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Saturday, 24 November 2018

FAITH unfulfilled

Tiantang is the first supplement to be released for FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG. 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 as Soulbenders. Beyond the core book and the FAITH: A Garden in Hell - RPG Starter Set, the roleplaying is not particularly well supported, which is why is the Tiantang sourcebook is such a welcome addition to the line.

At the core of the setting is Tiantang, the near-Dyson Sphere which is home to the Corvo, the technological, capitalist, and expansionist insectoid-like species. It is a huge Dyson Ring—one that is slowly expanding into a full Dyson Sphere—that is home to billions and billions of Corvo, the bulk of them of living in vast agglomerations of Zero-G habitats which have accreted from the debris of old spaceships, space stations, and more as well as the corporate purpose-built modules. Most of the inhabitants of these slums derive their income from ‘skulling’, the practise of plugging in and selling their time and brain as computing capacity for Corvosphere’s three mega-corporations and their many subsidiaries. Whilst all Corvo are used to living or spending time in zero gravity, the middle classes can afford to live on giant multi-level stations called ‘gyro-zhans’, which spin fast enough to generate artificial gravity. Whilst all gyro-zhans have some accommodation for those who work there, many are all but wholly devoted to particular aspects of Corvo life and Corvosphere corporate culture. Thus there are whole gyro-zhans dedicated to handling the Corvosphere’s stock exchange, corporate headquarters and offices, manufacturing, algae farms, research and development, tourism and entertainment, and so on. Then there are the rich. Some have villas in the most well-to-do gyro-zhans, but the richest own palace-ships from which they conduct their day-to-day lives, some never leaving and some running the huge mega-corporations which dominate Corvo life.

Tiantang is broken down into Ten Sectors, including Shiyan, the academic and scientific research sector; Xiao, a Zer0-G slum dominated by Mob activity, and Taiyang, a trade and entertainment centre which attracts most of the tourists coming to Tiantang. Each of Corvosphere’s three mega-corporations—The Union Megacorp, Wang Megacorp, and Nation’s Solution Megacorp—has its own sector headquarters, and there is also an eleventh sector, Tiantang CS, a neutral ground for all of the mega-corporations and corporations in the Dyson Sphere, which is not counted as part of the Ten Sectors. As with the rest of Corvospace, there is no central government or polity on Tiantang, each sector typically being governed by either corporate or criminal interests. Although there is plenty of travel within most sectors, travel between sectors is prohibitively expensive to prevent the mass movement of labour forces. Although there are forms of mass transit found in many of the sectors, most travel within each sector and between sectors is achieved via spaceships—commuter spaceships each ferry thousands of workers each day—and Tiantang has a very high volume of spaceship traffic in transit at any one time. This includes to and from the Mehdi Gate, the wormhole access to The Labyrinth, which in turn provides interstellar travel to the rest of the Corvosphere and beyond. Traffic in and out of the Mehdi Gate is heavily policed and organised to prevent it becoming clogged—though accidents do happen.

Each of the individual sectors, plus Tiantang CS, is given a full write-up, highlighting important NPCs, districts—each sector further consists of hundreds of districts, particular locations and organisations. So for example, Gu is Tiantang’s largest slum, the first stop for immigrants, squatters, and the desperate. Essentially a massive hive-like cluster of habitats and repurposed industrial detritus, it is all but ignored by the corporations who little or no influence here and if there is any sector management or authority, it lies in hands of Gentleman Dao, a captain of the Hwang Tong, who wants to purge the sector of all other criminal activity. Unlike other sectors there are no districts, but there are still persons and places of note. These include Little Heimis, an ex-ice fortress that is home to Tiantang’s Raag community—whom the corporations employ as mercenaries and the gangs and the Tongs avoid; the Egui Building, supposedly haunted, but definitely home to unexplained weirdness; and the Death Dancers, a reformed gang that now carries out acts of terrorism against the corporations. Stats are given for a typical Death Dancer, and adventures seeds suggest the player characters could become involved in gang warfare, earn bounties looking for policemen missing in Gu, get involved in a Romeo and Juliet set-up within the Hwang Tong, and even signing on to help establish corporate law in the sector. Tiangtang does this again and again for each sector, so that as a supplement it presents adventure hooks and ideas aplenty, many of which would lead to interesting encounters and situations.

Rounding out Tiantang is the adventure, ‘Secret of the Yinshen Shi’. This is a murder mystery, set in the Nongchang sector, a residential and cultural hotspot sector which is on the up as the various mega-corporations attempt to gentrify it. The adventure is decent enough and has a Film Noir quality to it, but does not feel very strongly tied to the sector it is set in.

To work with both the adventure and the supplement in general, stats are provided for some nine generic NPCs, such as High Class Corvo, Mob Boss, and Human Merc, plus some new equipment. This is in addition to stats provided for the various NPCs detailed in the sector chapters. One nice touch is that there is an index of these at the back of the book.

The final page of Tiantang provides some new rules for gaming in the mammoth Dyson Sphere, covering the ease of obtaining goods and listing the prices for services such as ambulance, remote first aid, military aid, remote hacking, and so on. There is even a cabaret crew to hire which will provide an impromptu street performance as a distraction from whatever mission the player characters are undertaking. Barring the last service, these very much have the feel of earlier Cyberpunk roleplaying games such as R. Talsorian Games, Inc.’s Cyberpunk and Shadowrun from Catalyst Game Labs.

Physically, Tiantang is a lovely, if slim hardback. Like all releases for FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG, the artwork is superb, something that all fans of good Science Fiction art will appreciate. The book also includes a mini-poster which shows cross sections of a gyro-zhan and a space slum, which are fantastic in beginning to show some of the detail of Tiantang. On the other hand, as good as the presentation is, the writing suffers from a lack of editing and reads rather oddly in places. There is also a lack of a general index and a glossary. Several new terms are mentioned and a point of reference for them would have been useful.

Unfortunately, Tiantang is ultimately hampered by size—the size of Tiantang the Dyson Sphere versus the size of Tiantang the supplement. At just over one hundred pages, there is just not the room in the book to really present a Dyson Sphere in any detail and this lack of detail shows. There is flavour and there are hooks, but Tiantang is never more than a very broad overview of the biggest artificial structure in the Corvosphere. There is no sense of what the inhabitants’ day-to-day lives are like, how they get around, what they do, what they buy, what they watch, and so on, so it feels just a bit too impersonal. There is some colour fiction in the opening pages of the book, but that is really the only time where you get an individual view. More of that would have helped Tiantang come to life.The same can be said of the mega-corporations, which operate from sector to sector, district to district, but will probably be easier for the Game Master to provide that information herself rather than what individual life is like.

Ultimately, given the size of what Tiangtang is setting out to describe as a supplement, it is never going to be more than underwhelming. Some of the content in its pages is both good and gameable, and any FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG Game master is going to want this supplement, but to really bring it to life, she is going to have to provide some of the nuts and bolts herself.

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