Fading Suns, Second Edition
The best cross-genre science fiction game I have ever seen is Fading Suns. Holistic Designs has produced a wonderful game. They wanted a fun, believable, gritty sci-fi game that would appeal to a large audience, and they made it. This game has something for everyone, and does most of it very well.
The universe of Fading Suns provides players with worlds filled with high-science, technological wonders, and advanced alien races. However, all of these are presented in a realistic way. Technology here is fallible, and in the hands of only a select few. In addition to the futuristic science there are mystical and spiritual elements as well.
In Fading Suns, human culture had evolved into a perfect democracy. After centuries of spreading itself too thin, the democracy finally crumbled. A dictatorship rose from the ashes, similar in many ways to Ancient Rome. Humanity has now entered another Dark Ages. The vast majority of humanity is controlled by feudal lords and the Church, who also work with the Merchant Guilds to keep all technology from the serfs and peasants.
During the present day of Fading Suns, the Empire is working towards rediscovering what was lost during the fall of the Republic. They are sending out parties and Knights to find lost worlds and technology. At the same time, they must fend off strange creatures and barbarian hordes that threaten them from multiple fronts.
The substance of the book is excellent. The overall concept and history for Fading Suns surpasses anything else I have ever seen. The system itself is simple, easy to learn, and versatile. All rolls to actually do something require only 1 d20, and some rolls for effect require d6's. The rules setup seems functional and realistic in most respects, the only part of it I have any real trouble with is the health/damage system. The character's health, called vitality, seems overly simplistic to me. There is no difference between a punch and a laser blast as far as wounds go, and no hit location rules.
My only other serious complaint is the limited magical systems. There are psychic powers and priestly magic. There are no other variations. I think regular magic would have fit well into the setting, as would a type of black magic variant. Or, perhaps a unique blend of magic for one or more of the alien beings.
Style wise, Fading Suns is a little sparse. The cover-art is amazing, and there are a few good illustrations inside. Mostly the layout is plain and the graphics are sparse, though. Personally, though, I would rather there be a lot of great substance and a little really good art than mediocre substance and tons of gaudy, pointless illustrations. Fading Suns does this. If you only like games with full-color type and eye-catching graphics on every page though, you will be disappointed with this book.
Bottom line is simple: Fading Suns is a great game, with plenty of diversity that will appeal to a wide group of players. The concept and setting are fun and imaginative, with plenty of room for customization and plenty of information for by-the-book play. It is well worth buying and playing.
Style: 3 (Average)