Fading Suns: d20 Roleplaying Game Rulebook
From: Holistic Design
Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Fading Suns: d20 Roleplaying Game Rulebook is a new Role Playing Game Core Book from Holistic Design.
I have already expressed my passion for this game setting in my review of the Fading Suns Role Playing Game Core Rulebook, but simply said, this is my favorite setting of all time. Every aspect of it fascinates me, and there are so many facets to it.
However, when I tried playing the Victory Point system, I struggled with it. I tried and tried to make the system work with my style of running and the style of my players. However, it simply didn't fit. The system seemed (to us) "anti-character" as one of my players put it. The system seemed to work against the player and not for the player. My players complained about how useless their characters felt in the game. They felt quite inadequate no matter how simple the task. They did not like the black-jack style of dice mechanic - role under but not too to high. It seem counter intuitive to many.
I admit that my style of running is a little more cinematic and heroic. I don't like to quibble over the most simple tasks when peace in the galaxy is at hand. I want my PCs to be effective and feel like the have accomplished something because the character they created - concept and numbers together - are effective and have a role to play in the campaign I have created. My players and I did not get that feeling out of the Victory Point system. I was on the verge of moth-balling my Fading Suns stuff entirely.
From page #5:
“It's not easy to think straight with a gun pointed at your head.”
Then along came the d20 version of Fading Suns, and I took a long deep breath of relief. I was already a big fan of d20 from d20 Star Wars. As far as I am concerned, d20 saved Fading Suns. Or at least that is what I thought at the time.
Content: For the most part, this book is a reprint of the text from the original rulebook. The only things that are different are the rules, of course. When the book deviates into the d20 content, it changes font. This book all but requires at least the 3.0 version of the D&D core rulebook, because it does not include essential information like character generation basics (ability score table) or the level progression chart. Also note that this was released before 3.5 version of d20. However, with a little work, it can be worked into 3.5.
After a short introduction, the book takes you into Chapter One: The Universe - which is basically word for word the text from the original Victory Point rule book.
Chapter Two: Characters is the start of the d20 content, with the conversion of all the core races to d20 and the character generation system. Each race is converted, followed by the classes available in the game setting which include Beastfriend, Brother Battle, Knight, Knave, Soldier, Theurgist, Psychic and a few others. What people will notice right away is that the core three faction-related classes - Priest, Guilder and Noble - are basically the same structure. Each have their factional bonus ability at 1st level and then bonus feats at specific levels afterwards. Some would say it is not very imaginative, but really that leaves a lot of customization open to the player.
The other classes are more traditional, with specific special abilities at certain levels. The biggest and perhaps most controversial change was the occult classes - Theurgist and Psychic. Nothing like the spell casters of D&D, the occult classes are a little more structured and limited in what they can do. However, once you get into the powers, you see that they are not so limited.
Another additional option they supply for characters is the Armor Class Bonus based on Level. Because the setting can be a little more deadly than your traditional fantasy setting, the game supplies an option for an AC bonus at every 3rd level.
Chapter Three: Skills does two things - it modifies existing 3e Skills and adds a few new skills. The skill modification is simply to add sci-fi related setting stuff, like a variety of Craft subskills as well as Knowledge subskills. It adds several new skills - Academia, Arts, Drive, Occultcraft, Starship Gunnery, Use Artifact, and Use Think Machine. In some cases, like Arts, I had to ask why, because in this case, Knowledge or Perform skills should have covered that.
Chapter Four: Feats is where the designer tried to be innovative but fell a little bit short. Along with the base feats in d20, a character can choose from a variety of feats that are setting specific in this chapter. It introduces a new feat type called a Social Feat, which primarily deals with social titles and networks of the game. There is a serious intrigue side of this game setting, and these feats attempt to enhance that.
Unfortunately, I found that it is hard to build mechanics around intrigue. I love intrigue in a game, probably more so than my players. The Social feats try to add more mechanics to the social aspects of the game when it really does not need it. There are some very cool feats in there, but some are simply too clunky. I liked the idea of the Social feats, and in fact went through the old Victory Point books and found more Benefits and Blessing I could use to make more, but I kept them as simple as I could. I suppose this is the nature of d20 in general.
Chapter Five: Equipment takes some of the equipment from the original book and converts it to d20. The disappointment in this was that Cybernetics were all but left out. There were a few items converted but there was a whole system of creating a cybernetic device that was left out. Also, a big disappointment to many was the Starship combat, which was given a short treatment but not enough to satisfy most people.
Also, there were several game mechanics related to modern weapons that should have been compiled into a Combat chapter rather than placed sporadically throughout the weapons sections, like autofire and shield mechanics.
Chapter Six: Occult Powers is the area that is the most controversial and where, for some, the biggest disappointments come. For me, I found that some of these powers were simply broken. Those that are used to the long spell lists of D&D will be disappointed because of the lack of variety, but I do not mind that. This actually helps the system in that it makes it easy to create house rules and rules tweaks to fix some of the problems. The problem is that you have to know about them ahead of time before your players exploit them.
Both Psychic and Theurgists powers are explained in this chapter, the author leaving Antinomy for future books (which they do later in Aliens & Deviltry sourcebook). Psychics have Paths and Theurgist have Rites. Each Path or Rite has 3 or 4 levels of degrees. The occultist classes are leveled out so that the character will learn at least 4 Paths or Rites. The limiting factor to either is Wyrd points, but as I found out, it is not all that limiting. Perhaps I gave out too many as rewards or maybe my Wyrd Point house rule allowed to many but the GM needs to keep tabs on the number of Wyrd points each occult player has.
The interesting factor in either case is the down side of occult powers. In the case of Psychic Powers it is Urge, and for Theurgists it is Hubris. These are great concepts but hard mechanics to enforce in game. Once a player starts down that path, it's hard to get them back. However, it does have great plot device potential and, if treated right, can be something of a power-gaming limiter. Overall, I liked this conversion.
The Chapter Seven: Gamemastering is far shorter than I would have liked. It converts some of the NPCs and creatures from the core book, but it needed to do more. Many other d20 core books supply base stats for a low level, mid level and high level NPCs. While running this, I needed that.
The Appendix: Planets section gives a short list and descriptions of each of the major worlds in the setting, which is a direct copy from the Victory Point system core book.
In conclusion, I ran this game for over 2 years. My characters made it to 12th level (or somewhere around there). I feel that I have enough experience to comment on how it plays. I love the setting and I loved the potential it had, but I ran into too many problems with this conversion. Many times, it simply felt like D&D in space because I was using creatures out of the Monster Manuel and dungeon maps from some D&D adventures. There was just not enough, in my opinion.
I feel that this was put out simply to cash in on the d20 craze back when it was hot. I do not feel that Holistic Design (HDI) gave it due focus and simply wanted to rope in some other gamers who were not attracted to the original system. Although I do feel that the game setting disserves to be played, I do not feel that HDI put enough work into this rules set to give it justice. And because I really do feel that the original game system is not entirely sound, the setting remains lost in a sea of pour rule mechanics design.
This book gives a good foundation for any d20 fan to play in this setting but it needs some tweaking, especially in the Occult area. Perhaps the whole occult system could be thrown out, but coming up with an alternative that is balanced is hard. I would only recommend this book to someone that is comfortable enough with d20 to recognize the imbalances and is able to customize the game to make it work.
I think they would have been better off waiting for d20 Modern/d20 Future. A conversion to that system is long overdue and probably would have fixed some of the problems.