Summer Updates

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It’s been a minute since I posted, huh? It turns out that running three tabletop campaigns is the tipping point from, “running games gives me lots of ideas to post on the blog,” to, “I no longer have brainpower to actually write up ideas for the blog.” Also, some pretty large-scale woodworking projects and the return of City of Heroes has been eating a lot of writing hours. I have some ideas for content in the future, but it may be another minute before they get written up.

In the meantime:

  • I converted all of my old Fading Suns campaign logs to a new wordpress site for easier reading. If you haven’t read them, they’re new to you!
  • With the return of City of Heroes (at least in the tentative, please, NCSoft, don’t obliterate the rogue servers way), this old series is relevant again.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Meanwhile…

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Fading Suns: The Cauldron Born Legacy

Internal Memo
All Jakovian Department Heads
Strictest Confidence

With the growing inquisitorial and imperial interest in the recent Dryad Labs debacle, it is becoming prudent that we take steps to protect against further blowback. There is a high probability that House Decados proper will disavow us entirely if any more secret operations come to light.

Dr. Grigori’s experiments with shapeshifting metonym spies was promising, but his deliberate and foolhardy experimentation with other, obvious Changed types should have been curtailed earlier. While all the labs involved have been scrubbed, enough information leaked (including several of the experimental subjects) that we may not be able to completely disavow the projects.

We believe there might be enough included in the information that the Cauldron Born project is also implicated. Though it was not directly encountered by the group that exposed Dryad, there were enough research connections that the inquisition or Imperial Eye may eventually catch wind of it.

Therefore, despite the promise inherent in the project of preparing enhanced Decados spies for the coming war, we are canceling the project. All labs will be scrubbed. All non-essential personnel will be scrubbed.

Several of the project’s agents are currently in the field. Fortunately, this crop needs regular chemical supplements to maintain their Changed upgrades. As they report in, we will deal with them. Even if some catch wind of the shuttering of the program, they will be adrift in the Known Worlds, running out of time on their enhancements, and unable to act against us for fear of the inquisition.


Fate: Fading Suns, Misc Rules

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The following are miscellaneous adjustments to/replacements for standard Fate rules to fit the setting, the online medium, and just to try a few things out with the social and stress systems. This is meant to support the previous posts on skills and character creation.


Character Stress tracks are done in the old pyramid-style from Fate 2: characters have more boxes for lower-Stress hits than for higher ones. Effectively, characters can take a few minimal-Stress hits before they start rolling up to serious damage, and taking Consequences to reduce Stress is more likely to find a spare box at lower levels to check off.

A standard character’s Stress track looks like:

  1. OOO
  2. OO
  3. O
  4. Taken Out

If a character has a bigger Stress track (such as from the Grimson mutation), one box is added on each level:

  1. OOOO
  2. OOO
  3. OO
  4. O
  5. Taken Out

Obviously, increasing someone’s track makes them much harder to take out, so it should be reserved for benefits on the same order of “I am a seven-foot-tall mutant designed only for war.”

Otherwise, Stress works basically normally (i.e., it resets at the end of a scene, but Consequences persist). A special modification is that most intrigue-based social situations should immediately advance the “scene” as soon as a target is Taken Out. This is explained in more detail below, but often being Taken Out by a social attack starts out with minimal consequences but serves as a method to start on a bigger social attack soon after. Effectively, an attacking social character should never get a benefit from taking a target out and then immediately get to use that benefit to attack an already damaged social Stress track.

Physical Conflict

Other than the difference in Stress tracks and skills, combat works about the same as in Dresden Files. To wit:

  1. On your action, compare the result of an attack skill to the target’s defense skill.
  2. If the result was equal or greater, add your weapon bonus to the shifts of success to generate a Stress number.
  3. Reduce that Stress by the target’s armor bonus.
  4. Whatever number is left, check off that box on the target’s Stress track (rolling up if all boxes on that level are checked).


Weapons have standard damage ratings. However, scene aspects might be tagged for attacks with appropriate weapons (e.g., tagging a “Confined” aspect for a bonus when attacking with a knife).

  • 0: Unarmed or using an unwieldy improvised weapon
  • 1: Knife, Club, Light Bow, Slug Pistol
  • 2: Sword, Mace, Axe, Heavy Bow, Slug Rifle/Shotgun, Energy Pistol
  • 3: Two Handed Melee Weapon, Energy Melee Weapon, Energy Rifle/Shotgun


  • -1: Unarmored (Light clothing or less): target actually takes +1 Stress on successful physical attack
  • 0: Synthsilk, Spacesuit, or Heavy Clothing
  • 1: Stiffsynth, Half-plate, or Scale
  • 2: Chain, Full Plate
  • 3: Ceramsteel (full suit)

Energy Shields

Energy shields cannot typically be worn with armor heavier than 0. They work similarly to armor. Melee attacks and energy/fire attacks can only be reduce to 1 Stress, not to 0, by an energy shield. Most shields can only trigger a limited number of times before running out of power.

  • 2: Standard; 10 hits
  • 3: Dueling; 15 hits
  • 4: Assault; 20 hits, can be worn with Armor 1 (applied after Stress is reduced by the shield)
  • 5: Battle; 30 hits, can be worn with any armor

Note that assault and battle shields effectively require either overwhelming force or the attacker to rely on maneuvers. Against a full-out frontal assault, heavily shielded troops are functionally invulnerable until the power runs out.

Social Conflict

These are heavily borrowed from the Song of Ice and Fire RPG.

All social actions can include a bonus or penalty based on the target’s friendliness/disposition:

  • -4: The target despises you
  • -2: The target doesn’t like you and would rather work against you
  • 0: The target has no particular opinion about you
  • +2: The target likes and trusts you
  • +4: The target loves you and places your needs above his or her own

This effect is flipped if you’re trying to Provoke the target to try to harm you or Convince the target of something horrible about yourself.

Many players may balk at losing a social conflict and having to believe something or take certain action. The GM may wish to deliver these as Compels, allowing the player to either pay Wyrd to avoid the action or get bonus Wyrd for playing along.


Bargain is used to establish an exchange of goods or services. It is mostly a straight contest between both parties’ Bargain skills plus modifiers. However, other social skills might be used before bargaining (e.g., Entertain to make the opponent friendlier or Convince to inflate the value of an item for trade).

In addition to the disposition effect, modify your Bargain total by the following chart:

  • -4: Your offering not only has no value to the target, accepting it would cause some kind of harm
  • -2: Your offering has no value to the target
  • 0: Your offering is valuable, but not overwhelmingly so
  • +2: Your offering is something that would significantly help the target/something he or she really wants
  • +4: Your offering is something that the target would literally risk death or worse to obtain

Compare each side’s Bargain total. If they are unequal, the higher side can reduce what is being offered or the lower side must figure out a way to increase the value of what is offered.

If the conversation is a simple monetary exchange, don’t use the chart above. Instead, modify Bargain by Disposition and then compare the buyer’s total to the seller’s:

  • -4: Pay double what the item is worth
  • -2: Pay half again what the item is worth
  • 0: Pay what the item is worth
  • +2: Pay 2/3 what the item is worth
  • +4: Pay 1/3 what the item is worth

In any kind of Bargain contest, either side can choose to walk away from the deal: the ratio of Bargain scores merely indicates the best deal you’re going to get if you do trade.


(Note: On consideration of the system and similarities to Provoke, I replaced Seduce with this skill here and on the skills post.)

Entertain is used to make friends prior to influencing people. It represents being witty, fun, and engaging, and also figuring out how best to loosen up the target.

You can use a simple check of Entertain to keep a target from leaving a social situation (so you have more time to make other social attacks). Make an Entertain check (modified by Disposition) against the target’s Empathy. The target may receive a bonus of up to +4 for legitimate reasons to leave the social situation (e.g., +2 for being tired and wanting to sleep, +4 for needing to make it to an appointment). If you succeed, the target must stay for at least one more exchange of social conflict.

If you take out the target with Entertain attacks, you gain a +2 bonus on social attacks for the next scene (as if his or her disposition had gone up one step). If you don’t immediately trick the target and otherwise maintain the new friendship, this disposition increase may become permanent. Entertain attacks can target either Empathy or Poise, depending on whether you’re trying to work up to manipulating the target (Empathy) or genuinely trying to make friends (Poise).


Convince is used to establish beliefs. A simple check is used to convince the target that you believe something. A social combat is used to make the target believe it. This can be used for lying to the target, establishing things that are actually true, or intimidating the target by presenting a lie or truth that scares the target.

All Convince rolls take modifiers based on the following:

  • -4: The target is holding inarguable proof that what you say is false (possibly a really good forgery if what you’re saying is actually true)
  • -2: The target has a firmly held belief or previous evidence that what you say is false
  • 0: The target has no firm evidence about what you’re saying, but is disinclined to believe it automatically
  • +2: The target would really like to believe you
  • +4: The target secretly already believes what you’re saying

If you’re lying, your rolls are opposed by the target’s Empathy. If you’re telling the truth, they’re against a base number of 0 (still modified by the target’s beliefs and disposition).


Provoke is used to get the target to take action rather than sitting idle. You can generally only Provoke the target to do something that he or she (perhaps secretly) wants to do anyway. Thus, if your target isn’t already primed, it’s often prudent to only Provoke after you’ve successfully Convinced. If the target does not want to take the action you’re trying to Provoke, you cannot make a roll (and attempting to do so may lower the target’s disposition).

All Provoke rolls are a social conflict, with “Taken Out” indicating the target taking the action you specify. However, they might be “one shot” attacks if the target is already primed and ready to go (e.g., the +4 bonus to get your enemies to attack you means that you’ll have a good chance of taking them out for this purpose on the first roll). They are made against the target’s Poise (and the target can use Empathy, if higher, if he or she suspects you’re trying to be manipulative).

Provoke rolls generally take modifiers based on the following:

  • -4: The target believes taking that action would result in death or worse
  • -2: The target would get in serious trouble by acting
  • 0: The target would face consequences, but not major ones, by acting
  • +2: The target has no reason not to act other than inertia
  • +4: The target secretly was already planning the action and just needs a nudge

Provoke rolls are also a great place to use compels (if you can get the target “Drunk” or “Impassioned” before an attack, it makes it way easier to get past the danger).

Intrigue Examples

Baroness Erica Decados is trying to set up a perfect patsy. She uses Bargain to arrange for a small contingent of Brother Battle church knights as security for one of her enterprises. While they’re unable to abandon their posts, she spends a great deal of time working to Entertain them and overcome their native distrust of her house. Meanwhile, she uses Empathy to try to figure out which holds beliefs most helpful to her cause. These she keeps in contact with after the posting, maintaining her new relationship. During this time, she gradually uses Convince to drop facts about various individuals she suspects of perfidy within her house. Once they believe her, she uses Provoke to convince them to deal with the problem. Weeks later, when her rivals are removed by the Inquisition backed by church knights, there is very little to tie her to the deed.

Jonin Skorpios Ben-Hadir of the Scravers is trying to get some leverage within the Byzantium Secondus nobility. He manages a meeting with one of the secondary sons of a Hawkwood functionary, and uses Convince to get him to believe that they should continue the conversation over drinks, and that it will be purely business. He makes use of Entertain to keep the noble around for longer than he would otherwise plan to, Empathy to get a sense of what he’s interested in, and Provoke to convince him to drink more than he’d planned (maneuvers to place Aspects to be tagged later). At the end of the night, the final Provoke challenge with tagged Aspects places the noble with some Scraver-owned courtesans with sufficient recording equipment for later blackmail. Future Bargain challenges will be a lot easier for the Scravers…

Fate: Fading Suns, Chargen


Character creation is divided into the same areas as typical Fate: Aspects, Skills, and Stunts/Powers.

Like in Dresden Files, a character’s Refresh rating is used as a basis for purchasing traits (this is described more fully below). Fate Points are referred to as Wyrd, per the original setting. This energy is poorly understood and hard to quantify, but does exist in-setting rather than just as a story currency: it represents a certain power of the spirit that can fuel supernatural effects and, for those that don’t have them, be used unconsciously to bend reality to one’s ends. When several points of Wyrd are spent in the same scene, it invokes the Destiny Effect: something about this scene becomes extremely important, or at least symbolic, for the rest of the characters’ careers and possibly to the fate of the universe.


Player characters have five Aspects divided into different categories: role, destiny, failure, and blessings.

Each character has one Role Aspect. This is similar to Dresden Files‘ High Concept. It is a slightly flavored rendition of the character’s house, sect, guild, etc. Examples include “Hazat Knight,” “Reeve Lawyer,” and “Avestite Inquisitor.” It is not meant to be invoked for anything related to the concept, however, but speaks specifically to actions revolving around the character’s role in society. For example, the Hazat Knight might invoke to get preferential treatment in the courts, intimidate lessers, or any other situation where being a noble would create a clear and inarguable distinction over another character, but shouldn’t be used just to get a bonus on a swordfight. Similarly, the Aspect might be compelled when the character is out of her element, such as when attempting to hide among the lower classes. Ultimately, this Aspect is intended to highlight the politics of the setting rather than being an easy invoke in a pinch.

Next, each character has a Destiny Aspect. This is a short statement about where the character’s personal story is heading, at least in her own conception. This Aspect might change fairly frequently as the story progresses and forces a reconsideration of ambitions and priorities. Examples include “A piece for my house’s game,” “Demanding answers from the Pancreator,” and “Proof that only sinners need fear the Inquisition.” It can be invoked in any situation that is clearly making progress toward the destiny, or as a defense in life and destiny-threatening situations. It can be compelled to encourage the player to take a foolhardy action in pursuit of this goal.

To complement the destiny, each character also has a Failure Aspect. This is the character’s biggest flaw: the thing most likely to complicate pursuit of the destiny, and possibly life in general. Like Destiny, it might change throughout the course of the game (often at the same time). Examples include “Desperate for personal agency,” “Terrible health,” and “Too free with scriptural interpretation.” It isn’t usually invoked except in rare situations where it can be worked into a strange flaw-Judo. It is meant to be frequently compelled, and a major source of Wyrd for the character.

Finally, each player character gets two additional Aspects that work more like those in standard Fate: they’re meant to be invoked in a fairly broad range of useful situations, but might also be compelled when it makes sense. Note that this implementation doesn’t have any way to get unusual wealth, equipment, or rank without making an Aspect that’s relevant. Otherwise, all PCs are expected to have the rank and accoutrements appropriate to the story. Similarly, any unusual abilities should be based off of an appropriate Aspect: you can’t take Psi, Theurgy, or Changed features without one. Finally, cybernetics is basically just an Aspect (unless your GM wants to make a more granular system). Suggested basic Aspects are based off of Fading Suns Blessings and Benefices and include:

  • Artificer
  • Changed
  • Confident/Valiant
  • Cyborg
  • Duelist
  • Handsome/Beautiful
  • Heir/Groomed for Promotion
  • Psychic
  • Relic/Artifact
  • Soldier
  • Theurge
  • Tough/Indomitable
  • Quick/Instinctive
  • Wealthy
  • Wise/Savant


Each player character picks a class and career, and starts each of those ten skills at +1.

Each character starts with 12 Refresh. This Refresh can then be spent to buy pursuits (it will also be used for Stunts/Powers and as actual Refresh). The limitations on buying pursuits are:

  • The character should generally be at least [Pursuits x 5 + 10] years old. For example, a character with 2 pursuits should be at least 20.
  • A character cannot raise the same skill twice in a row, even from two different pursuits.
  • A character cannot buy the same pursuit (i.e., the same group of three skills, by whatever name) within two purchases (e.g., a player could alternate three pursuits with all different skills but not two).

The first rule allows players to make an older, skilled character whose spirit has dimmed, or a younger character with a lot of potential. The second and third rules keep characters from becoming too specialized.

As an example, a player might make a 32 year old character with 4 pursuits purchased:

  • Diplomat
  • Fighter (at this point, the player can’t take any pursuit with one of the same skills as Diplomat)
  • Traveler (at this point, the player can’t take any pursuit with one of the same skills as Fighter, and can’t take Diplomat again yet)
  • Diplomat

If the character was originally a Noble Duelist, she would now have Acting +2, Bargain +2, Block +2, Convince +2, Dodge +1, Empathy +2, EVA +1, Fight +2, History +1, Intrigue +1, Linguistics +1, Poise +1, Provoke +1, Vigor +2, Warfare +1.


The player can spend remaining Refresh, to a minimum of 1, to buy Stunts and Powers. There are no limits on age for these. For Powers, the player must have an Aspect that references the ability. Suggestions for Stunts and Powers include:

  • Melee
    • Riposte: Spin on Block gives +2 on followup Fight attacks instead of +1
    • Counter Parry: When using Fight, opponent’s Block is limited by Fight
    • Compound Attack: Can use shifts on successful Fight attack as bonus on next round’s attack (instead of dealing damage)
    • Feint: Opponent must defend against Fight attacks with lower of Dodge or Block
    • Florentine: Treat Block as +1 when using an offhand weapon
    • Pierce: Spend 1 Wyrd to treat opponent’s armor as 0 on successful hit
  • Martial Arts
    • Confuse Foe: Can make a Provoke attack against target’s Empathy; shifts on success are bonus on next round’s Fight attack
    • Rooting: Treat Block as +1 when you have not changed position for at least one round
    • Tornado Kick: Spend 1 Wyrd to make a Fight attack against multiple opponents within reach (compare one result vs. individual Block scores)
    • Iron Body: Can use spin on Block as damage dealt to unarmed attacker
    • Leaping Kick: Can roll Vigor instead of Fight for unarmed attack after a run up
    • Martial Hold: Can use Fight instead of Vigor to grapple
  • Psi
    • Far Hand: Use lesser of Psi and Provoke to move things at range; 1 Wyrd for major actions
    • Omen: Use lesser of Psi and Empathy to get visions of past or future; 1 Wyrd for major prophecies or postcognition
    • Psyche: Use lesser of Psi and Empathy to read minds; 1 Wyrd to attempt to insert thoughts or mind control
    • Sixth Sense: Use lesser of Psi and Empathy to read aura, see in the dark, etc.; 1 Wyrd for long-range clairvoyance
    • Soma: Use lesser of Psi and Vigor to provide minor physical bonuses; 1 Wyrd to heal self or shapeshift
    • Vis Craft: Use lesser of Psi and Provoke to sense or attack with electricity; 1 Wyrd for major actions
  • Theurgy
    • Blessing: Use lesser of Theurgy and Empathy to provide minor bonuses to skills; 1 Wyrd for long-term or several people
    • Healing: Use lesser of Theurgy and Physick to perform miraculous healing; 1 Wyrd for wounds beyond mundane healing
    • Censure: Use lesser of Theurgy and Convince to enact a geas on a subject; 1 Wyrd for long-term or extremely binding
    • Protection: Use lesser of Theurgy and Vigor to erect miraculous defenses; 1 Wyrd to ward large area or several people
    • Consecration: Use lesser of Theurgy and Convince to prepare/cleanse a space or object; 1 Wyrd for large areas or deep corruption
    • Revelation: Use lesser of Theurgy and Research to find details of target; 1 Wyrd for deep scans
  • Changed
    • Flyer: You have wings and can glide; if they are too obvious to hide, you can fly
    • Infiltrator: You release pheromones that give you a +2 to all Social skills against targets that can smell you
    • Metonym: You can adjust your muscles and tissues to alter your physical appearance within the scope of you weight and height
    • Survivor: You are virtually immune to diseases and poisons, can digest most organic compounds, and can hold your breath for an extremely long time
    • Attacker: You are always considered armed with a +1 damage weapon; if these weapons are too obvious to hide, you treat them as +3
    • Sneak: You have enhanced senses (can see in the dark, smell like a dog, etc.) and can adjust your skin color like a chameleon
    • Grimson: You are inhumanly large and have a higher wound threshold than most humans and +1 to contests where size would give you an advantage

Fate: Fading Suns, Skills


Summer is almost here, the weather is nice, the sun is shining, and a GM’s mind might turn to highly successful games run in the past, and start thinking about replicating that success. I’ve been musing for years on a Fate conversion of Fading Suns, and finally got struck by inspiration recently.

First up is the skills list and groupings. As a few explanations:

  • This is designed around my, probably idiosyncratic, view of the Fading Suns setting. So there are some skills that I might find more useful than others in general play.
  • It’s also largely intended for an internet-based game where rolling and using turns too often tends to slow things down (as you’re waiting for however long it takes someone else to put in input before you can respond). Thus, I’ve erred on the side of skills that are more useful to eyeball for general level of competence and against ones that are more useful to rolling.
  • Most particularly, this involves dropping an Alertness-type stat: it’s easier for me to just tell people what they see, and rely on competence in related skills for deeper investigation (e.g., use Shoot to investigate stuff to do with guns, use Chemistry for forensics, etc.). I kept Stealth, but I figure that would just be directly targeted against environmental penalties instead of opponent Alertness.
  • I changed some skills to be closer to the original VP system skill list. That means that Fight got broken into Fight and Block (rather than blocking with your attack skill), but then I rolled in weapon-based close combat to compensate. Similarly, Vigor (the Athletics equivalent) lost Dodge, but inherited Might to compensate. Theoretically having more combat stats should be appropriate to a setting where dueling and martial arts are major components.
  • Meanwhile, I replaced the social skills with more effects-driven ones borrowed from Song of Ice and Fire RPG as an attempt at supporting my previous essay.


The categories below have minimal rules impact. Instead, they’re broad conceptualizations of the major types of actions that happen in the game. Each type of action, thus, has a similar number of supporting skills.


  • Bargain: Exchange items or services with the question being how much is each worth (from haggling to diplomacy)
  • Convince: Make someone believe something is true (or at least that you believe it); may include intimidation
  • Empathy: Figure out the motive of the target (vs. Acting) or read the dynamics of a social situation
  • Entertain: Help the target have fun, keeping him or her in place for further manipulation or raising his or her friendliness
  • Poise: Defend against social attacks by being unflappable and cool
  • Provoke: Get someone to take an action (taunt, incite, or even intimidate) or just make the target emotional enough for other social attacks; targets Poise


  • Artillery: Attack with siege weapons, vehicle weapons, or heavy carried weapons
  • Block: Defend against a fight attack with a weapon, body, or physical shield
  • Demolitions: Set and/or throw explosives
  • Dodge: Defend against a shoot attack or other environmental effects by getting out of the way
  • Fight: Attack with melee weapon or martial arts
  • Shoot: Attack with a firearm (slug or energy) from pistol to rifle (not heavy weapons)


  • EVA: Maneuver in deadly environments and/or without gravity (usually while wearing a protective suit)
  • Stealth: Reduce environmental difficulties (bright light, no cover, no sound) when trying to hide
  • Streetwise: Move through and find things in an urban area
  • Survival: Move through and find things in a wilderness area
  • Thievery: Pick locks and pockets
  • Vigor: Climb, jump, swim, and other exertions


  • Acting: Disguise personal motivations (generally by putting on a character) to defend against Empathy
  • Intrigue: Maneuver in political situations (know who to bribe, proper etiquette, etc.)
  • Leadership: Manage subservient characters successfully
  • Linguistics: Speak additional languages and decipher unknown ones
  • Performance: Dance, sing, and/or play an instrument
  • Warfare: Determine optimal strategy and tactics for a battle or war


  • Astrophysics: Understand astronomy and physics (especially to navigate in space)
  • Biology: Understand biology, perform autopsies, and manipulate living cells
  • Chemistry: Understand chemistry and create new chemical mixtures (drugs, poisons, etc.)
  • History: Know history without having to look it up
  • Physick: Perform first aid and long-term care
  • Research: Find information within books, think machines, or people


  • Artisan: Make objects with limited moving parts and no electricity (art or practical)
  • Cybernetics: Repair, install, and build cybernetics
  • Electrician: Repair and build electrical apparatuses
  • Mechanic: Repair and build mechanical apparatus
  • Pilot: Control spaceships and airships
  • Think Machines: Find and enter data on a think machine


  • Psi: Use psychic powers
  • Theurgy: Use miraculous powers

Skill Groupings

These will probably make more sense next week, but they are effectively suggested groupings as to which skills are best for which type of character (ultimately making it faster to make a character in the style of the old Fading Suns lifepaths).

Classes and Careers

  • Noble:Bargain, Fight, Intrigue, Poise, Warfare
    • Courtier: Acting, Convince, Empathy, Perform, Provoke
    • Duelist: Dodge, Block, History, Provoke, Vigor
    • General: Dodge, Leadership, History, Shoot, Survival
    • Scholar: Artisan, History, Linguistics, Research, Think Machine
    • Soldier: Artillery, Block, Dodge, Shoot, Vigor
    • Spy: Acting, Entertain, Stealth, Thievery, Think Machine
  • Church:Convince, Empathy, History, Leadership, Physick
    • Academic: Astrophysics, Chemistry, Linguistics, Research, Think Machine
    • Healer: Biology, Chemistry, Cybernetics, Dodge, Research
    • Investigator: Biology, Chemistry, Provoke, Research, Shoot
    • Preacher: Acting, Perform, Poise, Provoke, Streetwise
    • Retainer: Bargain, Dodge, Intrigue, Linguistics, Research
    • Warrior: Block, Dodge, Fight, Shoot, Vigor
  • Guild:Mechanic, Pilot, Provoke, Research, Shoot
    • Agent: Acting, Entertain, Intrigue, Poise, Stealth
    • Doctor: Biology, Chemistry, Cybernetics, Empathy, Physick
    • Facilitator: Bargain, Empathy, Intrigue, Thievery, Streetwise
    • Mercenary: Artillery, Block, Fight, Dodge, Vigor
    • Spacer: Astrophysics, Dodge, EVA, Think Machine, Vigor
    • Technician: Artisan, Cybernetics, Electrician, Mechanic, Think Machine
  • Freeman:Artisan, Dodge, Streetwise, Survival, Vigor
    • Criminal: Block, Fight, Provoke, Thievery, Stealth
    • Infantry: Artillery, Block, Demolitions, Fight, Shoot
    • Mechanic: Chemistry, Electrician, Empathy, Mechanic, Research
    • Merchant: Bargain, Convince, Empathy, Poise, Provoke
    • Performer: Acting, Convince, Entertain, Perform, Poise
    • Student: Biology, Chemistry, History, Research, Think Machine


Players are encouraged to make their own groupings. The only restriction is that both GM and player have to agree that it consists of three skills that could conceptually be learned as part of the same activity.

  • Burglar: Electrician, Thievery, Vigor
  • Cohort: Empathy, Intrigue, Poise
  • Courtesan: Acting, Entertain, Perform
  • Demolitionist: Demolitions, Stealth, Vigor
  • Detective: Chemistry, Empathy, Research
  • Diplomat: Acting, Convince, Empathy
  • Fighter: Fight, Block, Vigor
  • Freighter: Astrophysics, EVA, Pilot
  • Gunner: Artillery, Dodge, Shoot
  • Informer: Acting, Empathy, Stealth
  • Lawyer: Intrigue, Poise, Research
  • Medic: Biology, Chemistry, Physick
  • Racketeer: Bargain, Convince, Streetwise
  • Sergeant: Artillery, Leadership, Warfare
  • Sniper: Shoot, Stealth, Survival
  • Sophomore: History, Research, Think Machine
  • Thief: Thievery, Stealth, Streetwise
  • Traveler: Bargain, EVA, Linguistics
  • Favyana: Empathy, Physick, Psi
  • Invisible Path: Intrigue, Psi, Provoke
  • Secret Psi: Acting, Psi, Stealth
  • Battle Theurge: Dodge, Theurgy, Vigor
  • Compassionate Theurge: Empathy, Physick, Theurgy
  • Research Theurge: Convince, Research, Theurgy

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Assassin!

1 Comment

Not exactly a whole campaign idea this time, but certainly something that could fill several sessions of a Mist Cloak and Vibro-Dagger style game.

Fading Suns: The Urther

No, no, don’t explain it to me. Part of hiring a Scraver information broker is that I don’t ask you why you need an untraceable, concealable, long-range weapon that can kill a target through an energy shield. I’ll just assume that you’re upstanding folks and there’s some big evil that you can’t take out any other way. Maybe a Sathraist that’s got thralls, or a demon possession, right? Right.

Anyway, you’re in luck. Right here on this very planet of Severus is the answer to your hopes. They call him the Urther. Because he’s from Urth. Real creative, right? It’s apparently a big deal for someone from the holy planet to join the Engineers, much less turn that training to becoming a hitman feared across the Known Worlds. I hear he was bad news during the Emperor Wars, and kept going for a while after that.

But he’s more or less retired now. His last mission went wrong, and he’s been laying low. So all you have to do is find an aging Urthish assassin somewhere on the planet. That’s not entirely sarcasm: he does stand out, and I can give you some leads.

The catch is, he’s paranoid as all hell, and with good reason. The Imperial Guard would love to bring him in for war crimes, a bunch of Muster have been trying to get him since the last job, and the Jakovians want to take him out to make sure he doesn’t let slip any Decados house secrets. If you come straight up to him, you’re likely to get shot by one of the best assassins in history.

But it’s not hopeless. He loves nature, so he doesn’t always stay cooped up in his bolt hole. He’s too much of a romantic and has a thing for the ladies, which is part of why his last mission went so bad. Plus, he loves a challenge, so if you can give him something interesting to make, he might be willing to deal.

So, to sum up… wish I could just get you hooked up with your weapon, but for what you want, there’s really only one choice. He’s the best mechanic of death I know of. Good luck.

Serial Numbers Filed Off 7: From Between the Stars

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Fading Suns: Holovid

The Holovid market is tough. We’re in deep to the Scravers, and they’re threatening to repossess all our tech… and the lead actress. We’ve got one week to get what we can recorded, no budget, and a filming permit in a useless section of scrubland on Hira.

At least we thought it was useless. Last night, a Hazat convoy rolled through. Got attacked by something. Exploded in a colossal wreck. It was messed up, but we filmed it all.

It was weird, though. I swear we saw some gargoyles flying out of the wreckage. You know, the old Ur statues that they put on the front of starships to keep the things in deep space away? Why’d they even need one, much less more than one? Were they just transporting artifacts… or something else?

Hazat military is crawling all over the region and the nearby towns, and strange things have started to happen. Missing people. A rash of thefts. Power outages.

Our leading man wants to investigate. Our engineer wants to bug out and make good with the Scravers later. It’s freaky out there.

But I wrote a new script last night, and I’m ready to go. There are film crews that would pay a million Firebirds for the production value that just fell into our laps.

What’s the worst that could happen?

What is Holo Tech?

Fading Suns books mention holovids as a setting thing several times, but, to the best of my knowledge, never explain them in any detail. Here’s my idea based on the standard conceit that everything in the setting is basically the Middle Ages replicated with tech.

Holovids are popular throughout the known worlds. Rich nobles can afford their own holo stages inside their homes, but most citizens go to local holo theaters. Some of these have been in use since the Second Republic, and their pictures have degraded into translucent monochrome images. Better maintained theaters (or even new ones built by Engineers that understand the tech) produce such rich images and sound that it actually looks like the actors are on stage. Most venues are set up in an amphitheater arrangement. A two dimensional image is projected onto the back wall to show the background of the current scene.

Essential to filming are holo cameras. Four such cameras are set up in the four corners of the scene, at basically the correct points for the size of the typical stage. Each camera is actually a series of lenses and gadgets to accurately capture the three dimensional details of everything in the scene and make sure of accurate positioning. Additionally, these cameras record the background of each side of the scene in 2D or less refined 3D. Some cameras maintained from the Second Republic are self-deploying staves with a head of lenses no bigger than a man’s calf. More modern cameras, particularly ones created on worlds with limited parts, might be massive devices as big as a human.

Traditionally, holovids are performed very similarly to a live stage play, given the limitations of the playback medium, but have the advantage of being able to cut instantly between scenes. Some enterprising directors try more complicated techniques to greater or lesser success: pulling the cameras further apart to generate smaller-scale vistas, moving the cameras to travel through a larger scene, and compositing and special effects.

A Song of Fading Suns


With only very minimal changes to the setting assumptions of Fading Suns, one could run a game of it using the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG. While such a campaign might not have quite the same breadth of available adventures as the more toolkit-style Victory Points system, it would gain the genre emulation tools inherent in the ASoIaF RPG engine: specifically, the intrigue and mass combat systems. Since one could set A Game of Thrones in the Fading Suns setting without changing much beyond a few house names and adding in a few sci-fi features, it seems like a very good match.

Setting Changes

  • Rather than being monolithic families, the five great houses of the Known Worlds merely serve as the figureheads for a collection of banner houses closely tied to them by oaths and blood. A “Hawkwood Knight” may actually be from a smaller house that rules a large section of one of the Hawkwood worlds in the name of his lords.
  • Energy shields work more like the ones in Dune: they dampen inertia and energy, and work much better against bullets and other attacks that deal damage by being very energetic. They are also one of the Second Republic technologies that are readily replicable in the new dark ages. Consequently, melee weapons are used far more heavily that seems logical in a setting with high tech firearms: a couple pounds of steel swung as fast as a human can swing it will rarely trigger a shield, while a gun will almost always set it off.
  • Spaceships are rare and hard to replace, fortresses are often dug deep and protected by massive energy shields, and the Church has declared orbital bombardment a sin (as it tends to wipe out the countryside and risk upsetting terraforming while leaving the actual fortresses intact). Wars are, thus, often fought by infantry and ground vehicles.

Rules Changes to ASoIaF RPG


The Animal Handling skill is changed to the Driving skill. It is used for most of the same kind of thing (particularly for “cavalry” actions), but is focused more on how to operate vehicles than on befriending horses. Players need a special Quality to operate spacecraft.

Knowledge is used for understanding technology, but players need a special Quality to operate Think Machines or work with really high tech items (virtually anything more complex than 1950s tech).

Status means different things for nobles, churchmen, and guilders:

Status Nobility Church Guild
1 Servant Petitioner Freeman
2 Retainer Novitiate Apprentice
3 Squire Canon Associate
4 Knight Deacon Chief
5 Baron Priest Fellow
6 Earl/Marquis Bishop Captain
7 Count Archbishop Consul
8 Duke Metropolitan Dean
9 Prince Patriarch
10 Emperor

Noble Skills: Agility, Deception, Fighting, Persuasion, Status, Warfare

Church Skills: Awareness, Healing, Language, Knowledge, Persuasion, Will

Guild Skills: Cunning, Driving, Endurance, Knowledge, Marksmanship, Thievery

Non-Entered Skills: Agility, Athletics, Endurance, Stealth, Survival, Thievery

(PCs start with their group’s skills at 3 and all other skills at 2. Raising skills from 2 to 3 costs 30 points, instead of 10, and all other costs are increased appropriately.)


No Fate Qualities from the standard list are allowed except: Cadre, Cohort, Famous, Head of House, Heir, Landed, Sponsor, Ward, and Wealthy.

No Heritage Qualities from the standard list are allowed (though a GM might want to invent some for different planets).

The Braavosi Fighter and Water Dancer Martial Qualities are renamed Duelist and Fencer, but their effects are the same.

The following new Fate Qualities are available to Guild members:

  • Spacer: You can pilot a spaceship (use Driving).
  • Technologist: You can understand how to assemble and repair high tech devices (use Knowledge).
  • Hacker: You can operate a Think Machine (use Knowledge). Requires Technologist.
  • Banker: You can manage money without being bred to it (use Cunning instead of Status for Stewardship checks).

Theurgy, Psi, Changed, and Cybernetics are purchased as new Fate qualities. Use the Pious and Third Eye Qualities as a basis.

House Creation

Create stats for different planets to replace the Westeros regional statistics. Land 100 is roughly the size of a planet, so most PC houses will control somewhere between a country and a continent in space.

The rough area controlled is found by squaring the Lands number and multiplying by 5000 square miles (Lands^2 x 5000 sq miles).

The rough population of these lands is found by cubing the Population number and multiplying by 1000 citizens (Population^3 x 1000 citizens). At population 100, the PCs are responsible for a billion souls.

The house’s first founding is rolled normally and provides the same number of historical events, but is compared to the following list:

  1. Ancient (The Diaspora, c. 2500)
  2. Very Old (The Ukar War, c. 2855)
  3. Old (The end of the Second Republic, c. 4000)
  4. Established (The death of Emperor Vladimir, c. 4550)
  5. Recent (The beginning of the Emperor War, c. 4956)
  6. New (The ascension of Emperor Alexius, c. 4993)


When awarded in character creation or as treasure, 1 Gold Dragon in ASoIaF is worth roughly 100 Firebirds in Fading Suns.


Use the ASoIaF stats for melee weapons and bows.

Slug Guns use the following table. All Revolvers and Shotguns have the Reload (Greater) quality. All other slug guns have the Reload (Lesser) quality. Each gun has a number of shots (obviously) before a reload is required. Improved ammo can be purchased for most slug guns to gain the Piercing quality.

Gun Specialty Training Damage Qualities
Light Pistol Pistol Agi + 1 Close, Fast
Medium Pistol Pistol Agi + 2 Close
Heavy Pistol Pistol Agi + 3 Close, Slow
Imperial Rifle Rifle Agi + 3 Long, Two-Handed
Assault Rifle Rifle Agi + 4 Long, Fast, Two-Handed
Sniper Rifle Rifle 1B Agi + 5 Long, Slow, Two-Handed
SMG Medium Slug Agi + 2 Close, Fast
Shotgun Medium Slug Agi + 5 Close, Two-Handed

Energy Guns use the following table. Laser guns and Flameguns do not trigger energy shields. Blasters bleed through energy shields (see the Energy Shield description.) Flamers continue burning on a successful hit for 2 damage per round for 1d6 rounds (or until smothered).

Gun Specialty Training Damage Qualities
Laser Pistol Laser Agi + 0 Close, Fast
Laser Rifle Laser Agi + 1 Long, Two-Handed
Assault Laser Laser 1B Agi + 2 Long, Fast, Two-Handed
Blaster Pistol Blaster Agi + 4 Close, Fast, Piercing 2
Blaster Rifle Blaster 1B Agi + 6 Long, Two-Handed, Piercing 3
Blaster Shotgun Blaster Agi + 6 Close, Two-Handed, Piercing 3
Flamegun Flamer Agi + 2 Close, Slow

Shields and Armor

An energy shield triggers automatically against all slug guns and blasters (and anything similarly energetic), but does not trigger against melee attacks and anything else going much slower than the speed of sound. When hit by a gun when wearing a shield:

  • Reduce the shield’s charge by the base damage of the weapon + the armor worn’s bulk rating (e.g., a character in half plate (bulk 3) hit by a Sniper Rifle would reduce the shield’s charge by the attacker’s Agi + 5 + 3).
  • For slug guns, deal 1 damage per Degree of Success (mitigated by any armor worn under the shield). At some areas of the body the shield is thin enough that some force from the slug will make it through.
  • For blasters, deal 2 damage per Degree of Success (also mitigated by armor). This represents the energy and heat bleeding through the shield even if the plasma was dissipated away from the body.

Energy shields can also soak up falling damage if the character falls far enough to generate enough speed to trigger the shield (greater than 20 yards or so). Doing this reduces the damage to 0 but has a 50% chance of shorting out the shield (and reduces 30 points of charge even if it doesn’t short it out).

Different shields have different battery sizes:

  • Standard Shield: 50 charge
  • Dueling Shield: 100 charge
  • Assault Shield: 200 charge
  • Battle Shield: 300 charge

Armor in the Known Worlds is generally better than in Westeros. Use the following chart for armor:

Armor Rating Penalty Bulk
Jerkin 2 0 0
Studded 3 -1 0
Mail 5 -2 -2*
Half Plate 5 -1 -3*
Scale 6 -2 -3*
Plate 9 -4 -3*
Ceramsteel 14 -7 4
Synthsilk 3 0 0
Stiffsynth 6 -1 -1
Adept Robe (Powered) 14 0 0**

* Plastic has -1 Bulk
** Adept Robes also add +2B to Athletics

System Review: Fading Suns, Conclusion


Fading Suns feels to me like it’s incapable of disguising its origins: a bunch of former White Wolf designers with a love of Pendragon come up with an amazing idea for a setting and cobble together a system for it out of what they’re comfortable with.

The system exists in a weird sort of temporal limbo. Five years earlier and it would have been contemporaneous with the White Wolf system, and seemed like an iterative innovation over Pendragon. Five years later and it would have probably just used d20, if the system really wasn’t as important as the setting (and it did eventually get a d20 version, though it seemed little used because all the sourcebooks were for the original system).

But Fading Suns happened to come out only very shortly before a wave of heavy innovation in gaming that left it with very little room to breathe. It doesn’t quite have enough old school flair to claim its old school flaws are actually features. It doesn’t do skill based as tightly as a lot of other systems from the time period. And it doesn’t do anything really innovative or setting-specific enough to justify designing a whole new system.

In the end, Fading Suns is a prime example of the kind of system that caused Ryan Dancey and the rest of the OGL founders to push d20 so heavily: it’s a game setting that doesn’t really justify a never-before-seen system that forces players to learn new rules, and would have been better off as just a handful of setting-specific tweaks to a proven game engine.

The current licensors of the IP are planning a 3rd edition to be released soon. I’m keen to see whether the system remains compatible with nearly all that’s come before (as 2nd did with 1st), or whether they’ll try to get it to a point where it truly justifies being a unique game engine.

System Review: Fading Suns, Part 3


Character Lifepaths

Fading Suns has the distinction of being the only system of which I’m aware to retrofit a history-based character creation method on top of a point-buy method. In first edition, Fading Suns character creation was very similar to White Wolf: X points to raise characteristics 1-for-1, Y points to raise skills 1-for-1, and Z bonus points to raise everything else on a chart-based scale.

In second edition, this system was kept, but the preferred method is to make a character by following a life path. Instead of doing history-based creation like Mechwarrior, where characters that come out aren’t mechanically equal, the Fading Suns method essentially breaks the existing character creation method into pre-set packages. For example, in the first stage of creation, a High-Court Hawkwood compared to a Landless Decados would have the same number of points using the original method, they’re simply spent on different traits.

While this method does preserve bonus points and min-max opportunities at certain stages, it goes a long way towards preventing the hugely idiot-savant-esque characters that the system would otherwise incentivize. It also does a good job of helping a new player sort through the huge mass of options inherent in a skill-based system.

So, I actually can’t find fault with the character history creation method. I’m honestly curious why it didn’t go further, and why more games with robust settings and standard PC assumptions don’t do something similar.

Combat Manuevers

A strange element of Fading Suns is its reliance on purchased combat maneuvers. Perhaps as a way to balance mundane characters against the cost of making powered characters (see below), the game features a wide variety of combat maneuvers for martial arts and swordfighting (and a few for guns). These maneuvers must be purchased independently from the associated combat skill (though each maneuver has a minimum skill prerequisite), and getting a wide range can become very expensive.

While the maneuvers are flavorful, they are often very specific as to their utility. And trying to buy a lot of maneuvers can functionally double or triple the cost of raising the combat skill (they’re not cheap). A player could probably get more benefit out of trying to get the GM to allow putting points into blessings and benefices to provide skill bonuses and better equipment.

Ultimately, the combat maneuvers are a cool idea, but are both over-priced and under-utilized. They seem like something to which a price tag was added to try to balance mundane fighters against the incredible expense of building a psychic or a theurge, but mundane combat has easier tradeoffs for potentially less cost. Using similar focuses for lots of other skills could have resulted in a fun and innovative system, but, instead, charging for maneuvers that would traditionally just be standard options for a skill feels grafted on and out of place with the rest of the system.

Powers (Psi and Theurgy)

Even compared to the cost of building a mundane fighter with all the combat maneuvers, creating a character with powers is prohibitively expensive.

As mentioned in the last entry, psychics and theurges require a whole characteristic (Ego or Faith) that no mundane character really worries about. This becomes the prerequisite for their powers. Unlike other characters, they need to buy up their Wyrd trait, because it’s required to use powers. But the real kicker is that every power requires a different characteristic + skill combo.

Let’s look at just one path: Soma (one of the better combat paths). The traits involved in each level are:

  1. Introvert + Vigor
  2. Passion + Vigor
  3. Calm + Vigor
  4. Introvert + Stoic Body
  5. Extrovert + Vigor
  6. Extrovert + Charm
  7. Introvert + Remedy
  8. Calm + Focus
  9. Introvert + Vigor

To use a single path, a character needs to have good values in four characteristics (which are two sets of opposed characteristics, so having a high value in all of them is impossible) and six skills, in addition to the cost of raising Psi as a prerequisite and buying the powers. Conversely, a character can master the fencing arts with a high Dexterity, decent Strength and Endurance, and paying triple-cost for Melee (the skill plus associated manuevers). A level 9 Soma specialist easily paid twice as much exp as a level 9 Fencing specialist. And the Soma character is probably also trying to round out additional psychic paths, while the fencer has effectively peaked as a playable character.

The powers in Fading Suns are neat. But they come with an in-setting limitation (the inquisition) and an in-system limitation (Hubris or Urge, which are big negatives on powered characters). They’re neat, but even at high levels they’re only rarely overpoweringly good. The decision to make these powers both individually expensive and multiple-attribute-dependent is somewhat baffling.


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