Fading Suns, which was published in 1996. I know, it’s a bit of a shock for this blog to cover a game that was actually published when most of the Internet population was alive.
Fading Suns was a well-done game that was part of its era of RPGs and RPG publishing. It started out with a core book that laid out the premise of the game and a lot of game universe material, leading the way into a host of other books that filled out all the classes, peoples, and places that get a brief nod here in the core book.
The three-beat here is “Feudalism in space by way of Vampire: The Masquerade”. Feudalism? See C&S for the overboard version. In space? Dune. By way of VTM is what makes it interesting, and you see a lot of White Wolf heritage here – characters divided up into factions by noble house, guild, religious affiliation or guild. All of those have a “player type” that is naturally attracted to them. Polar ethical alignments. There are greater secrets to the world (unexplained or unknown in the core book), and the good guys are not always that good.
The mechanics are pretty basic (roll under Ability + Skill on d20, with modifiers) but this isn’t really about the mechanics – it is about the universe. That’s the thing of it - it is not about the game design as much as it is about what you do with the design. The current outposts of game design thinking – OSR, Indy, or 4E, all seem to be a bit dismissive of worldbuilders and people who just enjoy the product as opposed to the game experience or the mechanics.I'll go out on a limb to say that most RPG purchasers do not play all the RPGs they purchase, but "use" them as inspiration and for pure enjoyment. I never played Fading Suns, but I have enjoyed the line thoroughly.
But that's a rant for another day. For the moment, this is a nice dark take on royalty with rayguns, which you see in the Star Wars RPGs and in Traveller, but really delivers here.