War in the Heavens: Hegemony
War in the Heavens: Hegemony Capsule Review by Eric Brennan on 19/04/01
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
A spoiler filled review of the new Fading Suns product.
Product: War in the Heavens: Hegemony
Author: Bill Bridges
Line: Fading Suns
Page count: 128
Year published: 2001
SKU: FS 244
Capsule Review by Eric Brennan on 19/04/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Science Fiction Far Future Post-apocalyse
Since the first edition of the Fading Suns game, the Vau have been the enigmatic threat that waits just outside Known Space. Much of humanity’s high technology was stolen from them. The Prophet died trying to reach them. And it is widely known that they have some tie to the Annunaki that the other races lack. Finally, the Vau are revealed.
Besides being enigmatic, the Vau were also the most easily packaged aliens. Where the Children of the Ur were complex entities taking part in a dueling mythology, the Vau were just “Chinese mandarins in space.” They were powerful, they were distant, and they had their own arcane agenda. War in the Heavens: Hegemony changes all of that—the Vau aren’t just faux-Asian powerhouses, and the agenda may not be their own.
War in the Heavens: Hegemony is the second in the War in the Heavens series, consisting of an in-character book written about the Vau, an adventure taking place in Vau space, and several appendices that describe rules info. The first book in the series, Lifeweb, is not necessary to enjoy this sourcebook, or even to play the adventure in it.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most beautiful Fading Suns books ever released. From the cover of the book, which shows a Vau Mandarin consulting an oracle, to the interior art and jumpweb map, the book is a light year ahead of some previous Fading Suns sourcebooks. At its worst, some of the art is merely “average” gaming fare, but in many places, such as the images of the prehistoric proto-Vau and the images in the Imperial Eye dossier, it is truly beautiful.
The layout is professionally done, with scant margins and two-column text. This is a book of substance—for $20.00 you get a lot of meat and very little fat.
Hegemony is split into several sections: the usual story about Father Giussepe Alustro, written by Bill Bridges; a brief Introduction; Inception, an in-character document written by one of the humans who live in Vau-space (!), which comprises most of the source material; Elabi, a three act adventure that describes the adventures of envoys to a Vau Mandarin, and which can be worked into any campaign; and two appendices: one which provides basic rule information on the Vau castes and many of the races who are part of the Hegemony, and finally an Imperial Eye dossier that describes what the Known Worlds understand about the Vau.
What is important to realize with this book is that it’s not exhaustive: not all of the races of the Hegemony are described, and while I would have no problems running a game involving the Vau now, more information is being saved for later books and a Noble Armada supplement.
There’s a lot here, and to sum it up in brief is almost impossible. The source material is excellent, and matter-of-fact enough that when the “author” interjects his own opinions I’m almost surprised—this isn’t in-character text that bores or overwhelms. It sums up the history of the Vau and their contact with their client races, their dealings with the Annunaki, their dealings with humans and Symbiots, and their feelings on the coming “War in the Heavens.” The Vau gave up their genetic and spiritual potential for Psionics and Occultism long ago, so they are now forced to master a stripped down art of Augury—the portents their Oracles give them shape their existence.
The source material also has a section devoted to Vau society, and the detail is incredible without being overwhelming—the importance of color in a Mandarin’s robes are explained, as are Vau language, their Correspondences, and their nine senses.
The last section of the source material describes the aliens of the Hegemony, from the insectoid G’nesh to the human Gwindor and more besides, as well as Vau technology, from their nanotech sheathes to their mastery of Energy Fields. The technology system is brief, but samples are given later—more than enough to invent your own Vautech.
The adventure is wonderful—it’s been playtested and it shows. (There’s a section set aside in many areas that describes what the tech-heads in the group can divine about the Vautech they’ve just seen…I would have never thought about a section like that, but once I saw it, I realized it would be needed with my players.) The PCs are sent as envoys to a Vau Mandarin. The first section of the adventure is set at a Known Worlds party once the PCs gain a bit of celebrity, and the next two sections allow them to wander around the planet and interact with the Vau, and later escape from a Vau palace gone horribly out of control under the guidance of ontological terrorists.
The adventure can be run straight through, or it can be tied into the adventure in Lifeweb. It can also be played either as a straight romp or as a many-layered Gnostic nightmare. Like most Fading Suns books, it doesn’t force itself on the GM. The one problem with this section is that the Jumpweb info is buried in here, rather than actually being labeled on the jumpmap.
Finally, the appendices are well written and informative, giving info on many of the races, as well as the fantastic nanotech Sheathes. You can easily create NPCs with this info—or PCs, if you’re willing. There will be further info on the Vau in later books, according to HDI, but you can do a lot with what they give you. The second appendix, the Imperial Eye dossier, is the perfect brief introduction to the Hegemony.
I found Hegemony to be worth the year-long wait since Lifeweb, and also thought it was one of the best supplements HDI has ever released for the game. As in most of their books, the information presented is detailed enough to be useful but vague enough in parts that any GM can make use of it. The adventure looks like it's been playtested and makes me want to run it, while most pre-planned adventures don't(see other comments below.) The book sets out to be a great primer on the Vau as well as a way to introduce them into a campaign--it certainly achieved that goal.
I did have some problems, but they were few. I would’ve liked some more obvious information about the Vau connection to the Hironem—it’s in there, but hidden. I'd also like it if there was less time between releases in the campaign--those of us who bought Lifeweb and are waiting for the sequels before running it have already waited a year, and the sequel, Pantheon, hasn't even be announced yet. Still, these are minor complaints, and any Fading Suns fan should run, not walk, to buy a copy.
War in the Heavens is shaping up to be a fantastic campaign--here's hoping that it's not another year until the final chapter comes out.
I polled other people who had bought the book to see if I was missing anything and thought the average reader would be interested in hearing their comments. Some people liked the info on Annunaki but thought that the illustrations of the new aliens were wanting, as compared to say, Star Crusade I and II. One person didn’t really believe an adventure had a place in a sourcebook like this, and another thought that there should be more detail on the Vau. Others had little or no complaints, and loved the way the info was presented to the players in the adventure, the way it flowed out to characters in a logical manner. I even managed to speak to a couple of people who’d played in the adventure, and they thought it was fantastic.