Monday, 9 February 2009

The Why Of It All (Part 1)

So, for this post I want to explain why I picked Fading Suns to run. The next one will explain why I want to run FS as a LARP, as opposed to a tabletop game.

Why Fading Suns?

Fading Suns is a very old game (the first edition came out in the mid 1990s) and was 'dead' (i.e. not publishing) for some time before being picked up by Redbrick. All through this time the fanbase remained small but passionate, as can be seen from fan sites like this one. And when I say 'small', I mean tiny. Most of the gamers I know have barely heard of it and those under a certain age have definitely not heard of it.

So, why drag out a hoary old setting like this?

Well, because it is an incredibly powerful setting. For a start, although it uses some gothic/medieval elements, the main design choices draw from Byzantian, Arabesque, Asian and other non-western sources, which gives it a powerful and unusual look.

The second reason is because, despite the fantasy elements, it is classic science fiction, concerning itself with ideas about humanity and our world, as opposed to the flashy and insubstantial science fiction that tends to be popular. Of course, a cynic would suggest that the popular stuff (I'm thinking of Star Wars here) is popular precisely because it does not ask deep questions, but that's a different post altogether.

But Fading Suns does ask. It questions the use of technology and how it changes people, how it should be controlled given that technology is, after all, power. A gun extends a person's ability to kill, compared to an axe. A HUD allows from extended prescience beyond that of our natural senses, while a spacecraft allows us to move distances impossible through self-locomotion.

It asks about the nobility and the elite. In the setting, democracy is a heresy - the old idea that nobles rule in God's name has returned, establishing an elite who rule over ignorant and fearful masses. This setup questions the ideas of democracy and rule by elite by suggesting that the whiggish idea of inexorable progress really isn't that inexorable after all. That said, the setting also drops heavy hints that the current situation was engineered by the Noble Houses, suggesting that those with a will to dominate will do so, regardless of how it damages society as a whole. Regardless, it stands to question the efficiency and desirability of our social systems - and the question of whether true democracy is really achievable.

It also challenges faith and, even a hard-core atheist as myself cannot help but be impressed at the thought that has gone into creating a religion that, while almost totally fabricated has such a real texture and feel to it. The setting presents religion in all its flavours, from expressive to repressive, and gives real reason for thought about our connection to the world.

This second reason ties into a third one - that the setting doesn't draw pure black and white lines, but allows everything to exist in shades of gray. Each of the fifteen playable groups - five Noble Houses, five Guilds and five Church factions has both positive and negative characteristics and, more than that, a real sense of a philosophy underpinning their behaviours. This portrayal skillfully avoids stereotypes of true 'good' and 'evil', forcing a sense of depth and real challenge to their morals.

For example, the most overtly 'evil' group is House Decados, a Noble House riven with backstabbing and seemingly the spiritual successor to Dune's on House Harkonnen. However, this group's attitude is not radical, but simply based upon the principles of social darwinism, familiar to anyone who listens to the US Republican or Libertarian parties. Are they evil as well, given that one of the world's self-proclaimed moral leader's political factions espouses this view?


  1. My group and I have been running Fading Suns LARPs for the past 5 years, and you have put to words exactly why we love the setting. That, and it's a damned fun sandbox to play in.

  2. Heh, the sandbox bit was going to come in Part 2 - it's such a huge subject in itself!

    I was surprised that I hadn't heard of your group though, as I have tried to keep one eye out for FS LARPS. I totally fumbled that one. Would you be interested in telling me more about it?

  3. I can do better than that. I can show you. We call ourselves Kettle of Fish Productions and we've been taking videos of our LARPs and posting them to YouTube.

    We'll be running another one at Origins this year. We normally run one shot games, but this will be the first year we've done a LARP born out the the actions of the previous year's characters.

  4. Ah yes, Kettle of Fish. I thought I recognised those videos!

    Good to see it's continuing. I've just had an email from UCL which means that I might be able to get this one as a serial game...