Tags: diaspora


Bulldogs: BI-GS 273.101

Once upon a time, Brennan Taylor turned his home campaign into a d20 game: Bulldogs. Then, some time later, he turned it into a FATE game. I have never played the d20 version, but we made characters for the FATE version several weeks ago and played a session of it a couple of weeks ago. It's good. Soft, and full of Aliens, but very light on technology detail, so at the opposite end of the spectrum from Diaspora. Fortunately I enjoy both approaches (although I do need to know where my head should be from the start), but i suspect this system would have suited my Disapora game/group better than Diaspora did.

One of the coolest races in the book are the Urseminites, psychotic, foul-mouthed, little teddy bears, but Andrew already had his eye on them, so for Morgan's game I made a Robot Pilot-cum-Engineer. As in the Dresden Files RPG, mechanically, "race" is a package of stunts which reduce your Fate point refresh and there are no classes or anything, so the Pilot/Engineer moniker is my interpretation of my skills, and my role in the crew. With the exception of gunning, boarding actions and giving orders, I'm actually pretty much the only character who does anything on the ship itself.

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So what does that mean? I'm good at flying the ship, fixing the ship, okay at hacking, and really good at hacking myself to change my skill tree.

After one session, I'm quite enjoying my support role. I pretty much stay on the ship while the rest of the crew goes shore-side. Now, that might normally be super-boring, but as I discovered playing a Decker in Morgan's Shadowrun game at HyphenCon, putting manoeuvres on everything in support of other characters (and yourself later) can be a lot of fun!

So, for example, after chargen, we played a very short session to get back into the swing of FATE. I was on the ship and everyone else was making some trade deal and getting in trouble on a space station built into the orbiting wreck of an giant warship. At a certain point I notice that three pirate ship are headed our way, no doubt to pick a bone with our captain (yeah, it’s like that). Over the course of several “turns” while the rest of the crew finish up their dealings and make their way back to the ship, I place a series of manoeuvres on the scene: “Prepped for departure” “I know what they're capable of” and “Overclocked engines” As a consequence, when the time comes for me to punch it, I have Piloting 5, plus 6 from free-tag-able manoeuvres plus a dice roll. A base of 11 is pretty decent...

There was no dramatic end to the first full session (although I was preparing for one), but I placed the following aspects, mostly with Systems (the hacking skill):
“Forged Electronic Documents” (to sneak past the military warship, Dominator, which had stopped us)
“Nanobot tracking devices” (in the other PCs)
“That old rust-bucket” (the enemy’s mistaken assessment of our ship)
“We know where they are.” (I subverted their assault shuttle to relay enemy positions to the our crew)
“Harddrive full of Trojans” (initially in their assault shuttle, later used to hack the Dominator)
“Dominator deckplans”
I suspect I might write up this game entirely in terms of the aspects we create. It's not a bad measure of a FATE game anyway.

Orccon 2011: Advance Thoughts

Christmas in Los Angeles is a like a gaming exile compared to Christmas in New Zealand. This is probably a combination of the relatively restricted pool of my gaming friends here, and the greater distances that people have to travel to see their families. But at any rate, I'm in Saratoga, CA, not Los Angeles at the moment. I know some gamers up here, but it's not really convenient to try to set something up. I'm hoping I'll be able to hook a few games up when I'm back in LA after Christmas, but in the meantime, I can think about my plans for the next Strategicon, Orccon in late February.

I have signed up to run Smallship Troopers, Starship Troopers run with the Smallville RPG (Ogrecave has a review here), as part of designer Josh Roby's plans to flood Orccon with Smallville. I haven't seen the rules yet, but this far out from a con, that's not unusual for me. At any rate, Josh is going to be running a demo for a few of us, and I grok systems quickly. I'm particularly looking forward to re-watching the movie(s*) and working out the relationship map for the characters.

After helping Mike Olson almost win Game Chef, I mentioned him that probably I'd run his Action City! 80s action movie emulation game. I'd like one more crack at the game before I do that, and to talk to Mike about polishing up the rules a bit before then, but I should have time for that in the next two months.

I had spoken to Mash about working up Echoes as an entry for the Kapcon Scenario Design Competition (SDC), but the deadline came and went well before I was finished with the end of semester. But I have started thinking about how I could adapt that for the abbreviated Wellington gaming format (3 hour sessions) perhaps for next time. The two ways to do that are a) truncating the introduction to frame the characters into the action immediately and b) dropping Diaspora as the system (possibly in favour of a Lady Blackbird-esque Shadow of Yesterday hack. A lot of time can be saved at the start if I don't have to explain the system and setting of Diaspora. A couple of tight intro scenes should convey the tone and setting and introduce the characters more quickly than explaining it. While the setting plays an important part in the action and decisions at the end, an infodump isn't the best way to convey that. I can also cut down the character aspects to reduce the initial load. If I can get this all done, I could run it again at Orccon and be most of the way to submission for the Kapcon 2012 SDC.

Finally, I plan to run Psi*Run which I've signed up to playtest. Playtesting will officially be over by that point, but everything I remember needing tidying from my previous runs of the game under the old Moore and Linger ashcan has been tided up in the current Baker version, so it's ready to go as far as I'm concerned.

Strategicon gives free entry to tabletop GMs offering 48 player hours worth of games. I usually run two games in four hour slots for six players each. I'm not so keen on six player games so offering four games would easily allow me to cut that down to four players per game (or even fewer if I wanted). That said, while Psi*Run and Action City! work very well with four players, Echoes was designed for six and Smallship Troopers will be dependent on the number of important movie characters, so we'll see how it works out. At any rate, I have some other ideas as well.

  • I have an idea for a Fiasco playset that I'd like to work on.
  • 3:16 with 40k Orks.
  • Since Colin mentioned that Mouse Guard is really a horror game, I've wanted to investigate its potential for Chocolate Chips Now.
  • My Deadlands/FATE hack has a lot of potential, but needs a lot of work.
  • And of course, I really should run A Certain Kind of Decision before much longer.

But I can't run all of these because I want to play a few things too! Especially Leverage (reviews here and here).

I've been thinking about some of these things since Neoncon, and some of these projects can be easily shelved for later cons. I'll see how I feel about the others as the weekend approaches.

*Yeah, I'll probably watch the two sequels too, if only for comparison.

Buckets 2010: Saturday

As I have become accustomed to do, I eschewed the LARP, nominally in favour of sleep and a more relaxed convention, but in practice in favour of board games and drinking. Probably not the best idea on the eve of a 9am GMing slot, but it was a harbinger of things to come. I blame Lex.

Echoes (Diaspora)

At any rate, the morning session was Echoes, as previously run at Gamex. This time the game had a full table of six players. Echoes is a very front-loaded game with deeply and fully described characters and a sparse plot. The two games (BoD and Gamex) ended up similar in different and unexpected ways (the Engineer and Pilot both fought the only physical conflict in each) while following quite different plot paths. As far as I'm concerned, the former is interesting, the latter perfect. I probably won't run it again. A while ago, I realised that all the best games I'd run at Buckets were based on my own emotional experiences at the time of writing, and in a sense, a kind of katharsis. Echoes was a return to that, and I discovered when I ran it that I was done with the particular inspirational emotion.

I had a good time running it, and the players seemed to enjoy it (here's confusiontempst's report), although we were pressed for time. I got through the system and setting stuff quicker this time than at Gamex, but the had to skimp on a few conflicts at the end in the interests of a lunch break. Still, it wasn't the 5.5 hour epic of Gamex. There were a couple of players who didn't seem to be able to insert themselves into the action as much, which might push me back to designing games for four players. I would have designed it for 4 in the first place if player hours hadn't been a consideration for Gamex.

Death on the Theo-something-something (Zombie Cinema)

On Saturday afternoon, I ran Zombie Cinema for a full group (plus me makes seven). The setting was a space liner in the clouds of Jupiter, so pretty much The Fifth Element. Characters included: Mr Brad, the wealthy young heir on school holidays (confusiontempst); "Mr Brad", the identity thief who had usurped his room (javelin_nz); The bodyguard sent by Mr Brad's parents (me); a dense hitman on the run from the church (thorog); a priest (meataxe); a thief after Mr Brad's diamonds (Rachel); and the ship's energetic concierge (Mrs meataxe). The first two rounds of scenes were mostly comic explorations of the mistaken identity set-up, then the zombies appeared. There were actually few conflicts in the opening stages, so noone died particularly early, and it ended up a very good game from my perspective. Perhaps the most successful game of ZC that I've been involved in in Christchurch.

The Colossi of Atlantis

vizi's Grand Strat was perhaps the best I've played in. The timing was excellent (the game didn't feel like it had ended early and the map phases were all just long enough), the queue system worked very well (in particular it allowed my opportunistic strategy), my team worked well together, and I had no rules problems. In the political phases, I was a perfect party member, watching my leader from the corner of my eye and voting with him while I counted our resources and plotted broad map strategies. Would play again without modification, A+.

Cluster Generation

Here are a bunch of links relevant to re-purposing the Diaspora cluster rules for other setting parameters. First are two links to how the VGSC peeps are doing it for their current projects:
Hollowpoint and Chimaera.
Then a set of RPGnet threads with various ideas and links: An Alternate Cluster Modelling Game, the Clusternomicon, Repurposing the cluster system and Designing a non-standard cluster (mainly useful for the links)
I have bookmarked all of these, but haven't had a chance to fully digest them all.

I suspect I'll look more into this later in the Suminter.

Diaspora: Session 5

Last Wednesday was the final game of our Diaspora campaign. After establishing quite the set of facts in the previous week, it only remained to resolve them. I had sketched out a possible explanation and conclusion, some of which emerged naturally, and some of which ended up differently to my "plan".

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In addition to the combat issue discussed above, my other big takeaway was regarding aspects. One comment was that there were two many, which is perhaps true for a first time playing FATE, particularly a variant of FATE which doesn't allow multiple aspects to be piled onto a roll with the same abandon as SotC. However, I think part of the problem was inexperience with aspects and how they are best established at the start of play, and thus with my explanation of them. I suspect the three players were all too focused around a core idea (combat for Momoko, being a robot for Z004) which limited their application in play situations which weren't immediately applicable to that core. As the GM, I also didn't leverage them as much as I should have. I need to play on them harder, faster, sooner and better and make them much more central to events and the plot.

Diaspora: Session 4

After a lackluster last Diaspora session, a great memory refresh of player generated FATE play from Morgan at Gamex, and a couple of conversations with players about their post-Full Light, Full Steam preference for narrative play, I decided to kick myself out of the traditional play rut that I had slid into. Instead, I turned some of the leads they had gathered so far into aspects and intended to have the players generate more in an extended planning session. It went well.

When we last left our heroes, they had traced the pre-collapse technology to the Vega system...Collapse )

So, that worked well, revealing a web of mystic, cultic and violent activity centered on the characters and their motivations going into the final session next week, and all in two and a half hours. I have seen this approach work in just about every FATE game I've played in at a con, so there wasn't really anything experimental about it. However, every game group has a different dynamic, so there was no guarantee that it would work for us. I think it was exactly the direction that we needed to go.

One lesson I will take from the campaign, which as you can see has drifted pretty heavily in a Cthulhu-esque direction, is that if I want to maintain a certain tone, I have to enforce that pretty early. I suspect the cat was really out of the hard sci-fi bag as soon as one character was an Alien and another a sentient robot with a starfighter...

Tracing a path

The semester and Gamex are over, but of course I still have my hands in too many pies. I've finally got my head back into my Dolichenic head-space for my conference paper and I'm making progress, but I'm already behind on one deadline there. I'm also behind on deadlines for my GIS course. Reading responses for every article is a pain; probably helpful, but a pain. I need to find more time for my RA gig as well, bills to pay, n'all.

Meanwhile, it looks like I'll be running Dogs in the Vineyard as my second game at Buckets of Dice; the first being Echoes. Speaking of Diaspora, LA story-game podcasters Actual People, Actual Play have just done an interesting series of AP reviews of the game. It starts here (three episodes plus a bonus episode).

Gamex: Friday

Strategicons open at midday on the Friday, but I don't think I'd ever attended that first afternoon before. This time I was running my first Strategicon game Echoes, in the 2pm slot, playing Mike Olson's post-apocalyptic actioner, Leftovers, at 8pm and hitting Barcon at midnight.


I had one pre-reg for my Diaspora game (a guy who had the game, but hadn't quite got his head around it yet) plus one sign up, so I wasn't particularly confident of playing it. I designed it for six players, and thought it would probably run well enough with four. We managed to get a third and I was going to give it a go when a fourth arrived. Hooray!

Mechanically, Diaspora worked exactly as I expected and wanted. Three of the four players were familiar with FATE, so aspects worked well, tagging and asking for compels appropriately to keep the economy moving. I had only read the social combat rules the night before, but we had no real cause to use them. That said, they are awesome I I will definitely be looking to bust them out in my regular game.

If I had scripted the players' actions, I think the plot would have turned out something like it did. My four players were great. They all revealed any character secrets at dramatically appropriate times and we ended with a desperate struggle in the engineering bay, an oxygen flushing, and a climactic negotiation for the fate of the vessel and the mission. Gold. The only problem was that the game ran well over time and into the dinner break, so I'll have to think about how I structure the pacing before I run this at Buckets.


This was an ashcan playtest of Mike's new game. The elevator pitch is "Survivors of a weird, Lovecraftesque apocalypse struggle to live in a ruined world populated by Horrors both inhuman and otherwise." In this post-apocalyptic setting, healing gets very hard, very quick, but can be easily accomplished by grafting bits of otherworldly creature onto your body. This changes the nature of the resources you can draw on, and at a certain point results in NPC-ness. The more human you are (measured by a "Human nature" dice), the more you can use relationships and tools, the more alien (measured by a "Horrific nature" dice), well, you can have tentacles (grafts). It's a game with dice steps (d4 to d12) and summed dice pools.

Our mission was to get supplies from a nearby group of Hummanists (pure humans with no tolerance for the grafted) and we played with a high action approach and ended with a disturbing scene in which a PC with particularly high Horrific nature forcibly grafted part of his own body onto a dying Hummanist. It was definitely in keeping with the setting.
I have an ashcan copy if anyone's interested in playing this.

The evening concluded with a visit to the Barcon suite. Barcon is a convention within a convention (which can be described using the Dogs In the Vineyard corruption ladder). This con I didn't play anything at Barcon because there were always interesting looking games in the 8pm slot, but it was a great space to hang out and debrief from the day's games.

Diaspora: Session 3

The crew of the Filly, recruited the Devil Dog's navigator, Stone, and headed for the slipgate to T85. There, they located the wreckage, maneuvered to it without attracting the fire of a nearby Flotilla vessel. As they were bringing a promising chunk of wreckage into the cargo hold with the robot arm, a luxury yacht appeared through the slipgate on a rapid vector. Z004 hailed them and spoke to Captain Brill of the Isometric Future, feigning mechanical failure. After several circumstances aroused their suspicions, they decided to bushwack the yacht, which, coincidentally was what the yacht had planned for them. The ensuing firefight drew the attention of the flotilla vessel, Watcher of the Dark Ocean, which destroyed the Isometric Future and drove off the Filly, after inviting Z004 (but explicitly not his human companions) on board.

The wreckage pointed Dora towards a lost undersea civilisation on the main waterworld in the Vega system.

Tonight's Diaspora session seemed a little flat to me, but perhaps it was just me. Or rather perhaps it was me. I seem to be getting an unwelcome case of con crud before the con! It was my first time with the space combat system too, and the chapter could have used a pre-game re-read too. Finally, my Gamex one-off has absorbed most of my recent Diaspora thought. Preparation, preparation, preparation. It perhaps didn't help that it had been almost a month since our last session.


The full blurb for my Gamex game*:

Thrusters fire, flipping the creaky metal hull of the ship one-eighty. An unsecured coffee cup floats from a table releasing a glistening black bubble of liquid from its open top, then both fall with a splash and a polycarbon bounce as the fusion torches engage, restoring gravity and beginning the ship's deceleration towards the blue-green orb millions of kilometres ahead. With a clicking chorus of unfastening safety harnesses the skeleton crew prepares for the last week of their journey to the mysterious planet, the only occupant of the system beyond the newly appeared slipgate. Six scientists and explorers in a thin metal tube plummeting into the unknown.

Slipgates don't just appear, well, they didn't. A month ago, a new slipgate suddenly appeared in the local cluster, now a team of scientists begin their deceleration towards the mysterious planet in this new system.

A game of exploration and character conflict using Diaspora, the hard sci-fi implementation of the FATE system.

If you linked through from the Strategicon site, feel free to ask questions. This will be hard(ish**) sci-fi.

* I'm also running 3:16 on the schedule.
** i.e "I'm not a physicist, but I do my best".