Another D20 Conversion - Why Bother?


When I opened up my birthday present this year and found a copy of the D20 Conversion for Holistic Designs' Fading Suns RPG, my first thought was, "What in the world do I need this for?" But being the rules geek I am, I had to pick it up and read it. While I can't say I loved everything about it, by the time I finished it, I had to admit, I was impressed.

When I opened up my birthday present this year and found a copy of the D20 Conversion for Holistic Designs' Fading Suns RPG, my first thought was, "What in the world do I need this for?" But being the rules geek I am, I had to pick it up and read it. While I can't say I loved everything about it, by the time I finished it, I had to admit, I was impressed.

What's so Special About D20 Fading Suns?
Fading Suns D20 is a well constructed, thoughtful D20 conversion. It includes everything I've come to expect from a Fading Suns game product, including an excellent introduction to the game universe and well written background materials. I was also impressed with the production values. The Fading Suns books are generally well done (particularly the newer ones), and the D20 conversion is perhaps the best. Rules are easy to read and find and the layout is attractive.

Nevertheless, the question remains, is Fading Suns really in need of D20 conversion? The answer is a resounding "yes and no". On the one hand, Fading Suns has a unique system and gameplay that help set the stage in one of the most unique sci-fi game settings around today. The classic Fading Suns rules offer multiple opportunities for teeth-grinding dice rolls, fast action and high heroics. A D20 conversion always means the loss of some of the spirit of the original game, and in Fading Suns, any loss is a shame. Fading Suns also includes a unique game system called the Victory Point System (VPS). Long-time Fading Suns players who are devoted to this game system may be unwilling to abandon it for D20.

So why convert Fading Suns to D20? The first reason is the VP System is quite simply difficult to learn, verging at times on the arcane. One area in particular that gained something from the conversion was the implementation of powers and rituals. In Fading Suns, mental powers and religious rituals are potent parts of the game. They aren't so much like spells in Dungeons & Dragons, where each one is very specific and focused. Rather, they are general disciplines with as many applications as the players can imagine. The D20 conversion retains this innovation. Even better, it retains a unique aspect of Fading Suns, the concept that these powers have a dark side that can manifest itself with dangerous consequences. I found the rules covering this aspect of powers to be much clearer and easier to implement in the D20 version of the game.

The second reason to do a conversion of Fading Suns is game balance. D20 does a very good job of balancing the various character classes, powers, skills and feats. The D20 conversion fixes some inherent game balance problems in Fading Suns. When I converted the characters from my existing Fading Suns games to D20, these inequalities were glaring. While most of my Fading Suns characters came out as respectable 4th - 5th level D20 characters, at least one of them, a flamboyant fencing nobleman with a shady past, could not be converted at anything less than 8th level. The reason for this is because the player had chosen certain powerful techniques and knacks that made his character an unstoppable swordsman. In D20, the same abilities have been converted into feats to prevent a character from taking too many of them at a low level.

So What's Wrong with Fading Suns D20?
Despite everything I've just said, it's not all roses and sunshine with the Fading Suns D20 conversion. For one thing, it's D20. Any D20 conversion has certain commitments which are not necessarily desirable. For one thing, not all gamers like to see characters climb up the inexorable ladder of levels towards godlike power and ridiculous numbers of hit points. In addition, the Fading Suns D20 conversion added a couple of character classes I can only describe as the "space monk" and the "space druid". These classes don't' really fit in Fading Suns and were added, I believe, to fit the D20 mentality better. While the "druid" (AKA Beastmaster) is an interesting class, it would have been better to include Fading Suns' own unique form of nature magic, the Gjarti. While Fading Suns has martial arts in the original, the new "monk" (AKA Living Weapon), doesn't really fit the background.

In addition, certain aspects of Fading Suns were cut in the D20 conversion, most notably, spiritual attributes. FS is the only game I've played that really manages a cool and workable method for dealing with the spiritual well-being of the player characters. Spirituality is an important part of Fading Suns, giving the game a medieval cultural feel I haven't found in any other game. If you're a D20 player who has never played under the VP system, I recommend you give it a try just for this aspect of the game. If you're a VP player who's thinking of switching to D20, I recommend you come up with a way to bring the spiritual attributes over into D20.

Some Obvious Conclusions
The conclusion to all this is the rather straightforward observation that Fading Suns D20 is not for everyone. Neither does the D20 conversion in any way replace the Victory Point System. On the other hand, it's a great way for D20 fans to benefit from one of the coolest game settings around today. Game masters who've been trying to get players to try FS for ages may find that converting the game to D20 attracts people who were previously not interested. For game masters and players who aren't intimidated by a new system, I recommend giving the VP version of the rules a try. The core rulebook has more material in it, particularly in terms of background. Fading Suns also has a lively online community. There are a number of discussion groups and web sites, and a very active fan fiction movement. In addition, many of the older FS books have not been converted to D20. Non-VP players will have to wait or do conversions themselves. Game Masters and players who like D20 and don't want to bother learning a new system should jump right in with Fading Suns D20. The core rules are quite playable, and there's a wealth of background material already published for the game. Luckily, Holistic appears to be quite dedicated to D20. Their upcoming Stellar Bestiary will include stats for both systems. This is a trend which is very likely to continue in all future releases for the game.

Interesting. You're the first person I've ever heard defend the original rules setting from Holistic. A friend and I both bought Fading Suns when it first came out however many years ago. We absolutely loved the background, and so did everyone else that we described them to. However, we could never get enough people together to play. Ryan and I were chatting a little while ago about the upcoming d20 Fading Suns and hoping that maybe now we would actually be able to get a game together. I agree that d20 isn't necessarily going to work for every game setting, but I would have thought that Fading Suns would have converted very well. I am VERY happy to hear that the classes are a bit more balanced with this version.

I had played the FS Victory Point and i think that this system is VERY good... well, I ever prefer point systems, with merits and flaws...
Also I and my friends will play to FS D20, and the new rules are good... but I don't like the idea that my PJ can't win Allies, Assets, etc if he don't spent a feat...
Also I can say that FSD20 balance the power between players, especially between typical nobleman and typical Brother Battle (for example)... while nobleman can earn merits with interpretation easily the typical soldier no, and one or two points don't mark the diferencies for a soldier, and for a noble they do.

Apologies for my pathetic english.



Thanks for the comment. This is a problem that my gaming group has been talking about a lot lately. I am running a D20 game based in the 1920's. We want to do something like the allies, assets, etc. in Fading Suns. The problem is, if you have to spend a feat on it, it's not worth it. You need to spend you feats on combat and magic abilities if you want to succeed. What we are thinking of doing is handing out assets, allies, and other things as rewards for creative role-playing. I wish that D20 made this easier.

Interesting review. I found it because I was looking for conversion rules on the internet out of curiosity. After reading your rather thoughtful review I think I will probably pick up the conversion book and possibly even the FS core rule book to take a look at what I might be able to add into my game. As for TonyD's comment on the drawback to spending feats on rp related feats, your right. For all its advantages D20's serious flaw is that it is in many ways set up soley (I know that isn't spelled right) for killing. Since I want more rp in my game I have made changes for my campaign to make it worth the players time. I give out exp for roleplaying as well as for killing creatures, also I don't require you to have taken a feat to craft magical items. You simply have to have a high enought caster level to have taken the feat. You might want to consider do the same sort of thing with assets and allies, or simply they gain those through role-playing. Anyway thanks for the review it is definately something I will keep an eye on now.