It was more than a year ago that I got the Diaspora rulebook and I've eagerly been waiting to play it since, but it's never really been the right time for it. We started with WFRP3 more or less as soon as I got back to Sweden from Japan and I don't think anyone wanted to mess with the flow we'd managed to find. However, when two thirds of our regular group had to cancel todays session I decided that the time was finally here to break out Diaspora.
At first I thought that it might be best if I made a cluster and some characters so we could jump straight in and try the system, but the more I thought about it the more I felt that it probably wouldn't work out well. FATE is not an especially difficult system, but it is very different from anything we've played before and just doing a cold start would most likely just end in frustration. Creating the cluster (basically the entire setting) and the characters would allow everyone to slowly warm up to the FATE system and also feel invested in the universe we'd create together. So that's what we did.
I sat down with Anders, Nicke and Anna and started out by explaining the basics of FATE. Using advice from this thread I went through how to roll and read the dice, how to make skill tests and how the FUDGE dice creates a bell curve of probability. Then I went on to talk about Aspects and how you can tag and compel them using Fate Points. Finally we talked about how you can put Aspects on persons or things using maneuvers and that this gives you a free tag the first time you use it.
With everyone slowly digesting these basics and how they affect play I started talking about the cluster generation. One of the unique things about Diaspora is that the first session concists of not only character creation, but also setting creation. Basically a cluster is a collection of solar systems connected through slipknots (ie wormholes) and each player takes it upon himself to create one or two system (for a minimum of six).
First you roll for the system's attributes: Technology, Environment and Resources. This gives you the skeleton of the system that you now need to flesh out using Aspects. When that is finished you figure out how the different systems are connected through slipknots and add a final Aspect. After that it's up to each player to add some more flavour information, but you could just as well save that for later.
We ended up with a fair mix although there was no real extremes, the highest atribute being Resources 3 in the Troy system. Basically most of the cluster consists of systems fairly low on resources and technology. The two exceptions are Troy, that is a the technology and resource juggernaut of the cluster, and Deimos, that has an old ship builder culture but very few resources, making each ship a work of art.
For characters we have an escaped slave that travelled the stars and finally managed to get his own ship, a burly hi-tech barbarian with an incline towards slugthrowers, a shipwright's son who lost his father's ship to pirates and a slave trader's daughter who revolted agains her family and joined the Troyan Navy as a pilot.
All in all I have to say it was a great success! I was very ambivalent about starting this as I was unsure how my group would respond, but after just a few minutes everyone was in full swing, discussing intra-cluster relationships and whether the Lizard Empire of Gortrax (yes, there's a lizard empire...) maybe was importing slaves from the poor ZX-532 system. The hardest part for most of us was coming up with fun and fitting Aspects for systems and characters, but even that went pretty smoothly by the end. And there's always room for changing stuff around later, so no matter.
Recently I've been thinking about how to impart setting knowledge to the players, both the background setting in general and also how to handle specific queries in the form of knowledge skill rolls. There's an interesting debate on the former over at the Rogue Trader forums and a great post about about the latter at the Warrant of Trade blog. I suggest you have a look at both if you're interested. Anyway, when you do it the Diaspora way at least one half of this problem disappears as you create the entire setting together together and the GM knows just as much (or as little) about it as the players! This creates a very level playing field where I think it's easier for the players to take the initiative and interact more boldly with the setting. Very cool stuff!
I'm really happy we finally got to try it out! I can't really say when the next session will be as I consider Diaspora (and perhaps 3:16) to be the backup game for when we can't get everyone together for WFRP3. But hopefully it won't be too far off!
We also managed to play half a game of Dungeon Lords and it really left me with a taste for more! Great design combined with a great theme. Needs to be played pronto!
Now I need to go back to figuring out which miniatures to submit in which round in the LPL. :)