[Let’s Study] Fading Suns – History Lessons

Posted: October 27, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Fading Suns, Let's Study, Roleplaying Games

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.


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.


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.

  1. Alex says:

    Muhahaha! Fading Suns rulez!

  2. I think a key challenge with a setting like this is finding a solid peg to hang your campaign on. As you say, there a ton of factions and options for PCs; especially if you throw a couple of the supplements into the mix. Consequently, it is easy to wind up with a group of seemingly random characters that have no natural reason to interact.

    For that reason, I think you need to settle on what your campaign is going to be well before character creation. Is the plan to follow the fortunes of a Minor Noble House and their retinue? That limits your options. Are you going to play Deadwood meets Dune with different factions competing for the resources of a valuable moon? Again, a different set of characters will be appropriate and attractive to your players.

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for the advice. I agree that the setting is the kind that requires a solid sense of direction before character generation in order to come up with a group that makes sense. Just opening the floodgates is an invitation to the potential of having a group with individuals that have nothing to do with one another. Of course, this means that I’m going to have to think a bit as to what facet of the Fading Suns I want to showcase in my game first, which is something that I’ll really need to put some thought into.

  3. Alex says:

    for when you get to it: a link to all my Fading Suns campaign material and musings on my blog.

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