[TSoFading Suns] Secrets and Mysteries

Started by Troels, February 18, 2008, 09:04:04 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


Yesterday, my Shadow of Fading Suns group played the second round (third session) of our Science Fantasy intrigue campaign. We use the system of The Shadow of Yesterday, but the Fading Suns setting, a fascinating place that comes with the really crappy Victory Points System.

On that, see: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25288.0

The setup is somewhat inspired by "King Lear", with an elderly count in the a remote part of the great, dark woods of Leminkainen invoking obscure and ancient laws to make his three heirs rule in concert rather than the domain gion to one, and scaps to the other two. And the three heirs despise each other's guts, so obviously this is a terrible idea. Now all the notables of the are line up behind one or another of the three heirs, and the scene is set for some really serious sceming. The player characters are all either notables, or small folks in key positions, and are divided amongst the factions. Thematically we're going for the tension between personal friendships and fighting factions, and individual ambitions versus the common good. Us being good narrativists, the answers are truly up for grabs, not implied in the questions.

The three heirs are the count's youthful second wife Elinor, backed by the nobles, and twin sons in their early twenties, the pious and learned Gerhard backed by the church and the brave and manly Sir Uthor backed by the guilds (because he's a wastrel and in boundless debt to them). Which twin came out first is disputed. The PC's are:

Sir Trevor, an ambitious young knight in the countess' entourage, dim but determined...

the widowed baroness Karla, an amateur musical sorceress who rather badly needs to get rid of the nunnery that her late husband set up and endowed with her best lands...

Father Gregor, parish priest of the town and castle, who out of intellectual interest pursues the study of necromancy...

his "youthful misstep" Valdemar, disposed of in fosterage and forgotten, a wily young rogue who serves as runner between Sir Uthor and guildmaster Materacio, greedy for money but loyal to his masters...

and Eirik, barbarian warrior and bodyguard to sir Uthor's fiancée, the Vuldrok princess Elme. He is determined to seek revenge on the churchmen who had his brother burned for heresy and witchcraft, he's just not sure who's personally responsible.

Now, our first round had been a zombie running/screaming/dying scenario with flashbacks to normal times for refreshment and character illustration.

Our second round was intrigue play, with the first and last scenes fixed by key events, but all scenes in between requested by players, with me as GM responding and occasionally managing the framing or scene-setting initiative to keep everyone involved. Setting scenes was pretty easy for the players, as they could start with their TSoY Keys and simply think up some way to score points.

The first scene, set by yours truly, was the count's announcement of his weird will on the eve of the Feast of St. Lextius. With the aid of an off-world lawyer (who had a megaphone), the count announced his decision and invited the heirs to comment. Elinor and Gerhard tried to outdo each other in praising count Reginald's decision, whereas Sir Uthor started to try, but burst out: "This is a terrible idea, there will be Hell to pay!" And play commenced, as guildmaster Materacio hissed to Valdemar: "Stop that fool before he ruins his chances!" Valdemar panicked and shouted out a warning that barbarian raiders were coming. Those would eventually be five hard-earned xps for his Key of the House.

In the next couple of scenes, players started setting up their scemes, talking with their faction leaders and each other. Karla tried to involve Sir Trevor in some complicated maneuvering that he didn't get, which was pretty funny, and Karla's late husband was called up in Father Gregor's basement, but things really got going in scene six, where Sir Trevor confronted Valdemar and demanded an explanation of the bogus raid. Valdemar tried to bullshit his way out, but with some luck, a pool point and some gift dice, Sir Trevor's Untrained Discern Truth beat Valdemar's Competent Deceive. Valdemar's player Trine refused to lose and Brought Down the Pain. I might add here that the players behind the two are a committed couple who have been living together for quite a while, but there was no wishy-washy lovey-dovey BS, this was a hard struggle and the dramatic high point of the evening.

Anyway, Sir Trevor pressed harder, and when his glib tongue froze up in his mouth, Valdemar twisted free and tried to escape. He got away despite the knight firing a revolver after him, but the doughty knight was not so easily frustrated. Sir Trevor went to the captain of the town guard and got an order for Valdemar's arrest put out. Meanwhile, Valdemar went to Materacio for protection, but Materacio refused to be implicated in this potentially embarrassing affair and cut Valdemar loose with a single gold coin for old times sake, so Valdemar tried to go to ground with lowlife associates in the small town. However it's a small town, and Sir Trevor got together with two fellow cavaliers, Dame Regina and Sir Thomas, to trawl the town and flush out Valdemar. Eventually cornered, Valdemar tried lying even harder and implicated baroness Karla (a PC) as the source of the false rumour. By now, both characters were quite battered and their pools were running low, Trine had even bought up Valdemar's Instinct pool because V was flat out and NEEDED one more point to spend. So the knight dragged the youth to Karla's quarters, and they submitted their disagreement to the baroness, who saved Valdemar's bacon by saying that it might have been the abbess Roberta standing behind her who said something about Vuldrok raiders. Whew!

Badly in need of refreshment, the three went to The Broken Anvil for a reconciliation dinner, along with the other knights. Sir Thomas fitz Hawkwood tried to impress the young widowed baroness by tales from the big castle, with an electric lute that could sing like a humpback whale. Good, embarrassing fun, and everyone got their Vigour and Instinct back. For reason, they both went to Father Gregor for confessions.

Then we split the plot up into two threads, as Sir Trevor and his buddies invited Karla and Father Gregor to come along on a hunt for the Great White Hart on St. Albin's night. K and G discussed music and magic, trying to feel out fellow occultists, while Sir Thomas tried to be charming to the lady and Sir Trevor prepared to win immortal fame by bringing down the legendary Hart. Of course the hunt ended in chaos, the knights charged off in pursuit of a white glimpse, the widow and the priest got lost trying to follow the Hart into the mist when it appeared. Really hostile dice, but great bonding exercise.

Meanwhile at home, Eirik paid Valdemar to find information about the church and a certain recent campaign in the borderlands. Also, ruffians tried to assault lady Elme, and were painfully dissuaded by Eirik. Also, one night Eirik saw a figure in an ancient battlesuit bearing comital insignia walking the battlements, and then...

As the hunters came home with tall tales and empty bellies, the banners flew at half pole, Count Reginald was dead! The end for now.

Next time we'll have another action-with-peaceful-flashbacks scenario, I think.

One thing that is funny and works really well is open and closed secrets. All players know that Father Gregor traffics with the dead, and that Valdemar is his son, and that Eirik is itching to murder a man of the cloth, but nothing so crucial can be revealed without a conflict. On the other hands, there are mysteries that I manage. The nature of the White Hart. The identity and motives of the mysterious necromancer using the husks of the dead as tools (from the first round).

Making intrigue play between PCs interesting for a campaign is challenging, and I think running every other round that way will work. It does require a lot of concentration and balancing from the players, but so far it's loads of fun, and the Keys really help focus play.

That's all for now, and quite a lot!

Yours, Troels

Ron Edwards

I have been dreaming of the day when the Fading Suns material is used successfully in play, so this is a great thread to see.

Here's my question: which elements of the textual Fading Suns are most on your mind to employ? I know for me that it would largely revolve around internal issues of the Church, whether political, theological, or ethical. Clearly, for you, it's about the factions and loyalties, and the way you put it really lets me know that you're nailing what matters to you.

So, although you've pulled in a bit of Vuldrok and Church stuff for secondary characters, it's all really occurring in one particular noble house - I think. Am I right about that? Which one is it, and what elements within it are showing up as major features of play?

Best, Ron


What I'm trying to get at with the factions is the idea of competing moralities as well as loyalties. And the church stuff isn't really secondary. The local orthodox church is a big deal in play, and in the first round we had a run-in with an avestite investigator (who had his brains eaten, however). But as the game gathers pace and the local orthodox authorities start throwing their considerable weight around in the power struggle, another sect will move in on account of the supernatural disasters plaguing the area, giving players in other factions a potential ally. However, I'll be sure to highlight spiritual as well as political stuff and force the players to at least think about it in spiritual as well as political terms. So far it looks like avestites, but it could be eskatonics or amaltheans. Also, we got a fair bit of fun and enlightenment out of those refreshment scenes in the confessional.

The house in question is Hawkwood, or rather a local Hawkwood vassal on Leminkainen. The PC Sir Trevor is Hawkwood to the fingertips, the player Dennis was a FS buff to begin with. The most hawkwoody thing so far is the heroic struggle against the Vuldroks and how it legitimizes the nobles. Trouble will come of the rather hawkwoody but guild-indebted Sir Uthor's guild-backed attempt to build an alliance with a nearby Vuldrok lordship.

But so far it's early days yet. There's so much stuff to get into, so I'm trying to wait and see what bits the players go for.

Yours, Troels

Kevin Smit

One of the best games I participated in as a player was set in Fading Suns, and it's come to be one of my favorite systems.

We started off with four characters, an al-Malik Noble couple played by myself, an engineer played by my college friend, and a psychic played by another friend.  At first the game moved slowly as we got used to the system.  Fighting a duel or two helped get us used to the combat system, and after that we were off to the Gargoyle of Nowhere.  What a great idea, to stick a permanent plot hook where any ambitious player can find it.  When we received our visions, we sprung to action, convinced that our psychic was somehow the Prophet reincarnated.  We followed this lead until it ended with the characters learning that our psychic was not the Prophet reincarnated (somewhat disappointing) but rather was being inhabited by the angelic spirit of a Hazat nobleman who wanted to take care of some unfinished business.  In a twist, the nobles decided to thwart the spirit's will and seize the artifacts that were the focus of its efforts for the glory of house al-Malik, thus increasing the prestige of the house but ensuring a place for their souls in the abyss.

From there the story broke off a bit as the GM dabbled in time-alteration and running the group through al-Malik boot camp for spies.  Our GM had been in the military and it showed in many of his games.  It seemed like we were always in basic training for something.  We switched games for awhile when the players rebelled against PT.

I never quite saw the problems with the system that others on the Forge have seen.  Our group used the spirit stats with some regularity.  Calm was used when trying to graciously ignore a rude comment by a drunk noble or anytime our outspoken engineer wanted to keep from telling the nobles what he really thought (fairly often).  We used passion rolls quite a bit as well, and accenting rolls up for increased results was much more common than accenting them down for safety.  Introvert seemed like a catch-all for any knowledge type skill not related to tech, so that came up pretty often as well.  Perhaps it's just a difference in play style.

I had a few quibbles with the combat system but overall I think favorably of it.  I don't much like the amount of time spent calculating die pools for contested damage and armor rolls, but there is a certain enjoyment that comes from rolling all those dice.  The parry/ riposte combat option is a fairly cheap way for characters to manage offensive and defensive multi-tasking without taking too many penalties.

Many of the complaints I've heard come from the dominance of armor when combined with shields.  The nobles in our game started off with light armor and no energy shields, then moved on to energy shields when the money was right.  It's true that at the top end you can manufacture a juggernaut capable of withstanding sword thrusts and small arms fire with ease, but don't you want a system that is capable of that?  When faced with such a foe, the system forces the characters to find a different approach: either fight creatively or make a strategic exit.  I did hear a rumor about a player min-maxing the system by having a warrior duel-wielding spiked heavy shields (of the physical sort), but honestly, that's just sillyness.

The length of combat troubled me a bit.  Once our psychic got into a fistfight with another, equally potent psychic.  Both contenders had armor that was prohibitively high, so the contest ended in an honorable draw (though only after it became clear, a half hour later, that only through sheer statistical coincidence would anyone actually win).  The system seems designed for dramatic exchanges, thrusts, parries, and maneuvers highlighted with occasional "aha" moments as a fierce blow overwhelms an energy field or a well-placed thrust finds a seam in the armor.  If you do fight creatively, you'll find the Fading Suns system has things to offer.  My noble once won a duel by throwing his armored, shielded, better-trained foe over a balcony onto a crowded highway below, then turned and bowed to polite applause.

The only changes we made to the rules concerned the automatic and critical failures.  We discarded 19 as an automatic failure and made a scaled model for critical failures.  One crit failure was embarrassing, but not harmful.  Two was harmful, but not deadly.  Three was potentially deadly.  These built up over a session but started over at the beginning of a new session.

Overall the utility of the combat system is going to depend on how you use it.  If you try to create dnd style encounters with foes evenly matched with the characters, you're going to have a series of bland whiff-fests that take forever to resolve.  If you make combat the end of a reward cycle (this is what we do between scheming, planning, exploring, and conniving), and put your characters in battles where the outcome matters greatly, you'll find that the combat system can be fairly cinematic.

That said, I ate up all the source material that I could when I got the book, and found it to be a very good read.  I'd love to get a group together to play it, but have had trouble finding people in my area who RP.


I love the crazy, cool, fecund setting. And I really, really don't love the Victory Points System. I tried it in play, and the results hovered somewhere in between cumbersome and silly. Cumbersome as in, to do your best to succeed with a somewhat difficult check (and if the GM is doing his job, applying pressure, there will be a lot of those), you have to make two skill checks to resolve one. Silly, as in a broadsword is way deadlier than a blaster, and a person with a shield and synthsilk armour is practically invulnerable while everyone around gets slaughtered. The latter is specifically a result that the system is not trying to produce. A guy with a knife is supposed to be able to "slip under" the shield. It just doesn't work.

In short, I endorse this thread:

Fading Suns system impression & thoughts

Are you really, really sure it's the system you love, and not just the setting that goes with it?

Yours, Troels

Ron Edwards


It's always hard to separate enjoyment and inspiration for a setting, enjoyment of a given play group's interactions, and use and enjoyment of a particular set of rules. The vocabulary developed here is at least a stab at trying to parse them.

I'm interested in the points you've made, Kevin. They seem a lot like what my group(s) did with the Champions resolution system, over the course of the late 1980s. If I were to try to break them out into points, it'd go something like this.

1. Why and whom to fight: find something besides "Knock the other guy out of play" to fight for, such that character reactions and out-of-fight goals can be achieved. After all, beating up a foe merely means, in the long run, that another foe will step into place. But if fights transform character relationships, character social status, and foundations for GM and player decision-making in the future, then they matter ... and not only win/loss, but how they're won and lost.

2. How and where to fight: somehow break out of the "grind other person's points down" bit-by-bit model of combat resolution. Statistically-occasional shattering strikes is one way to do it; this is what criticals were actually for, in my view, when they appeared in the Arduin Grimoire 'way back when. I interpret your slight but crucial rules-shift as a way to do that, Kevin; it parallels the way that many groups inserted criticals into Champions (which did not exist in the rules). Another way is to utilize the immediate venue of the fight more creatively, as with the balcony scene.

Troels, I think that Kevin is describing some literal Drift - actual changes of the rules as well as a key interpretation - which are relevant to your points. I don't see this dialogue as you saying X and him saying Y. I think his descriptions actually back up yours, despite the superficial difference between "he likes it" and "I don't."

Best, Ron

Kevin Smit

After thinking a bit more about how we played Fading Suns, it occurs to me that we shifted the system a bit more than I initially remembered.  Oh, we left the combat VP system intact, but some other aspects of the system got tossed entirely.

First off, it occurred to me that we were using a Fortune in the Middle model of roll resolution.  The agreement to do so was never explicit; it came about mostly because we wanted to maintain our sense of character integrity and moved naturally toward FitM as a way to accomplish that. 

What got tossed entirely was the experience system.  Come to think of it, I can't remember a role playing system where I've actually used the prescribed experience system.  At the time, we were playing on weekends at 6-8 hours per session.  Our group liked to see our characters develop, so the normal rules for progression per session weren't cutting it.  Eventually we did what we do with every other game: we chucked the experience rules and negotiated development with the gm when we thought it appropriate. 

The only time that started to break down was when our engineer started getting cybernetic upgrades.  Suddenly his progression wasn't due to effort within the game but the amount of wealth his character had (and by that point in the game it was considerable).  We stopped playing a short time after that, so the dispute was never resolved. 

Per Fischer

Thanks for posting this, Troels. I've managed to get my fingers on a couple of FS books incl. the Priests of the Celestial Sun Ron has praised elsewhere.

The porting to TSoY makes much sense to me (BW/BE would be another obvious choice). Have you posted anywhere what changes you have incorporated into the TSoY system, ie. renaming of Pools, new Keys, Secrets etc. to make it more Fading Suns? Or are you mostly using the Solar System as it is but with another setting attached?


Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


On drift:

Thinking about it, I'm quite fond of drift. It often produces messy results, but fitting the game to your concrete needs can be good. I'm playing in a D&D campaign right now where we don't get xp for killing things, but we do get it for taking our exams... Don't most game designers get their feet wet drifting?


You are very welcome!

You can find some background on what I've done by following the link at the top of the thread. Otherwise, I'm pretty much sticking with the solar system. The name kind of fits, right;-)

Just remember to use the rules for "arms and armour" in social situations. At some point I'm going to hit my group with an inquisitorial courtroom drama. They will learn to fear that inquisitorial seal!

Systemwise, I'd say it depends very much on what you plan to actually do with FS. If we were running resistance to a symbiont infestation of a world, then bloody hell yes, BW is the way to go! Or a number of other setups, for that matter.

Yours, Troels