Monday, 28 May 2012

Fading Suns 3 Pirated


As I am sure many people are now aware, the Fading Suns 3 beta playtest edition has been released on to various torrent sites. I only became aware of this two days ago, but I understand it has been in the public sphere for about a week now. I myself downloaded a copy form the Pirate Bay yesterday just to be sure of which version of the game it was that had been released.

I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about seeing my work made available in this fashion. Not least because this is an old copy of the rules, almost 16 months out of date, and a great deal of work had gone into polishing the rules since then. I really don't want the fans to see something that is not complete, to make judgements about what FS3 should have been based on a very old document.

In the weeks since my departure from RedBrick LLC, I have been working quietly behind the scenes talking to HDi and other parties trying to get to a point where I would be legally permitted to release FS3 Players Guide and GMs Guide, and to do so free of charge as a fan project. For their part HDi had been very receptive to the idea, but are still deliberating. I fear that this unauthorised release may prejudice their decision making, and make it impossible to release the current versions of both books.

I was going to be making an announcement in the next few weeks concerning another project that I am currently working. In light of the FS3's unauthorised release I think that it is time I should share some of my plans.

About this time last year, I asked James for permission to conduct an open playtest of the FS3 game mechanics. I was told in no uncertain terms that that would not be happening. I admit I was disappointed with that decision. However, now that I am no longer with RedBrick LLC I am free to do as I like. After talking things over with my friends at Vagrant Workshop I am in the process of redeveloping what was the FS3 game mechanics, in to that I am now calling the "Infinity Engine."

This is not simply going through the existing document and removing all traces of HDi's intellectual property. This is an opportunity for to push the game mechanics on a level, and to have it playtested in a public forum. Vagrant Workshop will hosting the files and providing an area in their online forums for people provide feedback.

There is a lot of work to do in preparing a playtest document. The mechanics need to be written, character generation needs to be functional, and there needs to be a sample background, and adventure to play through. So it may take me a while get this all organised, its a work in progress.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Fading Suns 3 Stillborn

Fading Suns 3rd edition has been a long road for me. I have spent 4 years of my spare time labouring on it, and it has been a labour of love. The writers (Vidar Edland and I) delivered the final manuscript for the FS3 Player's Guide in December 2011, and the manuscript for the FS3 Game Master's Guide in February 2012. Both books were hefty volumes at over 300 pages each. We had an ambitious release schedule with the Players Guide planned for first quarter of 2012, and the GM's Guide following in quarter 2. The dates slipped a bit, but the anticipated release date of the Players Guide had moved to the end of May 2012

So imagine my horror when when I received the following communication on 30th April:

Dear Angus,

After serious consideration, I regret to inform you that your services are no longer required with regards to Fading Suns Third Edition and Noble Armada Third Edition development.

Effective immediately, your access to the Developer Forums has been revoked. I would remind you that you are still bound by the terms of your Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Agreement.

The reason for this decision has not been taken lightly; we respect your skills and dedication to the Fading Suns property over the last few years.

I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Thank you and kind regards,

James Sutton
Managing Partner,
RedBrick LLC
West Chester, OH 45069,
United States of America

WHAT?!

That's it? After 4 years of dedicated work! You terminate me after I have delivered on all the promises I made, all the work I put to ensure that the fans would get the product they deserved. Words are frankly inadequate to describe my feelings on the matter. As you can see from the above message I was also working very hard on Noble Armada 3, so that it was fully integrated with Fading Suns 3, I am so glad I never got round to submitting more than the first chapter.

I immediately emailed Holistic Design (the IP holder for Fading Suns), and spoke to Andrew Greenberg. He seem equally as shocked as I was, but had no insight that he could share.

I could go on at some length about being betrayed, but it would do little good. I did receive a reply to my emails from James Sutton, written in cold stiff language, that thanked me for my work, and reminded me of my responsibilities regarding confidentiality and intellectual property ownership.

The agreement I signed with RedBrick LLC, that all the contributors signed, consolidated the Intellectual Property of the product in the hands of RedBrick LLC. This may seem very foolish now, but at the outset the reason for this was problems with writers serving short periods of time and then disappearing leading to issues of copyright down the line. I signed this agreement on the wider set of promises and inducements, including payment for my work, release schedules, and on the understanding that a secondary agreement, encompassing all these promises would be issued within a month. This didn't happen, I chased RedBrick LLC for this agreement on an almost monthly basis and was told by James that it was "with the lawyer" and was expected immanently.

As a result I feel that James / RedBrick has breached their contract with me. Yes this is an abject lesson in trust no one, not even people you think are your friends. Get it all down on paper before you give them anything. I have since exchanged a few emails with James as I tried to work out what exactly had happened. To date I have not received any valid reason for the termination of my position or the Fading Suns 3 project.

I did receive this...

I don't believe that I indicated the game line would be canceled. However, to avoid ambiguity, RedBrick will be continuing with the Fading Suns and Noble Armada licenses and with Third Editions of those games. I confirm that none of the content that you personally have created for FS3 and/or supporting materials (Dispatches, Shards, etc.) will be used by RedBrick.

Given that I wrote the vast majority of the material (with some contribution from Vidar Edland, and Alex Wichert). This in effect says that RedBrick LLC is throwing everything out and starting over from scratch. I still have no idea why this decision has been taken, and if anyone out there has any insight I'd love to hear it.

In the same email...

In terms of your retention of the non-proprietary content contained in your work in FS3, that is released to you with the following exclusions: any and all elements directly related to HDI's Fading Suns and Noble Armada games, including, but not limited to elements of trade dress (logos, images), proper and place names, races, game elements, or content that has been published by Holistic Design and/or RedBrick under license from HDI. This includes use of and/or representation of the mechanics of FS3 as the Victory Point System.

Okay even though I have the rights to the texts I wrote, I am still am not able to publish them, as I do not have a licence from HDi to do so. I guess I could investigate the legality of a "fan project", or I could file the serial numbers off, and perhaps release it under another name.

Here ends my association with James Sutton, Managing Director of RedBrick LLC.

Now I'm off to start a new Chapter, both literally and metaphorically.

Fading Suns 3, Starships

The final chapter of the Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3) Players Guide covers starships and some basic aspects of space travel. In the previous edition of the game (FS2), this aspect was left underdeveloped (a little odd for a game that is essentially space opera). In part, this was supposed to be tied into the Noble Armada miniatures game, but not everyone wanted to use miniatures to represent ship-to-ship combat.

In FS3 we made a determined effort to give Fading Suns its own space combat rules and ship construction system. (Please note that there is no crosslink with Mongoose Publishing's "A Call to Arms: Noble Armada". Though these two properties were both created by HDI and exist in the 'Universe of the Fading Suns', the development of both games is separate.)

There are quite a few changes between the FS2 and FS3 starships, not least of which is the new dependence upon a ship reactor. At the heart of every starship is a reactor that produces all the power the ship uses to maneuver, fire weapons, project shields, etc. But the more you want to do, the hotter you have to run the reactor and the more 'visible' the ship becomes. This introduces an element of stealth into starship encounters.

In FS1/2 if the characters were faced with an Inquisitorial jumpgate blockade, they had one option: fight. In FS3, when faced with a blockade, you can power up all your weapons and shields and fight it out or you can power everything down and try to slip past undetected.

Another big difference with FS3 is the number of jumps a ship can make. This mirrors limits that were in place in FS1, but removed in FS2. In FS2 a ship could jump as many times as it needed, meaning that if it did not have to land on a planet -- it could visit any system in the Empire within a few days. Now jumpdrives have a limited number of jumps before they must be overhauled. We feel this enhances the 'age of sail' feel of the setting, where voyages took time to get from one place to another. The rationale for this overhaul is based on a buildup of Wyrd energies in the arcane technology of the jumpdrive, which can only be dealt with safely while docked. (Perhaps a ship without a Sathra Damper doesn't have the same problems?)

Starship construction is a simple affair, and features both pick-and-mix components and starship benefits and afflictions. If a character (or group of characters) wants to buy a ship during character generation, they can, and they can buy the benefit cost down with various problems that afflict the ship, from hauntings to a poorly-shielded reactor core.

Something that is difficult to achieve with 'generic' spaceships is to individualize the starships of the Known Worlds. No two ships are quite the same, so while we present a small catalogue of sample ships with a base line stat profile, we also give a couple of customized examples for each class to try and get across the idea that the base stat line is just the beginning.

Starship weapons have also been examined and undergone a few changes. Some have been renamed -- lances replacing lasers, batteries replacing slug guns, etc. Some have been redesigned -- the heat blaster has been reworked as a heat caster and has a completely new effect, gremlin guns and EM pulse guns swapped their effects (to make them more intuitive), and EM pulse guns were renamed to volt pulse guns to make them more thematic.

Some weapons were designated as 'arcane' and are highly restricted in availability, usually finding their way onto Church vessels or House Capital ships, but rarely on the kinds of ships employed by PCs.

Fading Suns 3, Technology

In Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3) we look very closely at technology. First up we re-calibrated the Tech Level descriptions a bit and expanded them to include non-adventuring gear and give a general sense of what life might be like living under TL2, rather than TL4 (for example). We also had to make some choices about available tech, manufacturing capability, and generally remind ourselves what the Fading Suns should feel like.

In general terms, the Phoenix Empire is a TL5 (Diaspora Era) level of tech, although it has the limited ability to produce a few higher tech items, like shields and energy weapons. The vast majority of the population are serfs, and for the most part they live under appallingly low tech conditions, often with no access to electricity and only basic sanitation. Although nobles and some freemen have greater access to technology, they seldom live at technology levels beyond what would be comparable to the early 20th century.

While much of the tech available on the equipment lists will be familiar to those with FS1/2 there are a few changes here and there. Some high-tech weapons have been differentiated from each other. For example, laser weapons are now called lance weapons and come with special shooting modes that allow a beam to be held on target to burn through or slice a victim in two, thus making them unique from blaster weapons.

Because of changes to the VP system, the overall damage capability of weapons has been reduced and armor calibrated to match. Shields are still effective, but can now be adjusted by an experienced technician to change the protective range of the energy field. This helps prevent dueling from becoming too predictable, as you will first have to test an opponent's defenses to discover how well-protected he actually is.

Fading Suns 3, Exotic Paths

I have already covered the two major occult abilities (psi and theurgy) that appeared in previous editions of the game. Today I'm to reveal two new ones! These are 'Cybernetics' and 'Misfits' (the Changed). After much deliberation it became apparent that previous implementations of these areas of the rules had been unsatisfactory, and that redesigning then as occult abilities seemed the most appropriate way to integrate them into the game and the world view of the inhabitants of the Phoenix Empire.

Both cybernetic implants and changed gifts work in much the same way and like the other occult abilities come with their own dark side. The real difference between these two areas is that cybernetics are intended as a way for a character to improve on existing capabilities (like having a strength booster), while the changed gifts give a character the opportunity to develop completely new capabilities (like being able to breath a toxic atmosphere).

I just want to be clear at this point that all Misfits are Changed, but not all Changed are Misfits. Misfits are a particular type of 'mutable' changed that alone can develop new mutations over time by exposure to industrial pollutants, awakening an untapped genetic legacy and such. The Changed represents a much broader class of individuals with stable genetic modifications. Players have the option to play these 'stable' Changed (Grimsons, Clones etc) by purchasing the Changed benefit from the Benefits & Afflictions chapter.

The cyber chapter includes a quick and very simple modular construction system for implants. This is very much simplified over the FS2 construction system. When building an implant, just pick what you want it to do and pay the points cost for it. Simple!

Oh but then there is the dark side of cyber to consider. As with theurgy and psi this uses an 'attribute pool' to chart the accumulation of 'Glitch'. This starts with minor problems like a nervous tick, or an implant suddenly acting under its own will, and works up towards full blown cyber possession.

The Misfits (Changed) on the other hand have to contend with 'Stigma', as they gain new gifts, so those gifts bring about obvious physiological changes. The effects of stigma begin with social ostracism and end with an Akira style degeneration, though the types of gifts that changed has will govern the appearance of his stigmas.

Fading Suns 3, Psychism

Last time I spoke about Theurgy, this time I want to reflect upon the new look of the Psychism chapter. In many ways the development of the Psi part of Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3) flowed in the opposite direction to that of Theurgy. Where Theurgy became more stable and dependable, Psi has become more fickle and unpredictable. Many of the Psi paths have been narrowed down, back to the core of what that ability is about.

The way in which characters purchase Psi abilities has completely changed; no longer do characters have to purchase individual 'levels' within a psychic path. Instead, each path has become a psychic skill, with a number of effects described for it. In fact, skills are graduated into Latent, Operant, and Prime categories, and some even feature the potential for Zodiac level training. Each of these graduations opens up specific abilities to the psychic when he obtains the necessary level of skill.

A latent level effect is one that is always operating and usually provides a small goal bonus to a particular skill. For example, psychics with latent level abilities in Omen gain a goal bonus when gambling to represent their intuitive insight. A latent psychic with Bedlam gains a bonus when fighting unarmed as a natural extension of their talent.

Operant levels are the bread and butter of psi abilities, while prime abilities are much rarer and more powerful again. Zodiac abilities are limited to those few psychics who have trained to use a focus ring aboard a starship, and as such are very rare. They are presented here more out of a measure of completeness than any indication that player characters should strive to obtain them.

The Urge pool represents the dark side of the psyche and should be familiar to those with experience of previous editions of the game, though this now utilizes the 'attribute pool' mechanic.

Fading Suns 3, Theurgy

This time round I wanted to talk about the 'occult' aspects of Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3). Vidar has already released some information through his 'Void Transmissions'. We tend to speak on the blogs in terms of the team did this and the team did that. But credit where credit is due, when I handed what I'd written on the Theurgy chapter to Vidar and told him to go for it, I had no idea what I was going to get back. Frankly words cannot describe how happy I was with the text he turned in.

We had been trying to escape the 'wizards guild' appearance of theurgy and I think what we have manage to achieve that. The section on theurgy actually covers a lot more than just theurgy. Theurgy itself does not exist in a vacuum, but is based upon the religious rituals performed by mundane priests, these sacraments are described and should be a must read section for anyone playing a priest even if they are not theurgically inclined.

Theurgy itself is now grouped by Patron Saint rather than by religious order, and each theurge should choose a patron to which they feel personally called. Naturally the patrons we deal within this chapter are those of the Prophet's Disciples but it is my hope that other lesser saints will be revealed in future products. Naturally certain sects tend to venerate some saints over others, the Avesti preferring Saint Maya, or Saint Hombor for example, but there is nothing to stop an Avesti theurge form venerating Saint Amalthea or Saint Paulus. The rites available from each patron reflect the general character of that Saint, Amalthea being healing, and Maya being justice for example.

Theurgy itself has been over hauled, one of the things that struck the team was the shear randomness of ritual effects, and that to us seamed wrong. This is supposed to be a ritual practice for a very deliberate and specific effect.

The way in which rites are performed has been revised allowing most rites to be cast in one of three different modes, as a quick Blessing, a short Prayer or and a lengthy Sermon. This does not change the out come of the successful rite, but only the ease with which it can be called, a Blessing being the fastest but hardest to perform, while Semons take much longer but are the easiest to manifest.

Hubris is the dark side of theurgy, a swelling of sinful pride in ones power. Though this is now governed by the 'attribute pool' system it should be very familiar to everyone who has played FS2.

The final icing on the cake is the inclusion of Theurgical Operations. These are long winded and complex magical rites, that will often take years of preparation to complete or become the focus of an epic. They represent the seeking of higher truths in the universe, and should be considered a game or quest device. Certainly it is unlikely that a player character will be able perform any one of these operations at character creation, but will likely have to quest long and hard to discover both the specifics of the rite and learn all its individual components. These are arcane experiments to which a theurge can dedicate himself and can result in the strange and bizarre such as the creation of life in the form of a Homunculus, or other weird effects. Of course many would denounce such a practice as blasphemy and hubris made manifest.

Fading Suns 3, Character Genesis

In Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3) we carried across the Free Form and Lifepath character generation systems from FS1/2, but we also worked on the process so that you have the option to mix-and-match using parts of the Lifepath generator and Points Buy to get the character that you want to play, and be ready to play in a matter of minutes!

The Lifepath system takes the character through five steps (upbringing, apprenticeship, early career, and two extra tours). Each of these steps is worth 20 character points out of the character's total of 100 points. So you can see it would be easy for a player to take the first three steps, then use his remaining 40 character points to buy whatever attributes, skills, and benefits he desires. The Lifepath system also gives the characters a few unallocated points, so that Lifepath characters can still be customized with benefits.

We have widely expanded the Extra Tours section of the Lifepath system, grouping them into general categories: Noble Duties, Church Missions, Guild Work, but also Forbidden Paths, Circumstantial Paths, and Professional Paths. For example, a character who wants to be an agent of the Syneulla or the Kalinthi can simply take that specific path from within the Church Missions extra tours; a character who wants to be a psychic or a cyborg can take the appropriate path from within the Forbidden Extra Tours; a character who wants to have a higher rank can take the high promotion path from within the Circumstantial extra tours.

There are a lot of options to play with... and that's even before we consider the possibilities of alien characters. To be honest, we haven't dealt with aliens in any great detail, in part because of space and in part because Fading Suns is primary a human-centric setting. But we have added a few additional standard options. While the ever popular Obun, Ukari, and Vorox are still there, we have also added the standard option to play Etyri and Gannok.

On the face of it, these may not be the obvious choices to add, but the shift of the primary setting to Grail meant that the Etyri needed to be talked about. The Gannok are often overlooked, but are one of the most widely dispersed of the alien races, and live in great numbers on the League Worlds. In fact, based on numbers alone, Gannok deserved to be represented far more than the ever popular Vorox, of which only a tiny minority actually travel the jumproads.

Fading Suns 3, Game Mechanics 4

So combat has changed? Yes, conflict is a new set of mechanics, but it goes much further too. No more will you accidentally kill the target you are fighting when you want to subdue him. Though weapons like swords naturally do lethal damage to the Vitality track, the swordsman now has a few new options to better control the situation.

Flat of the Blade can be used to inflict non-lethal damage to the target's Resolve track instead. A skilled swordsman also has the option to humiliate his opponent, rather than harm him, placing damage on his Reputation track instead. Usually this is described as cutting your initials into his clothing or what have you, but it could just as easily be done by causing him to trip, stumble, or otherwise show him up to be a lesser swordsman.

Pulling the Blow, is another useful option. Just because you rolled a critical, and your weapon damage + VP score is silly high, doesn't mean you have to start cutting people in half. Using a dueling weapon gives the character the opportunity to inflict precise wounds, up to your maximum damage level! This is very handy when fighting against an opponent with a dueling shield.

Because the setting is one that supports heroic combat, swashbuckling, and dueling, these abilities are available only when in melee combat. Standing at range and shooting with a blaster... well, let's put it this way: "This was your father's dueling blade, not as clumsy and random as a blaster, a more refined weapon for a more refined age."

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Fading Suns 3, Skills, Benefits & Afflictions

I talked about attributes last time. This time I want to talk about skills in Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3). In terms of system mechanics, skills still operate as they did in previous editions (FS1/2) and are scaled from 1 to 10. So there are no surprises about how they work.

As a general principle, we wanted characters to feel like heroes, so part of that was to give skills a broad range of expertise. FS2 also had a number of 'non-valued' skills, including 'Archery', 'Spacesuit', and 'Languages'. These did not fit our definition of what a skill was and had to go. In the case of 'archery' that was easily folded into the 'shoot' skill.

For other skills, like Languages and Tech Redemption, the new Skill Synergy mechanic ultimately provided us with a way of dealing with them and making them widely applicable to game use.

Let us first consider languages. What should we do with them? Should we have a single Languages skill with a value? Should we require a character to learn every different language with a rating? Both of these options seemed to be less than satisfactory.

Instead, we combined two concepts together -- that of the Languages and old Lore (People & Places Seen) skills -- and came up with a 'Culture' skill. Much like 'Lore' skills, the Culture skill needed to be specialized. Now this approach might seem a little clunky, but once you factor in the Skill Synergy mechanic you suddenly have a powerful set of social skills.

Example: Lets assume that a character is trying to negotiate to purchase spare parts for the cohort's starship from a techie on Cadavus. We would use the Influence skill, but we also have the Culture (Cadavus) skill, which we can use to get a Synergy bonus. In fact, while on Cadavus, any social activity the character undertakes would get that Synergy bonus, because the character knows the local dialect and some of the local customs and is therefore better able to communicate and persuade the locals to help him.

Though the 'Culture' skill is rarely tested directly, it should not be ignored. Culture skills exist on several levels at a planet, faction, and empire level. Every starting character begins play with a minimum of three Culture skills. If the character has traveled widely, I'd suggest that the player should take more -- they will quickly pay for themselves in most games with even small number of social encounters.

Tech Redemption had a different problem. It was a very narrow-focused skill, which presented an immediate problem for our heroic intentions. So these three skills were rolled into just one skill. But again, the Skill Synergy mechanic helps us out by making specific areas of expertise (Cybernetics, Vau Tech, etc.) available as Lore skills to augment the single Tech Redemption skill and provide some variation in guilders.

Benefits and Afflictions have seen a little work as well. Some have been dropped, some have been added, and some have been reworked. But all of them have been re-pointed! One of the issues I had as a GM was min/maxing. This is when a player sacrifices one area in favor of another (for example, taking a -2 to social in return for a +2 in physical), and these cancel each other out in the Points Buy system.

This is no longer possible. The points costs have been re-calibrated so that, in the above example, you now get fewer points back from taking an affliction and you need to buy the counterbalancing benefit. Its a simple, elegant solution. Min/Maxing now only makes a character weaker. Afflictions should be used to add flavor to a character, not as a means of tipping game balance.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Fading Suns 3, Attributes

Take a look at the previous edition of Fading Suns (FS2) and count up all of the attributes. Yes, there are 12 of them: 3 physical, 3 mental, and 6 spiritual. We also have two types of attributes: the physical and mental attributes are standard, while the spiritual attributes are arranged in opposed pairs. This caused a few problems, leading to many a conversation about which spiritual attributes were worth making primary or secondary, or even putting points in at all.

While I liked the idea of the opposed attributes, in practice they just didn't work very well. They caused confusion, both in how the pairings worked and in what some of the attributes actually stood for. Really, they had to go, but some aspects were still useful and relevant to the game.

The solution was to do away with all the old attributes and instate a set of new ones. We chose 6 attributes: 2 physical (Dexterity & Vigor), 2 mental (Wits & Will), and 2 social (Intuition & Presence). These are rated on the standard 1 to 10 scale, but may exceed these limits with racial modifiers, cybernetics, or theurgic influences, etc.

We also expanded the Vitality health track, dividing it into Vitality, Resolve, and Reputation, and essentially providing 'hit points' for the areas of physical, mental and social conflict. In addition, these health tracks are considered 'ablative' or non-life threatening -- only when the track is completely depleted do characters suffer real injuries and risk death.

When a character takes an injury that depletes his Vitality he suffers a Wound. A wound can be almost any type of permanent damage... perhaps losing an arm or an eye. Of course, with cybernetics and wonder medications like Elixir, even these can be restored, but they don't grow back without help. Resolve, when depleted, leaves mental scars, derangements, etc. Reputation leaves the character marred by social embarrassments or a bad reputation that just will not go away.

Finally, there is a new system of 'pool attributes'. Pool attributes accumulate or diminish over time. Every character has a Faith Pool to start with, but characters with occult abilities also have a pool related to the dark side of that ability... a Hubris pool or an Urge pool, for example. Pool attributes have two tracks: a permanent score and a temporary score. All goal rolls using the attribute work from the permanent score. As characters progress through their adventures, their temporary scores will fluctuate. If they increase their temporary score to 10 they immediately gain a permanent point, but if they lose all their temporary points they lose a permanent point.

The Faith pool can also be used by characters to augment their actions, boost their capabilities, and save their lives in extreme situations. Players will want to keep their characters' Faith scores up! Occult pools, on the other hand, chart the characters decline into darkness and gaining these is something most will want to avoid.

Fading Suns 3, Game Mechanics 3

So far I have talked about some of the basic changes that we have made to improve the VP System for Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3). I want to continue by taking a look at conflict resolution. The first thing to note was that previous editions of the game (FS1/2) only had mechanics for resolving physical combat, leaving social conflict purely up to roleplay and the GM. So, one of the early proposals was to implement a system to handle social conflict.

The conflict system in FS3 has been through three complete iterations, each time being stripped down and rebuilt over from scratch. The current system was designed to work with the 'one action, one goal test' ideal. Initially, we had a system for combat and a system for social conflict, but that really grated on me. These are both conflict situations; why do they use different mechanics? In the end, we developed a universal conflict mechanic that can be utilized to resolve any type of conflict, be it physical, mental or social.

Okay, so that sounds great! How does it work? The basics are very simple. In every turn of conflict, one party (these can be groups or single characters) is the active 'aggressor' while the other becomes the reactive 'defender'. (Actually, the terms 'aggressor' and 'defender' are poor descriptions. The active party can fight defensibly, while the reactive party can choose to fight aggressively. This is more-fully detailed in the rulebook.) This status can shift backwards and forwards as one party dominates the conflict or gains the upper hand. This is called having 'the Edge' -- the party with the edge is active and receives a small goal roll bonus for being the dominant party. This mechanic completely replaces the need for initiative in combat and is used universally in all types of conflicts.

Each party chooses a 'stance' -- basically, is the character attacking, defending, or a balance of the two. Naturally, every player is encouraged to describe how they are attacking/defending/whatever. Each party then makes a goal test and compares VPs. The one with the highest VPs wins the turn, may inflict some type of injury (depending on the type of conflict), and most importantly, takes 'the Edge' for the next turn. The process then repeats until conflict is resolved.

Now I realize that some of you reading this may be thinking, "What the...!?!". Trust me on this -- it works very well, very quickly, and uniformly. Better yet, it simulates dueling very very well!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Fading Suns 3, Game Setting 1

As I'm sure everyone is by now aware from previous posts, Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3) will be set in the year 5010. Previous editions were set in 4999 (FS1) and 5000 (FS2), so on the face of things that may seem like a big leap. Fading Suns has a long tradition of slowly advancing the timeline of the game with each new book published. This was true of the HDi releases and RedBrick releases (Church Fiefs and Arcane Tech), which brought the FS2 timeline up to 5007.

One of the earliest discussions that the design team had was how to handle the time frame. Do we do as many other games have done and simply reset the timeline to 5000? Or, do we keep up with the slow advance of time? We had a unanimous consensus that we all wanted Fading Suns to feel like it was a living breathing universe, where things happened and had consequences, where old characters can die and be replaced by younger ones. So for us, there really was no option about a reset. It just wouldn't have been Fading Suns if we had done that.

That is the 'why' we have done what we have done, now for some of the 'how'.

To make the Fading Suns universe feel like it is living means that there must be change. The question was, how much change? A lot can happen in ten years, but we rationalized that the three-year gap from Arcane Tech to FS3 meant that nothing too big had occurred to upset the balance of power to any major degree. Alexius is still in power and remains unmarried, the Patriarch has still not called a crusade against the Caliphate, and the Symbiots have not pushed past Stigmata into the core of the Empire. Everything seems, at least on the surface, to be very much the same as it was at the end of the FS2 game line.

But there are changes within the Phoenix Empire. The jumpweb is slowly opening up. Alexius is cementing his hold on power into a new dynastic house, and all around the politics of power are being played out. Some of the old plot lines needed to be tied up so that new ones could be written and more options and variety be available to the players.

House Hawkwood has become increasingly distant from the Emperor, and now Alexius' brother calls for re-armament against the barbarian threat. Many believe that this is simply a cover to justify a Hawkwood military buildup and some whisper that Alverax might intend to seize the Phoenix Throne for himself.

House al-Malik fears the sudden lull in hostilities on Stigmata as the world blooms with all manner of wild life. The Symbiots have become still and unseen as never before, and their subtle agents take any form.

House Li Halan struggles under the strain of succession as Prince Flavious steps down in favor of his adopted son Akira. In the corridors of power, hushed deals are made as the new Prince struggles to assert his will. To outsiders, the House appears to pull together, but to insiders, old alliances are strained, sometimes to breaking point.

House Decados licks its wounds after the twin losses of Iver and Grail, the betrayal of allied minor Houses costing them dearly. The Mantis is a house of schemes, however, and for each opportunity lost, a hundred more intrigues are formed. The House conspires to place one of its own upon the Patriarch's Throne, even as the father of the Universal Church lies on his death bed.

The Hazat teeter on edge of bankruptcy from their war effort against the Caliphate (and the Emperor Wars), though temporarily buoyed up by the vassalage of their former lords, House Chauki, and the acquisition of the world of Iver. But neither the Emperor nor the Universal Church are being seen to offer support in their war against the heretic Kurgans.

With the impending death of the Patriarch, the Universal Church has turned inwards with thoughts of succession. Candidates now jockey against rivals in a bid for esteem in the eyes of the College of Ethicals. Some seek noble patronage in their quest to rise to the pinnacle of Church hierarchy, while others court the esteem of their fellows (and, some say, darker paths).

The Merchant League continues to scheme quietly. The recent granting of a new interstellar patent brings a sixth guild to interstellar recognition, and some cry foul. New worlds have opened on the jumpweb, but many are savage and dangerous places that threaten the flow of interstellar commerce. The dream of a Third Republic remains just a dream for now.

But still the suns fade, and things not fully understood (nor fully understandable) stir from their long slumber in the deep of the void.

Fading Suns 3, Game Mechanics 2

Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3) makes the basic mechanics of the game simpler and more intuitive to use than in the First and Second Editions (FS1/2). But we haven't stopped there. There were a number of subsystems in FS1/2 that caused confusion for many players and didn't quite work in the manner they were intended to. So we examined some of the 'pet dislikes' that I and others had with the system to see if they could be remedued. In the end, it was simply easier to dump concepts like 'accenting' and 'effects dice'.

In the interests of pursuing a system that required 'one die roll to resolve one action', effects dice no longer had a place in the game -- they simply slowed things down and added a (frustrating) extra layer of mechanics that new players had to learn. In all honesty, I'd gotten rid of effects dice in my own games years earlier, and it had gone a long way toward making the original FS1/2 VP system more playable.

Accenting was another matter, however. This was an optional rule that existed to make actions easier for those with low goal numbers, to increase the opportunity to score more VPs for those with high goal numbers, and to make goal numbers beyond 20 useable. But what really lay at the heart of the system was a general feeling that characters did not have enough of a chance to succeed on their goal rolls and to give a few high-powered characters greater successes. It was clear that accenting was a big sticking plaster over the core mechanics, and in the end we tore it off and threw it away.

To replace accenting we introduced skill 'synergy'. The basic idea is that characters may have other skills relevant to their current goal test, and they should be able to draw upon that experience to improve their chance of success. In FS1/2 this took the form of 'complementary actions', in which VPs from one goal roll were carried over and added to the result of a second goal test. However, this broke the system in two ways: first, players were making lots of rolls to figure out the result of a single action, and second, the VP count got silly very quickly.

So how does 'synergy' work? It's really very simple. If a character has another skill (or skills, up to two additional) relevant to his goal test, he gets a bonus to his goal roll. The bonus ranges from +1 to +3 per relevant skill, and adds to the goal number that the character is rolling against. However, synergy only works when a character has time to reflect upon his experience and therefore does not work during combat.

The end result of this process is a 'one action, one goal roll' which keeps everything fast and flowing so as not to interrupt a game session with tons of dice rolling. One roll, figure VPs ... done!