The New Dark Age of the Year 5000

The year before Fading Suns released, I picked up a promotional flyer for it at Dragon*Con, where it was set to release at the next con. I spent much of the year in anticipation, and got my copy as soon as the dealer room opened on the first day. I have a larger percentage of the supplements for Fading Suns than for probably any other game line with more than a half dozen products. My longest running campaign was Fading Suns. To sum up: I am a huge fan.

I say all this to give some context when I also say that the system is generally pretty terrible.

The Fading Suns setting is brilliant. You can run just about any kind of game in it from epic fantasy to gritty mystery to Lovecraftian horror to technological thriller to political drama. The books do an excellent job of putting together a fairly coherent universe in broad strokes such that it’s easy to fill in whatever detail you need to run what you want and still make it feel consistent with the setting. My game linked above featured running around on spaceships looking for ancient artifacts, dealing with intrigues in the succession of a noble house, tracking down the source of an intergalactic drug ring, stopping a horrible enclave of genetic engineers, and thwarting a plot to throw the politics of the known worlds into disarray by unleashing a barbarian horde into civilized space. It was pretty wide-ranging in tone, and I couldn’t have done anything similar in any other setting.

And I had my players roll dice as little as possible.

Core Mechanic

The only other game I’ve played that has a similar mechanic to Fading Suns’ Victory Point System is Pendragon. It has some minor differences, but the core concept is the same “Price is Right” mechanic: roll as high as you can on a d20 without going over the target number. Like in Pendragon, rolling exactly your target number is a critical, and rolling a 20 is a fumble. Unlike Pendragon, the results are actually converted to successes (“Victory Points”): if your result was successful, divide it by 3 to get successes. If it was a critical success, those points are doubled (so rolling a 15 as a normal success is 5 VPs, rolling it if that’s exactly your target number is 10 VPs).

This is probably a good time to mention, again, that I have a nigh-irrational dislike of roll-under systems in general. Even though, statistically, it’s possible to make a roll-under system a 1-to-1 match for the probabilities of a roll-over system with the same kind of die, it doesn’t feel the same. As a GM, it’s harder to remember to apply a bonus or penalty to rolls than to set a difficulty to roll over. As players, we’re trained that rolling higher is better, so it’s a disconnect to actually want the results toward the middle of the die. In addition, “Price is Right” methods feel even swingier in play than normal roll-under mechanics: over many rolls, a higher score makes a difference, but on any given roll it may feel like your score is meaningless if you happen to roll low anyway.

All that said, the problems with the Victory Point system are not limited to the die mechanic.

Part 2