambition and discovery.  Finally back on its feet, humanity has a chance to recover what it has lost, and attain even greater heights.  Of course, humanity is also beset on enemies from within and without, and one must tread carefully to be able to survive and thrive in the world of the Fading Suns.

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If a setting is ripe for any sort of Space Opera, then the writers of the Fading Suns have pretty much nailed it.  The setting is a heady mix of influences, with some 40k in there with the fear of technology and a world rife with superstition and a powerful Church, but I can definitely taste a whole lot of Dune, especially with the various warring Houses and a powerful Merchant League.  Psionics and Magic both exist in the setting, and even in a civilization that doesn’t trust technology much anymore (thanks to the efforts of the Church) there are still countless technological marvels that are enough to satisfy any sci-fi gearhead.  There’s even a bit of Star Trek in there, given the focus on discovery, on discovering and re-discovering planets that had been lost to the Empire during the fall, opening the way to strange new worlds beyond Known Space.

Each of the various factions presented are compelling and interesting in their own way.  From the noble House Hawkwood to the flamethrower-happy Temple Avesti, each of them has their own philosophy and agenda, and given the sheer number, I’d find it difficult to believe that a player wouldn’t be able to find something that they’d like to play.

If there’s one thing that I will express some measure of worry about, it would be the fact that the setting is pretty big, and may suffer the same barrier to entry that Legend of the Five Rings poses for new players.  With such a rich, complex and layered setting, it is inevitable that players may find themselves overwhelmed and lost.  I think it may be possible to mitigate such an effect by holding a limited sort of game, with specific factions open for players to choose from, or by providing some sort of primer to the players beforehand.

Holistic Design released a quickstart pdf of sorts with a concise version of the setting and factions (as well as the rules) that could be crucial to getting players ready and updated with regards to this sort of setting.  I’m definitely going to look for that pdf again before I pitch this to my players.  We’ve really not run a Sci-fi game in a while, and I think that this setting is shiny and new enough to be ripe for all sorts of interesting encounters.


A NEW DARK AGE

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.

A New Dark Age has descended upon humanity, for the greatest of civilizations has fallen and now even the stars are dying. Feudal lords rule the Known Worlds, vying for power with fanatic priests and scheming guilds.

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Fading Suns is yet another one of those RPGs that slipped my grasp back when it first came out in 1996, which was a damned shame, because looking at it now, I would have had a lot of time to enjoy this game.

Upon initial inspection, it has just about everything I enjoy in a game.  Multiple playable factions, but no hard Classes.  Lot’s of potential for politics within not just the Noble Houses, but also among the various Guilds and the factions of the Church.  Initially designed by Bill Bridges (of Mage: the Awakening) and Andrew Greenberg, it has a strong White-Wolfy flavor that I find very pleasant indeed.

The setting is one of the high points of this game, and many people who can’t otherwise stand the Victory Point system are willing to overlook the cumbersome qualities of the system just for the sake of the setting alone.  While I’m not actually certain if I’ll be one of them, I’m practically sold on the game as something I could run on the strength of all the crazy potential in this setting.

And so I embark on my latest Let’s Study attempt, taking a moment to dissect Fading Suns for various gems, and seeing if I can come up with a strong campaign pitch out of this experience.

For those that would like to check out the game, RedBrick is currently developing a 3rd Edition of the game, but you can still grab their revised 2nd edition corebook over at DriveThruRPG for $17.48 or about PHP 751.00

My Shifting Gaming Preferences

Posted: October 25, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games

I was speaking with Tarathiel23, one of the people from my gaming group earlier today, and he noted that I seemed to be a great deal more motivated in running games than playing them, and inquired to why that was the case.  After a moment of reflection, I told him that it was probably because I’d somehow grown more critical about the games that I’d like to play as of late.

This isn’t to say that the other GMs I know suck, but more of an issue of taste and my own inability to enjoy certain types of play.  Each and every one of the GMs in my group are good at their own thing, but so far, I’m really not quite feeling up to playing in any of the campaigns they’ve pitched.  I’m trying to go over the reasons as to why so that I can probably come to terms on why I don’t seem to be quite so motivated anymore.

  1. Freewheeling anime-inspired hijinks are no longer appealing to me – Ranma 1/2 was fun to watch, and still gets a few chuckles out of me to this day, but seeing it in the context of an RPG wherein my character has to deal with or endure silliness is very difficult for me to get into nowadays.  Perhaps I’ve grown jaded, but that sort of thing is an almost guaranteed pass from me.
  2. I’m playing more for catharsis now than ever before – Age and responsibilities tend to color my preferences, so playing in a game where my character is able to actually enact lasting and significant changes that matter to him at a personal level is something that I greatly enjoy more now.  I’m done with my doom-and-gloom fix, and would probably not enjoy a game where survival is the greatest reward in a session.
  3. I no longer have the time for severely complicated systems, or systems with multiple rules exceptions – As was noted in an earlier post of mine, I’m not exactly the rules-happy guy I used to be a decade ago.  HERO still has a special place in my heart, but I doubt that I’ll be able to get a game up and running with the same kind of prep work I had before.  I can’t even look at the default rules for Exalted without feeling queasy.
  4. I’m tired of the same old game offerings – This might be more than a little hypocritical, but I’m starting to get tired of the Exalted and L5R treadmill that our group tends to go with.  I love both settings, but at this point unless the campaign approaches either of these settings with a fresh take that explores new avenues?  I’ll probably pass.

Again this isn’t a criticism of any of the GMs in my group, but more of me trying to explore what it is that demotivates me when it comes to going for a particular campaign pitch as a player.  These days I see GMing as the only way to break out of the rut and hopefully get to try out new and less complicated approaches to get the same kind of fun out of the hobby as I used to.


Last weekend, our group decided to try something different.  In this case, long-time poster and first-time GM Hikkikomori volunteered to run a few D&D games now and then, both to try out the activity, and to give me a chance to actually play for once.

Hikkikomori made a good showing, taking to the role of GM naturally.  The 4e rules were a solid springboard to work with, and Hikkikomori knew enough of the rules to make good quick judgement calls on whatever came up.  The scenario was pretty standard, but that’s not a point against his creativity.  The group was looped into caravan duty, with all of us escorting a cheapskate caravan master who was our only key to getting to the City of Five Kings.

The inevitable ambush was expected, but I will admit that it was a perfect way to get the group into the irreverent tone of a casual hack-and-slash D&D adventure.  The fight was longer than we had expected, but Hikkikomori demonstrated a good sense of pacing, making sure that it never drew on too long with too much of the “I hit, you hit” mentality.  Creative use of his Caravan Master’s idiosyncrasies were enough to keep up on our toes as we tried to corral the caravan master away (lest he die) and still take down the bad guys.

Overall, I felt that Hikkikomori has a lot of potential to be a GM that can roll with the blows that his players throw at him.  He’s quick to react, and quicker to make interesting ways to keep the game from devolving into a simple tactical exercise.  I’m eager to see what he has planned after this one, and see if he’ll work in other forms of conflict in the game as well, considering that our characters are about to get into a large metropolitan location full of crazy potential for all sorts of shenanigans.