Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 10 April 2017

Faith's First Steps

Published by Burning Games in 2016, Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG is a Spanish Science Fiction Roleplaying Game that suffered from a number of issues which hampered play. Primarily these consisted of a lack of a scenario to play and a lack of background and objectives for the player characters, but the RPG also came without effective examples of how the rules worked or a fuller example of play. Despite these issues, Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG was not without its merits. The setting was intriguing, depicting a future in which some time after the collapse of human society, an alien insectoid species known as the Corvo appear, annex the Earth, and begin using humans as mercenaries in the ongoing cold war between the Corvo and their traditional enemy, aquatic mammals known as the Iz’kal. This lasted for nearly three centuries, but in the last three decades this war has been put on hold as the Corvo, the Iz’kal, and other species have been attacked by the Ravagers, a hive-race intent on harvesting any genetic material it can. The Corvo and the Iz’kal have formed a Coalition to defeat this threat, with Humans serving alongside both them and other species.

The setting of Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG is fairly hi-tech. Both biological and technological upgrades and implants are available and many devices can be accessed and even hacked using a Cortex Connector. The stars are reached not by Faster Than Light starships, but by accessing a network of wormholes called the Labyrinth, whose extent remains unknown. Beyond this though—and this is where Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG is unique—faith and a belief in the gods play a fundamental role in everyday life and beyond. Five are described. Ergon favours selflessness and happiness, Kavliva values strength and ambition, Vexal favours freedom and respect for individuality, Hexia values the pursuit of knowledge for the common good, and Ledger favours individualism above and the chaos it can reap. Of the five only Ledger does not have cults organised around his worship, although such cults are more organisations through which their members can demonstrate their faith rather bodies sanctioned by the gods. Anyone who embodies the commandments of one of these gods may be granted gifts or Divine Upgrades and become a Soulbender, able to warp reality.

Further, the mechanics in Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG favour player choice rather than randomness. They are card driven, each player drawing from their own decks, whilst the GM has his own. Although each player only holds a limited number of cards for each scene, they enable a player to better control his character’s luck rather than relying on the randomness of dice. Lastly, Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG is fantastically well illustrated with numerous, fully painted pieces of artwork that capture and depict the feel and grandeur of the setting far more than the writing does.

Now Burning Games has followed up Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG with FAITH: A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set. Funded via Kickstarter, FAITH: A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set is designed for two to five players, including the Game Master, which comes in a box that contains an eighty-page Campaign Book, a thirty-eight-page Rulebook, four player character folios, a GM tracking sheet, a deck of fifty-four of Gear & NPC Cards, a player deck, and four Boss Cards. Notably, the campaign, ‘A Garden in Hell’ is designed to be played straight out of the box, including as it does a scene that sets the campaign up and runs both players and Game Master through the mechanics.

Opening the box that contains FAITH: A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set and the first thing that you come to is the GM’s Outline. This four-page folio is the starting point for the boxed set, but it is primarily used to track the player characters’ progress through the campaign. It enables the GM to mark off chapters and various effects that will may affect later chapters as the campaign proceeds. Below this are the four player character folios, each four pages in length and complete with a background, technological and divine upgrades—currently possessed and available to take as the campaign proceeds, and of course, the character sheet. These folios are presented in a clear and open fashion, and are easy to read and use, especially the explanations of how various upgrades work. One notable feature is that each character’s skill and attribute ratings are marked not in black, but grey so that they can be easily amended as they play through the campaign and gain experience. These are accompanied by full colour card decks that detail the campaign’s NPCs and equipment, whilst the major NPCs are described and given stats on larger cards, essentially, ‘boss cards’.

The four player characters include two male and two female characters. They consist of a Corvo tech-engineer with a cybernetic arm, a Raag med-tech and xenologist, an Iz’kal covert ops specialist, and a Human military explorer. Interestingly, it is the Human character—Humans being primarily employed as mercenaries in this future—who is in charge rather than one of the major races of the Coalition. On the other hand, one race not represented in the ‘A Garden in Hell’ campaign are the Ravagers, who are available as a player character race in the Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG. Now there are reasons for this as the campaign does deal with secrets about the Ravager, but perhaps having a Ravager player character on the team would have been actually more interesting and more poignant once those secrets are revealed? Were a Game Master to want make adjustments to the campaign, this might be one that would add to ‘A Garden in Hell’.

The first of the two books in the box is the Rulebook. This is v1.5 of the Rulebook, which is available to download here. The Rulebook does include quick rules for creating player characters, so that a player could create his own to play through the campaign, though the four pre-generated player characters are designed with the campaign in mind. This version of the Rulebook benefits from more examples, but there is no example full play and the writing is perhaps a bit curt in places.

The ‘A Garden in Hell’ campaign casts the player characters as members of Team Inferi, a recon unit in the Coalition’s Planetary Expedition Corps. The Coalition has just launched a major operation against a Ravager strikeforce, but as the campaign begins, it is not going according to plan and Team Inferi finds itself alone, having crash-landed on System NT-44 after being attacked by Ravager forces. Team Inferi must survive this biologically rich and fecund world, recover what supplies they can and gather other survivors before going on to discover the secrets that the world hides. The structure of the campaign—which will find the player characters undertaking a wide array of mission types, including diplomatic, exploratory, patrol, recon, and rescue missions, and more—is somewhat linear in structure. There are points where the campaign opens up to allow the players to choose the missions that their characters can undertake and who they report to, allowing them to explore and experience more of the world and discover its secrets. Spread out over twenty-one chapters across four acts, the bulk of the encounters do involve combat, primarily against Ravager forces, but the planet is itself equally as dangerous, whether it is from native species or the environment itself, such as the acidic seas.

The ‘A Garden in Hell’ campaign does involve quite a lot of purple prose to read out, but notably, the first scene is specifically designed to walk the Game Master and his players through the rules and how they work. Essentially this can be done as soon as the Game Opens the box and examines everything, but to be fair, he would benefit from reading through the Rulebook first before running the campaign.

Unfortunately, FAITH: A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set is not without its issues. The most obvious one is an insufficient number of Player Decks. Now the new edition of the Rulebook that comes with this Starter Set does include new rules for multiple players to play using just the one Player Deck, but if they want a better showcase for the rules, a playing group can easily substitute Poker decks though or use those found in the Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG. The other is the writing itself. Although clear in meaning, it is often unnaturally phrased in places, for example, the use of ‘Unconfronted’ instead of ‘Uncontested’. Ideally, it needed localising before seeing print.

Physically, the components in FAITH: A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set are all in full colour and of good quality. Of course, the artwork in both the books and on the cards is fantastic and fantastical. In particular, the artwork created for the campaign—including the cartography—is particularly good and much of it can be used as illustrations to show the players as they play through the campaign.

Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG was a difficult game to approach because it did not give the Game Master and his players the means to apply it. FAITH: A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set does this and more. It provides the means to apply the rules and get a feel for what for the RPG is like, doing so through better presented rules and a playthrough example. Above all, FAITH: A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set provides a solidly written, well presented campaign that offers multiple sessions of good play and a taste of the Faith: The Sci-Fi RPG universe.

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Currently, funds are being raised on Kickstarter for FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book, which includes the complete rules and background.