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Arashi No Moui ([personal profile] arashinomoui) wrote2009-08-28 01:10 pm
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Shooting from the Hip Review: Diaspora

Why “Shooting from the Hip”? Because this is all based off a single read through, and I don’t attest to it having any sort of deeper attempt to understand the underworkings of the system. Instead, it is my initial impression.

tl;dr version: A work of love, it suffers for being the first work; however, these small flaws give it some appeal, and if nothing else, it is an excellent tool kit for running a space game that leans more towards Firefly and less towards Star Wars or Star Trek.

Let us begin at the beginning, continue through to the middle, and finish at the end.

0. Introduction

Diaspora is a work of love of four authors who loved the setting of games like Traveler, and would have loved to write for it; but didn’t want to deal with the baggage of the setting, previous editions, or the system. How do I know this? They state it, flat out, in the introduction/preface.

Diaspora has no defined setting, but instead provides the gaming group a defined context for which the setting shall be generated – humanity is ancient, having risen and fallen several times throughout the years, with a wide range of technology available – from the near transcendental to the club.

There is FTL, but little else of the fluffier side of science-fiction the goal was to be “Harder than Traveller, than Star Wars, than Battlestar Galactica. No quasi-magical anti-gravity. No inertia-less drives…” (xiii). For the most part, after reading the book, they do this. Not your cup of tea? Can I recommend Starblazer Adventures? They did leave in FTL via jump point travel, mostly because playing in multiple systems is fun.

1. Playing With Fate

Ah the base mechanics chapter, the underpinnings of mechanics. The philosophy of the authors is that “players get the power” (I can tell, it is a second level heading) focused around “Say yes or roll the dice” and “the table is the consensus”. I can get on board with this.

I grumble a little with the usage of 4dF versus d6-d6, but there’s at least some discussion as to why, and while in my game of this, if I ever run it, I’ll probably go for d6-d6 for easy of use, I can see the desire to limit the outlier answers.

Rest of the chapter is the breakdown of the Fate system – little has changed significantly. Tagging aspects with Fate points is limited one type of Aspect per action (i.e., you cannot tag multiple aspects of the opponents even if there are applicable ones, though you can tag an opponent, scene, and campaign aspect at the same time.) Most everything from the chapter seems stock standard, though I don’t know enough of Fate to say for sure. There is some useful discussions of the usage of tokens to represent various items right at the end.

2. Clusters

Clusters are the setting of the game and the first tool kit that you come across. It is a group activity, so no shy people allowed. The assumption is that you’ll create a cluster of 6-10 systems within the cluster. The game provides for random generation of the systems, which provides guidelines, versus requirements. For example, in a system where you roll a 3 on 4dF you get a society that has mastered Slipstream (the FTL) technology, but at -2, the system has just entered the Industrialization period. There are categories for Technology, Environment, and Resources, as well as how these factors will interact with each other – a resource rich, planet rich, technology poor system is just begging to be taken over.

The one note that falls flat for me in this section is how the various systems are interconnected. The example, while useful, and eventually I got it, was very confusing, and I’m not sure that I entirely understand all of it. Perhaps in play it would be clearer – but well I’m limited with what I’ve got.

3. Characters

Character creation is straight out of Spirit of the Century (SOTC), where the characters are developed in five phases, with interplay between two other characters during the creation process – remember, not for shy people. The skill list is reasonably complete with 36 regular skills, and then the expected fill in the blank skills – profession, culture, etc.

There are 3 stress tracks: Health (physical damage), composure (mental health), and wealth (financial health). Each stress track starts out 3 boxes, and as you take damage, you tick off a box; of course you can reduce damage by taking consequences (rated from mild to severe), but those consequences are an aspect which can be tagged by an opponent. Also you can have no more than three consequences (yes, this means that a getting beat up means you are more at risk of going broke), and if taken out the opponent gets to decide what happens to you. Of course, you can always concede and not take any more consequences, and negotiate an ending to the conflict like “Our ship escapes but our motors are shot, leaving us stranded.” Stuff that gets you out of the frying pan, and perhaps into the fire, perhaps not.

Stunts are the special abilities, until Spirit of the century there are four basic types of stunts: Military Grade (required to use some hardware, and indicates a higher level of training); Have a Thing (ooo, I have a shiny object that does neat stuff!); Skill Substitution (I’m so wealthy, of course I’m charming); Alter a Track (Look, it is harder to take me out of the conflict); and of course Other (random stuff that the table can agree on). You only get 3, so choose wisely. (Note: This is probably the first thing I’d change by increasing it, or at least, utilize as my advancement mechanism.)

4. Play.

Here lies the nuts and bolts of the system as specific to Diaspora, versus Fate (as shown in page 2). Nothing truly extraordinary – healing rates, changing through experience (note: not advancement), NPC creation; physics of star systems (nicely explained) that sort of thing. Covers economic theories, which after seeing it in Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies is something I go looking for, as well as debt and solvency rules.

The chapter ends with an example first session covering the system creation and character creation rules. Well written, and useful.

5. Personal Combat

The first mini-game. Now as a rule, I like a unified conflict resolution system, but I keep finding it not working when I play around with it, so I enjoyed the authors’ take on it here, several distinct sub-systems, with clear ideas when they come into play.

Lots of good examples on how to use zones, from outdoor combat to boarding actions, I really enjoyed this, because while I don’t own SOTC (waiting for Dresden Files to be finished), zones were always confusing on how they’d be used on a more concrete, less abstract method.

My only issue is that weapons resolution is fairly complicated:
Part 1: Attacker Rolls. Defender Rolls. Defender’s roll is subtracted from attacker’s roll. Part 2: Penetration of the weapon is subtracted from the Defender’s armor.
Part 3: Remainder is subtracted from the Attacker’s roll. Anything leftover becomes damage.

It isn’t the most convoluted I’ve seen, and it does allow you to have a low damage, but high penetration weapon, or the reverse – a high damage weapon with no penetration against armor (or negative penetration). Which is generally how it used to model archaic weapons.

As a note, they do provide a nice step by step break down of each phase so that everyone can follow along.

I’m ignoring the “war gaming” at the end of the combat chapters, but I’ll note they make it an option to use the system to play that sort of game.

6. Space Combat

Ow. While by the end of the chapter I understood the philosophy behind how you map out Space combat (using relative distances between ships, versus absolute distances) it hurt my poor liberal arts trained brain. But it is designed to tell four basic stories: escaping from authorities; hostile ships capturing cargo; a threat so impossible the only option is to surrender or die; a convoy of merchants and escorts under attack and looking to defend itself.

Ships have their own three stress tracks – Frame; Data; and Heat. Yes you can overheat and get taken out. There are six distinct positions on the ship (Navigator, Piloting, Communications, Gunner (Beams), Gunner (Torpedoes); Damage Control (Engineering/Computer). So everyone can have a role to play.

There’s a lot of complication in the steps, as each role occurs in order, but it all seems logical, first this, then that, then that other thing.

7. Social Combat

So I’m a total social combat fanboy. I can admit it. I love it when it is done well, and I’ll avoid the system when it isn’t. I really like what they did here, providing a way to mechanically resolve social conflict in a way that makes sense, and provides details as to what happened.

How? Establish stakes, and create a map. And it really does focus on the usage of zones (on the map) to trying and move people into the zone. The limitation on the social combat is the time, which is determined by the table for what seems reasonable. There are lots of sample maps provided, the scene at the party, where the goal is to move yourself and a target into a specific zone, with no one else present. Sample maps include a party, a seduction (with competing suitor), and a debate.

The quirk of the rules is that you can’t use the same skill in consecutive rounds so that people are forced to vary the strategies that they employ to succeed within the conflict. Not sure how well this works with a researching type conflict.

Yes, I’m a fanboy, and yes I do consider this to be a good social conflict resolution system.

8. Platoon Combat

Platoon combat is the mass combat sub-system. It works. And that’s about all I’ve got to say on it – it covers infantry, armor, air, and artillery units. It falls into “It looks decent enough I guess” category, but does not thrill me.

9. Making It Work

The standard “How to run this game” advice section, this one is well done as it starts with the philosophy of “start small” and build from there to find the motivations that will move the cluster and the individual characters.

The chapter contains a discussion of how to soften the hard sci-fi edges, with things like aliens and psionics (mostly through the usage of substitution and I have a thing stunts).

Finally, we get to the rude mechanical bits of the tool box – Designing equipment, spaceships, weapons, and armor.