Every gamer I know has a Pile of Shame. It’s the pile or shelf of books and games that they’ve acquired that go unplayed for whatever reason. Maybe the group isn’t into the theme. Maybe something else came along right after that was more compelling. One of the biggest sections of my Pile of Shame was Fading Suns. I loved the look and feel of this dark space opera but the system never made sense. I’ve owned the entire line for years and the only time it hit the table was a one shot Fate conversion over a decade ago. Ulisses Spiele, current owners of the IP, recently gave me a shot at redemption by sending along copies of the new edition funded last year on various crowdfunding websites.
The current edition of Fading Suns is broken up into three core books. The universe book primarily talks about the setting. It is the dawn of the sixth millennium and the stars are going out. Humanity has spread through the universe through strange alien jumpgates which sparked a new religion. The religion pushes back against the technology that’s brought us to the stars. A recent bloody war finds a new Emperor on the throne, but the noble houses that have bent their knee still have plenty of old rivalries and bad blood to settle. It is a time of peace, but not an easy one, and it’s up to the player characters to make sure nothing drags the Known Worlds back into war.
Fading Suns wears its influences on its sleeve. It’s a little bit Dune, a little bit World of Darkness, a little bit Warhammer 40k. The designers who formed Holistic Design developed the early World of Darkness and that shapes the factional play in the game. Players choose characters from the broader factions of the church, the nobility or the guilds, select a subfaction and come together for combat, intrigue and more. This edition has something of a class and level system for characters, but it’s not very restrictive. It feels more like Pathfinder 2e or Star Wars Saga Edition where you make choices at every level, many of them that either reflect what happened in the last story or where the players want the story to go.
The Victory Point system of earlier systems is explained in the second book for players. In taking an action, players add a skill plus an attribute to set a goal number. Players want to get as close to this number as possible without going over. If they do, they acquire Victory Points they can use as a meta currency for later rolls. In practice, there’s something of a middle ground that players want to aim for, because there’s also a difficulty number at the bottom they need to roll over based on a difficulty or a passive resistance. Victory points can be used to raise the goal number before a roll or lower the resistance number after one.
This mostly applies to combat, where the Victory Points generated can be used to inflict extra damage or increase resistance to incoming attacks. It reminds me of a slightly more abstract version of the old Shadowrun combat pools where players had to consider whether hitting someone harder or setting themselves up for more defense was a better tactic in the moment. Only so many Victory Points can be banked by a player, which gives duels a more tactical feel. This also applies to the social combat and intrigues, where Victory Points are spent to inflict conditions on characters, such as Angry. The more points spent, the longer the condition lasts. It also does something near with performance and knowledge skills. Players can go off and rack up some Victory Points for an upcoming battle by clearing their heads by playing their space lute or spending time reading their favorite books in their library.As a designer, I can’t help but consider alternate rules as I read or play a game, so I must give this book some credit. As soon as I finished the combat chapter, there were several alternate rules that covered the ideas I had. I like to see this sort of thing in a core book.
The last core book is for Gamemasters. It contains more detail on the setting, such as details on the slight update to the original timeline. Emperor Alexius has been in charge for a while now, but he’s taken a bride from the space Viking styled jarls of Barbarian space, and it’s not entirely sure yet if he means to conquer these worlds or convert them. This sharpens the ideas of chronicles for the GM who might be looking for something for their players to do. Establish new trade routes? Plan an invasion to create a new noble fiefdom? Convert the new citizens to see the light of the Pancreator?
There is also GM advice and a sample adventure. I’ve read both this adventure and the one included in a separate book and came away impressed by both. The core book one features a bit of a gothic mystery that highlights the differences between the factions. These can be hit or miss for me because one you run it, a certain amount of the core book becomes dead space, but I enjoyed it.
The game is sprawling and so too is my main point of contention with it. Rules are spread out between the books in ways that mean flipping not just through different sections but even different books. Social and physical combat, for example, should be something that’s kept together since most players will want to match wits and blades in a setting like this. Instead, many of the social combat rolls are set in the skills section. There are play aids that combine this stuff, but some players might be upset they have to buy more things for everything their character does to be in one manageable spot.
Overall, Fading Suns remains a fascinating setting to me with rules that still connect back to the original that have been slightly updated with some modern ideas. If I ever wanted to play A Game of Thrones in space, this would be my number one choice.