Fading Suns Designer Diary – February 2018

Note: This month’s Town Crier’s Guild report is available now on DriveThruRPG!

In this edition of our designer diaries, we ask the immortal question once asked by my favorite rock band: “Who are you?”

Characters

You can’t have a roleplaying game without roles to play. Characters in Fading Suns are members of a highly religious, far-future feudal society where science has been subsumed into a monopolistic guild structure.

People in the 51st century society of the Known Worlds are defined largely by their social class — noble, priest, merchant, yeoman (and serf). Additionally, they are sorted by their particular sociopolitical faction — house, sect, guild. Finally, they’re judged by their calling — their profession, whether it be duelist, spy, trader, friar, or even a secret psychic.

Class. Faction. Calling. (You might recognize a familiar pattern here: Fading Suns likes trinities.)

Not only do these facets describe characters in rules mechanics terms, they’re also the way that society views them. How does the character fit into the right scheme of heaven and earth? Known Worlders judge people first by their place — their social class — before considering them as individuals.

Yes, there’s that word: class. It’s kind of infamous in roleplaying games, both loved and hated. While we are adopting the concept of “character class” for Fading Suns 4th edition, it works very broadly, in both its standard usage outside of games — denoting a person’s standing in society — and its rules mechanics sense, as a category that defines a character’s access to certain traits and abilities.

Fading Suns has four classes: noble, priest, merchant, and yeoman.

These are very open-ended, allowing for all sorts of variations. One noble character might be an upright, disciplined commander while another is an outright cad and unrepentant sybarite. Class illustrates the privileges, duties, and burdens of the three main power blocs in the Known Worlds (and a loose category of those who just don’t fit into those molds).

Each class is divided into factions — the adjectives that modify the nouns of the characters’ classes. What type of noble are you? From what house/sect/guild do you hail? Are you a scion of House Decados or a novitiate of the Eskatonic Order? Do you have the backing of the Reeves guild or are you aligned with the Hazat?

Characters are more than the class and faction they were born into or raised among. Their reputations are chiefly earned through their callings. Think of it as the character’s verb — calling is what they do.

Many callings are tied to class. It’s very rare for anyone but a priest to be an Inquisitor, and the vast majority of star pilots are merchants. Some callings are favored by certain factions: most merchant star pilots are from the Charioteers guild. The core book will present a wide array of callings for noble, priests, merchants, and a number of “open” callings available to all characters.

Advancement

Fading Suns 4th edition introduces a method of character advancement/improvement somewhat different than the one used in previous editions. And so here we come to the next controversial word: level.

Before you brandish your jumpgate cross and yell “Back! Back, foul thing!”, let’s explain our reasoning.

Previous editions of Fading Suns used a “point-buy” system, whereby players collected experience points and spent them to raise trait ratings or add new abilities to their characters. There was some math involved in figuring out what the costs were. The big advantage of point-buy systems when they first appeared on the gaming scene was their flexibility. Characters weren’t shoved into pre-made boxes and forced to stay there. They could potentially grow in any direction.

Perhaps the main disadvantage of a point-buy system is the time-consuming calculations players need to make to improve their characters piece by piece. There’s a lot of bookkeeping, from properly tallying the experience points awarded at the end of each game session by the Gamemaster, to the multiplication tables used to determine the cost of raising a trait rank.

Meanwhile, between editions of Fading Suns, level-based systems were improving, adding many of the choices that point-buy systems were once developed to provide. The cost calculations were now done behind the scenes, by the designers, allowing players to choose from lists of goodies each time their characters advanced with no worries about how they were going to pay for them.

Level-based advancement systems are today more familiar to a wider audience, and they are more easily used by both novice and advanced gamers. They also provide the Gamemaster with a simple way to mark the relative power of characters and creatures. It’s easier to gauge the raw ability of a 3rd-level character than a 35-point character. While the latter number is bigger, it tells the Gamemaster nothing about where all those points were allocated.

A modern level-based system, thanks to all the game design advances made over the years, provides a wide variety of choices while giving players of all styles (from the casual to tactically minded) a good, fun gaming experience.

So how exactly will it work for Fading Suns 4th edition?

A character’s worldly experience is rated in levels, which are based in class: a 3rd-level noble, a 6th-level merchant, an 8th-level priest, etc.

Different benefits become available at different levels, from increased victory-point vault capacity (see January’s diary), skill and characteristic enhancements, increased Vitality, and special abilities related to class (we’ll talk about these in a future diary).

At each level, a character chooses a calling. The vast majority of people stick with a single calling for their entire careers, but players have the freedom to swap out their character’s calling each time they rise in level. (With the Gamemaster’s permission, of course.) A 1st-level priest whose calling is as a Confessor might change it to Inquisitor when he reaches 5th level. A 1st-level noble might begin as a Duelist but switch to Courtier at level 3. As with class, the callings provide access to special abilities.

There is, of course, so much more to say, but this is already 1000 words. See you next time!

— Bill Bridges, Product Line Manager

39 thoughts on “Fading Suns Designer Diary – February 2018”

  1. Dulahan says:

    Not gonna lie? I am not happy about this at all. It has definitely not reassured me about the system. Quite the opposite.

    I consider Level Gated abilities and advancement to be a horrible piece of game design, and no single modern system has ever made them work for me. I also find levels and classes to bring out a lot of lazy play in my players. It makes the game too much about your “Level” and no matter what, will reduce the customization ability of a character concepts. No matter how robust, it just can’t cover all concepts. Ever.

    Finally, I like when a new character can be one of the best duelists in the Known Worlds out of the gate, if anything, the original system didn’t even take this far enough.

    So yeah, I’m very much feeling very wary about what was until now the game I’ve been waiting years for (Obviously well before it was announced!). Hopefully a Classic VP Conversion system will be made for us grognards?

  2. Nerosfiddle says:

    I will not rush to judge. I firmly believe that Mr. Bridges and the rest of the design team want to create the best version of FS they possibly can to introduce a new generation of gamers to this amazing world.

    That said, I must confess to having deep misgivings about a class/level system.
    One of the great features of FS was the freedom in character creation that came with the point buy mechanic. And no matter how one tries to spin it, that freedom is lost within the confines of the class/level approach. I suspect that this design choice may be an unfortunate misstep. I hope not.

    I will continue to follow the designer diaries closely and wait for the final vision of the game to be revealed.
    Thanks for the update.

    1. Dulahan says:

      Yeah, I’ve never seen a Class/Level system be able to handle freedom of CG. They’re limiting by nature, and while that can work for people. It’s not always good when someone has weird ideas that would otherwise fit in perfectly through the setting (Since they usually come from setting buffs!)

  3. ~~ says:

    Well, that’s legitimately sad. Character advancement and free-for-all creation was the strong point of the system. Levels are boring, and giving few boons to choose from won’t save that more or less dead horse.

  4. Ragnarol says:

    I also don’t like the idea of levels much, there are other ways of controlled advancement that don’t require levels (like Savage Worlds or Fate).

    Said that I’m sure Bill will give it some twists to the mechanics that they would make me want to try it.

    But what I am truly looking after is not the new VPS but anything else Fading Suns related! 🙂

  5. Anthony Damiani says:

    Gosh, that’s very disappointing, probably enough to drive me away from buying the new edition if I’m honest.
    If I wanted to play D&D…. I’d play D&D.

  6. Malckuss says:

    Unless the classes are open, as in a starting point from which to grow and not a barrier to growth, and the levels work something like Mutants & Masterminds and are a relative litmus of character power, there may be a disconnect between the developers and the fanbase. Players are going to want to be able to make any character they envisioned, as they have in all past editions. Character generation in the most recent incarnation was a breeze.

  7. zcthu3 says:

    I also have misgivings about levels. I have less concern with the idea of classes, which does fit the rigid class structure of the Known Worlds, but I while I’ve enjoyed level based games, I have yet to experience a level based system that satisfied my preference for advancement (gradual improvement over time rather than in “bursts” of a bunch of abilities). The exceptions are Earthdawn, where levels (Circles) were actually a thing reflected in the fiction of the game, and where achieving a Circle advancement required first advancing Talents within your current Circle, and Warhammer FRP where you had a similar advancement by having to complete one Career before meeting the entry requirements of a new “higher” Career.

    Still, will continue to watch and wait for more details. If all else fails, I can go back to my house ruled VPS.

  8. Kabend says:

    Wow, all comments are so bad. So I will give my opinion which is very positive, levels are a good idea. And honestly, we can say many things about FS but the supposed ‘openness’ of the old point system was certainly not an essential, well balanced, with true identity, core part of the system. It was in fact unable to give true feeling of advancement to the players, being at the same time quite simple in its principle but really foggy in its results. And by the way, please also simplify character creation…

    1. Dulahan says:

      Kabend – for me all those things you say were negatives were the positives!

      I DID get a sense of achievement from point based, as it let me grow organically instead of in bursts. If a session involved a lot of something I didn’t have on my sheet, I could use that sessions’ XP immediately after to gain some skill in it.

      I want openness in a game, to me levels feel shackling in advancement, and far too artificial and game like compared to point based advancement.

      Frankly, to quote someone from elsewhere: “If I wanted Starfinder, I’d play Starfinder”

      1. Joerg says:

        Exactly my opinion. If I thought I lacked some skill in a special situation, I learned it afterwards with no game-system telling me „you can‘t increase that skill because you are class xy“ or „you can only raise that skill at level 5, but you‘re level 4“.

  9. JP says:

    Have to echo the other comments here – this is a terrible idea. Oh well, back to the older editions…

  10. aargh says:

    “Hey baby, let me tell you about my 12th level paladin…”

    Well, what can I say. My consolation is that old V20 rulebooks won’t just pop out of existence once the new ones are published.

  11. Roberto says:

    I am quite favorable to this design decision. I DEFINITELY don’t want to spend much time creating characters. Just give me a fast character creation system! If possible, one that breathes some life into the characters and gives the players some hints on how to interpret them.
    Keep up the good work!

  12. KrisP says:

    A lot of those things sound like they are inspired by the Cypher system which isn’t a bad thing. Will reserve my judgement until I see more.

  13. Joerg says:

    „Classes“ and „levels“ bring back memories of my worst and (as a GM) most exhausting roleplaying-sessions with D&D 4th edition. Throw in the word „traits“ and I will run away screaming.
    Make no mistake – I still play level-based RPGs, but only those with a cool game-world and only because I just don‘t have the time to „hack“ a system. I very much prefer classless, points-based RPGs though.
    Lifepath-Systems, like Modiphius‘ 2D20, are a nice compromise if the player gets a handful of bonus-points to customize her character at the start. There shouldn‘t be restrictions simply based on the system in what a PC can learn or do, once she‘s out in the wild. Restrictions should only apply by means of the game-world.

  14. Ragnarol says:

    Joerg, second edition already had a life path system for FS that I loved 🙂

  15. Markus Justinian Aprentice says:

    I don’t Know. How is it pretended to fulfil the posibility of having a seasoned veteran of the symbiotic wars right in the first character creation if it is going to be level 1? Are all new characters going to be unexperience members of the class?
    Class. Faction. Calling seems to me a very clever simplification of the root branches for the start (I suppoused that alien characters assignation areas would be clarified in following diaries). But it is difficult to me seeing fitting level system with a so wide universe as Fading Suns is.
    I understand streamline techniques but changing from build-point to level character construction is far more than a structural change. It is a change in the spirit of the game.
    From Narrativity Roleplaying to Dungeon Roleplaying and its ‘Levelistic Carrer’
    I don’t Know.
    Mr. Bridges has long experience in the designing of games and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.
    But exiting new approches to the roleplaying build-point games as Symbaroum or the Friga Ligan games that prove to have a easy character creation I don’t understand the choice.
    Perhaps it is to early to begin to judge. I will wait next diary.
    Sorry for my english. It is no my first lenguage.

  16. Kabend says:

    @markus & others. When i see ‘far more than a structural change. It is a change in the spirit of the game’ and other comments like that: No offense, but no, that’s over the top. The spirit of FS is not in it’s poor rule “spend (3*value) XP to increase a stat at the end of a session”. _That_ is poor design. FS is a galactic Epic where some enlightened humans strive to escape fantastic dark ages. No matter how you spend your XPs…

  17. Choorus says:

    I’ve been so excited about the 4th Edition since I’ve learnt about the plans to release it after the debaucle with the 3rd Edition… until today. This classes and levels thing is heart-breaking.
    I had hoped for some updated pathway system from the old FS, maybe some ideas from the unreleased ed.3 and I’ve got this… whatever D&D nightmare it is. No matter how much „streamlined”, „upgraded” or other buzzwords you put on them-they suck hard in every version I’ve ever seen. Profession could be ok on their own, but levels? Really? Rigid, limiting customisation, enhancing boredom, limiting replayability. I don’t have my hopes high for what I’m going to say, for since it has made it to the Dev’s Diary it has already been a heavy invested-in system, but guys, please DO reconsider this step. It’s certainly not going to bring new fans and a lot of the old ones are not going to like it.
    Sad day for me as FS are my favourite RPG amongst space operas and soft sci-fi.

  18. Markus Justinian Aprentice says:

    @Kabend. Thank you for the reply. Let me explain better.
    I understand what i think it is a commercial decision. D&D and Assocciates are the most playable games in the market.
    FS transformation could be focused over that premise. Ulisses Spiele has all right to do it. It is their money.
    I know that FS VP system with all its iterations is far to be perfect. Worl of Darkness which is the most close reference for FS Spirit likeness (IMHO) has 3 deep changes (it has 5 editions and a half because onyx path is developing it own version for Scion and so)
    You are right. FS has a design which can be improved (is a 1996 opus, 22 years know with poor corrections) a lot.
    But when I have said that D&D transformation, or no so severe Cypher system, tier or level transformation is affecting the spirit of the game it is because this spirit is the freeform creation and develpomet of the characters that you are playing.
    I am 37 years being a Role Player. And I’m not a nostalgic guy. I know that system rules are for braking them. Adapt them. We have done. I started to play MERP in the eighties, Rolemaster in the Nineties, World of Darkness and Fadin Suns in the new century and the break and reassembled version of this games. Now I am discovering the swedish and german revisitation of the narrative stance.
    Coriolis is Damn FS in the arabian nights with built point character construction and mechanics for the EPIC without a level or Tier.
    D&D is a good game. People love it because that. It has Pathfinder for the people that like other vision of the same focus. And Starfinder is the space opera version. All these games has a very important advance in the market. Introducing a D&D FS clone has no competitive advantage.
    I want to think that this not the point. That Level would be implemented in the own VP -2018 version system. That would allow some flexibility as old VP system has in the past. Having the opportunity of creation from scratch seasoned characters with their pros and flaws and not having to play to gain xp to get the character that you want (that other games in the market allow yo to have).
    It is very early in the game development. And monthly droped design diaries have this problems. We really imagine more than it is but it is due to the thing that we read.

    Fadind Suns is the Best Role Playijng Universe Ever (IMHO too). It has scifi, with dark fantasy, horror, cyberpunk and postapocalipsys. War, Combat, Social playing, Exploration and so on. You can play a dark fantasy wizard battle adventure and a rebels against imperium scifi space opera in the same universe.

    And for me one of the things that make it great id the freedom of character building.
    Hope that Mr. Bridges and the team have that in mind.

    I supposed that we have to wait March to see. Meamwhile we can be amused arguing 🙂

    Best Regards and Long Live to the game.

  19. Bill Bridges says:

    Well, it’s been a…special…week. I knew I should have just talked about class and let the level idea wait till later, but ah well, hubris.
    Let me see if I can clear up some issues:
    • Rank is not tied to level.
    • Level doesn’t provide cookie-cutter templates you have to follow. It gives a certain number of skill rating increases per level, but you decide where they go. Same with characteristic increases.
    • Vitality doesn’t skyrocket. It increases modestly, but this is also tied to the way Vitality is conceived and formed in the new edition. It isn’t just a marker of physical integrity. It’s that, plus staying power and drive and sheer cussedness to just keep going. It’s part physical, part mental, and part spiritual. This is also reflected in the manner in which base Vitality is determined; it’s not just Endurance but also Mind and Spirit characteristics. In this way, even a priest with a weak constitution but a strong will to live can last longer than others might expect.
    • Callings don’t restrict most skills (except a rare few that are mostly the purview of the guilds — similar to the previous editions’ Guild Skills). Instead, they offer what are called “perks” (short for perquisites), which are similar to previous editions’ Benefices but are… well, let’s wait for another diary to discuss those.

  20. Jay says:

    Eh. Sorry, Bill but I don’t see the appeal, basically you have to wait till you level until you get to improve (At least when XP was just a free resource I could throw it about as I wanted, or save it until something came along I could invest in etc). Quite often I’d learned new things but not really done anything to warrant a characteristic increase hence I didn’t.

    Vitality scaling with level is … regrettable. Even modestly it just feels wrong (Well, level an class feels “wrong” to me anyway and I grew up with MERP and RM!). If I wanted D&D I’d play D&D. Combing resistances is also a bit of a let down. Whilst you could, as you say, rely on a strong will to get a character through I’ve had lots of fun playing physically, mentally and spiritually weak characters. Utter scum devoid of spine, guts or morals. Some of my more memerable characters would make Grima Wormtongue look herculean and mentally stoic with morals of a Saint…

    Guild Skills I get, though even then most Guild Skills became known to others; Hawkwoods taking basic navigation or piloting lessons from their Charioteer etc. Outside of in-setting policing trying to limit such things via Class/Level/Calling will quickly get house-ruled away I’d suspect unless they only inform the very initial character creation choices … even then I can forsee a lot of people totally ignoring them.

    Perks … interesting, but if these are like D&D-esq Traits then again, I honestly don’t see the majority of the current fanbase (Based on comments here, Reddit, RPG.net and FB) accepting them.

    One of the absolute best things about FS VPS was the utter simplicity and freedom the system had; 20/30/40. Boom. Done. The setting informed creation as in “Unless you take a contract or somehow work into your background why you’d know how to pilot a spacecraft being a noble you can’t take it” (Cue taking a contract, contact, ally or whatnot) but didn’t restrict it.

    I have to be honest this is leaving me really, really cold. I really wanted to support the new FS! I was stoked, hyped even when things kicked off again! Delerious I’d say especially with your involvement. 🙂 But level/class and the like are things I’ve never found done well. I got burnt by Cypher on the KS and I get the feeling you’ve been inspired by that somewhat as the Vaults seem very much like Pools etc?

  21. Markus Justinian Aprentice says:

    Thanks Mr. Bridges for your quick reply. It has been some way clarifying.
    As I understand is a new way of quantify experience and this level quantums led to character advance (indicating posibility of incresing known skills or adquiring new ones). Something similar to the ritual and psi powers level adquisition related to Wyrd
    I’m sure it would be better explain in following diaries.
    Best Regards and Long Life to the game.

  22. Justin says:

    Bill, from your comment, it looks like ‘levels’ are just a way to assist players, especially newer players spend xp to improve characters and help us older hands in spending less time doing bookkeeping. And the classes just sounds very similar to how it was from before, ie, choose class like church, faction like battle brother and specialty like battle brother(heh) or corrupt battle brother banker. And then what ever players get extra at 1st level. Close to the mark?

  23. Al says:

    Well, I’m out. It sounds far too much like the terrible D20 version that killed off FS the first time around. As others have said, if I wanted starfinder, I’d play starfinder. Hopefully Bill will listen to the feedback he’s been given here and kill off the whole idea of classes and levels. I’ve get to come across anyone that thinks this is a good idea amongst my player group, and we’ve played plenty of FS games over the years. We’ll stick with old versions if this is the way FS is going. 🙁

  24. Kabend says:

    Thanks M. Bridges for the clarification. And with the one sentence “It gives a certain number of skill rating increases per level, but you decide where they go”, you have just answered the major part (if not all) of the above criticisms. The only major difference being now: players have to wait for next level before spending points. So obviously not a Dungeon & Draggeddon as feared by some fans…

  25. Ben says:

    Color me interested in the levels. They seem rather like Cypher, which is a system I very much like. Bill, might you be able to give us a few levels of a character as an example? I’m also curious as to whether or not there’s an equal level of mechanical detail for combat and social scenes. The older editions had a bunch of rules to hurt others, but when it came a tense scene of wit and words, it was binary.

  26. Matt says:

    Instant off-putting game design decision right there. I’ll be sticking wirh 2nd edition then. •sighs•

    Nothing will make me drop a game faster than classes and levels. And I was excited for FS4 as well… 🙁

    Bah. 🙁

    Stupid classes and levels, I thought we were done with them infesting good games. FSd20 was bad enough. And now they’ll be in the official next edition.

  27. Joerg says:

    I have to admit that Mr. Bridges‘ clarifications haven‘t completely removed my doubts concerning the system. On the other hand I was never the one to buy an RPG for the game-system. It was always the world and background-story that fascinated me (and my players) with an RPG. And Fading Suns will always have a special place in my heart. The Town Criers Guild News make me eager to dive again into this world. There are new stories to be told, places to be seen. At best, the new game-system will support the experience that is Fading Suns and bring new players into the fold. And if I really don‘t like the system, I‘ll buy the new books anyway and stick with the VPS.

  28. Bill Bridges says:

    For those concerned about the slow pace of advancement with levels, there will be a means of incremental advance toward the next level. Levels award a number of enhancements, and with an incremental advance you can choose to get a head-start of one of those before a level-up awards the rest.

    All this is dependent on the GM, who controls the pace of advancement in accordance with the needs of his drama. If one act (game session) ends with a cliffhanger, he might not want the imperiled player character to boost exactly the stat he needs to pull himself out of danger — or he might think that’s exactly what’s called for: a sudden rally as the lessons the character’s been learning up to now suddenly snap into focus. It the GM’s choice here (and the player’s, when he’s given an advance, to choose the traits he raises).

    1. Chris p says:

      I know there are a lot of naysayers here Bill, but it continues to look like it’s inspired by the Cypher system which I very much like. Looking forward to future updates 🙂

  29. Bill Bridges says:

    As for social “combat”, that will be the subject of a future design diary.

  30. Kabend says:

    Bill, is it planned to communicate soon on the overall project schedule (ie crowdfunding) or is it too early ? Thanks

    1. Bill Bridges says:

      It’s a bit early for details on the launch. We will certainly spread the word far and wide when we can.

      1. Ben says:

        Would it be possible for a Quickstart to be available in time for an crowdfunding?

        Will there be color art?

        Will we get more crunch, technology-wise?

  31. Komix says:

    I think we all can agree one thing, that we want FS back, alive and kicking.

    From the marketing/sale point of view I do understand idea of levels and making the game more in the line of D&D or Cypher. From what Bill says I think that can be more accessible for new players. I do not say I like that idea completely but I do understand. Sales are not probably 100% targeted at us 30-40 years old dudes who played old editions, they have to think about new audience if they want the game to be success. I know such decisions from personal experience (gamedev) and those are one tough cookie.
    Being FS veteran and fanboy I have to be honest old mechanic was not my favorite (some of my players struggled with it hard) so I will give new one a shot. And if I can make a little suggestion you should do that also.

    We have been waiting loooong time for this. I give Bill benefit of the doubt, he has more experience in that area than any of us.

    And even if I will end do not liking character mechanic… I will just change it and keep all the rest, mostly the world, the fluff that is the real core of FS.

    Let just give GS a chance, so share opinions, ideas and I know I will not quit on this FS edition in the middle of developing process where we still know how it will fell and play at the end.

    Lets all have a nice day

    1. Komix says:

      Sorry – some mistakes in last paragraphFS not GS and shuld end ‘where we still do not know how it will fell and play at the end.’ 🙂

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