Diaspora: The Precious Few, Session #2

The session started with a distress call. The Combover, a cheap civilian cargo ship, was in dire shape. It’s crew, Martin and Billy (Jaron and Jeremy) were struggling to keep auxiliary power from failing. Responding to their SOS, in hopes of a good salvage, was the Precious, a T3 civilian prototype (see below), manned by Mason, Timothy, and William (Mike, Matt, and Joe). After a bit of negotiating, Mason and Timothy agreed to help out. Martin stated that the cargo was not worth salvaging, as it was perishable goods. Meanwhile, Timothy was keeping an eye on the radar as others were responding to the distress call; There were two Real New Mexico ships and two Vulcan ships. After a failed scuttle attempt on the laser cannon, Martin and Billy were brought on board the Precious.  Precious’ current Pilot, Alfred (NPC), was horribly ill, Billy assumed the role of pilot. And none too soon…With some careful navigation, Timothy plotted an escape vector, and Billy beat a hasty retreat by being “the best pilot you’ve never heard of”.

Having successfully escaped, Martin removed his helmet, and Timothy drew his slug-thrower saying “You…you ex-XX dealer…You…killed…you.”  The love of Timothy’s life had fallen victim to Martin’s wiles and had died an addict. Billy, never one to miss a fire-fight, drew his pistol;  But after a bit of talking, everyone lowered their weapon, and Timothy fled to his bunk, offering commentary from afar as Mason agreed that Martin’s piloting had saved them.

They were in Real New Mexico, and managed to find one of the outpost stations that will provide refueling with little to no questions asked (not too much of a problem in the wild west that is Real New Mexico). Here, the crew of the Precious learned that the Combover’s cargo was people. While refueling they made sure to leave Alfred amongst the medic/cook of the station; Things were looking grim for poor Alfred. Mason also learned that a scoundrel by the name of Sid was looking to smuggle some weapons into Vulcan. Hungry for work, and to pay off a part of Mason’s debt to his father, the crew accepted the cargo, not without a bit of an argument from Timothy, the broker and accountant of the ship.

The trip out to the slipknot was relatively uneventful, avoiding all possible patrols.  They made the slip, and were immediately hailed by Vulcan system patrol ships. With a bit of luck on the positioning, the Vulcan ships were able to establish the positions, but the Precious proved to be too fast, first out-maneuvering the Aristotle (pushing it off the map) then fleeing the Socrates, but not before sustaining a moderate consequence.

In hindsight, during the first EW phase, I should’ve had the Vulcan ships hail the Precious. It instead broke down into a fire fight. But from a narrative stand-point, I can rationalize it as the Vulcans have a shoot-first policy on unexpected and/or unmarked ships exiting a slipstream. They control the slipstreams and don’t want anything unexpected (A bit of inspiration for this based on The Mote in God’s Eye).

With a wounded ship, they needed to find a T2 port (after all a T3 ship really needs a T2 station for repairs), and with a Culture/Tech roll and a bit of help for being “Well Connected”, they were able to find both the rebel drop point and a station they could discretely use. They made their cargo drop with a massive freighter and then went to the space station.

The exchange was rather subdued, as I wasn’t feeling the narrative at this point. I think, I should’ve pushed back on the player asking him to narrate how he was going to find a T2 station.  In Burning Wheel terms, get the intent and task separated so we can figure out what they want.

After the cargo drop, they travelled to a station hidden in the asteroid field. Here they learned of an outbreak of the same ailment that had taken out Alfred. They were asked by those that were healthy, if they could smuggle the Vulcans out and help them seek medical treatment. With a few compels (“Help the down-trodden” and “Never let the innocent suffer”), William and Mason agreed to transport most of the ill Vulcans to Real New Mexico where they could get better treatment. Meanwhile, as the cargo was being unloaded, and William and Mason were refueling Timothy was “Love Struck” by one of the women of the station who wanted to know more about Precious. Timothy gave her the tour, and after a bit more compelling, even agreed to front the money for a military-grade T2 spaceship; She compelled him with “Timothy Heizerman: Certified Space Accountant” saying that she would even name the ship after him.  And Timothy, in his ridiculous wealth, only took one point of wealth stress.  Now that is someone who was Love Struck.

Going to the slipknot was uneventful due to some careful navigation by Timothy. But the re-entry into Real New Mexico is where the problems started. Given that the ship has a T3 Slipdrive, it is almost impossible to patrol the entire region it can slip from. The same is not true for the arrival in another system.

Immediately, they were dropped into Space Combat, with five ships showing up on radar: T2 Socrates, T2 Kirkegaard, and T2 Hobbes; a T1 Rattler and T1 Chupacabra. Did I mention the system aspects for Real New Mexico are: “Hive of Scum and Villainy”, “They’re headed right for us”, and most importantly “Hate those Vulcans”? Unfortunately for the Precious, they lost in the initial navigation to the Socrates. So the detection order was Kirkegaard, Precious, Hobbes, Socrates, Chupacabra, and the Rattler. And the positioning ended up being something like this:

Shift -4
Shift -3
Shift -2 Kirkegaard
Shift -1
Shift 0 Hobbes & Precious & Rattler
Shift 1
Shift 2 Chupacabra
Shift 3 Socrates
Shift 4

Dear lord was this an engaging fight! The first round saw each team contemplate electronic warfare; There was some communications attempted, but again there was no offer of surrender. This encounter I should’ve had each side petition the Precious for working with them.

Clearly the T2 Vulcans, with the help of Precious, would have made quick work of the outnumbered T1 Real New Mexicans. Instead the first round saw the communication officers hold their fire; No one wanted to engage. The beams phase was a different story, I had the Hobbes compel Billy to fire, because he “Loves the Sound of Gunfire”.  Billy had plenty of Fate points to counter, but I instead decided “FIRE”.

With that the sky lit up as the Socrates, Kirkegaard and Hobbes unloaded on Precious while the Real New Mexicans held back. Precious did manage to hold it’s own for that first round, and saw the military grade engineering keep most of the stress tracks clean. Fate points were flying, as Precious kept getting it’s “Cheeky A.I.” compelled into both refusing to move (no positioning) and refusing to participate in electronic warfare. Eventually, the Real New Mexicans were compelled to join the fate as they “hate those Vulcans.”

Through the V-shift power of the Kirkegaard and the firepower of the Hobbes, the Vulcans had a reasonable handle on the battle. There were moments when it looked like Precious might escape, only to have the Real New Mexicans compel them to stay and help them out. After the Socrates was pushed off the map, the Rattler destroyed, and the Kirkegaard obliterated; the Precious was able to escape.

We had to hastily wrap up the last battle as one of us was running late for work.

Observations

The Fate system takes a bit of getting used to; I needed to be more on my game in regards to offering compels. I also regretted not spending a bit more time thinking about the plot direction, though I did spend some time thinking about the best initial scene to give the players direction. I think I was so eager to get into the Space Combat that I brushed through some possible role-playing encounters. After all, a negotiated space encounter is all the more interesting when everyone is working to position without resorting to a fire-fight.

I also found the Space Conflict to be tremendously engaging. I was a bit concerned about a 6 ship encounter, but as the battle went on I believe we had things under control and mostly understood. The NPC ships were taking bits of damage, but the military grade Engineering is what kept the Precious afloat.

With a bit more preparation, I would’ve handed the responsibility of the Real New Mexicans off to one of the players, especially after they opted to join the fire-fight.

After the session, I posted to RPGGeek to get some additional insight into how FATE points should be expended in space combat. Needless to say, I believe the idea of maneuvers in space combat will truly bring some additional tactical decisions to the fore-front.

And I really need to get in the habit of having the ships identify themselves and asking for identification.

Diaspora military campaign

Diaspora accounts for four primary conflicts:

  • Personal physical combat
  • Spaceship-level combat
  • Platoon-level combat
  • Social combat

Having yet to run a game, I would wager that each conflict works best with between a couple and a dozen or so participants.  Star Wars, Star Trek, and Star Frontiers: Knighthawks were each influences in my formative years. As such, I have a soft-spot, as I’m sure many of the people my age, for a good space battle.

Having played quite a bit of Axis and Allies and other large scale military games, I also find myself interested in the potential for larger military campaigns, ones with large space battles, fleet deployment, strategic maneuvering, and propaganda.

In some ways, I’m musing about how to incorporate and/or use the amazing work Luke Crane did in Burning Empires; He implemented a very important concept of “scene economy” and adapted his Burning Wheel’s Duel of Wits conflict mechanism to address different stages of an insidious invasion.

In looking towards a macro-level conflict sub-system, I believe it needs to address, at a minimum, the following:

  • Information
  • Influence
  • Expiration

Information: The players need to know the current state of the conflict; In an abstract way they need to know how many hit points each side has left and should probably have a sense at which side has the momentum.

Influence: The characters need to have influence over the conflict; The actions they take at the micro-level should bubble up to the macro-conflict.

Expiration: The characters should not have enough time to methodically address everything. No single person, or even small set of people, can possibly always be the “critical path” of a macro-level conflict. Decisions and actions will be made outside the scope of the characters influence.

In the case of Diaspora, modeling the larger conflict would clearly be done with the existing sub-systems, and likely with another sub-system for measuring the macro-conflict. Or, would it make sense to create a handful of social conflicts  that are happening concurrently?  Then again, I want to see spaceships shooting it out. Blockades being run. Ground troops working at securing a critical resource.

So, what is the next step?  I think it is time to re-read my copy of Burning Empires and figure out some next steps.

Planning Diaspora: The Precious Few, Session #2

As my slew of prior posts might indicate, I’ve been spending some time thinking about our upcoming Diaspora campaign…In particular the opening scene. The characters naturally started in two different groups: Billy and Martin are now partners in smuggling, hoping to someday find William to help them clear their name from the wanted list. Mason, William, and Tim are doing their best to avoid “the Man” in their hot T3 prototype ship.

Billy was once tasked with kidnapping William and bring him to New Florida to face trial/questions/employment for cracking New Florida’s cyphers. To complicate the first encounter, Tim had once threatened to kill Martin for getting Tim’s girlfriend hooked on XX. Needless to say the first encounter should be charged. Layered on this is the fact that Dynamic Solutions, a company based on Exxon, wants its T3 ship back…and quietly.

My thought is that the scene will start with Mason’s ship, and skeleton crew, in the middle of it’s response to an S.O.S. being sent from Billy and Martin’s ship. And they aren’t the only ones responding, they just happen to be the first.  The challenge becomes how will they respond to the growing understanding of the situation.

I’ve poured over the Diaspora rulebook, Dresden Files RPG and Spirit of the Century, in particular the amazing section Tips and Tricks of Spirit of the Century. One of the things is thinking about the Pulp Plot Framework:

  1. Endanger the Characters
  2. Reveal the True Danger
  3. The Pursuit Encounters Complications
  4. Certain Doom
  5. The Twist
  6. Final Showdown
  7. Breakneck Escape (Optional)

Obviously the first scene is going to be the Endangerment; Followed by a scene that will reveal the True Danger.  I’m anticipating a handful of directions the first scene might go, and the corresponding True Danger for each path.  Much like a Schrödinger’s Cat if a path is not chosen that path’s True Danger will likely never manifest nor necessarily exist.

I’m also reviewing each character’s aspects (at least those that have given me theirs) and tried to pair them up with other character’s aspects.  I’ve looked at three pairings, and one pairing is complimentary while the other two are contradictory.  This is a track straight out of the Dresden Files RPG.  Establish a reason for them to work together as well as establish points of potential conflict.

T1 System Ships of the Exxon Theocracy

This post includes 3 related spaceships that are part of the Exxon home-system.

  • T1 Apostle Class Hauler
  • T1 Benedict Class Assault Carrier
  • T1 Bishop Class Fighter

The Benedict Class Assault Carrier is a modified version of the old standard Apostle Class Hauler, a long-time staple of the mining operations of Exxon. Even though severely outclassed by the T2 Vulcan spaceships, a Benedict carrier can easily pounce on an enemies miscalculations by launching a swarm of Bishop class fighters.

The Bishop class fighter is always piloted by either religious zealots or those seeking to have the punishment for their transgressions commuted. In either case, only the most capable are given an opportunity to fly a Bishop class.

BEGIN Open Game Content

T1 Apostle Class Hauler

V-shift 1, Beam 1*, Torpedo 0, EW 0, Trade 3
* Effective level 2 with default crew
Frame OOO
Data OOO
Heat OOO
Civilian
Firewall: base defense 2 against electronic warfare
Faith in the Profit
Huge
Cargo hauler
Hide behind the escort
Steers like a cow

T1 Benedict Class Assault Carrier

V-shift 1, Beam 1*, Torpedo 0, EW 0, Trade 3**
* Effective level 2 with default crew
** Reduced to 0 with 3 fighters
Frame OOO
Data OOO
Heat OOO
Vector Randomizer: base defense 2 against beams
Firewall: base defense 2 against electronic warfare
Point Defense: base defense 2 against torpedoes
Carries Fighters: has upto 3 Bishop Class Fighters
Faith is our copilot
Probably a bad idea
Huge
Swarm of fighters
Sure does look like a cargo hauler

T1 Bishop Class Fighter

V-shift 3, Beam 1*, Torpedo 0, EW 0, Trade 0
* Effective level 2 with default crew
Frame O
Data O
Heat OO
Faith is our copilot
END Open Game Content

Pondering a Social Conflict in Diaspora

Given the backgrounds of the Diaspora Campaign’s characters, I decided that the campaign should have the “Always on the Run!” aspect. In it’s early stages, the characters’ ship is being sought after by Dynamic Solutions.  I want there to be a natural progression of the chase; Where are they spotted?  How are assets brought to bear for capturing the ship? How quietly is Dynamic Solutions working at reclaiming their ship?

With inspiration from Brad Murray, one of the creators of Diaspora, I was wondering how I might model the long-term chase.  There are a two directions that I’m kicking around.  The first is pretty much lifting Brad’s Assassination social combat.  The second option is representing different entities and their disposition towards the two parties.  Namely how the “Vulcan military complex”, “Real New Mexico smugglers”, “Church of the Profit” or other such entities would view the T3 prototype.

The first option, aka assassination, keeps the scope tighter and directly related to the two conflicting parties.  The other option, with “pawns” will bring others into the mix rather quickly, and seems, in many ways to run counter to the goal of flying under the radar.

Enter the Dynamic Solutions Reclamation Group; When Dynamic Solutions needs something to go away quietly, they mobilize their Reclamation Group, bringing to bear tremendous wealth, an in-depth knowledge of bureaucracy, and a powerful ability to work from the shadows.

BEGIN Open Game Content

Dynamic Solutions Reclamation Group

Assets 5, Bureaucracy 4, Stealth 4, (Slug Throwers 3, Composure 3, Culture/Tech 3)
Composure: OOO OO
Wealth: OOO OOO
Bring back our quarry
Friends in all the right places
Indiscriminate use of cash
Lurking in the shadows
Outside the law
Ruthless
Thugs in suits
We don’t exist
We’ve got the appropriate papers
You can’t hide from us

A Couple of T2 Intended to Traverse Hostile Regions

As I’ve been thinking about the initial seeds of the campaign, I have pondered how to bring the two logical groups together and get the action going immediately.  At this point, I’m not going to divulge what might happen, but I believe it is clear that spaceships will be involved.

Below are two ships deployed by Vulcan:

  • T2 Kirkegaard Class Armed Courier
  • T2 Hobbes Class Heavy Cruiser

Given Vulcan’s relatively isolated nature, and the fact their only neighbor really hates them, it seems natural that Vulcan only deploys Military-Grade ships.  Both of these ships have the Aspect Stay out of enemy hands; reinforcing the idea that Vulcan seeks to maintain it’s Technological superiority.

BEGIN Open Game Content

T2 Kirkegaard Class Armed Courier Ship

V-shift 4, Beams 2, Torpedo 0, EW 0, Trade 2
Hull OO
Data OO
Heat OOO OOO
Point Defense: base defense 2 against torpedoes
Firewall: base defense 2 against electronic warfare
Slipdrive: can traverse slipstreams.
The mail must get through
Fragile
Stay out of enemy hands
Desperate burn to escape
Low on r-mass

T2 Hobbes Class Heavy Cruiser

V-shift 3, Beams 3, Torpedo 3, EW 3, Trade 0
Hull OOOO
Data OOO
Heat OOO
Slipdrive: can traverse slipstream
High Capacity Magaizine: Torpedo does not get the automatic “Out of ammo” aspect.
Built to last
Stay out of enemy hands
Loaded with weapons
Standing in the line of fire
Nasty, brutish, and short

Two T1 Diaspora Spaceships

On the heels of my previous post concerning a handful of system ships, here are two mainstays of the Real New Mexico fleet.

  • T1 Rattler Class Comm Defense Platform
  • T1 Chupacabra Class Interceptor

Each of these ships are system bound, and are a reasonable defense against any Vulcan incursions.  Each of these ships of the Real New Mexico navy share the common aspect “Call us Procurement Specialists”; paying homage to Real New Mexico’s “Hive of Scum and Villainy”

BEGIN Open Game Content

T1 Rattler Class Comm Defense Platform

V-shift 3, Beam 0, Torpedo 0, EW 3, Trade 0
Frame OO
Data OOO
Heat OOO
Vector Randomizer: base defense 2 against beams
Point Defense: base defense 2 against torpedoes
Antenna everywhere
Call us “procurement specialists”
Fragile
This snake has teeth
Making trouble from afar

T1 Chupacabra Class Interceptor

V-shift 3, Beam 1*, Torpedo 1*, EW 1*, Trade 0
* Effective level 2 with default crew
Frame OOO O
Data OOO
Heat OOO O
Boarding party
Call us “procurement specialists”
Out of ammo
Protecting the homeland
We’ve made a few custom modifications
END Open Game Content