November 16, 2009

A lot o folks have been really excited about Diaspora- so I decided to check it out. The game is a hard sci-fi setting and it uses FATE, which is very not-crunchy, which is neat.

The group as a whole rolls up some star systems which are connected by “slipknots” (wormholes) in a small handful of connected systems, which forms a cluster. You end up with a closed economy of systems, which have widely varying resources and technology levels. The players set up the actual context of the systems and why/how they got to be that way, which is a nice set up for a campaign setting.

Diaspora is pretty up front about the fact that high tech cultures will be preying resources from low tech cultures, though, it’s a bit hard for me to figure out how to make that into a fun game when the cultures do not even have to intersect (“Hey, you see that one continent there? They’re all learning to make bronze. Isn’t that cute?”)

In other words, it gives you tools to set up a setting, and to set up characters, and to resolve actions, but “what characters do” is something you have to inject into the game completely.

The biggest innovation is Diaspora’s “social conflict” rules, which give options for long term actions- influencing a culture, swinging an entire star system into war or accepting immigrants, etc.

What makes this different than Burning Empires or Hero Quest’s form of long term conflicts is that it actually encourages you to set up maps – with end goals and situations ON the map. “We go to war” vs. “We accept these people” on different ends, and skill rolls are about pushing groups one way or the other on the spectrum.

Aside from being a perfect way to really start setting up the cultures and your situations in play, in long term goals, it also lets you set up really interesting player character dynamics.

You could, for instance, set up a map for each character with an Issue ala Prime Time Adventures (“Hit Rock Bottom” vs. “Give up the Bottle”). You could set up love triangles, or issues of crew trust ala Battlestar Galactica. Of course, just because the option is there, it’s going to be up to each group to figure out if they want to take it there, and if so, how.

Of course, the one drawback to this is that these conflicts work solely through skill checks… and the game has no real incentive for players to really go with sub-optimal choices at any point in play – skills are not “grown” by use, nor is there any reward for not putting your best skill forward all the time. It’s not a super bad flaw, but you’ll probably see players will cluster all their actions around their top skills as a result, like many other games.

All said, I think it’s an interesting system, a toolbox primarily, and it’s going to be really dependent upon each group to tweak and focus play on things they find interesting.

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