Thursday, August 30, 2012

When the Story was in the Stars

I was just recently reminded of a quite amazing Fading Suns game that I ran/played in a number of years back. I didn't document it as much as I might have liked now, but we tried. It was a great little game though, which lasted about two years. The original idea was for a character-focused drama, in the line of Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop. I even went so far as to post Tv-guide style summaries of some of the sessions, and title the arcs. I'm sure I might have more in my lost notes on some old backup CD somewhere. The best, of course, being the Revenge is a Big Fat Wealthy Bitch arc, where the party got revenve on a Scraver casino owner who had busted their balls in the Maltese Gargoyle incident in her casino earlier.

When I read the title of one of the episodes of that arc, Follow That Bitch!, I laughed out loud.
I'd like to get back into Fading Suns, or a similar game, eventually. Its really some of the character-driven stuff that I miss (along with playing in general). I think D&D makes some longer-term things easier, but some of the stricter party structure can make it harder to improvise or deal with missing characters. Even when you're not playing 4e, you know its going to be hard if you're missing one PC.
I've always said (or at least often remarked) that D&D is about 3 parts combat, two parts puzzles, and one part roleplaying. That's not necessarily true, but its what the rules lead one to believe. Its well-suited for busting into ancient tombs and finding treasure, but not always my tool of choice for doing more character-centered stuff. Right tool for the job and all that.

I'm sure it was a hard game to run. But I tried to keep some of the best RPG advice in mind while doing it. I had an idea of the end. I ran a drama on Panedmonium, and most of the larger plot would center around the terraforming of that world. Why was it failing? How could it be restored? But the individual sessions were generally self-contained or short arcs. I tried to give each game session an ending. I tried to rotate the spotlight from the Haughty Noble trying to reclaim his house's lost glory (and property) to the faithless priest to the bald mind-witch penitent psychic to the bitter alien assassin. Characters came and went, and they had their own secrets. When I handed the game off, I created a character with his own backstory (and plot hooks) and suggested we spin off one of the characters into the leader for the quest off Pandemonium.

The rules worked well for it, though they're a bit odd. Fading Suns was born in the latter days of White Wolf's original World of Darkness, and the rules have that level of granularity. You're not counting each coin or arrow, but you will gain enough power for noticable changes to your sheet. Its not quite like gaining levels, but saving up for the next power is almost as good. Things are fairly concrete, you will be tracking your rank and gear.

If I were do to it again, I'd consider adapting Fading Suns to a similar system that works a little better. Reign and the One Roll Engine stick out in my mind, though its company rules looked a little more abstract that I might enjoy. The conversion looks simple enough though, since its also a Stat+Skill game. Though there are also quite simple fixes proposed online, such as just rolling 2d20.

I'm sure my Fading Suns game failed in many respects. Originally, I intended it to be an ongoing pick-up game, rather than focusing on a couple characters. Some sessions may have been heavy handed. I handed it over to a friend after one of the main PCs left, but I probably also did that for a chance to play and to escape the captain's chair for a bit. It was a golden age though, and I'd like to explore that material again. The setting was rich and interesting to me (but I love priests). A lot of that game was in the characters though. I bet I could do that sort of thing with Vampire or Changeling or any number of other settings that I like.

Fading Suns was one of my longest running games, even if I wasn't at the helm. I ran it for about a year, and then I played for about a year. Eventually we wanted to kill some orcs, so we moved on to a D&D 3.5 campaign. But a man can dream, you know. Maybe in these days of video chat I could put a game like this together again one day.

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