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Author Topic: FAITH: A Garden in Hell, Starter Set  (Read 609 times)

Spike

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FAITH: A Garden in Hell, Starter Set
« on: April 16, 2017, 12:46:46 PM »
FAITH: A Garden in Hell is a Sci-Fi RPG from Burning Games, which based on their Kickstarter page appears to be British. From what I can tell this Starter Set is all that's been released, and like most starter sets presents a limited form of the actual game.

Rules:

Lets start with the Ugly.  FAITH uses poker cards as randomizers. In fact, it goes so far as to create its own deck with its own suits, which is included in the box. I get that people want to try new ideas to spruce up their games, to appeal, but this is just a bad gimmick, one that they double down on several times, actually.    The cards themselves are lovely bits of artwork, some of their KS money clearly went into the card design phase, but that unfortunately doesn't mean that they are well done.  

Picture a normal playing card in your head. Any normal card. What do you see? Is it Red or Black? What Suit? How are the Pips Presented?  Got all that? Now flush the fuck out of it. Instead, imagine a full color piece of artwork that has nothing to do with the suit. Remove all the pips and replace them with a single number in the upper corner, maybe a centimeter tall, and under that put a single icon that replaces the familiar suit icon, which is about the same size as the number.   Does that make the cards unuseable? No, of course not, but the traditional design of playing cards has lasted for a long damn time because it is so damn useable.  There's even a missed opportunity here to make the cards slightly more effective in that each of their four made up suits (which simply interferes with replacing them with standard cards, though not totally) actually represents a distinct environment, to whit: Space, Urban, Wilderness and Virtual... if the artwork was at least representative of these environments they'd serve as a cue which suit stood for what, but they don't do that.

So, what's wrong with cards?  Well, a few things, not least of which is that you don't need to shuffle a die after rolling it to get the number back, and dice are more readily scalar. With 52 cards (plus two jokers....), and every player drawing seven cards, you can't really go above four players and the GM without needing to go to individual decks, as three quarters of your deck is drawn completely as it is.   I'll point out here that Jokers are irritating in that only the GM gets to play them, and they pretty much fuck up the players when he does... if a player draws a Joker they have to give it to the GM.  

Now, I've seen some fast and fun card playing in my day, and if they took the whole bidding and trumping aspect of something like Spades, or the bluffing and strategizing of Poker, maybe I'd be more interested in trying them as Randomizers, but no... you literally just throw down as many cards as you can to build up a big number, based on your attributes and skills and a few other elements... to create a success. Run out of cards (the rules for Drawing new cards is a big chunk of the limited mechanics available) and your character is exhausted.  You constantly have things like Advantages and Disadvantages to consider as well... by which I mean are you acting advantageously (such as in accordance with your favored Suit of Cards?) or caught off guard? Things like that.  Its a bit of a mess actually, and very abstracted.    

The use of Cards goes on beyond the Randomizer. In fact there is a second deck of Cards in the box that holds all your equipment options, as well as your NPC/critters. Hopefully this is merely a colorful introduction for the game, and not their end-state for the final product, but based on the number of non-present cards shown in the rule pamphlet, I'm guessing this sort of CCG goofiness will be the default.  Look: I don't mind having a cute little bit of color I can stick on the side of my character sheet to show me what I have... heck, I like having the artwork and color commentary for equipment!... but I don't want to keep buying packs of cards and collecting junk just to get a new critter to throw at my players, m'kay?  In fact, some of us can read tables of information faster than we can parse your fancy visual iconographic presentation on the cards!  

That annoying abstraction bit comes into play here as well, as the ranges of the guns seems mostly arbitrary and merely serves to tell you if you've got an advantage or disadvantage, and the magazine sizes are absurdly low (Fragged Empires levels of low), with what appears to be a heavy machine gun having a Magazine of 8.  Now, I'm not actually complaining entirely about magazine sizes or ranges, but rather using them to illustrated the problems with this sort of hard (and yes: Card Game based) abstraction. There are six classes of weapons (of guns, specifically), with Five Classes of Ammo and Three Range Classes... all of which should give you a very interesting array of Shooty Bits, but instead all of that is almost entirely useless as you get CCG weapon entries that breaks everything down to simple generic Card Numbers.

The Abstraction continues as you realize the GM is not allowed to act, but only to react. Now, mostly this is presented in fancy talk and New Jargon for Gaming, but they more or less say that the Players are the ones playing the game, and the GM is only there to provide context and consequences.  Run into a hostile NPC? Well, sort of.  Failing to handle the event correctly (Throw down enough cards) and you take damage. The GM can't really attack you, per se, you can just fail a hide check or a diplomacy check or a combat check.  Frankly I think the entire exercise is misguided and backwards, as they wind up.... so near as I can tell... pretty much where most games are anyway, they just phrase it in confusing and GM-restricting language.

Though, if have to be honest, I lost interest in the game as soon as I realized it was a card game, so my grokking of the rules is a lot less than my usual review standard.


Setting:

Here the review suffers a bit from the Starter Box problem: Is the setting restricted to what is shown in the box set, or is it more expansive? I can't say.

I like the setting, or the implied setting, though with some serious reservations.  THe box set is restricted to a hostile alien planet, with a pregenerated team of commando types, while the implied setting is a galactic confederation.  It might seem probable that the Full Game would use the greater galaxy, but the box set spends so much time building up the problems of this one planet... well...

Anyway: The setting as implied has a galactic government that was formed reluctantly by two warring states, the Corvo and the Ixnal, roughly thirty years ago due to the threat of the Ravagers, who are sort of like the Borg crossed with Tyranids, a techno-hivemind-evolutionary threat to all life on a galactic scale.   The Corvo (who are described as insectiod, but their artwork doesn't really support this) have taken more primative species (such as humanity) as client races.  Quite curiously, Humanity is presented as sort of the Orcs of the setting in a way. Humans who are taken on by the Corvo are sterilized to prevent them from outbreeding (Though this is contradicted by the human pregen, sort of), and they are stronger and dumber than other races... which is odd because the OTHER client race we see, the Raag, are bigger and tougher... but it is an interesting starting point.  The Ixnal are evolved from aquatic mammals and have a sort of telepathic group mind thing going on, but otherwise seem more relatable than the Corvo, at least from a human standpoint. I will note that the Corvo have some sort of Chinese thing going on with their names... or at least a faux-Chinese thing, though what that may mean/imply, I leave to the reader.  

Beyond that there is a lot of 'upgrading' going on, with some equipment (notably some armors and 'Rigs' used for hacking stuff, though a few guns as well) requiring Cortex Connections (you seem to start with one, but can have up to three?), the Human Character can literally eat anything, which is probably not meant to be some sort of commentary on human dietary ability but an 'upgrade' of some sort. Its a bit difficult to know, from the starter set, where the racial abilities and 'upgrades' meet, or what the upgrades represent beyond their simple abstract binary rules.  Still, it looks interesting.

There are a lot of similarities in the implied setting of FAITH and Fragged Empires... A Lot.  Some of it comes down to sharing artists (I think. There are no credits in the starter set that I could find), but you also have the reluctant allies/former enemies thing, the four playable races with clear niches, the ravagers seem a lot like the Xi'on of FE, then you've got the weird abstractions in firearms that imply the writers have never even seen a gun in real life... and just to be clear, I didn't imagine this connection. A Mechnoid Disciple from FE, complete with art, was included as a promotional NPC/monster Card in teh Starter set, and a Pregen from FAITH apparently appeared in FE's game as a miniature, so there is a real connection between the two companies.

Beyond that, FAITH seems to take its name from the existance of real gods, complete with the power of Soulbending... every character is a cleric.  THere are five universal(?) gods with Real Powerz, though one is presumably evil.... ish. This is a head scratcher, actually, since the game tells us that every race has analogs of the same gods, and that every newly discovered race has analogs of these same gods, yet they don't seem to match up to any real mythological gods of humanity in any meaningful sense. I mean... I suppose you could take 'The Ledger', the Evil-ish god as an analog for Loki, but a: Thats weak sauce, and b: where does that leave the other four?  So... that creates a disconnect.  

Also, restricting to four (five) Gods seems a bit odd based on their Commandments. Each God, even Ledger, has four commandments that seem to exist on an axiom/spectrum of Invididuality vs Collective. So Kaliva and Vexal both have as commandments "Thou Shalt Not Bear a Master", while Ergon has one that says "Thou Shalt bend thy Will to the needs of the Many".

Now, its not exactly four seperate catagories of group/individual, which makes an argument for a great deal of complexity, but lets pretend that it was so very simple that two of the Gods were against serving others and two were four serving others, and that there were four seperate catagories, each god dividing up A/B splits. How many potential gods does this imply?  Starting with AAAA and going to BBBB I can come up with a metric fuckton. Lets say 16, just by keeping four strict catagories of A-B dichotomy, which this game does not.  Given the cosmology implied in the setting why the heck are we restricted to Five, with AAAA (total individual autonomy as commanded by the God... paradox we much) being Evil-ish and presumably unplayable.  Why?

Because fuck you, this is an abstracted CCG disguised as an RPG, that's why.  We don't have room for nuance or complexity in our CCG, because we can only make so many cards at a time, yo!

Now lets look at the Setting of the Starter Set specifically.

Our Heroes are stranded on the hostile alien world of Ujara after a costly but victorious space battle against the Ravagers. In fact Ujara is the origin world of the Ravagers (which we find out at the end of the Starter Set adventure), and is pretty deadly.    At the end of the adventure the players have either destroyed or allied with a Ravager Queen, securing some measure of victory for the Coalition, or they've failed horribly and a new deadly Ravager Queen is born and the Coalition is doomed.  As settings go, its a wild and deadly world infested with hostile life forms, a bug hunt jungle planet setting, self contained, and there is isn't much to say about Ujara as a setting, beyond that. Deep secrets of the Ravagers are revealed, etc.


As a Starter Set:

Beyond the good bad and ugly of the game design and setting, how does it hold up as a starter set? Well, I'm not a big consumer of Starter Sets, so taken by itself its quite excellent. The Garden in Hell campaign, the Ujara bit, is structured and presented in a way to make getting into the game quite easy. Four pregen characters, one of each race, each Suit Affinity and each of the main gods, in a full folio with all the relavant rules, big cards for the major threats, complete with their relavant rules... I can imagine that a new player, a new group with no gaming experience, could use this starter set to get themselves up to speed and playing without a hitch. Too bad it won't help them understand any other RPG EVAH, but c'est la vie.
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