Experiment 13-01: Diaspora Cluster Creation

The Shadows of Keron restart was postponed again this weekend, as we were limited to a very short session. So, rather than skip a game entirely, I pulled out Diaspora and we built a cluster of worlds. I gave them these notes as the setting backstory, cribbed from the rulebook itself:

  • Humanity spread across the Galaxy to thousands of worlds, but then there was some sort of collapse, and today we only know of a handful of systems, connected by hyperspace paths called slipstreams. How, when, and why these systems were colonised remains a mystery.
  • Slipstreams are not well understood, but seem to be more about geometry than distance. No system is sure how far away it is from any other, or in what direction; all we know is that if you travel to a specific point, about 5 AU above or below the system’s centre of mass, and switch on the slip drive, you vanish, and instantaneously reappear in another system with a random velocity, an uncertain position, and a lot of built-up heat to dissipate.
  • Archaeologists studying the wreckage of human and alien cultures theorise that a technological civilisation can only advance so far before it collapses, or maybe ascends into transhumanity, in an event that looks a lot like a multi-billion death disaster. This has happened on a lot of worlds, on some of them more than once.

That is, in fact, pretty much all the background you get in the game; it’s deliberately intended as a toolkit for the gaming group to use in creating their own setting.

THE CLUSTER

Creating a cluster went much more quickly than I expected – even with a group of people who had never played Diaspora before, including me, we managed to build an eight-system cluster (two systems each) in less than an hour, and still had time to start in on character generation. The cluster looks like this; I named it by combining the initials of those present.

Gant Cluster

Now, from reading the rulebook, I think the authors were aiming for a gritty, hard SF feel, with stories of tense drama – Aliens, Blade Runner, that kind of thing. My group doesn’t roll that way, so we wound up with something more suited to Spaceballs; but as I keep saying, as long as everyone is having fun, you’re doing it right.

(I made the diagram in Diagrams Online, which is fast, free and easy to use. However, I haven’t figured out how to get rid of the arrows on the lines yet, so you’re stuck with them.)

Interestingly, we threw out quite a few more aspects than you see above, and whittled them down to the three core concepts. Those discarded were:

  • Acquaria: We’re T4 and we can be giant fish if we want.
  • Pahs: It’s alright here; need more guns; metal poor; recycling.
  • Magnifique (originally called Ohemgee!): We’re so cool; look at our awesome gadgets; pretending to be French.
  • Jopia: Born to be average; everyone is called Joe (or Jane).

However, nobody wrote out the paragraph descriptions recommended by the rules, we all just went straight to aspects. I think that’s because as a group we have a long history with Feats, Advantages, Edges, call them what you will, and we naturally think of things in that mode anyway; or maybe we just hate writing stuff down. Once I explained that aspects were essentially Edges you made up for yourself, they were off.

CHARACTERS

We had a little time left over, so I explained the character creation rules as well. The sequence and approach presented in the rulebook lasted about 30 seconds before we abandoned it, and focussed in on phase 3, moment of crisis, and started tossing character aspects backwards and forwards. We ran out of time before we could finish the characters, but so far we have:

Joe (NS)

  • Story: As the creator of Jopia, NS decided that because its attributes were average, so were all of its inhabitants, and Jopia provided all the service personnel for the cluster. (This implies a large population.) Joe if from Jopia, and his moment of crisis came when he (and others) realised that he was above average at one skill, as yet undefined; this is an appalling social faux pas on Jopia, so he is an exile now.
  • Aspects: Born with a flamer in his hands; above average exile; I hit 50% of the time.
  • Stunts: Consistently average. (Free stunt, ruled by the table; character has only one skill in his skill pyramid but makes untrained rolls at a default skill level of 0 rather than –1.)

Rachet (TM)

  • Story: Insectoid from The Hive. Joe accidentally burned off Rachet’s arm during his moment of crisis, but to make amends Joe built him a cyberarm. Since Joe can do anything, but nothing very well, the arm has a mind of its own and is prone to random acts of violence. Rachet communicates by clicking; during the session, TM emulated that by furiously clicking the retract button on his pen.
  • Aspects: Cyborg praying mantis; idle hands; understandable half the time.

Unnamed so far (GM)

  • Story: Not fleshed out so far but the moment of crisis involves erroneously purchasing an off-brand item and the trauma this caused. From Magnifique.
  • Aspects: Aquaria is SO COOL!
  • Stunts: Have a thing: My handbag is a secret base. (The character’s handbag is a T4 item with a pocket universe inside it, big enough to climb inside and store things in. We decided that was worth two stunts. I blame Angry Beavers for this idea.)

Unnamed so far (AS)

  • Story: From Pahs.
  • Aspects: Terrified of fire; looting ruins for fun and profit.
  • Stunts: Have a thing: T2 starship.

REFLECTIONS

That first session was a lot of fun, but I think would have been less enjoyable if we had slowed down to follow the Rules As Written. In particular, we skipped all the writing out descriptive paragraphs stuff and just starting throwing out aspects.

It’s a lot faster to do than I expected from reading the rulebook. The cluster diagram essentially has the entire setting on it; since you create it as a group and talk it through, the aspects are more than enough to fix things in our memories. That side of the game is definitely worth using, either as-is or adapted to some other game; I have a number of ideas for things to do with the cluster creation mini-game.

I like the idea of tags and compels, and I could see myself importing those into Savage Worlds as extra uses for bennies.

I’m not sure whether Diaspora is going to be our cup of tea in the long term, though; I don’t think I have the sustained inspiration needed to keep a campaign going using this very basic toolkit, and there’s an undertone throughout the rules that the characters and setting created for a Diaspora campaign are disposable, to be discarded and replaced after a few sessions.

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