aith: A Garden in Hell (FAGiH) is a new RPG from Burning Games. I came across it at this years’ UK Games Expo in Birmingham, and had kickstarted it before the end of the day. I am not usually this impulsive, but I found the ideas and the artwork for this game to be extremely compelling. Now that the P&P rewards have kicked in, I’d like to share with you my preliminary review of this new game.
1) FIRST IMPRESSIONS:
It’s clear the publishers tried to make a game that was as easy to play as possible. With a minimum of character creation, it is possible to get someone playing in minutes. Most mathematical activities (die rolling, stats) have been boiled down to card flips, and the art present throughout the game is probably some of the best I’ve seen.
2) THE SETTING:
The setting of FAGiH is one that will be familiar to sci-fi fans, but with a number of interesting and unexpected twists. In a not-too-distant future, a race of aliens pops out of a wormhole close to Earth, and takes over with very little effort. These beings rule our planet with a light touch, (they despise slavery) so humans start to be integrated into their armies as mercenaries. In a blink of an eye, humans were everywhere in the galaxy, not as a conquering wave, but rather, as adventurers. Another aspect of this universe is that the network of wormholes (The Labyrinth) that connects most star systems is notoriously difficult to navigate, so interstellar travel IS possible, it just takes a while.
These are totally new and very exciting; there are pages and pages of setting for each one. The FAGiH universe is filled with life, from lower animals and beasts to sentient races. The playable ones are:
A) The Corvo: slightly smaller than humans, the Corvo are humanoid, with long lifespans and a love for trade, and technology. They are very competent fighters, using their advanced tech to the fullest. It was in fact the Corvo that found, conquered, and eventually integrated humanity into their armies.
B) The Iz’kal: Lithe and elegant mammals, the Iz’kal are about the same size as humans. They have a tail as well as a number of other features that betray their marine mammal ancestry. They can connect to each other in close proximity in a neural link, a type of low level telepathy. This is the base of the strong social connectivity within their society. Any Iz’kal that spends too long without such link, can sometimes no longer link with others. These Voidwalkers, as they are named, become better fighters and generally stronger, if socially awkward.
C) The Humans: As varied as we are today, most humans are happy being mercenaries or living under the Corvo. Some started The Front, an independence movement, sometimes a not peaceful one, and some have been turned into The Fulcrum, cybernetic humanoids, with the human part being little else beyond a basic operating system.
D) The Raag: Also humanoid, albeit smaller and with smaller lifespans. Originally from the caves of a frozen wasteland, the Raag now live in giant space fortresses, permanently at war with each other. Fighting permeates every fibre of their being. Very few die of natural causes.
4) CHARACTER CREATION:
This is based on the Race players choose, with a few add-ons and personal customization. Even for new players, the process should take less than 5 minutes.
Gameplay has been streamlined, for both GM’s as well as for players. There is a strong emphasis on story, but the game does not shy away from old fashioned combat, be it with bare-knuckles or plasma-rifles. The key aspect is that there are no dice rolls. At all. FAGiH is a completely card-based game. Everything, from initiative, to tests, to combat, has been boiled down to card flips (one or more). Your stats, for example, be it 2, or 3 or 4, simply stand for the number of cards you can flip at once during a test. You then ad the values of said cards, and see if you reached the GM’s target number. A similar principal is used for combat. Damage will be dictated by the type of weapon, as is usual.
6) WHAT'S NEW?
A) The cards. You have decks for robots, NPCs, weapons and equipment. The GM’s work has been boiled down to the essentials – telling a story. The details have been left to chance. (The deck that you draw from can be a simple poker deck, although the publishers sell a dedicated deck, where the suits have been replaced with in-world references for in-game bonuses. Instructions are given in the rulebook on how to replace the poker suits with the game world versions).
B) The Gods. Divinities exist in the FAGiH world. You pick a God during character creation, the worship of which demands some conditions (say, protecting the innocent). If you act in this manner your God rewards you, if otherwise… You might be punished.
The artwork in this game is something to be seen. Any of the illustrations in the books could be cut out and framed. The aliens look like they were photographed, not drawn. I like to be able to see what the author means, and this game does not disappoint.
If I had to boil down this whole game to a few words, I’d say it’s the Halo series in a bottle, with engaging characters, a very interesting Universe and a great choice of weapons. The different alien races have detailed and engaging backgrounds, the card mechanics has boiled most actions down to a card flip or two. Looting a dead alien doesn’t mean the GM has to go through dozens of pages of the manual, it just means you flip a card. The Gods mechanic (unusual and original for a sci-fi setting) means your character is bound to a strict code of conduct, deviation from which might have dire results for you.
For veteran, dice-happy players, the cards might take a few tries to understand, but everything has been done to make this as fast flowing and as intuitive as possible, including a Quickstart version of the rulebook that makes it really simple.
If your players want to try something sci-fi-y, original, new, and exciting, I could think of no better game than Faith: A Garden in Hell.
Rui is still an ex-scientist and teacher. He’s currently running a sci-fi Cypher System adventure with a twist, a text-based post apocalypse old west adventure and is designing his first Faith: A Garden in Hell adventure. He lives in England with his partner Joana and spends his free time looking at mutated animals and spaceships, choosing which ones could be included in his adventures as NPC’s/locations respectively. He can be reached at @atomic_rpg
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.