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?”
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.
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