Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Review: The Fading Suns RPG blends SF and gothic horror roleplaying to create something dark, brooding, mysterious. The basic setting is as odd and as quirky as the game's style of play: take the Byzantine Empire, just before its fall, and re-set historical events in the far future, in an age of galactic exploration where darkness and barbarism encroach on all sides. Very dark, very gothic.
Players take the role of priests, nobles, merchant techs, aliens, or whatever else strikes their fancy (character creation is points-based, rather than class-based, though profession templates give players a 'standard' to work from). The game setting also blends enough genres to let GM's run whatever kind of scenario strikes their mood-- sessions of FS could run the gamut from a hard-boiled detective story to a Lovecraftian horror scenario to an all-out military engagement, and oddly enough you could run one type of gam one night and something completely different the next without any lack of continuity. The flexibility of the game and setting is GREAT!
The many, many supplements released for this game were almost universally excellent! One of the biggest draws of the Fading Suns system is that it was set against an incredibly rich backdrop... and the size and scope of this backdrop is HUGE!!! You won't find many games with this much supporting material anywhere, and I can only think of a couple of games in the last thirty years that have had so much top-quality source material available. Almost every supplement included new rules and game mechanics-- something that I personally like-- so the system literally grows with each new installment.
On the down side, this game's rules are kind of clunky-- especially in the first edition... BEWARE the first edition's rules for personal body armor, which result in nobody ever taking any damage, no matter how long the combat lasts or what weapons are employed (!). Our first combat session lasted for over fifteen minutes before it dawned on us that nobody was taking any hits. I read and reread the rules, to see what I was doing wrong, and then I realized I wasn't missing anything. A quick online search revealed that the game's designers had acknowledged of the problem and posted a "fix" that worked well enough, but didn't really flow very well with the other combat rules. Since Fading Suns was designed by several members of the original Werewolf: the Apocalypse design team, you'd think they might have been somewhat familiar with the idea of PLAYTESTING a game before its release date, right???!!! Interesting concept. Happily, the worst of Fading Sun's rules oddities were resolved with the second edition, though in a few instances quirky rules from the 1st edition were merely replaced with equally quirky new rules, and nothing was really resolved or improved.
This forum allows you to rate games on a scale from 1-10. I gave Fading Suns a 7... but if I could, I'd give it a 12 for its FANTASTIC setting and a 3 for the clunky rules. My bottom line is that (for me) the rich setting of the Fading Suns game system is worth the cost of admission. Resourceful GM's should be able to make either first or second edition rules work adequately with just a little tweaking, but even novice GM's should be able to make a go of the second edition. In other words, I strongly recommend this game setting-- give it a try!-- but not without a few caveats.