Tabletop RPG Review: Fading Suns

Fading Suns cover

A favorite of mine since it first came out back in 1996 (yeah, I have a copy of the first edition, too), Fading Suns has so much that I love, which makes it so frustrating that I have had such a hard time getting others to enjoy it as much as I do. It’s the game I’ve probably run the most, and definitely for the longest continuous time (about two years of mostly weekly sessions). But it’s also a game that’s produced some of my most disappointing failures as a game master. So, it’s complicated.

I’ve been going back and reading some old favorites lately and had to take this one off the shelf. Like when I first read it, my head nearly exploded with ideas the whole time I was reading. Campaigns and characters, story arcs and new worlds…The game gets my creative juices flowing.  It has been and continues to be one of the most inspirational games I’ve ever picked up. I’m never at a shortage of things I want to dive into with this game.

The setting is kitchen-sink Science Fiction. It’s a bit Star Wars, more than a little Dune, a few dashes (liberal splashes) of Medieval Europe, even some Warhammer 40,000. That can probably make it overwhelming. However, it’s also the kind of game you can fit to your style. Want to run a game about powerful lords and ladies forging interstellar empires? OK. Want to run a game set in the brutal shadow of war? Go for it. Want something with the paranoia of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing? This has you covered. What about a Western-styled game about a frontier town? Yup. The game I’ve been wanting to run for some time would be about peasants on a lost world, who explore the region around their village after something bad happens to the local lord. It might involve them finding a powerful ship and going off on a Blake’s 7 type adventure, or it might be about taking over for the lord and making a better land. I figure, once I set up the pieces, it’s up to the players how they should fall.

Honestly, the system is kinda meh. The second edition improved on some of the issues that were in the first, but it’s still only OK. The basic mechanics aren’t too difficult, but things can get clunky, especially in combat. My memory, which has clouded over the last 20 years, is of just skipping a lot of the extra crunch and using basic roles to cover most things. If I were to run it again, depending on the feel I’d want, I’d probably go with either Basic Role-Playing (Call of Cthulhu) or WaRP (Over the Edge). I once played in an EXTREMELY short-lived game where the GM was using Everway, and I thought that was really fascinating.

One of the game’s biggest strengths is also its biggest weakness. It’s not based on an existing property. It’s similar to a lot of stuff, and can capture the vibe of those things very well, but it’s not tied to them directly. I really like that, as I might want to run a Dune-like game without having to tie things slavishly to the original source material, or maybe I want something more like Star Wars, but don’t want 40 years of baggage. However, one of the things I kept running into was players who, in their own words, didn’t really ‘get’ the setting. Without direct books or movies to point them toward, I had a hard time selling it. Much harder than I expected, since again, the setting isn’t that far removed from dozens of popular properties.  I chalk some of that up to being a young and not super experienced GM, but some of it just might be the reality of odder genre games. I’ve often talked to people about trying The Whispering Vault over the years, but usually get blank stares when I try to describe it.

I highly recommend this for Science Fiction and Space Opera fans. Hopefully one day, I’ll run this game again.

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