Feb 062016

Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of Myst and Beyond


Glyphs on black tablet

Unwritten, the long-awaited RPG based on the popular computer game by Cyan Inc., is the product of a November 2015 Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $36,000. It was produced with the cooperation of Cyan and includes data from the Uru MMO. The url is here: Unwritten

The Book:

I have the PDF version. The PDF is well put together with art from the Myst game as well as from other sources. An abridged version of the history of the Myst games is included to ground a GM in the game’s universe. This material is drawn from the novels and from the canon of Myst itself. The basics are: a splinter group from an ancient species of humanity from a parallel dimension with a unique understanding of dimensional physics goes into hiding beneath New Mexico. There they continue to build and refine their core cultural values. They are a society based on puzzles and plenty, and fueled by access to the multiverse via a specialized knowledge of “the Art of Writing.” This civilization flourished and then died in an act of petty tyranny at the beginning of the 19th century. Years later their caverns are rediscovered by their inheritors, modern humanity.

The System:

The system is Fate Core with some minor system tweaks. The attack actions and stress bars have been removed to de-emphasize violence because combat wasn’t the focus of the Myst games. Puzzles and discovery are the primary obstacles of Myst, and to facilitate them some interesting mechanics have been added. In particular, I found the deduction and journey mechanics most interesting. Journey mechanics are used at character milestones to represent the “off screen” work the players have been pursuing. Things like “Writing” new ages or discovering rare tech are handled using journey rules. Deduction mechanics provide setting course corrections usable by GMs to create player-established facts in the game setting. This mechanic personalizes the scenario or scene based on player character skills.

I’ve included some example Ages below. Feel free to include them in your game if you desire. I created these for a longer campaign I ran for my wife.

Example Ages:

Gilder: The Children’s Age

Aspects: [Lost Childhood], [Long Forgotten Tragedy], [Buried Guilt and Hidden Crimes]

Written as a fun and safe place for D’ni children to vacation, much like Disneyland. Gilder emphasized education, puzzle solving, and exploration, the hallmarks of D’ni culture. It was staffed by natives tasked with care of the children. Now, it is silent. The scattered remains of the ancient dead, large and small, litter the park. There were no dangers in Gilder. Gilder was written to be boringly safe from the beginning. There were friendly natives and few predators. During the Fall, many families sought to hide their children here away from harm. The majority of dead here didn’t die of the plague. They were massacred in the Hunters’ attack.

Areas of interest:

The Zoo: once filled with exotic animals from little-known Ages, these beasts have starved to death or killed each other.

The Aquarium: once beautiful with examples of brightly colored fish and rare aquatic animals. It is now a brackish, evil-smelling puddle more akin to soup.

The Library: exhibit books, dozens of linking books to small Ages fitted with observation domes to allow visitors to watch creatures in their natural habitats. One book is central and ringed by the most adult bodies yet seen. Here stands the Book of Haldis.

The Aviary: a large wrought iron bird cage. Silent now, the floor is littered with little bones.

The Park: square miles of park, now overgrown. Paths lead into and out of the village. A lake, located near the center of the park, is connected to a river. The native flora and fauna have reclaimed the park.


Then there came the Hunters…

The Fall was a turbulent time. Many D’ni fringe groups saw it as a time to rise up. One such group was called the “Hunters.” They trained and worshiped in the park in secret. They interpreted the Fall as the realization of a prophecy. Their end time myth was enacted in Gilder.

The prophecy spoke of a great dying of the prey, from which would rise an apex predator. This predator would rule as cities were devoured by a return to nature once all foreign influences were expunged.

They attacked through the Book of Haldis with trained packs of war beasts found native in the Haldis jungles. Each hunter commanded a war pack of many dozens. The caretaker natives, most of whom were educators, were no match for the quickly expanding packs. Though they tried bravely, they were slaughtered. A few managed to escape to neighboring cities and a defense was rallied to contain the packs within the walls of the park.

The packs rampaged for weeks, but with little real effect. The Hunters had failed to account for the plague, believing themselves immune. Several of their victims had been carriers. When the Hunters died, the war packs turned on each other. Those that weren’t killed and eaten by their fellows were slain by vigilant caretakers guarding the walls. The natives of the current day still leave ritual offerings along the park’s exterior wall as if to placate angry gods for the failures of their ancestors.


Haldis: The Age of Hard Lessons

Aspects: [Harsh Lessons in Caretaking], [Cannibal Cult], [Testing The Fit]

This Age was written for the creator of Gilder. An apprentice was given the task of creating a “reasonably” forgiving environment for older children in which to learn and bond, a place of discovery and life lessons. It was intended to teach young D’ni respect for the Ages they would be visiting as they entered D’ni culture and took their place within the Ages to which they were assigned.

Unfortunately, the apprentice was not of sound mind. A species of cunning pack predator was included, and soon after, several ancient temples from an extinct native population were discovered. At first there were only minor issues between D’ni visitors and the wild packs. The inadvertent discovery of an old temple frequented by the packs fueled the rebirth of an ancient native cannibal cult. No records exist documenting how this happened. The cult recruited like-minded individuals from the D’ni youth camping in the settled areas. The cult waited for decades, claiming the occasional victim, until the moment was right. The Fall started and abruptly ended their rise to power.

Areas of interest:

The Forest Glen: a beautiful place of tall grass and bright sun. Several stout stone buildings provide shelter and comfort for the visitor. The buildings have the D’ni word for “barracks” carved into them. There are no bodies from the Fall here.

The Lake: a bright blue freshwater lake. Small to medium-sized silver fish can be seen swimming in it. A dock and a floating raft are provided for boaters and swimmers. No boats can be seen. The lake connects to the river.

The River: A slow-moving river enters the lake and leaves on the opposite side. Down the river a day’s journey is the Temple. Up river is another glen used for picnicking and camping. Many prepared campsites of stone are overgrown but still usable.

The Temple: built by the original inhabitants, a race of human type that developed a taste for their neighbors. Early in their history they domesticated a large flightless avian predator and through selective breeding made them cunning and hungry for human flesh. These people easily dominated the region for hundreds of years, but over-hunting turned them on one another. A priest class rose and through divine decree devoured an entire generation of their own elders. With no guiding wisdom the remaining factions turned on each other. Before long there were only a few survivors left. They died when the large packs could no longer be controlled. As a people they vanished into history. The temple somehow calls to unstable D’ni and a new cult rises in the ruins of the old. The temple is occupied for decades before the Fall. Initially the newly reborn cult quietly brings in book world native people for ritual feasts celebrating D’ni superiority. But, before long they begin culling the “weak” from their own people using a carefully designed trap.

The Exit Book: a linking book with an elaborately gem-decorated stand. Located in the forest glen, passage to the book is blocked by a clever drawbridge designed to prevent pack predators from using the book. A D’ni puzzle must be solved to lower the bridge and reveal the book. An arrangement of crystals locks the bridge in place. Arrange them into a pattern found in the placement of the barracks, and a drawbridge lowers, revealing a linking book. This book returns the user to Gilder. Arrange the crystals into a pattern found in the temple (a semblance of a pack hunter) and the drawbridge lowers, but a decoy book is revealed. This book takes the user to a small dimly lit room without windows or doors, where red crystals light another linking book that looks identical to the book to Gilder. This book sends the user to a holding cell beneath the Temple from which no one has returned.







Posted by Lodger Tagged with: , ,
Feb 142010

Hello my Lodgers,

To begin, VSCA games has released Deluge, a systemless pdf-only experiment under the Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share Alike license.

“One hundred years ago it began to rain and never stopped.“

The document is 34 pages and covers the Deluge setting in a toolbox fashion. It is intended that the purchaser use the contents to “Delugify” their home town. Details and resources for how this works are included. I hope to detail this and provide some transparency for my design decisions in an upcoming entry.

The setting includes aliens, talking bears, killer squids and five character “classes,” all laid out with the idea that a GM will be splicing their favorite system to the setting. Personally, I like what I saw.

That’s about all I’m going to give away. I have another plan in mind for Deluge. The license (and VSCA permission) allows me to distribute it as long as I don’t make money off it. With that in mind, I will now announce the beginning of the Diaspora Weapons Testing Ground – Malfeasance Range. Here’s how it will work. Buy a copy of Diaspora, or if you’re still holding out (why? Don’t make me come over there), go to the system reference documents and create a unique weapon using the rules provided.

The rules:
1.Weapon must be original design. No grabbing stuff from the book. I own that as well and I’ll know. 😉
2.The Range’s format must be followed (see below). I insist on this because a weapon is more then the sum of its stats. Players don’t remember their first +1 sword. But they do remember the blackened steel blade and the hilt wrapped intricately with the hide of a shadow wolf: the +1 sword named Wolves’ Bane.
3.I’ll choose the winner. Actually my team will but I’ll be taking the blame.
4.Contest ends when I have ten entries. So speed counts in this instance.

The Format: (example)
Title: Grandpa’s Modified Mining Laser (T1)
Stats: Harm-0 Pen-1 Min Range-0 Max Range-1 Stunt:Civilian (4 Bp total)
Description: A large laser pistol modified from its original industrial purpose. Blunt-nosed, the barrel is cut away at the sides to reveal the focusing lens, which shines a translucent blue when not in use and brilliant red when being fired. The weapon is powered by a cable-fed belt pack. The underside of the barrel is decorated in tribal fashion by three fetishes: an Iron ship signifying home, a small white figure signifying easy targets, and an Iron hand signifying the Iron handshake.
History: Conflict among the tribes of the Triskadar Belt revolves around resources. One such battle occurred between the Iron Tribe and Copper Tribe. An Iron frigate/miner had been ambushed by three Copper vessels near a contested asteroid field. The Iron frigate, badly damaged, fled into the field and exploded. The Copper vessels, believing the threat had passed, tethered and prepared to recover their salvage and begin mining. They were taken completely by surprise by eleven Iron Tribe warriors disguised as debris. The attackers used breaching charges on the command cabin of the tethering vessel. What followed was a vicious corridor to corridor skirmish that would be remembered in legend. While the Iron warriors killed the retreating crew, their best hacker used the tethering controls to vent atmosphere and sabotage the other vessels. The helpless crews desperately struggled to disengage their tethers. Thus was the term “Iron handshake“ coined for the tactic they used that day.

The winner will receive a copy of Deluge for their personal use.

Please post you entries in the comments section for all to see.
I look forward to your entries.

Side note: While playing Diaspora, play the song “A Glorious Dawn” by Carl Sagan and Symphony of Science. I thought it captured the feeling of the farmer in the first pages of the book.

Posted by Lodger Tagged with: , , , , ,
Nov 042009

Hello again,

I’ve delayed writing a review of Spirit of the Century (SOTC)  by Evil Hat for, well, really, no good reason. I didn’t have a blog at the time I ran these. No excuse, I know. SOTC was the first FATE-based game I had purchased. Oh, I’d purchased a few FUDGE-based games, but this FATE thing was new. I thought I’d give it a fair shakedown. I even found a Meet-Up that was semi-local to me and joined a group. The GM of that group moved on after a couple of games and I took over. The Actual Play (AP) sessions I’ll be posting are a record of the games I ran with the exception of the very first one, because that is a PDF I’ll be posting for download after it is cleaned up (i.e., readable).

Mechanically, FATE takes the typical D&D player a little time to find their footing. The aspect system takes a little getting used to. In practice, I had a group of folks with mixed experience levels. So, most of the learning curve was pretty smooth overall.  SOTC has the advantage of being simple for a player to enter and exit an ongoing campaign, because all characters are at the peak of their careers. No tedious leveling up to the fun stuff.

The setting is open. It is loosely set in the 1920s and revolves around an organization of heroes who call themselves Centurions. My take on the setting carried a steampunk flavor based off my intro adventure about a dangerous cult from ancient Atlantis fronting a proto-Nazi terror cell in Brazil. The action centered around a floating city of ex-convicts, sky pirates, and cultural outcasts. But enough of that; I loved SOTC and ran it for the better part of a year for a variety of characters. I had a few regulars and a bunch of drop-ins.

Our scene opens in a popular Etheropia (flying city, currently hovering near Rio) bar on open mic night.

J = Jolly Roger, the Sky Pirate

UJ = Union Jane, Bad Ass Crowdbreaker

TM = The Musician (Guitarist/Werewolf)

MM =  Minnetonka Mike (Gun Man)

D = Darken (Stealth Expert/Living Shadow)

J, UJ, TM, MM & D were all in a bar on Etheropia.TM was performing with a guitar. UJ & J were sitting at a booth. MM was at the bar (he’s a crack shot ex-circus performer cowboy drinker type). A beautiful auburn-haired woman who looked like she was in charge of something was there. D decided to try to seduce her. MM decided to eavesdrop on the action, while ordering a drink. D detected him and surreptitiously told the bartender to give MM a lousy drink. D was so insulting in his come-ons that the woman, who’d introduced herself as Captain Petra, captain of the Sky’s Mistress (a dirigible), pulled a lightning sword on him. He took it from her. Somewhere around this time a bunch of members of the Gray Sharks (they were members of the pirate group whose flying fortress the party attacked in the last adventure. They were manufacturing a hallucinogenic drug called “sky ash”) revealed themselves to be in the bar and attacked the party. J decided to throw a brass exploding monkey in the middle of them.  UJ dove under the table and MM started shooting. TM attacked (eventually he experienced “Blood Rage,” one of his aspects, in which he became a homicidal maniac). Everyone defended themselves, basically, although D might have caused some of the opponents to back off because they thought he’d be extra-dangerous since he didn’t know how to use a sword. He ended up breaking the sword. J tried to shoot Petra and/or her minions, but D put himself between them and J, so J shot him instead. Eventually, all the Gray Sharks were killed, but Petra and her all-female minions kidnapped D. MM, who’d had some experience dealing with animals, convinced TM not to attack the rest of the party (since now that all the opponents were dead or gone, the Blood Rage compelled him to try to attack anyone who was left), and TM transformed back to normal. One of TM’s biggest fans, Luigi (and there had been fans mobbing TM in the bar before the fight started) turned out to work for the “port authority” or something, and he was able to lead the party to where the Sky’s Mistress was supposed to be moored. UJ used her influence to tell the dockworkers to delay the dirigible, since it was in the process of trying to leave. All the workers went on break. Once there, UJ also faked a document to order the dirigible to stay docked, with help from a fellow unionist. So Petra had two of her women shoot the mooring ropes. Oh, yes, while the rest of the party was concerned with trying to keep the dirigible  from leaving/getting onto it before it left, Petra had mostly stripped D and tied him up and fetched some olive oil and a cage of weasels. D was hoping to be rescued soon. TM had climbed onto one of the mooring ropes, trying to enter the dirigible. After the mooring ropes had been shot free of the dock, MM and UJ managed to jump and grab onto the flying-away ropes. MM got his own rope; UJ jumped onto the rope TM was on. MM wasn’t able to get in at first because the closest door was closed, but he shot the lock off or something, because he eventually got in. TM was able to open a door close to him and UJ, & they both climbed in. Everyone had to make Resolve rolls to not be stunned by the appearance of D, who had in the meantime managed to slip free of his bonds, grab the box of weasels & was threatening the crew members who were there (oh God). In the meantime, J somehow had found his own way into the dirigible, possibly using his jet belt, and had gone to the cargo hold, where he found mechanical stuff. All the crew members who were in the room with D (except Petra, who had withdrawn) surrendered. One said, “Please get this weasel off my leg.” Petra had gone through a door, and TM and UJ followed her. I don’t remember exactly the sequence of events hereafter, but at some point four or so semi-humanoid robots attacked MM and J. J couldn’t hurt them with his lightning guns or re-engineer them or something like that, because all the robots (except maybe for the engineer bot; see below) were steam-based. TM & UJ ended up getting attacked by wolflike robots, whom they defeated. TM and UJ got separated; I think TM went off to help MM and J. MM shot at least one of the robots in this vulnerable spot they had that looked like a green glass plate. After those robots were taken care of, J and MM went off and found the engineer who had designed all these robots, who was alone in the engine room. Oh yes, J had at some point surmised that Petra had copied some of his technology. MM intimidated the engineer into surrendering. She said she was Petra’s prisoner. He asked her to stop the dirigible. She ended up releasing more wolf robots, & shedding her human-looking skin to turn out to be a robot herself.  D put himself between J & Petra as J was preparing to shoot, and J shot him. Somehow D had confronted Petra again, and she stacked so many modifiers on him, so to speak, that she made him her willing servant. He ended up with a new aspect: “In Love with Petra.” She said she’d been looking for a second-in-command. She allowed him access to some controls which would release more robots on us, which he did. (There turned out to be a maze of tunnels in the dirigible that had allowed her to escape). UJ tried to go to where all the noise was, but she was blocked by six marines who ran in and were about to start assembling something. She talked them into telling her what they wanted to build, and into leaving the dirigible (which had by this time landed on the dock).They were going to build a self-destruct device. UJ talked them into believing she would finish making the device for them. After they left she looked into the boxes of materials and found mechanical stuff she didn’t recognize, including some stuff that glowed. She decided to toss the boxes into the ocean. In the meantime, the others were fighting the engineerbot and her wolfbots. MM managed to pin her under some of the wolfbots, and he or J shot up all but one of the wolfbots on her. UJ headed for where the others were. On her way there, she saw Petra and D in a lifeboat thing, and D was rowing it away. UJ entered the room and stabbed the engineerbot in an eye with her battle staff, thus blinding her. She was blinded for only a moment though; she pulled out a screwdriver and repaired her eyes. I think it was MM or maybe it was J or maybe it was both of them, but she ended up being damaged by one or both of them so badly that she decided to shut down. They tied her up. The remaining wolfbots were destroyed; they had been severely damaged. J and MM decided to claim the dirigible. The party searched it and found two things:  a link between Petra’s group and the Gray Sharks, and the other was a letter from Goodwin to Petra, asking her to meet him. Goodwin was a police officer who, for reasons yet unknown, killed his family in the last adventure. He’d gone missing from his job. He had been noticed lurking in a warehouse near the place where the biplane was parked that the party then used to fly to the Gray Shark fortress, but the party didn’t confront him at all.

It is clear to the casual observer that gameplay can twist and turn as players generate their own content within the GM’s setting. This adventure would have been a fight against the Gray Shark pirate clan. But, instead the players played Fate points to link Petra’s group of pirates to the Gray Sharks. Originally, I had intended Petra to provide the troops and ships for an epic battle. It still worked out that way in the end, but Petra ended up firmly on the enemy side of things. She took her pet player with her, as well. :)

Tons o’ fun.

Thanks for reading.

Posted by Lodger Tagged with: , , , , ,
Oct 212009

Swashbucklers of the 7 skies
by Chad Underkoffler
ISBN: 978-0-9771534-5-9


A beautiful book. The rule book is an eclectic collection of quotes neatly wrapped by an unconventional system of rules. The setting is what I want to write about, briefly. The setting is where some players will stare agog and others will cackle and neatly fit themselves in. It is very much a strange place.

The world is a snow globe divided into different zones or “skies”. All extant land  is made up of floating islands which are governed by nations of various styles. These islands slowly travel around a column of fire which acts as a sun. The various zones act as seasons. All travel is by flying ship or giant omnivorous parrot. I’d characterize the setting as flamboyant. A good match for the swashbuckling musketeer motif.

I don’t want to do to much review here as the full scope and setting of this book must be read to be understood. I’d rather let my Actual Play set the tone.

Actual Play: Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies

The book is littered with Star Wars allusions. In keeping with this my player wanted to create a Jedi knight type character. The rule set facilitated this easily.

The ancient order of the Jodai knights sends one of its young acolytes to act as a spy and gather information on anything strange that may indicate the activities of the Dread Lords of the Seething Isles. The acolyte Ikari Mamiil, a Jodai knight of the Zultanate, sets herself up as a trader on Crail. She spends many days establishing herself and strikes up a business relationship with an innkeeper named Rum Bob. Rum Bob points out a group of Crailish sailors. He claims they have a monster story she might like. The sailors are arguing with one of their number about a strange man in red and blue who may or may not have been guiding a giant sky shark. His crewmates  insist he had been hitting the rum too hard. They are interrupted by three Ilwuzii pirates with a beef. Apparently, their ship was destroyed as they were attempting to loot the Crail vessel. Ikari succeeds in getting them seriously drunk on Rum Bob’s “special” rum. There is much bonding and it is quickly discovered that Ikari is quite wealthy and in need of a crew to find this shark. She is quickly elected captain. The two wrecked vessels are quickly looted for parts to create a small fast vessel Ikari dubs the “Shark’s Bane.”

She tells her crew that they will be hunting tree hoppers in the jungle sky for a profit. This area is also nearby where the two ships were attacked. Ikari and another crew member climb into a grove of wheel trees with the intent of flushing some tree hoppers into some quickly handcrafted sticky vine web nets using smoke from a torch and a noisemaker.

Ikari and “Little” Bob are quickly attacked by blue men who seem to be extremely irate. She uses Jodai knight mental powers (Gift of the Basilisk) to create the illusion of a giant shark behind herself. The blue men savages quickly run in terror leaving Little Bob none the wiser. The terror of the blue men flushes many tree hoppers into the nets of the Shark’s Bane.

As they attempt to leave the trees, a wandering explorer named Sir Regivald Movisu hails them from a small cloud ship skiff. He cunningly questions Ikari and Little Bob about what they are doing and where they will be going with their cargo. Ikari wonders how Sir Regivald came to be so deep in the jungle sky without a larger, better-provisioned vessel. Sir Regivald claims that he is only scouting around trying to learn more about the blue men. Ikari wishes him luck and she and Little Bob return to the Shark’s Bane. Once on board they learn of the immense load of snapping tree hoppers they have captured and Ikari orders her crew to set sail for Crail. Almost no time later, the Shark’s Bane comes upon a wreck. The vessel show signs of having been rammed by something big. A team of crew go aboard to find survivors. Ikari believes that this may be Sir Regivald’s ship. Her crew returns with a giant shark tooth and no survivors. Oddly, they also found evidence of cannon damage. Ikari decides to continue on to the Sea of Stones, but as the Shark’s Bane is moving away a massive sky shark bursts from a wheel tree grove and attacks.

The shark is immense and has a blue wood platform bristling with cannons chained to its back. Standing in blue and scarlet near the shark’s head is Sir Regivald the Seething Lord. The shark attacks the Shark’s Bane. Ikari orders her crew to load cannon and turn to fire on the shark. The first volley catches the shark in an unarmored section by a lucky shot. The shark’s return fire damages more crew than ship. Ikari orders her crew to reload and turn for another firing resolution. Ikari sacrifices some of her crew’s advantages to provide a sniper in her crow’s nest a clear shot at Sir Regivald while she concentrates her Gift of the Basilisk on breaking the Seething Lord’s hold over his mount. In an amazing display of random chance, luck favors her and Sir Regivald is shot as she simultaneously disrupted his control of the shark. The shark tears away into the jungle attempting to scrape the blue men gun crew off its back and eat them. Ikari’s search party finds no survivors but they do find Sir Regivald’s journal in a black metal box. He claims to have perfected an alchemical formula for the enlarging of wildlife. He mentions a special project for which he is raising money by using a giant shark for pirate attacks. Ikari vows to cure the shark so that the Seething Lords cannot use it for their evil plans. She warns the Jodai council that she believes that the lords of the Seething Isle are using alchemical formulae to create giant monsters to raise money for some terrible purpose. Her crew remains clueless as to her true identity. Though Little Bob has his suspicions, the rest of the crew has already caught him with more than his fair share of rum and so doesn’t listen to him. Ikari manages to trade her catch for a princely sum. The crew is more than happy to continue in her employ.

Pros: Extremely flexible system, amazing level of setting detail, clear examples of play.

Cons: No index, difficult to run as solo adventure.

Ikari Mamiil, Jodai Knight Spy

Foible: Jodai code of honor

Motivation: Honor (+2) Good

Nationality:  Colronan Zultanate (+2) Good

Past: Water harvester (+2) Good

Swashbuckling Forte: Jodai Knight (+2) Good


Gift of the Basilisk (+2) Good

Gift of the Pegasus (+2) Good

Gift of the Merhorse (+2) Good

Techniques: Idiom: Precision, Maneuver: Parry, Weapon: Saber, Vs:Lords of Seething Isle (Seeth Lords), Situation: Honor Bound

after the adventure she picked up the Ephemera: Skyship Captain (+2) Good

Posted by Lodger Tagged with: , ,
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.

Posted by Lodger Tagged with: , , , , ,