Friday, May 23, 2014

Plucking the Stars from Distant Systems - Stealing Rules for Fading Suns Pt. 1 Icons and Bonds

One of the things I’ve learned about myself and GM’ing is I that as much as I enjoy running D&D, I enjoy running D&D more when it’s not the only thing I’m running. Strangely, running a non-D&D game concurrently with a D&D game or two helps keep me from getting bored with my D&D game(s) and strangling them in a bathtub or otherwise abruptly ending them. Earlier this year I ran a three session mini-campaign of Apocalypse World and not only did it change the way I ran D&D by letting me see how another system handles issues in games, but it also provided at outlook for ideas and energies that would not have had a place in either of the two D&D Next campaigns I’m running.

Why Fading Suns? It’s oft maligned as a kind of bastard child of rules systems, caught in the late 90’s between waves of rules innovations, but the rules set is serviceable, especially with an easy 2d20 fix that I’ve used before (found here). But really, it’s not the core system I’m running Fading Suns for; instead it’s the incredibly rich and evocative setting and the Lifepath character creation system. With a future dark ages space opera vibe, nobles, guilds and church sects vying for influence, ancient mysteries, psychics, space ‘barbarians’ and aliens, the Fading Suns setting’s only real flaw, in my eyes, is that there’s all most too much there and it can be difficult to choose a focus for a game. But the scope and grandeur make it one of my favorite settings, in my Facebook pitch I described it as “Think Dune + BSG + Star Wars + Firefly + Foundation + Alien”… A description I stand by, though I’d add, “meets Gateway + ‘Dark Ages’ Europe”.
While the setting can provide a bewildering array of options, 18 potential player factions alone from the core book (5 noble houses, 5 church sects, 5 merchant guild and 3 alien races), not counting psychics or any minor houses, sects, guilds or independents,
Fortunately, while the setting choices can be overwhelming, the Lifepath character creation from the 2nd edition of Fading Suns turned what was a confusing and overwhelming point buy process into a simple, streamlined but still versatile stepped character creation process (for most characters).
The Lifepath generally has four stages, Upbringing, Apprenticeship, Early Career and Tour(s) of Duty, the last being where bonus points are spent. This lets you quickly build a character and also get a sense of their background, spending points on the sheet without too much reference to an arcane chart of what attribute costs how many character creation points. It also lets you build reasonably balanced characters without having to worry too much about getting bogged down in tracking what’s going where. Two examples, the first very straight-forward, a hot-shot starship pilot who is recovering from an addiction to [[space drug]]
Upbringing for church and guild members has two parts, one about Urban/Rural and the other about class. For the hotshot pilot, City and Poor for the Upbringing set up an underprivileged childhood. The player decides that the character made it into the guild due to a scholarship to the Academy (their Apprenticeship stage choice), demonstrating innate skills that got them into the guild. For Early Career they choose “Starship Duty – Pilot” and then for the Tours of Duty selects “Promotion and Friends” for the first and “Promotion” for the second, reflecting a quick rise through the ranks. Finally, during the extra stages when benefices and afflictions, that is merits and flaws, can be chosen, the player takes the “Addiction” affliction.
Because the Lifepath system is relatively uniform across the character creation options, you can even use it for more complex backgrounds, like a Minor Noble who becomes a Church Priest. Even though House Justinian isn’t given a section, the player chooses the Hawkwood Rural option for Upbringing, planning on swapping out the Hawkwood blessing and curse for a blessing and curse that feel more ‘Justinian’. Staying in the Noble lifepath, they choose Study for their Apprenticeship. Giving them a base of a bookish noble uninterested in an arranged marriage who could be suitable to join the church. Then for Early Career they switch to the Church career path, taking Missionary option to give an excuse for their character to leave the lands she’s from. Finally for the Tours of Duty they take Friends, for allies and refuge and a second round of Friends for contacts gossip network, putting their tour of duty points towards more church appropriate skills and attributes.
But even though the Lifepath character creation provides a streamlined experience then giving players a hundred character creation points and expecting them to puzzle out how to spend them, it does not eliminate the problem of choosing a focus for the campaign among the multitude of noble houses, church sects, merchant guilds, aliens, barbarians and other forces.
To help with that, I plan on adopting Icons from 13th Age (, and ). While 13th Age imagines Icons as power NPCs, I’m going to adapt them to the myriad houses, factions, guilds, sects, aliens, barbarians and other forces in the Fading Suns setting. Here is the list of potential icons I’ve come up with:
    • Noble Houses
      • Hawkwood
      • Al-Malik
      • Li Halan
      • Decados
      • Hazat
    • Merchant Guilds
      • Engineers
      • Charioteers
      • Scravers
      • Muster
      • Reeves
    • Church
      • Orthodox
      • Eskatonic
      • Almalthean
      • Avestite
      • Brother Battle
      • The Inquisition
    • Psychic Covens
      • Invisible Path
      • Favyana
    • Barbarians
      • Kurgan Caliphate
      • Vuldrok Star Nations
    • Aliens
      • Ukari
      • Obun
      • Vau
      • Vorox
      • Symbiotes
    • The Empire / Opponents
      • The Emperor
      • Questing Knights
      • Imperial Eye Spy Agency
      • Republicans
    • Dark Between the Stars
      • Strange Entities (Demons, Void Krakens)
      • Antinomists or another sinister human cult
    • Ancients
      • Ur
      • Second Republic
Now that list has over 30 possible Icons listed, but I plan on having my players choose 6 to focus on for the game. So there will be six groups/factions that the characters choose for their three character relationships. Two of the icons chosen will be the potential villainous factions, two will be ambiguous and two will be heroic (these will be to the group as a whole, individual characters might have positive relationships to ambiguous icons or negative relationships to heroic icons). By limiting it to 6 icons, hopefully the game’s plot, characters and player’s attention can be focused on six things instead of wondering how dozens of groups might come into play. Plus, with only six icons then it’s very likely that multiple characters will have relationships to the same icon, helping to tie the group together.
Another rule I’ll be importing from a separate game will be Bonds, stolen from Dungeon World ( which should hopefully be an easy insertion, since Fading Suns gives 2-5 XP a session instead of the 100-1000 XP of D&D.
One thing I realized from listening to several Dungeon World actual play podcasts and reading feedback on Bonds is that they work best when they are one-sided, that is, when they do not rely on another player or character to be completed. So “Convert the Vuldrok to Orthodoxy” is a bad bond because it requires the other player to agree to convert their character, while “Preach the benefits of Orthodoxy to the Vuldrok” is better because it does not require the other player to agree to something that would probably be out of character. The other thing I’ve come to realize about Bonds is because a player gets XP for resolving them, it’s to that player’s benefit to create resolvable bonds. Ideally the bonds should be resolved within one or two sessions, so going back to the “Convert the Vuldrok to Orthodoxy” bond, it’s less than Ideal as well because it isn’t a nice short term bond that could be resolved in a session or two.
Below are some example PCs with Icon Relationships and Bonds for a game where the six icons chosen were House Hazat and the Charioteers Guild (Heroic), the Vuldrok Star Nations and Ur (Ambiguous), and House Hawkwood and the Scravers Guild (Villainous). I’ve included examples of “Bad” or poorly worded Bonds and “Good” or improved bonds for each PC as well to illustrate what strategies I think work better for bonds.
Example PCs for Icons/Bonds -

  • Lady Joaquima Llora Bonaventura Hazat
    • A noble who duels/fences
    • Down on her luck Gambler, noted duelist
  • Nahuel Oilskin
    • A Spiritual Vuldrok who is good with Tech
    • Maghtaw spaceship repairman, Vuldrok exile
  • Pilot Brennan DeVatha
    • A Troubled Guildsman who Pilots
    • Skilled pilot and recovering drug addict
  • Novitiate Inka (formerly Ingrid de Maurienne Justinian)
    • A Noble Priest who is Learning
    • Minor Noble turned Orthodox Novitiate fleeing an arranged marriage to an overbearing Hawkwood nobleman
  • Icon Relationships
    • Lady Joaquima
      • 3 – Scravers – Joaquima owes them a lot of money
      • 2 – Hazat – Joaquima is still on relatively good terms with her family
      • 1 – Ur – Joaquima is obsessed with finding an Ur artifact to pay her debts
    • Nahuel
      • 3 – Hawkwood – Nahuel is known as a raider in Hawkwood lands
      • 2 – Vuldrok – Nahuel is exiled from the Vuldrok for 6 years due to a weregeld arrangement
      • 1 – Ur- Nahuel has a strange bracelet whose spirit whispers to him about Ur artifact locations
    • Brennan
      • 3 – Scravers – Brennan owes the scravers for his schekelah
      • 2 – Charioteers – Brennan is working to restore his reputation in the Charioteers now that he’s clean
      • 1 – Hawkwood – Brennan has a map to an Ur artifact but it’s in Hawkwood controlled space and they’re also looking for it
    • Novitiate Inka
      • 3 – Hawkwood – The overbearing Hawkwood nobleman is looking for Ingrid Justitian and will try and get her initiation into the church revoked so that their marriage can go ahead.
      • 2 – Scraver – Inka owes the Scravers for her new identity of Inka
      • 1 – Vuldrok – Inka hopes to contact the Vuldrok to help harass the Hawkwoods
  • Bonds
    • Lady Joaquima
      • Bad:
        • Pay Brennan back what I owe him
        • Show that Nahuel is an untrustworthy barbarian
      • Good
        • Pay Brennan back the 500 Firebirds I owe him (More specific, easy to tell when resolved)
        • Show Nahuel the benefits of honor and civilization (less antagonistic towards a fellow PC, forces player to display honor and civilization)
    • Nahuel
      • Bad
        • Convert Brennan to the Maghtaw view of machine spirits.
        • Repay Inka for saving my life
      • Good
        • Show Brennan the usefulness of listening to the Machine Spirits (more specific, does not require the other character to completely change their mind).
        • Just as Inka saved me from the Avestites by vouching for me, I shall save her life when it is needed (more specific, gives a better resolution)
    • Brennan
      • Bad
        • Prove myself worthy of Lady Joaquima’s love
        • Nahuel saved my ship when I needed it, but I need to keep him from ruining my reputation with the Charioteers
      • Good
        • Show Lady Joaquima that I am as honorable as any noble and worthy of her love (more specific, provides a way to prove worthy)
        • Because I owe him my ship, I will encourage Nahuel to be more restrained and civilized, especially around Charioteers to help improve my reputation. (more specific)
    • Inka
      • Bad
        • Get Nahuel to trust me
        • Get Lady Joaquima to protect me
      • Good
        • Learn three things from Nahuel about the Vuldrok to help earn his trust. (More specific, has a concrete goal)
        • Convince Lady Joaquima to name me as her confessor (More specific, has a concrete goal)


  1. I can't wait to enjoy this Campaign via your explanations on the Podcast. I wish I was playing.

  2. The bonds sound like short-term goals from Toulouse By Night.

    1. I think of the bonds and short-term goals pretty separately, as the goal is more an agreement between player and GM and the Bonds are agreements between two players.

      So I suppose they both give extra XP when met, but the goal from Toulouse could be anything that the Player and GM agreed the PC would get done and wouldn't necessarily involve other PCs. The Bond on the other hand has involve another PC and govern/describe/determine part of the relationship between those two PCs. The goal seems better to make sure that players can come up with personal plot to advance and strive for but bonds are much more roleplaying focused.

    2. I think the notion of the goals (Did I recommend them?) is, ultimately, a carrot. Its not just that they give XP when met, but encourage players to undertake a suite of actions.

      I guess the other reason I think they're similar is it would be hard to include both concepts in the same game. But I like the idea of tying goals up more with Icons or other party members. But it also needs a system that allows rewards: recent D&D sorts of games seem to eschew individual XP awards, so something like a bonus Action Point (or the equivalent) seems like a reasonable alternative.


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