Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Diaspora 2: The Gazetteer (1st draft)

COMBINE (T:0, E:2, R:-1)
We called it Combine, after the generations of strife were over and we were all finally in agreement on everything important.

Now able to look outward after centuries looking in, we began to re-explore our system. Finding remnants of our former glory didn't surprise us - but finding the Slipstream beacons of the Fallen Ones did.

Their hubris destroyed them, and their children are too enervated, or too corrupt, or too complacent, to do anything more than play with their dead Fathers' abandoned toys - the same toys that killed them.

We won't make their mistakes. We learned their foreign tongue, are learning to eat their poison food, but we'll find our own way up the ladder. When we climb to the final rung, we won't be indebted to these vultures.

DESERET (T:-1, E:1, R:0)
The people of Deseret are... different. Mostly, they look human, but subtle differences make others feel on edge when looking at them directly. A lifespan of 200 to 300 years is one difference, but an extremely low birthrate (caused by 1 in 3 females being infertile) limits population. Life, at least of others of "The Chosen" (as they call themselves) is precious. The Chosen are unified by a benevolent theocracy, who worship and revere the Fathers in a constant plea that they return and take their left-behind children with them into Forever. In the meantime, though, they jealously protect their world from all others... with atomic force if necessary.

LORD CARNAVON (T:2, E:-1, R:-1)
It seems nice enough. Air's alright, suns aren't too bright (a little heavy in the UV spectrum, but nothing a little melanin tweak can't handle). It's got a slightly different version of the same ecosystem all Fathers' Kids have (not like those left-handed freaks from Combine). And the house they left - even when the household AIs followed the Fathers into Forever, the walls and floors and furniture and everything still work perfectly; still change themselves to stuff you didn't know you wanted them to change into, but damn if they don't guess right, every time.

Maybe that's why it's so horrible here.

Smart Diggers don't squat in the Old Manses. Smart Diggers truck in their own food, too. Smart Diggers wear blinders and earphones and nose filters, and basically do everything they can to stay as seperated from this place as they can.

Poke around, try and find something useful, then drug yourself to sleep every night until you can buy your way back offworld.

The Strand is the used up, burned out system used by the Fathers to fuel their society. Now it's controlled by warring families who have their hands in all aspects of life here. Nothing happens without their blessing or knowledge. Rules don't apply here. Lack of indigenous food sources have forced the Families to become the black market/money-laundering system of the Cluster. You can get anything here, but it will cost you.

NEW EDEN&trade (T:-1, E:3, R-2)
A trio of paradise worlds orbiting a glorious yellow star. The worlds themselves are the result of precise terraforming by the Fathers, but are now each controlled by competing corporations out to exploit the natural resources, both human and otherwise, to turn a profit. Life is cheap here, unless you are an executive in a corporation or a visitor at one of the resorts. The population grows weary of this exploitation, but currently lack the leadership and coordination to do anything. For now, visitors see only the pretty face of New Eden&trade, which promises to do anything, and they do mean anything, to keep their business.

TELLOS (T:2, E:1, R:4)
"Nothing is too good for my guests." This is the philosophy of Tellosian culture. Blessed with an unlimited supply of everything and wanting nothing, they have developed a society where humility is the ultimate hubris.

This is the world where the Refusers came after the Fathers went into Forever. Technology has collapsed some from the Fathers' level due to the sheer abundance. Drive has left the Tellosians and they exist to please. Society is paralyzed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Vague recruiting post goes here

Well, I couldn't think of a better way to organize this, so here we go. If anyone is interested in joining any of the minis fun we're trying to get set up at Hypermind, just reply here. We're trying to start with a Combat Patrol league for Warhammer 40k, but I'd like to expand in the future to things like:

Warhammer Fantasy
Battlefleet Gothic
Heavy Gear
Flames of War

and other stuff as well; if there's something you're interested in that's not listed, please feel free to reply and tell me about it!

If you're interested in any of this stuff, just reply here, let me know who you are, some form of contact info (email works best), and which minis gaming you're interested in!

Thanks in advance!

Ken Coble

Thursday, February 11, 2010

WWI Naval gaming, and naval-style gaming in general

Late last year I read Robert Massie's Dreadnought, and I'm currently about halfway through with his Castles of Steel, so of course I'm looking into some WWI (and maybe some pre-dreadnought) naval gaming. I ordered a copy of the "Dreadnought" rules by Ben King, and am grabbing two more rulesets in PDF (Grand Fleets and Naval Thunder) later this week. Once the rules get here I suppose I should start figuring out what scale to go with, although I'm looking at the lovely Navwar 1/3000th scale offerings.

All this has sort of revived my interest in several different naval (or faux-naval) wargame settings; when I ordered the "Dreadnought" rules I also gave in and grabbed a set of GW's Napoleonic-era naval wargame "Trafalgar," as well as digging out my old Battlefleet Gothic stuff and taking a serious look at it, and the BFG rules, for the first time in a long time. I'm also eagerly awaiting Catalyst games upcoming dieselpunk/WWI-ish game of giant flying ships, Leviathans. This style of gaming is something I've got no experience with at all, but it seems like an interesting area to explore.

A detour: Diaspora cluster creation mini-game

"Mini-game" not in my normal sense of "game with minis," but in that it was designed by its authors to be the separately playable world(s)building portion of the wonderful Diaspora Role-Playing Game (which, to be fair, does actually include a wargame system utilizing a modifed version of the FATE system, which I hope to try out sometime this spring when/if I ever get any of my 15mm sci-fi stuff painted up). Chris N, Tom G and I sat down during boardgame night this week, broke out our Fudge dice, and took a stab at it.

Briefly, Diaspora is a sci-fi RPG, with only the barest of background details. Humanity has spread throughout the galaxy (hence the name) and systems are connected by 'slipstream points' allowing limited instantaneous travel between connected points. Each Diaspora 'campaign' is set in a small cluster of such colonized systems, and the Cluster creation mini-game is how the table generates and conceptualizes those worlds. You roll for three stats (Tech level, Environment, and Resources), discuss how you're interpreting those stats for the world/system, then roll to connect the systems to each other and discuss the implications of those connections. (Those of you interested in playing along at home should buy the book, obviously, although the creators were kind enough to release a SRD you can look at while deciding on your purchase.)

Since we only had 3 people, we went with two worlds each, for a small cluster of 6 planets. To be fair, we actually threw out our first set of results, as the Fudge dice gave us all a very, very flat set of values, and we wanted a bit more 'oomph' in the stats we were playing with - our first 6 planets had no values above +1 or below -2. Our second set gave us what we thought of as more interesting numbers (although we did have to invoke the Slipstream Guarantee, giving two of our planets advanced enough technology to be able to use slipstream travel), so we ran with them. I'll list the finalized Aspects here as well, although there was plenty of change right until the end of the process:

COMBINE: {0,2,-1}
-Legitimately Foreign
-Totally Unified
-Meiji-era Japan - IN SPAAACE

LORD CARNAVON*: {2, -1, -1}
-Combat Archaeology
-Too Perfect
-Scraping the Bottom of Someone Else's Barrel

THE LESTER STRAND: {0, -3, -1}
-Ghost Town
-Cattle Barons

TELLOS: {2,1,4}
-"No, no - it's on me"
-Hand-me-down Utopia
-Potlach Society

DESERET: {-1,1,0}
-Don't Tread On Me
-Failed Experiment in Transcendence
-Untapped Potential

NEW EDEN&trade: {-1,3,-2}
-Revolution is Right Around the Corner
-Playground of the Idle Rich
-Going All the Way to Get Your Business

(*Lord Carnavon was called 'Junkyard Prime' most of the way through the creation process, until the table drastically rewrote our interpretation of its stats and it's place in the cluster's history - more on this in the writeup)

The two planets blessed by the Slipstream Guarantee were the fantastically wealthy Tellos system and the sort of raggedy Junkyard Prime. Junkyard Prime was immediately described as being the relict former home of a Transcended faction, and the T2 didn't represent an actual working technological base so much as the organized scavenging of the leftover artifacts of the Transcendants that we came to call "The Fathers." Tellos, the other Slipstream-capable system, was obviously the current center of power in the cluster, with a sustainable technological base that we later decided was also based on the Fathers' old technology, but with more of a capability to produce their own new stuff than the grave-robbers of Junkyard Prime.

Deseret, one might argue, was the seed crystal for the theme which grew to encompass the whole cluster (and even our last minute decision to make Combine an explicit outsider to this theme just seemed to reinforce the theme further). The pseudo-Old West theme its name called out wound up being a major thread of our cluster, growing to influence both the Lester Strand (specifically referenced in its first Aspect, "Ghost Town," and later used as fuel for its internal political situation as "Cattle Barons") and at the very end of the design sequence by helping to push Combine from its original conception as a sort of British Empire/Soviet Ukraine analog (don't ask) into a hard-charging Victorian (and therefore Old West-appropriate) Japan as seen through the lenses of The Difference Engine and Red Sun. The insular hillbillies of Deseret, complete with orbiting atomic platforms as the reskinned shotguns toted by a suspicious homesteader warily greeting some stranger come to his front doorstep, wound up being the hidden repository of the Fathers' biological experimentation. Low birth rate, two- to three-hundred year lifespans, and who knows what other alterations may be hidden in the junk introns of their DNA?

New Eden&trade probably changed the least over the course of the creation process, but it had such a wonderfully perfect and spot-on role from the beginning that all the table could do is refine it a tiny bit. With three garden worlds, the system was pictured as a luxurious resort from the beginning; also present from the beginning was the image of the simmering resentment of an increasingly exploited service-industry underclass. As we started to tie everything in the cluster in with the story of the Fathers, I think we agreed that New Eden&trade's utterly unlikely bounty was the result of early practice in planetary engineering by those Transcended busybodies.

The Lester Strand, mentioned in passing before, was visualized as being a mined-out system, stripped bare by those same busybodies as they went about the process of running up the staircase to godhood. As a crumbling, clapped-out asteroid belt, it tied into both the Western theme as well as our continuing story of how the Fathers altered everything in the cluster. Originally we saw it as being like a Chicago gangland, but actually the day after we did cluster creation Tom G realized that a better note than 30's Chicago was the classic Western trope of the warring Cattle Barons. Stranders barely have enough resources to survive, and as things continue to creak along they're having to trade even some of those scarce resources for the simple necessities of life.

Tellos wound up being the next-to-last place the Fathers were messing around with before their apotheosis, and by now they'd gotten things almost perfect. Packed with resources (probably stripped from the Lester Strand), with a single lovely planet and the technological base to exploit slipstream travel commercially, they're the dilettante overlords of the rest of the cluster. Originally populated by the Refusers (those who didn't want to Transcend), whose descendants make up the moden population, Tellos has an elaborate reputation economy based on humility and generosity. Naturally, this pisses off the hardscrabble inhabitants of virtually everywhere else in the cluster to no end.

Right up until the end of the creation session, we were calling Lord Carnavon "Junkyard Prime." Late in the session, however, the table turned this idea through 180 degrees - rather than being marginally habitable due to ecological collapse, the planet (no longer a junkyard) is actually still in the pristine condition the Fathers left it in. It's just that the degree of perfection the Fathers engineered for their day-to-day lives is toxic to normal humans; not poisonous to the body, but to the psyche. Diggers live in windowless bunkers and drug themselves to sleep. When they go outside to search for usable artifacts they do all they can to insulate themselves from the world with earplugs, nose filters, and visors. From here we moved from talking about it in terms of a junkyard, and more in terms of grave robbery and the Mummy's curse - hence the last-minute rename to Lord Carnavon.

Finally, Combine, which never quite seemed to fit into the rest of the Cluster, got revamped so that it actually never was. Unlike the other five systems, which were basically the Fathers' backyard garden/laboratory, Combine was discovered but never contacted by the Fathers (possibly the slipstream link was one of the Fathers' last grand experiments before they got bored with this universe). We noticed that the other five systems in the cluster were either explicitly balkanized, run by warring coporations, or were mere coalitions of individual groups; so to run counter to this we made Combine a tightly-organized unified world government. We also decided that while the other five worlds in the cluster all descended from the same founding population (and were therefore fairly homogeneous), that Combine's population were part of some totally separate branch of the original human Diaspora that no doubt stabilized into a different 'melting pot' state, and so they look totally different from the rest of the cluster. During the final writeups we even toyed with the idea of making them chiral to the branch of humanity found in the cluster (using right-handed proteins and left-handed sugars), but whether they're that different or not, they certainly view themselves as being different (and better, in their own minds), than the relicts of Fathers' Children.

So again, we had a blast. The cluster creation mini-game is a ton of fun, and a great tool for getting the table to come up with weird stuff you wouldn't get with just one person having to handle world-building. It also does a neat job of encouraging the whole table to be involved with each world, while fuzzing the boundaries a bit so people don't feel like they're the sole and final arbiters of what goes on on 'their world.' Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I noticed we did tend to defer to the 'originator' of each world a lot. We still had fun, and still gave and accepted a lot of input among the table, but I wondered if another step (something like everyone rolls up their planets, then hands those raw rolls to the person on their left, or mandating that at least one aspect per planet come explicitly from another player, or something) might help decrease the ownership issue? Again, this presumes that people find it problematic - I don't think our table found it to be a problem, but I did think on reflection that we were probably a bit more invested in 'our worlds' than the Platonic ideal group would have been.

Thoughts/feedback are of course totally appreciated - while I've got my (tiny) core readership who come for the minis gaming stuff, I'm linking this to the Diaspora mailing list, and if you come here from there feel free to comment, or even just say hello!

EDIT TO ADD: I realize I left out the cluster map - which is fine because I cannot find the app I saw once that would draw them for you, and there's no way I can freehand one. Suffice it to say that we uniformly rolled high for connections, with no world having less than two direct connections (Tellos) and a hub connected to four seperate worlds (Lord Carnavon). I'm trying to recall if we specifically said so or not, but I have a vague memory that we cited this high degree of interconnectedness as another relic of the Fathers' screwing around with T4+ grade science to make their little pocket of lab worlds easier to navigate. If someone could point me to the app I'll happily post the cluster map here!

EDIT #2 - thanks for pointing me to the cluster gen software, Brad! Here's our map: