Okay. This is my first shot at a RPG review. This is just one of the games I've run across in my endless quest to find the perfect game (of course, when I do, I won't have anything to do with it. My friends have long since stopped listening to me when I start raving about the great new game I found this week). I picked it as my first because it stood out in my collection as a good example of a decent system backed up with a fantastic setting. That, and it was one of the first books I found rummaging under my bed.
Anyway. I'll now begin talking to those of you who haven't stopped reading after a paragraph of nonsense. Fading Suns has one of the best RPG backgrounds I've ever read. In that respect, it's right up there with Blue Planet (the best sci-fi setting yet, IMHO). The entire idea of a technological Dark Ages, which parallels the historical Dark Ages almost precisely, works quite well. The Known Worlds provide a rich setting which is full of story hooks GMs can utilize in their games. Of course, it doesn't work for all game types (I'm thinking particularly of a space-opera type game here, though I'm sure you could make it work if you were dedicated enough), but most sci-fi story ideas, as well as even some medieval ones, could be trimmed to fit the Fading Suns universe.
There are three different broad Roles that characters fall into in FS. Now, I can hear the sounds of hands smacking foreheads as some of you out there think "Class system!" But it isn't, not really. Once you read through the background information, it becomes pretty clear that these are your choices of character type not for game system reasons but for setting reasons. You can be a Noble, Priest or Merchant (with many sub-groups within each). I suppose you *could* play something else...but why would you want to roleplay a serf? More character options are given in the Player's Companion, but they aren't essential. You can get along just fine with what's provided.
Character creation and development is my primary concern when I pick up a game. If the game is great but every freaking character is the same, it's pretty much unplayable. Creation was great in the FS system. To start with, there are 14 attributes. It sounds intimidating, but it's not. In addition, 8 of these are paired against each other, i.e. Introvert/Extrovert, Passion/Calm. While all the unpaired attributes start at the human average of 3, you have to prioritize paired ones: the primary one starts at 3 while the secondary starts at 1. Furthermore, the attributes are mutually exclusive: while you can raise unpaired attributes to 10, paired attributes share a 10 point range: you can have Introvert 5/Extrovert 5, Introvert 7/Extrovert 3, but not Introvert 6/Extrovert 6. This results in characters who are more realistic and less paradoxial than those under some other systems.
When you're done with this, You distribute your Skill points. These must be divided up among Learned skills like Lockpicking or Tracking and Natural skills Dodge and Sneak. Natural skills also start at 3, meaning that everyone has some degree of skill to draw upon. Characters aren't provided with as many skill points as one might think, but that's easy to fix later with Extra points.
Now it's time for the creation system to really shine: Benefices and Afflictions. These reflect items your character owns, positions he holds, pre-existing conditions he starts play with, etc. The character starts with 10 Benefice points to spend; any more must be drawn from his Extra points, while Afflictions add to his Extra points. I love this system: it makes characters so much more three-dimentional.
After this is Extra points to round everything out. Too many games neglect this aspect of creation. If you don't have a certain pool to draw generic points from, no PC is any more skilled than another, or more attribute-oriented. It's a pain to create a character and have a surplus of attribute points but not enough skills, or vice-versa. Also, these points can be used for Blessings and Curses, which are just knacks or personality quirks for the character.
This is a good creation system, similar to White Wolf's Storyteller system (which is only natural considering the game's developers), which I've always liked. My only problem with it is that no examples are given of the effects of attribute levels besides the fact that 3 is average. I know a person with Strength 8 is stronger than one with Strength 4, but how much stronger? A chart or scale of some sort, as provided in many other RPGs, would have been helpful. Other than that, the system works flawlessly.
The dice system for the game uses nothing but 20-siders, which is definitely a plus for me. It's a real pain to have to be rolling ten different kinds of dice. Anyway, to make a typical roll, you have to first determine the goal number. This is fairly easy, just add the attribute and skill used together, and then factor in any modifiers. Roll a d20, try to roll under the goal. Pretty easy. Now, whatever number the die now reads is the number of successes you got. That means that difficult generally have more spectacular successes. A pretty good system, all in all. Nothing spectacular, but it works.
The magic/supernatural aspect of the game works as well. Supernatural powers are divided into two types: Psychic powers and Theurgy. Psychic powers are divided into several types, with an advancement system similar to the one in several Storyteller games: to get higher-level powers, you have to learn each of the lower level powers of that type below it. If you're telekinetic, you have to learn how to bend spoons before you can toss people out of airlocks. Theurgy works differently: it's divided into different Rituals, which can be learned independantly for variable point costs. Each of these rituals or powers only requires a simple goal roll to use, keeping magic quick and simple unlike the convoluted systems of some games out there (
The playable alien races are few (three, to be exact), and not a whole lot of information is given on them. More is provided in later supplements, but it would have been nice to get a larger taste of their culture in the main book. The Ur-Obun are basically space elves, the Ur-Ukar are space-drow (they even live underground!), and the Vorox...well, the Vorox are hairy six-armed monstrosities. Beware the munchkins. They're a bit excessive, but if the social aspect was played right, they could be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, each race gets less than a page dedicated to them. I would have liked a few pages on each.
Well, that's about all I have left to comment about. If you like sci-fi gaming and you think the Dark Ages are interesting, pick up Fading Suns. If you're looking for action-packed cinematic gameplay or a Star-Wars-esque space opera...well, I suppose you could do it, but you'd be better off with something like the Jovian Chronicles.
This concludes my first review.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)