Just Arrived – Skyward Steel and Darkness Visible

My first ever RPG was Star Frontiers.  And while I’m at it happy 30th Anniversary by the way.  While the bulk of my RPG experience is in fantasy settings, I continue to dabble with Sci-Fi.

Darkness Visible and Skyward Steel

Darkness Visible and Skyward Steel

And at present, the options are glorious.

I’m sure there are plenty more – I’ve got several of the now out of print Alternity books on my gaming bookshelf.

So when a review at GameHead of “Stars without Number” stumbled through my Feedreader, I took notice. I had previously downloaded the free version of “Stars without Number” and was wondering if I should pull the trigger on purchasing the hard copy.

As a side note, I want my gaming material in hard-copy. As physical products I can pull them out, read them, legally lend them, and give them away.

The review, by Ian Williams, pointed out that “Stars without Number” is all about the sandbox style game.  And there were several supplements available for other sandbox style games – namely a naval campaign and an intrigue and espionage campaign.

I was hooked on the idea of sandbox tools for running a naval campaign and an espionage campaign.  So I purchased both “Skyward Steel” and “Darkness Visible“.  I’ve already put an order in to my locally owned book store to get a pricing quote for a physical copy of “Stars without Number.”

Other Reviews

And now for some other endorsements

  • Grognardia – “simple, flexible SF RPG that truly accommodates sandbox play like no other”
  • John Harper’s micro-review – “quite possibly the best sandbox-gaming RPG ever made”

Cluster Creation Diaspora

Mechanic Name: Cluster Creation

System: Diaspora

Summary: A mechanism for randomly creating star systems and defining the faster-than-light travel connections between those star systems.


Diaspora is a hard science-fiction role-playing game that uses the first game session to create the cluster of star systems that will define the setting in which the characters will exist. Each star system is created individually, with each system having three attributes: Technology, Environment, and Resources. The star system attributes are then randomly determined, via 4 Fudge dice, yielding a steep bell-curve from -4 to +4. Based on those attributes, short descriptions (called Aspects) are assigned. Once the attributes and aspects are assigned the star systems are then linked via an randomizer.

The result is a cluster of star systems, most of which will have 2+ connections to other star systems as well as attributes that define the star systems spot in the pecking order.

Why I Like It:

I find the randomization of three core attributes to provide a high-level view of what the culture might very well be like on the world. This, coupled with how a system is connected to other systems, lends itself to a game-world in motion.

A star system with a high technology, low resource attribute will most assuredly be looking to its neighbors to fuel it’s endeavors. A resource rich system that is barely habitable due to a low environmental rating could imply a more distributed culture, akin to the wild west.

One evening, I decided to quickly roll-up a cluster of star systems, and found the ideas flowing as I stared at a handful of numbers representing each star system and the lovely graph that connected them. Of course the Technology 3, Resource -2, Environment 2 system is going to be the bully in the system. After all, the Technology -2, Resource 2, Environment -3 world stood in their way, and were blasted back to the iron age for standing against the strip mining of their resources.

Nuances to Further Explore

In the Cluster Creation rules, Diaspora calls out other kinds of clusters that could be modeled using a different set of custom attributes:

Magic Order Weather Science
Warfare Compassion Barbarians Sorcery
Trade Economics Priesthood Sanity

Use the similar cluster creation rules, defining what each rating means, and suddenly the creative juices are flowing. I used this method to help define a cluster of organizations in a Burning Wheel game (Order, Compassion, and Economics) and I found that it help to crystalize what each organization was about as well as how they naturally interacted.