By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 25 August 2021
Once again, there should be zero surprise about my diving into a science-fantasy RPG. Just a few months ago, I reviewed the sci-fantasy RPG Veil of the Void, nearly four years ago I gave you all a review of Starfinder, and three years ago (almost to the day!) I shared my thoughts on the Ulisses Spiel release of Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory.
Today, I bring you the next sci-fantasy game that has crossed my path. Granted, it’s more like revisiting an old and almost forgotten friend after fifteen years, but now we have a new edition and a new publisher.
Let’s talk about Fading Suns.
Like Warhammer 40,000, the universe of Fading Suns is a bit dark. Set in the 6th Millennium, some three thousand years from the current day, mankind has grown into a multi-planet empire, utilizing barely understood alien technologies to travel to and connect planets, meet aliens, and grow the number of Known Planets.
Of course, there’s always something that goes wrong. A cataclysm rocked the world of the 21st century, leading to a mass exodus of Earth, a push for new technologies, and war. Given time, mankind found other ways to travel the stars, a new religion was founded that claimed that the stars were a material sign of the gifts of a higher power, and new foes appeared that caused this religion to re-evaluate certain beliefs.
In Fading Suns, the title says it all: the stars are dimming and growing colder, the church claims it’s due to human hubris, and now a child has been born that could fulfill a prophecy to reignite these fading stars. It is a universe of intrigue, religion, desperation, and alien threats to explore and survive.
==What You Get==
Fading Suns requires three books to play: a Universe Guide, Player’s Guide, and Gamemaster’s Guide. In PDF form, these three books span a of 466 pages (126, 322, and 118 pages, respectively).
The Universe Guide sets the stage of the setting, explaining the history of the universe, the big players, the society, and the various sects of religions that influenced and exist within the Known Worlds.
The Player’s Guide is the meat of the material here, being larger than the other two combined and being the seat of the “game” side of this title. This book covers the essentials of the game, from character creation to the nuances of the Victory Point System (VPS). For those coming in from a previous edition, VPS has changed in this fourth edition of Fading Suns and will only utilize a d20 (and omits the d6 element we’ve seen before).
Finally, the GameMaster’s Guide covers all the tools a GM would need to handle the rest of the game: a collection of NPCs, roleplaying tips, and a premade adventure to introduce new groups and GMs to the universe of Fading Suns.
Quality-wise, Fading Suns is in a good place. Unlike previously reviewed games produced by Ulisses, there’s better editing that has been done here, and the selection of background color to font is easy to read. Combine this with a nice collection of full-color art that includes stained-glass artwork and page edging that makes the book feel more like a sacred text than an RPG.
From a gaming standpoint, VPS is a rather interesting system. Like The Dark Eye and Star Trek Adventures, Fading Suns and the VPS utilize the d20 in a roll-low mechanic; add your Characteristic (stat) and Skill and roll under it. Unlike the other games listed above, VPS heavily utilizes tokens to get things done. When you roll your d20, your goal is to roll under your Goal Number, but as high as possible to net Victory Points, which are then used to overcome challenges (like the Resistance caused by armor or a specific challenge). While there’s some give-and-take with how VP are handled, the idea is entertaining and is reminiscent of diceless games such as Amber, only with less hoarding and more active and immediate use. Combine this with special abilities that let you do something impossible, break rules, or do something better/faster than anyone else, and the doors are open for quite a few interesting things.
For those who want lore, there’s plenty to get lost in here: thousands of years of history, multiple empires, alien societies and parasitic threats, multiple noble houses, and of course guilds and various side-organizations. Combine this with all of the player options (four “races,” four “classes” each with five “apprenticeships,” and a grand total of FIFTY “callings”), and you have a universe that’s ready to go.
As much as I like some of the ideas of VPS, there are a few moving parts that takes some getting used to and, at times, the explanations are contradictory. For example, while talking about Victory Points, it is stated anything unused is returned to the “well” at the beginning of your next turn. There are ways to “bank” VP, as well as additional coffers, but they all have their limits and restrictions. The rule section even openly states “you cannot spend from your bank” on more than one occasion, yet play examples site spending from the bank. Combine this with the number of different places that Victory and Wyrd points are stored, and it s a bit confusing at times.
As someone who’s had a troubled time dealing with dogma, the church, and similar entities, the setting of Fading Suns just seems too…unwelcoming. Much of the universe revolves around the church and the faith of the human denizens, to the point that sidebars explaining mechanics are tied with a religious hint. It’s basically everything I hated about the Imperium of Man in 40k (from the relgious zeal to a distrust of technologies due to being tainted by them) condensed into a book, and that just left me feeling uncomfortable in the process.
Which leads to a final point: many members of the community comment on how Fading Suns is nothing more than Warhammer 40,000 Lite, and after this readthrough and knowing more about 40k lore than I did on my first experience with this, I can’t argue it. Both are post-Earth settings with distrust of aliens, a parasitic race that’s impossible to understand or work with, a distrust of technology (to a specific degree, moreso in Fading Suns), but Fading Suns adds more zealotry and some iconography that’s just a BIT too close to Nazi symbolism for me to be comfortable.
It’s almost as though they weren’t sure what they wanted the game to be. Is it a 40k knockoff? Is it just medieval society in space (which sums up a LOT of the artwork)?
All said and done, I’m going to have to give Fading Suns a rating of 2.5 buns.
While the book quality is great and the core mechanic is intriguing, the overabundance of religious undertones and generally feel like “Warhammer 40k-Lite” leaves me in a position of questioning the need for the game; honestly, while reading it, I felt it was doing all of the same things as . “Dark Ages Medieval Peasantry In Outer Space” sums up most of the game, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Between that and the heavy costs of entry, I would find it difficult to recommend to those around me.
If you like roll-low systems, token-gathering RPG mechanics, artwork of medieval meets sci-fi, and a theme of medieval analog in science fiction, then Fading Suns is well worth the investment.
If you’re not a fan of religious-focused sci-fi societies, roll-low games, or a token-heavy game, then give this a pass.
Fading Suns is published by Ulisses Spiel. The three rulebooks needed can be purchased on their website for a total of $120 (before taxes/shipping), or as PDFs on DriveThruRPG for about $52 ($19.99 for the Player’s Guide, $17.49 for the Universe Guide, and $14.99 for the GM Guide).
Anthony, better known as LibrariaNPC, wears many hats: librarian, gamemaster, playtester, NPC, game designer, and our Editor-In-Chief. You can support his work on Patreon, his tip jar, via Ko-Fi, or by buying his games.