Thursday, July 25, 2013


Due to the enthusiastic recommendations of a friend whose judgement I value in all matters related to gaming, I've been interested in Diaspora for some time now. Diaspora is a hard-scifi RPG that is built on the Fate rules engine, and which is greatly (and explicitly) influenced by my favorite SFRPG, Traveller. Up until now though, I haven't had the impetus to plop down the 25 bucks to pick up a copy from the FLGS.

Recently, my son got to play the new Fate Core rules at the FLGS's "RPG Summer Camp" (man, do I wish we had such things when I was a kid...), and I've been reading over the rule book they gave him with great interest. Fate Core is analogous to the core GURPS rules - it's a playable game in its own right, but has no setting in mind, and will generally be extended somewhat to fit whatever type of game you want to play. My wife proactively picked up the Diaspora book for me, since she could see where this was going. :)

You can find a lot of very coherent and informed discussions of Fate with a quick google search, so I'll spare you my "complete newbie's impression of Fate". But the thing to know about Fate-based games like Diaspora is that the game system turns your character's quirks (called "Aspects" in Fate, like "Ace Fighter Pilot", "Attracted to Shiny Things", "I HATE ROBOTS!", etc.) into actual game mechanisms. Everything (characters, items, rooms, starships...) has Attributes, and because of that, players and GMs must understand the rules for how Fate and the "fate point economy" works.

This means that while the rules are simpler than just about any RPG I've played, and a player's imagination is more important than a solid understanding of (for example) how to min/max their character builds, Fate is not quite as friendly to very casual gamers who mostly just want to know "what do I need to roll?" I suspect that WDINTR is a symptom of d20 type games, and any player would quickly adapt to the "How can I exploit the situation to my advantage?" mind-set, but having not had a chance to play yet, I don't know.

So what is Diaspora?

Diaspora is a full RPG written against a pre-Fate Core version of Fate, but is only different in the details. Word on the street is that you can port some of Diaspora's setting ideas to Fate Core and just run with that, and things work out very well. I've already mentioned that it was made by Traveller fans in order to have a harder-science Space Opera game. (Which seems ironic, considering Traveller is MUCH crunchier than Diaspora, but yet less "hard".)

Diaspora only makes one "magic" assumption - the slipstream, which is basically a wormhole between two or more systems. No anti-gravity, no "thruster plates", everything is reaction mass and zero-G (unless you're under acceleration). Diaspora is set in the far future, in a small cluster of worlds, which the players roll up at character creation time. (More of the "Player Buy-in" that's typical of Fate games. Players don't get served the setting, they help create it.) Because of the size of the default "universe" (6 systems, each with 1+ worlds in it worth visiting), players will care more about each world than they do in Traveller. I'm curious to try gaming in such a setting.

One of the more interesting aspects of Diaspora (and Fate in general) is how they handle wealth. Fate in general doesn't concern itself with money. If you want to be rich, give yourself the "Moneybags" (or whatever) attribute. What Diaspora does have is the idea that events (like a ship's maintenance schedule) can do Financial Damage to you which you have to Defend against. You can use the ship's Economic potential to aid your defense, and you can even invoke aspects like "I can get you a deal" or "I know this guy..." to help out, too. If you fail, you take "damage" in the form of a Consequence ("Owes Jabba Bigtime" or "Chartered by Local Noble") that you'll need to take steps to recover from.

You get similar rules for acquiring expensive gear. You make a Wealth skill test against the object's price. If you fail, you still get the object, but you pick up some consequences. It's a novel (to me) way of dealing with possessions, and I'm anxious to see if it works out in practice.

I think Fate and Diaspora sound like a blast, but I must admit that I'm still a fan of more traditional rules. I have to say though, that Fate combat sounds like it will be more narratively satisfying that most d20 combats wind up being.

I'm hoping that I can at least take some cues from Fate into GM-ing my other games, though given Fate's elegant and integrated system, it's not going to be as easy as "drop in some attributes". What I probably will do though, is to more formally adopt the concepts of using actions to create advantages. We do that sort of stuff already ("Can I slam the door and run for it?" "What if I throw a pouch of coins at them, do they stop to pick it up?"), but maybe I need to shift how I conceptualize the action some.

<Shrug> At any rate, Now "Fate Core" is on my radar. My at-home group is mostly anxious to give it a try, so we'll see what happens.