Fading Suns Second Edition
Let's get this out of the way up front: I love Fading Suns. I have all the books, the starship combat system Noble Armada, and even the book of fiction. I've never encountered a serious problem with the rules while running or playing the game. Why should I buy the new edition, and why should I shell out $35 for it?
If I were a newcomer to the game, the answer would be obvious: There is no first edition anymore. This is the game now. But I'm not a newcomer, and I didn't think the rules needed a whole new edition to fix any problems. HDI managed to earn my money, though. The new version of Fading Suns, while not perfect, is actually better than the first edition I love so much.
For the newcomer to the setting, let me briefly describe it. At the close of the 50th century, mankind has conquered the stars. That was, unfortunately, thousands of years ago. When they first reached out, they discovered that they weren't alone. At the edge of the solar system, and at the edge of many star systems, were huge jumpgates left by a long-dead alien race, the Ur or Annunaki. Since that time, wars have been fought, technology has been lost, and the Known Worlds have been plunged into a new dark age very remniscent of the dark ages of medieval Europe. Planets are ruled with iron fists by the nobility and the Church of the Pancreator or the Guilds. There are aliens, but they're second class citizens at best--the Prophet taught that aliens are less perfect reflections of the Pancreator's light than humans. There's high technology, but it's nothing compared to what was lost when the Second Republic fell, and a lot of it is deemed sinful by the Church. The uneasy coexistence of the Church, the nobility, and the merchant class parallels our own history, with hints of things to come. The "fading suns" phenomenon from which the game derives its name is just that: the suns of the Known Worlds have begun to dim ever so slightly. Is the Pancreator wrapping up the passion play of humanity? Is it the end of history? Is there a scientific explanation? The new Emperor, Alexius, has commmissioned the Questing Knights to find out. Thus far, the folks at HDI have been thankfully close-mouthed on the issue. I like having the occasional mystery that the GM has to answer for himself.
Okay, the world hasn't changed much, so what's worth $35? The rules. There's a lot of rules in here, including some stuff that you'd have to buy old supplements to get for first edition.
The system is still one of the most unique I've ever seen. The author's White Wolf roots show through, but the actual mechanics are much smoother and less prone to the statistical oddities that plague the Storyteller system. In Fading Suns, players roll a d20 and try to get as close to their stat+skill as they can without going over. The number rolled on the die is the number of successes you get, and matching exactly what you needed to roll is a critical success.
Combat runs fairly quickly. The same method used for skill rolls applies to combat rolls. Combat is also the one area where training means more than raw talent. Your initiative in combat is equal to the skill you're using. The better-trained swordsman always wins initiative. There are two big changes in combat from first edition. Both were originally optional rules, now made official. The first is that armor is no longer a number of autosuccesses to resist damage plus a number of dice, it's all dice. 5+5d armor is now just an armor rating of 10. It makes armor a little less reliable, which I think is a little more realistic than having armor always soak damage. People do get hit in the eye sometimes. The other big change, and one of which I'm less fond, is that damage and armor is now rolled on six-sided dice instead of twenty-siders. As long as everyone's using the same die type, it doesn't make much difference, but I just liked using only one type of die for the whole game. Fortunately, sticking with the d20's is still an option.
Psychic powers and theurgy (the holy magic of the Church) are still handled the same, although I did notice some new psychic paths I hadn't seen before. Cybernetics rules are also cleaned up and made easier to understand. Gone is the system of figuring out how many cybertraits you have and comparing that to twice your Alien score to figure out if you're still legal. Instead it's based off of a straight, easy-to-figure Incompatibility Score for the cyberware and a chart telling you how many you can accumulate based on your Ego score before your your character starts to go nuts. Cyberware also seems a lot easier to build from scratch in this edition, so either the system has changed, the old system is better explained, or I've gotten a heck of a lot smarter since first edition came out. I think it's the first two. A starship combat system which is a pared down version of the Noble Armada rules is also included, as well as the costs for building spaceships. (If you follow this link, be warned that what I thought was a problem with the boarding rules was actually my own misunderstanding of them--the problem was on my end.)
Character creation has had a few big changes. One paired attribute, Human/Alien, is gone. I don't think too many people ever used it for anything but cyberware anyway, and that's now based on Faith/Ego. Also equipment, except for ancient technology or holy items, is now bought with money. As a result, the money rules are now cleaned up and it's easy to figure out how much money a starting character gets.
The biggest change, and the one I find most interesting (so I've saved it for last), is that there are now two character creation systems! The old point-build system is still intact, for people who want to fine-tune every aspect of their character or play something that's slightly out of the ordinary like a barbarian or one of the less common alien races or guilds from the Players' Companion. The new system, though, is a sort of template system for people who want to make a reasonably-detailed character in a hurry. (Or for people, who, like some members of my gaming group, are losing hair from systems that have freebie points where different things cost different amounts.) A player decides what he wants his character to do, then decides what his childhood was like, what his apprenticeship was like, his vocation, and then adds on a couple of "tours of duty" where freebie points are spent. The end result of this is some pretty well-rounded characters, especially when it comes to stats and skills, less so when it comes to benefices and afflictions (advantages and disadvantages). The really smart part of all this, though, is that the expenditures for every stage are broken down in a sidebar so that you can switch back and forth between templates and the old system without too much difficulty.
There's not much in this game not to like. I'm not overly fond of the d6 damage system, but the system I liked is still intact, if only optional now. I did find one error, and that's a reference to a paired attribute called "Self/Other." The problem is that it's not on the character sheet, and I can't seem to find anything it might be used for. Fortunately, it's a passing reference, not one that makes a rule hard to understand.
If you're a fan of the first edition, or you're interested in a gothic science-fantasy game, go ahead and save up your hard-earned cash for Fading Suns Second Edition. It's money well spent.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)