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

Monday, 21 May 2018

FAITH Upgraded

When it was published in 2016, FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG caused quite a stir. The Spanish Science Fiction Roleplaying Game from Burning Games presented an intriguing far future setting in which Humanity plays a relatively   minor role and which mixes themes of rampant capitalism and individualism, the greater good of the community, strength and honour, and faith in gods, which when strong enough in their believers can grant them gifts strong enough to change the universe. This came packaged in a big fat box which contained superb artwork, a solid set of card-driven mechanics, and an attractive set of components. More recently, the A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set  provided a full scenario to play through as well as the means to see the mechanics in action and get a taste of what the setting of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG was like. Even with these two products available, what the roleplaying game was missing, was the broader picture, a history, and a sense of what was going on. With the release of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 there can be no doubt that these issues have been addressed.

Published following a successful Kickstarter campaign, FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 is a heavy weight, full colour, four-hundred-and-forty-page rulebook, of which less than a third—some one-hundred-and-thirty-one pages—is devoted to the game’s mechanical aspects. The remaining seventy percent is pure background, detailing the setting’s two major races, two minor races, their natures and behaviours, anatomies and physiologies, communication and language, societies, education systems, economies, cultures, spirituality, politics, law and crime, technology, weaponry, relationships with other species and the universe as a whole, and history and evolution, and lastly, the one threat they all face and which has brought them together. If the hints given in both FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG box and A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set were at least intriguing and raised more than a few questions, then FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 certainly answers them.

FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG takes place in the far future, but Humanity’s involvement only begins some three hundred years in the past of that future. The Corvo, an insectoid-like species, discovered the Earth and Humanity, reduced to wasteland and tribalism following a series of global wars fought for control of resources. The Corvo established a base and offered Humanity a chance to return to advanced civilisation and respite from their much-diminished circumstances. Valued for their adaptability, some Humans accepted contracts with the Corvo and returned with them to Tiantang, the near-Dyson Sphere which was home to the technological, capitalist, and expansionist species. The price was enforced sterility—lest Humanity come to form an interstellar polity of their own and to help the Corvo keep Earth’s location a secret—and in return, these Humans would serve as mercenaries in the ongoing cold war between the Corvo and their traditional enemy, the aquatic mammalian species known as the Iz’kal. Where Corvo society is highly technological and capitalist, the Iz’kal are communal and progressive, placing value on society and the greater good. Where necessary, the Iz’kal employ the Raag as mercenaries. They are aggressive, but honourable clansmen who come from an ice world and use spaceships of ice to raid, search, and trade for goods and supplies to return to their home world. The Iz’kal feel a kinship with the Raag, since both were once the slaves of a lost race known as the Korian.

The cold war between the Corvo and the Iz’kal was put on hold some three decades ago when first the Corvo world of Izuan Tai was attacked and destroyed, and then the Corvo co-operated with the Iz-kal to drive off a similar attack on their colony world of Parsaius. The attackers became known as the Ravagers and the likelihood of further attacks forced the two species—one corporate dominated, one state dominated—to work together along with increased numbers of Human and Raag mercenaries in an independent military force known as the Coalition. It might be the four species’ only hope in driving off and finding a solution to the Ravager menace, but the Coalition has become all but a polity in its own right...

The setting of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG is hi-tech. Both biological and technological upgrades and implants are available and many devices can be accessed and even hacked using a Cortex Connector—every Corvo has one of these and anyone residing in Corvospace typically has one also. 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 different—faith and a belief in the gods play a fundamental role in everyday life and beyond. Five are described. Ergon, the God of Community, favours selflessness and happiness; Kavliva, the God of Survival, values strength and ambition; Vexal, the God of Freedom, favours liberty and respect for individuality; Hexia, the God of Progress, values the pursuit of knowledge for the common good; and Ledger, the God of Chaos, 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 otherwise intangible gods whom their adherents worship. Each of the four species tends to favour one god over the other four, so most Iz’kal are either Ergonauts or Hexians, most Corvo are Kalivans with its cult of celebrities, whilst Vexales are found everywhere and Ledgers only in secret...

Proof of the existence of the five gods lies not just in the faith that their worshippers have in them, but also in the favours they grant—especially to their Soulbenders. Anyone who follows and embodies the commandments of one of the gods may be granted gifts or Divine Upgrades and become a Soulbender, able to warp reality. Thus, an Ergonaut who faithfully follows Ergon’s Commandments (‘All are Equal’, ‘Bend Your Will to the Needs of the Many’, ‘Do Not hinder Your People’, and ‘Help Others Be Their Greatest Selves’) may be granted powers which enable him to create bridges between people and places, communicate telepathically or empathically, to impose thought on others in the face of their selfishness, form solid or energy shields, and to heal or repair objects and people. Of course, most player characters are potential Soulbenders.

A player character is defined by his Species, an Affinity, a God, six attributes and twelve skills, and one or more Upgrades. Each of the four Species available—Corvo, Iz’kal, Raag, and Human—provides one or more traits as well as a Background trait. Of the five races available, the Corvo start the game cortex connector Tech Upgrade and can connect it to a device via their tails. The Corvo also have an innate Affinity for Space. The Iz’kal are amphibious and via a biological Hyperlink can connect together to form hive minds—actually preferring this over using their gene-added vocal cords, although some lose this ability through trauma. Humans are resourceful and so hold more cards from their Player Decks in their hand and are always at an advantage when taking athletic actions.

Each character also has an Affinity. This is for one of the four suits in each Player Deck—Nature, Urban, Space, and OS (Operating System)—used as part of the game mechanics in FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG and representing where the character grew up, was trained, and so on. A player character’s choice of God provides a core ability for worshipping that deity and options as to how he may develop in terms of his Soulbending abilities. The six attributes are Agility, Constitution, Dexterity, Link, Mind, and Faith. Of these, ‘Link’ represents a character’s ability to understand and interact with technology as well as limiting the number of Tech Upgrades he can have, whilst ‘Faith’ defines his ability to connect or communicate with the Gods, his conviction in those Gods, and limits the number of Divine upgrades he can have. The roleplaying game’s twelve skills—Ballistic, Close Quarters Combat, Hacking, Piloting, Cunning, Survival, Initiative, Athletic, Medical, Technical, Extravehicular Activity, and Profession—are fairly broad, so Cunning covers all deception and stealth-related actions; Hacking covers breaking into electronic devices and computers as well as protecting them against such attempts; and Profession covers everything related to a character’s job, from knowledge to pay, but not an actual skill. So, a character with the Piloting and Medical skills might take Emergency Medical Technician as his Profession or Mercenary if he had the Ballistic, Close Quarters Combat, and Athletic skills.

Characters can also have upgrades. These can be Tech Upgrades, Bio Upgrades, or Divine Upgrades. Bio Upgrades include Echolocation, Improved Build, Powered Reflexes, Tissue Regeneration, and so on. Tech Upgrades range from Atomic Balance and Bionic Arm to Optical Disruptor and Shielded Skull. Basically, Bio Upgrades are bioware and Tech Upgrades are cyberware, both familiar from fiction and other RPGs, but Divine Upgrades are granted by one the five gods in FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG. They include Extended Awareness and Phantom from Kaliva; Gravity Shift and Planeswalker from Vexal; Altered Reality and Future Sight from Hexia; and so on. There are a total five Divine Upgrades for each of the five gods. Characters can begin play with Divine Upgrades, a player spending some of his beginning Experience Points to purchase them, but they do require roleplaying adhering to the commandments of their chosen god in order to keep them. Ultimately, each Divine Upgrade can be raised to Prophet Level, but that is a significantly long-term aim for any one character.

To create a character, a player selects a Species and Background Traits, as well as an Affinity and a God. He sets his character’s Skills—one at 5, one at 4, two at 3, two at 2, three at 1, and the last three at 0 and spend Experience Points to further enhance the character. As well as Upgrades, this last step also includes the attributes which all start at one and have to be improved at this stage. (In previous iterations of the rules, a set poll of points where distributed among the attributes leading to more powerful starting characters.) Talents can also be purchased for skills rated at five or above, but may not be an option during character creation given the cost of raising attribute levels.

Our sample character is Yīnying, a Corvo resident of Tiantang. He is a freelance Hacker who believes in freeing information and aims to be a Hacker freedom hero.

Yīnying
Species: Corvo
Concept: Hacker
Affinity: Space, OS
God: Vexal

Agility 01 Constitution 01 Dexterity 02
Link 02 Mind 02 Faith 01

Physical Health: 2
Neural Health: 4

Ballistic 0, Close Quarters Combat 2, Hacking 5, Piloting 1, Cunning 3, Survival 0, Initiative 1, Athletic 2, Medical 0, Technical 4, Extravehicular Activity 1, Profession 3 (Hacker)

Traits:
Technological, Tail Reflex, Spaceborn

Talents:
Merchant’s Soul (Hacking)

Bio Upgrades:
Tech Upgrades: Cortex Connector 2.o (Data Storage)
Divine Upgrades: 

The mechanics in FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG are built around the playing of cards from a Poker-style deck and player choice. Ideally, each player, as well as the Game Master, has a Player Deck, a fifty-four-card deck divided into the four suits—Urban, Wilderness, Spaces, and OS—plus two Jokers. Note that each Player Deck is similar to a standard deck of playing cards and if a player does not have one to hand, he can use a standard deck instead of a Player Deck specific to FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG. A player will draw from his Player Deck so that he has seven cards in his hand at the start of a session and then at the start of each scene. He will play cards from this hand whenever there is Confrontation and his character’s action is opposed or the character is faced with a Time Sensitive Event. Starting with an Action Value equal to the total of the appropriate Skill, for example Piloting to manoeuvre a shuttle into a field of debris, a player can play cards from his hand to increase the total of the Action Value. The maximum number of cards he can play being limited by the Attribute. If a character’s Action Value exceeds the opposing value by five, he achieves a decisive success and a critical success if the Action Value exceeds the value by ten.

FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 includes some changes to the mechanics seen in the previous versions of the roleplaying game. Players now get to keep Jokers from their decks rather than handing them to Game Master and used to alter a character’s level of success or lower an opponent’s level of success after a confrontation is played through. Instead of confrontations with the Game Master, a player can attempt to have his character attempt to overcome a Time Sensitive Event (or TSE), the number of cards played by the Game Master representing the challenge involved. The Advantage and Disadvantage statuses now simply apply flat bonus or penalties to an Action value.

Ambience and Affinity add a pair of interesting wrinkles to a player’s management of his hand. Play a card whose suit matches the environment and a player can immediately draw a new card, but if he plays a card whose suit matches both the environment and his designated Affinity, he gets to draw two cards and keep one. Proficiency, that is, playing a card equal to or less than the skill a character is using in a Confrontation, he is being proficient and the effort has not yet exhausted himself, so again, he can draw a card.
For example, Yīnying has been contacted by An-Bai, a member of the Hwang Zhul Tong in Tiantang. The Tong member has data packet he wants decrypting. Now An-Bai will not divulge where it is from—and Yīnying will not ask, but after agreeing to a good price for the task (one benefit of having the Merchant’s Soul (Hacking) Talent), he agrees to do it and sets up a Sniffing attack to extract and decode the data. Unfortunately, a trio of a trio of Zhul Tong, from whom An-Bai stole the data packet, is on An-Bai’s trail and will attempt to retrieve the stolen item. The question is, not if Yīnying will extract the data, but when, so the Game Master will run this as a Time Sensitive Event. If Yīnying fails the Time Sensitive Event, the Zhul Tong members turn up to claim their property before he decrypts the data; if he succeeds, he decrypts the data before they turn up; and if he succeeds with a decisive success, Yīnying succeeds and gets paid!

Yīnying has a starting Action Value of 5, equal to his Hacking, and his player can play a total of two cards, equal to Yīnying’s Link. Like much of Tiantang, the environment where this taking place is in zero gravity and the action itself involves computers, which match both of Yīnying’s Affinities—Space and OS. The Game Master determines that the challenge for the TSE will be three, so she can draw three cards.
The aim of these card driven mechanics is not to negate the presence of luck or chance in the game, but to favour a player in handling his character’s luck from scene to scene. A player will always start a scene with seven cards in his hand and they become the resources he must manage for that scene. Of course, chance is involved in drawing cards when refreshing his hand from scene to scene, but under the right circumstances this can be offset by Ambience, Affinity, and Proficiency that will enable him to keep drawing cards as he plays them. Further, since a player knows what is in his Player Deck, he at least knows what he has used and is thus still available as the game progresses until the Player Deck is emptied and the discard pile reshuffled.

These mechanics are get a little more complex once Ambience, Affinity, and Proficiency become involved, these having been derived from Upgrades and Technology. Fortunately, they are supported and explained in a fully worked out and fully illustrated example of play, necessary because the mechanics to FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 are different. Not just from other roleplaying games, but also from previous iterations of the game. In addition to these rules for playing the roleplaying game, there are rules for playing with miniatures and advice for the Game Master on running the game. As well as solid sections on technology, equipment, and spaceships, FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG is rounded out with a short scenario. ‘A Relic in the Streets’ is set on Tiantang, and casts the player characters as freelancers working a criminal gang which has been intimidated into handing over a piece of alien tech. Their task will be to get it back. ‘A Relic in the Streets’ is quite short, offering no more than a session or two’s worth of play, but does a reasonable job of showcasing the rules and it shows that there are other possibilities in the setting other than facing the Ravager threat—the focus of the previous releases for FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG. The scenario comes with four pre-generated characters. This is addition to the many NPCs, secrets, and hooks presented throughout the background.

As many of the issues as FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 addresses—a fuller presentation of setting’s history and background, a better exploration of the importance of faith and the gods, expanded character generation rules, and so on, it is not perfect. In terms of production values, a map of the known galaxy would have been as useful as it would have depicted where the various worlds and governments are in relation to each other. Some suggestions as to naming conventions for all four species would been useful too, although it should be pointed out that the Corvo all have Chinese names. This is intentional as the nearest equivalent names found when Corvo translation software interfaced with what remained of Human software, were Chinese. This occurred again with the Iz’kal and the Raag. What this suggests is that the setting of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 is not quite neutral, but rather written from a Human perspective.

Physically, FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 is an impressive book, but then the production values on the first two releases were also high. The artwork, is excellent, imparting much of the feel and grandeur of the setting. That said the flavour text on the NPCs, weaponry, gear, and vehicles is too small and too faint to really read. In places, the book needs another edit, as there are some odd turns of phrase, but in the main, the localisation from Spanish to English has been well handled, and whilst a great deal of effort has gone into the rules explanation, it could have been better. The various chapters supporting characters and character generation could have been much better organised.
With the FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0, the setting of the Faith: the Sci-Fi RPG finally gets the treatment it deserved and brings it to life with a detailed exploration of its religion, its four (five) alien species, and its mechanics. FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Core Book v2.0 is the treatment the game has been waiting for since the release of FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG box set in 2015 and the Upgrade has been worth the wait.


—oOo—

Burning Games will be at UK Games Expo which will take place between June 1st and June 3rd, 2018 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.