My first introduction to Fading Suns, came about via the 1997 computer game, Emperor of the Fading Suns, a 4x game that was a lot of fun, if a bit buggy. With some fan patches, it is really good, with an amazing soundtrack. It still ranks up there with my top games of all time.
The computer game was based on the Fading Suns RPG setting – I have the old 2nd edition version, from 1999. There has been since a d20 system and a new edition has recently been kickstarted, though I don’t have either yet.
So what is Fading Suns? Think Dark Ages in Space. Quite literally. It is a bit of a cross between Dune and Warhammer 40K and, well, everything else you can think of, but you get an idea. This is the description from the game itself;
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 on humanity, for the greatest of civilizations has fallen and even the stars die. Now, feudal lords rule the Known Worlds, vying for power with fanatic priests and scheming guilds.
Basically, a long time ago, humans found an alien artefact at the edge of the solar system – a Stargate made by a mysterious lost alien race, the Ur or Anunnaki. They used it to explore, colonise – and oppress less advanced alien races they came upon. The First Republic, which ran humanity, was ruled over by megacorporations but this diaspora saw them loose control over the colonists, who declared independence. These independent colonies were often led by charismatic individuals who were the founders of noble houses.
During this Diaspora, a priest called Zebulon took to the stars, looking for a sign. He found it and more, becoming the Prophet of a new religion, the Church of the Celestial Sun. It was very much Space Catholicism without being Catholic.
Fast forward a couple of centuries and the Diaspora began to reunite, forming the Second Republic, the high point of technology, progress and understanding.
But it was not to last. Though it did carry on for hundreds of years, internal problems, high taxes, lack of work and science experiments going too far began to cause border worlds to leave. It was here that the noble houses took up arms to fight the separatists. Not for the Republic though. For themselves. After taking out the separatists, they conquered the seat of government itself and the Republic fell.
What followed was a dark ages, with most people turned into simple peasants slaving away for their noble masters. The Church prohibited advanced technology, at least for most people. The remnants of the Republic banded together into the Merchant Guilds. The advanced technology of the past was lost and that which remained was often irreplaceable.
Oh, and the stars began to literally fade and die, which the Church claimed was due to lack of faith.
Known Space shrunk as the nobles, merchants and priests squabbled over it while barbarians of former separatist regions raided. Then one man, Vladimir of House Alecto, arose, uniting the Know Worlds and proclaiming himself Emperor, only to be assassinated by unknown hands during his crowning.
He left behind the administration of the Known Worlds, but no Emperor – and squabbles for the Throne. Centuries later, one claim unleashed a five-way war for the throne, with the five remaining great houses fighting for it, and the Church and Merchant League watching on from the sides to try and take advantage of it. Finally Alexius of House Hawkwood gathered the support of the Church and Merchant League and made alliances with two other Great Houses, Al-Malik and Li Halan, defeating his opponents and crowning himself as Emperor Alexis the First.
And that is where the game starts, with peace finally at hand, the Emperor rebuilding the Known Worlds and looking beyond the Known Worlds for new worlds and opportunities. It is a dangerous place out there, with aliens and monsters and, if you believe the Church, daemons.
And now for a quick, brief look at how the system works. As normal, you have statistics and you have skills. Add the two of them together and try and roll equal to or less than that number on a 1d20. The GM can give modifiers to the target number, of up to +10/-10 depending on whether something is routine or almst impossible.
Of course there is a little more to it than that. The higher that you roll, the more victory points you gain, which translates to the degree of success that you obtain. Rolling a 2 means you barely accomplished your task, but a 14 would mean you did a very good job at it.
But it doesn’t stop there. If you roll the exact number of your combined skill and stat, you score a critical success and double the number of victory points you would earn. Which means about 1 in 20 times.
There is a down side to it, as well. No matter how high the number is you are rolling against, a 19 is always a failure and a 20 is a critical failure. As in not only did you fail, but you failed really badly.
That means, no matter how good you character, you will automatically fail 10% of the time you attempt anything. Like hitting a tied up enemy or tying your shoelaces. In part that is why I’m not the biggest fan of D20 systems. You automatically fail (or critically fail) far too often.
If characters are opposing each other you can have contested rolls. In such cases the person who has the most victory points wins. They subtract the number of victory points the loser has to work out how successful they were. So if one person had 3 victory points and the other 2, the first person succeeds with 1 victory point, or only just.
Combat, of course, is a little bit different as well. If you are successful in an attack, the number of victory points you get turn into victory dice. This is added to the base damage dice of the weapon you are using. For example, a sword does 6d damage and if you make a successful attack with 3 victory points, you add 3d to your roll, for a total of 9d. The dice are all d6s and on a 1-4 you do 1 wound to your opponent.
Armour also has a dice rating, and works the Same way. For each 1-4 you roll, you take one less wound. There are also personal body shields and various special maneuvers as well but that is for another time.
There are two ways that you can make characters in Fading Suns. One is a points buy system, which gives you way more options but also is a bit slower to do, especially if you are new to the system. The other is a lifepath system were you choose from various packages depending on what type of character you are. Each package gives some preset stats and skills, plus a few options for you to choose from, reflecting how you lived your life prior to starting adventuring. A noble who grew up in court is a little different to one who grew up landless. Even so, it is a bit more limited than points buy as you can imagine.
There are four groups that your character can come from; Those Who Rule (nobles), Those Who Pray (priests), Those Who Trade (merchants) and Those Who Differ (aliens), at least for the Lifepath version of character creation. There is nothing stopping you creating a peasant through the point buy method, but the setting being what it is, that would come with some major flaws to it.
Everyone has three groups of stats – body, mind and spirit. Body and mind have three stats in each of them – for body it is strength, dexterity and endurance, while for mind it is wits, perception and tech. These all start at a base value of 3 and can increase to a maximum of 8 during character creation (with one exception, one of the alien races can get strength to 10.)
The spirit characteristics are a little different – you have three pairs of stats, those being extrovert/introvert, passion/calm and faith/ego. Each pair can only reach 10 combined, so if one is at 7, the other can only be a 3. You have to decide, then, if you are going to go balanced or favour one over the other. Given that various abilities are keyed off a stat in the pair, you could end up good, bad, or average at them depending on your choice.
For skills you have both natural and learned skills. Natural ones are things like dodge, observe and impress, and everyone starts with 3 ranks in them. Learned ones, such as knowledge skills, crafting, piloting and so on, start with no ranks and require you to train in them first.
That is just a brief run down on how it works without getting into things like psychic abilities, fighting styles, benefices and curses and more.
Next time I shall start on the first character, a noble, using the lifepath method.