Review: RedBrick – Fading Suns


Fading Suns
Fading Suns is a space opera system written by Bill Bridges and Andrew Greenberg and initially published by Holistic Design while currently supported by RedBrick, LLC (Revised 2nd Edition).
By Aaron T. Huss

Fading Suns is a dramatic space opera system set in the dawn of the 6th Millennium, progressing Earth’s time-line. Upon reaching the stars, mankind has discovered a jumpgate at the edge of our solar system. Activation of the jumpgate launches our spacecraft into distant solar systems within our galaxy. By traveling through a series of jumpgates, one can potentially reach vast distances away from Earth and the universe beyond. But all is not Utopian in this distant future. Around the 5th Millennium, everything appears to collapse and the galaxy is thrown into a new dark age. Distant worlds are disconnected from the rest of the core worlds, creating what becomes the Known Worlds (those that are still in communication). Technology is lost or becomes forbidden and begins to digress throughout the galaxy (except space travel). The end result: a beautifully colored setting filled with medieval-styling and far future, sci-fi technology creating a very memorable space opera creation.

But that is just a very brief summary. Fading Suns is a roll-under system using a d20 and a target number based off a combination of a character’s attributes and skills. The setting is filled with the gambit of setting themes wrapped around a history of prosperity and despair. So what are the fading suns? They are just that! The suns of the various solar systems are starting to fade and no one really knows why. Through the influence of the Orthodox church, humanity needs to unite or face utter destruction. So where’s the rift in mankind? Everywhere. One major underlining theme within Fading suns is the struggle between the nobility, church, and mountain of merchants. One should be cautious lest they step on the wrong feet.

The book being reviewed is actually the 2nd Edition hardcover from Holistic Design.

SETTING

The first approximately 60 pages of Fading Suns is dedicated to introducing the setting. This includes a letter that introduces the storyline found periodically throughout the publication, the standard introduction to role-playing, and full knowledge of the Fading Suns background and current standings. The setting takes you from the dawn of the first republic through the centuries and millennia leading up to the current game time (the dawn of the 6th millennium). The history of the galaxy and beyond is filled with ups and downs as humanity reaches a zenith only to come crashing down upon itself and being thrown into a new dark age. The noble houses are able to rise up again, albeit less in number, and feudalism is renewed.

The current state of the galaxy, or rather the Known Worlds, is rife with nobility, influences of the church, merchant guilds, and friendly and hostile alien races. Each planet is essentially controlled by a specific entity with the noble houses controlling the bulk of them. This spanning of the imperial allies is only possible due to the jumpgates discovered at the dawn of the first republic. These jumpgates allow you to not quickly travel but rather appear at a new destination within the spiderweb that is the jumpweb. Tuned correctly, these jumpgates send you to different places, although many destinations have been lost over the past centuries. But are these jumpgates being overused?

The sun’s of the various solar systems began to fade. The cause is unknown but rumors abound. One rumor is the overuse of the jumpgates. Another rumor is one of the hostile alien races is causing the occurrence. Yet another rumor (from the church mainly) states that humanity’s time is over. Regardless of the purpose, humanity must reunite and save themselves.

RULES

This section is the base mechanics of the system and how they work. As noted before, Fading Suns utilizes a roll-under system with a d20 and a target number based off a combination of one’s main attribute and its associated skill. This means that as a character improves throughout their career, the chance at succeeding a d20 roll also improves. Damage is done with a set of d6 depending upon the weapon and how successful the d20 roll was. The majority of the base mechanics are fairly simple other than the Victory Chart, which I won’t get into.

CHARACTERS

There are actually two different ways to create a character: custom and template. The standard appears to be the template method which is essentially defining a character’s history by choosing the applicable template (each carries a grouping of cumulative bonuses and penalties). The steps are fairly simple: choose a faction (noble, priest, merchant, or alien), choose the three templates that represent the stages of one’s career (upbringing, apprenticeship, and early career), and choose extra stages. Being limited to a single faction may not create the exact type of character desired, but that is covered by the custom method. The custom method allows you to assign your stats which essentially creates custom templates but creates the exact character desired. While completely customizing your character can be fun, it can also be tedious and challenging. The template method helps to remedy this and speed up character creation.

TRAITS

The traits section explains the next stage of the base mechanics and character creation: understanding all those stats you just wrote down. It’s a little odd, to me, that this section is after the character creation section. It would probably be better placed in the Rules section for proper understanding during character creation. You wouldn’t want to misunderstand your character’s stats. Besides that, this section properly explains all characteristics (the character’s base abilities), natural skills, and advanced skills. Experience points are also fully addressed.

OCCULT

Everything concerning magic is wrapped into the Occult. There are three types of magic: psychic powers, theurgy rituals, and antinomy spells. Each one is unique in its own right and utilizes a different set of Spirit-focused skills. A large host of spells are included here and each one is properly described and detailed. Spellcasting follows the same mechanics as other skill uses plus it utilizes a separate set of points which can be though of as magic points (called Wyrd points).

COMBAT

Combat in Fading Suns is a combination of interesting mechanics. To start, each weapon carries with it an initiative rating. This makes sense as heavier or more complicated weapons have to wait for those brandishing lighter or simpler weapons. In addition, martial arts and fencing are handled separately (mechanics-wise). For those who wish to spend time training in martial arts, they benefit from special moves during hand-to-hand combat. Those who wish to spend time training in the artistic use of a sword benefit from special moves during melee combat. It should be noted that each special move learned also carries a bonus or penalty to initiative and adds a lot of depth to a combat scene.

That creates a lot of options, but something falls apart. Characters are only allowed one action per round without penalty. Two actions impose a penalty while three actions impose an additional penalty. This means you cannot make an offensive move and a defensive move in the same round without acquiring the multi-action penalty. This could create a lot of failed actions as the chance of succeeding drops significantly. In addition to this, a character can only move 1m each round without penalty. Characters should be able to move more than that in a single round without it affecting their combat action. Even though you have lots of options during combat and each one occurs on its own initiative, combat seems a bit static because of the heavy multi-action penalties.

TECHNOLOGY

Fading Suns exhibits a mish-mash of technology from medieval-styled swords to energy-blasting guns. These are balanced by cost and hopefully by damage rating. Oddly enough, weapons and other equipment are described and detailed in the Technology section but are contained within a chart in the Combat section.

Technology doesn’t stop at weapons, it also includes cybernetics, vehicles, and starships. There is a good amount of information for constructing starships including use of the jumpgates. This adds a bit of space travel and combat to the Fading Suns system which can really enhance the space opera appeal.

GAMEMASTERING

Gamemastering includes the standard bits and pieces that are meant to aid the gamemaster in creating adventures (called dramas) and campaigns (called epics). This is all fairly standard but helps to establish some of the mood designed into Fading Suns. In addition to the standard information, the adversaries listing is contained herein which are mostly humanoid with a small grouping of creatures.

PLANETS

Planets gives a brief overview of the currently Known Worlds. The information is a very high-level overview and meant to simply introduce the different planets. More importantly though, is the Lost Worlds. There is a tool-kit contained here that allows the GM to create their own world, translating into a Lost World that has just been rediscovered.

PANDEMONIUM

Pandemonium is a recently rediscovered Lost World and published drama. The source material for Pandemonium gives a look at the history or the planet, but little detail about the physical characteristics of the planet. The associated drama is a little weak and seems very static. There is not very much content dedicated to fleshing out this drama and more could be dedicated to describing Pandemonium. However, it is an introductory drama and helps the players learn the system.

OVERALL

Fading Suns is not only a system ready for long-term campaigns, it is a setting that is waiting for discovery. After the collapse of an enormous republic, the known worlds number less than what was previously discovered. The galaxy has been thrown back into feudal times where few noble houses control the majority of the lands. The characters are forced to overcome the challenges faced by being caught between these noble houses, the Orthodox church, and the imperial body. At the same time, there are worlds just waiting to be rediscovered, and who knows what technology base they will hold. Everywhere you turn, there are potential struggles of power between these three forces. But it doesn’t stop there, add in alien races (friendly and hostile) and a huge number of merchant groups. The galaxy is in constant flux as everyone vies for power or control in a selfish act of survival.

Oh, and don’t forget, you may need to find out why the suns are fading…

The potential for hours and hours of adventures and campaigns (referred to as dramas) is endless.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
Fading Suns is a beautiful book. The color cover could be improved, but the interior illustrations (regardless of being black and white) are excellent! The many aspects of the setting (medieval, dark ages, sci-fi, aliens, nobility, just to name a few) come through wonderfully within those illustrations. In addition, the drama being portrayed by the setting can also be “felt”. The power held by the church on the nobility can easily be seen. In addition to illustrations, the layout and presentation are of the highest quality. The entire book is easy to read and easy to follow. Mechanics are readily pointed out and explained thoroughly with all associated stats being easily read. The only thing missing is a two-page appendix with all the applicable charts and combat listings. Something simple and easy to copy/print.

Mechanics: 7 out of 10
Fading Suns has a very interesting set of mechanics. Combining one’s base attributes with the linked skill to create your target number to roll-under is a great mechanic. As your character progresses throughout a campaign or life of dramas, that target number will increase and allow for a higher chance of success. Creating an initiative rating for each type of combat action is another great mechanic forcing players to choose their actions wisely and be fully aware of their opponents actions. The mechanics for martial arts and fencing are extremely interesting, albeit a little on the advanced side. It’s very cinematic and realistic to think that characters who spend more time training in the arts of these combat styles should have the ability to perform more extraordinary actions than those who do not.

I may be biased, but wound penalties are a great addition to any game system. Fading Suns assigns penalties to a character should their Vitality (essentially hit points) fall too low. This also affects the speed at which they heal. Another interesting mechanic is how powers, rituals, and spells are handled (and how they are all tied to the occult). They seem an actual part of one’s body and soul as much as it is how well you learn and understand the arcane.

The way multiple actions are handled during combat is a bit clunky. One can perform a single action and move up to 1 meter without penalty does not create dynamic movement. Performing an attack and a defense action forces a multi-action penalty. Essentially, in a single round of combat, characters are only allowed to do one thing without penalty. This is very limiting and could potentially make combat very long. If one wanted to move, attack, and defend, all of your actions would be at -6 to the target number.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
Fading Suns has a very Dune-like design. The galaxy is feudal in nature and the major noble houses control most of the planets. They pay their tithes to a central imperial body, controlled by the emperor, weaved throughout are territories controlled by the Orthodox church and various alien species. This style of design brings many aspects of medieval times into the setting along with sprinklings of fantasy (in the form of the occult) mixed with common aspects of science fiction. Space travel and high tech weapons are prevalent, but so are melee weapons and the arts of hand-to-hand combat. The setting is very rich and detailed with loads of potential for high-action space opera and dramatic social interactions.

One thing to note is what Fading Suns is not. It is not a game about exploring new worlds. Rather, it is about discovering previously lost worlds after they became lost so many centuries ago. It is not about flying your spacecraft through multiple solar systems, exploring that which has never been documented. Rather, it is about flying into the jumpgate and being immediately transported to your destination as the coordinates are already known (unless those were lost and recently rediscovered). Fading Suns is not about exploring the unknown universe, it is about reuniting a fractured humanity to ward of utter destruction and the death of the suns.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Fading Suns is an excellent setting for the player looking for sci-fi adventures with a dramatic flair. It sits on the complete opposite end of the spectrum compared to military sci-fi and is often termed as fantasy science fiction (which translates to space opera). There is often a focus on the social science conflicts like political warfare (noble houses), societal unknowns (lost worlds that have digressed in technology), and a sense of historical (the Orthodox church preaching of the dangers of technology). At the same time, there is plenty of opportunities for action and adventure covering every aspect of space opera. Much of what makes Fading Suns appealing is the detailed setting. While it has a good set of mechanics, the setting could potentially be the biggest draw of the system.

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