Oct 072009

Diaspora, Hard Science-Fiction Role-Playing With FATE
by B. Murray, C. W. Marshall, T. Dyke, and B. Kerr
ISBN: 9780981171005


Hello, it’s been a long time since my last review. So, I have some catching up to do. The FATE system seems to be spawning a variety of offshoots. In terms of diversity, I see this as a good thing. These games are supported by FATE’s use of the Open Gaming License. Diaspora is one of these offshoots. Offered as a hard science game, it names Traveller specifically as one of its inspirations.

Hard science fiction means, among other things: no gravity without some form of acceleration (no magical artificial gravity), FTL is not possible without a wormhole (slipstream), and spacecraft are big cans which will never see the surface of a planet (unless they’re crashing).

The general setting is one of collapse and renewal. In the distant past, the ancestors on Earth mastered a level of technology which allowed the traversing of slipknots. This technology led them to colonize the stars and systems which were connected, and then from these colonies to locate still more systems to colonize until something happened, when the connections were broken and rearranged. Then comes a dark age period followed by a resurgence of technology and society. It is this second period that is being explored in Diaspora.

System Creation

Step One is to create a cluster of systems connected by naturally occurring slipknots. The system for this is to randomly generate 3 stats for each system in the cluster: Technology (T-4 to T4), Environment (E-4 to E4), Resources (R-4 to R4).

The number of systems is chosen by a table or group of players including the GM: roughly 6 to 12 systems. Each system is given 2 aspects based on its stats and one aspect concerning the system’s relationship with the other systems.

The random generation of these systems affects the characters as they are generated. I’ll include my group’s generated system and characters near the end as an example. My group created a set of systems that I found personally fascinating. The direction of the campaign quickly shaped itself around the combined desires of the player and GM. This approach to campaign building might cause a more traditional group some ideological problems. I encourage these groups to give this a try. I believe they will find the differences rewarding.

Character Generation

Players use a system of generation very similar to Spirit of the Century by Evil Hat. The typical mechanic is to tie characters together at generation. An interesting note is that in Diaspora the characters are indirectly affected by the random generation of the various systems.


The skill list has been tightened up and focused on the hard science genre from its SOTC background. The FATE ladder has some minor changes to it; nothing major really.


Each character has three to pick. The stunts are very different from those in SOTC. They are very roughly built around the character that will use them. As such, they have a very customized feeling which adds to the feeling of uniqueness of the characters.


Another unique development for the FATE system found in Diaspora, the mini-games, are designed to break conflict down into a mapped area in which the combatants maneuver for advantage. This mechanic could bridge between D&D4e and FATE. It provides a way to use figures and a visual aid for all types of conflict up to platoon level combat. I personally haven’t been able to use it yet but it looks really interesting. I am particularly interested in the space combat version.

The scope of the mini-game is the following:
Personal Combat
Space Combat
Social Combat
Platoon Combat

The book covers the setup, mapping, etc. required for the mini-game.

Build Tech System

The very back of the book discusses the building of various science fiction tropes using a build point system. The system allows the GM to build up various tech levels of hard science fiction equipment including a discussion of psionics and nonhuman lifeforms. Their example is a blaster staff from the base tech level required to support that type of technology to the high tech version available to a culture nearing collapse(T4).


Diaspora has been referred to as dystopian. That is certainly a possible path cluster generation could take. The actual interpretation of a system’s stats is left to the table. So, while a dystopian direction could be created it is not a requirement. I personally found the prevailing theme to be one of rebirth. As systems reach T4 (collapse level technology) the people there effectively cease to matter to the affairs of the local cluster, for a variety of possible reasons. Those that are left behind restart the process of reaching for a golden age while alternatively suppressing or destroying their neighbors. The cycle of civilization begins again.

In short, I found Diaspora to be very cool.

Example Cluster: 6 Systems
Zeb’s Folly: T0, E1, R1; Slipknots[Gemma]
Aspects: Zeb Screwed Up, Jealous of Gemma, Haunted
Description: Zeb’s Folly was founded by a settler from Gemma. Seeking a fortune in rediscovered technology, Zeb crashed on a garden planet. The settlers that followed him promptly awoke something very old which has been suppressing their population. The population has stabilized at a fixed number and any birth not accompanied by a death results in a random citizen vanishing. For this reason there are no visitors allowed on the planet and a very thorough census is kept.

Gemma: T2, E1, R-2; Slipknots[Zeb’s Folly, Triskidar Belt, Demonrock, Plug]
Aspects: Think They Are Gods, Insecure, Lucky Find(tech field)
Description: Gemma clawed its way back into its solar system only to discover that someone had already been there and vanished. Whoever it had been had left stockpiles of resources and equipment behind. Gemma became the first and only system in the cluster to have slipstream drives. They decided to try passing themselves off as gods to the lower tech peoples of the cluster with mixed success until the Triskidar Belt.

Triskidar Belt: T1, E-4, R-1; Slipknots[Gemma, Demonrock]
Aspects: Scraping To Survive, This Is What’s Left, Ruled By the Tribes
Description: The tribes are an aggressive culture completely divorced from terrestrial life. Living in massive Home ships, they have the most experienced crews and pilots and the second highest technology developed. The Belters quickly resorted to piracy of Gemma’s shipping and began trading slip drive to other systems. They embargoed their side of the slipknots and established trade posts. The Tribes of Iron, Steel, and Copper claimed the northern slipknot, and Zinc, Hematite, and Silicon claimed the southern. The remaining tribes, Tin, Granite, Zinc, and Diamond,  have to be content with either raids or trade with the two power blocs. The Belters were not amused by what Gemma did to Demonrock, and their vessels are very carefully searched upon arrival.

Demonrock: T-3, E-2, R-3; Slipknots[Triskidar Belt, Plug]
Aspects: Benighted, Hopeful, Gemma’s Hostile Failed Experiment
Description: Life exists only in the warrens deep in the planet. Gemma tested some biological technology recovered from an earlier age. The granite boars were supposed to strip a planet of its resources and then die out. All resources, even the people living there would be reduced to usable neat bundles for processing. The boars turned out to be T3 technology and beyond Gemma’s ability to deal with. Strong, intelligent (for animals), and resistant to weaponry, the boars would have wiped out human life, but the warriors of Warren A12 performed an act of bravery bordering on insanity, with spectacular results. They captured a nest of unborn young and developed techniques for indoctrinating the granite boars. Using their soldiers and breeding to domestication, they created an army called the Packs. The Packs quickly broke up the larger concentrations of boars and drove Gemma from the system. They are now allied with Triskidar Belters.

Plug: T-1, E-3, R-1; Slipknots[Demonrock, Krim]
Aspects: Cold Rock, Cold Hearts; Insular Freaks; Bought and Paid For By Gemma
Description: Before Demonrock had been liberated, the people of Plug had begun selling their system off to Gemma. The ultra-rich elites quickly sold off anyone and anything of value to reach Gemma and live there in a life of luxury unequaled even by native Gemmans. Those that remain have a profit motive and xenophobia unmatched in the cluster.

Krim: T-1, E2, R1; Slipknots[Plug]
Aspects: Deluded Non-Conservationists, About to Be Visited by Aliens, Constantly Disappointed By the Wrong Type of Aliens (i.e., Tourists)
Description: The people of Krim live in a system of garden worlds and riches. They have no concept of restraint and very little conflict. Anyone who disagrees simply moves to another world and builds a life there. Often they strip mine living worlds to gain capital for their frivolous projects. These projects are largely based around when the next aliens will arrive and give them more resources. So far, the only aliens to arrive have been the annoying Gemmans, but everyone is sure the enlightened superaliens will arrive any day. The people of Krim are mostly crazy. Government is a system of competing alien worship cults. Conflict has been avoided because of the many garden worlds and the more extreme cults’ tendency to kill themselves off to greet their alien masters.

Example Characters:
Deng of Demonrock
Phase 1
Aspects: Deng distinguishes himself in battle and becomes a Boar Master in training.
The Battle for Warren D5
Natural Born handler

Phase 2
Aspects: Deng and his pack singlehandedly drive a pack of rogue boars from Warren E2. The trainers guild recognizes him for official membership.
Boar Guild Membership
Savior of Warren E2

Phase 3
Aspects: Deng’s pack is shattered after a prolonged guerrilla war in Warren B6. Only Deng and the alpha of the rogue pack survive. Deng decides to rebuild his pack around this aggressive alpha boar. No one trusts an ex-rogue, but a Triskidar Belter caught in the battle offers him a place offworld.
Twin Combatants
Gnashes Fangs and Drools Is My Alpha

Phase 4
Aspects: Rescuing a Triskidar lichen trader has many rewards.
This Pilot is Hot!
War Is In the Heavens

Phase 5
Aspects: Deng met a crazed Gemman. She needs security on her ship. She pays well, but everyone has to call her “Goddess.”
Dealing in Delusion
Well Paid

Superb: Animal Handler
Great: Alertness,Intimidation
Good: Agility, Stamina, Slugthrower
Decent: Stealth, Survival, Tactics, Assets
Average: Brokerage, Resolve, Culture Tech(Gemma), Charm, MicroG

Military Grade: Animal Handler–Handle animals at a subconscious level. Get them to perform feats outside their normal ability
Have a Thing: Engineered Lifeform (T3): Granite Boar–Basically a tool allowing Animal Handling to make attacks
Swap a Skill: Beast Lord–Swap tactics for Animal Handling

Health [] [] [] [] []
Composure [] [] [] [] []
Wealth [] [] [] []

Iron Tiger of the Triskidar Belt
Phase 1
Aspects: Tiger is a member of the Iron tribe. She longs for freedom from her home ship.
Iron Tribe
Cramped By the Home Ship

Phase 2
Aspects: Tiger is assigned to harvest lichens from asteroid farms. This is not good for her social skills.
Harvesting Lichen By Pre-Programmed Seasons
Hopeful, Yet Boring

Phase 3
Aspects: Brought to Demonrock to trade rare lichens for stolen goods, Tiger is caught up in a vicious granite boar attack and barely survives.
Peddling My Lichen
Why Is It My Turn?

Phase 4
Aspects: Assisting the extremely fit Deng come to terms with the loss of his pack. She suggests he train the rogue boar.
Cat and Mouse

Phase 5
Aspects: Tiger met a crazed Gemman. She needs a pilot on her ship. She pays well, but everyone has to call her “Goddess.”
Saving For a Ship of My Own
Gemmans Are Weird

Superb: Pilot
Great: Art (Lichen Cooking), Navigation
Good: Repair, MicroG, Energy Weapon
Decent: Computer, Culture Tech(Gemma), Alertness, Aircraft
Average: Engineering, EVA, Agility, Medical, Science

Military Grade: Piloting
Have a Thing: Robotic PDA (T3)–Mobile communications equipment
Swap a Skill: War Pilot–Swap Communications for Piloting

Health [] [] []
Composure [] [] []
Wealth [] [] []

Note: The diaspora people are offering a free die set for a posted AP. Those who are interested should do so. I did. But, quantities are limited so no dawdling.

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One Comment to “Diaspora: Review and Actual Play (part 1, anyway)”

  1. […] a bit more portable than SBA, and after comparing them, we might combine the former's hard-SF concepts with the latter's pulp […]