I tell you, I don’t know why I bother prepping.
Last night was the only Wednesday in February where I could wrangle the Diaspora participants into the same location at the same time (which is an improvement; it had originally looked as though it would be April before we could play with the Cluster and characters we made up in January), and I’ve been reading, watching, and playing a LOT of sci fi lately, so it’s fair to say I was a little stoked and ready to go.
I’m not really much for prep work, but Diaspora has really gotten me revved up, and I’ve been all about doing Cool Hard Science research and reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading the rulebook to make sure I’ve got things worked out in my head. It seems like the first couple sessions involve learning the game systems anyway, so I wanted to make sure I understood them.
And I came up with names and extremely wispy backstory for the NPC crew of the ship.
And… I prepped a little.
That last thing? I needn’t have bothered.
So here’s what I did. I wanted to start the game off with a completely vanilla, Traveler-esque scenario. Not ground-breaking, but it would let me slowly introduce the mini-games inside diaspora, and establish the “norm” for the setting so that we could then riff off it.
I was a little flummoxed by all the possible options I had, though, so I poked around Abulafia and found a wonderful little “Traveller [sic] Mission Generator” that I hit refresh on a couple times until I found something fun and simple to start with.
- Courier hires the party to transport goods.
- The mission targets Asteroid Base.
- Their efforts are opposed by foreign government.
Right, a fine start. I took that came up with:
The crew of the Tempest is on Unity Orbital Station in the Orpheus System, and has picked up a contract to ship mining equipment to the Dauphine System (specifically, to Sebastus, an icy, distant moon orbiting Dauphine itself). The source of this material is The Ladder, an Orphean research group, represented in this deal by Amalie Silas, and the recipient in Dauphine is group of politically progressive nobles who haven’t yet given up on the stars. The director of the base is one Denys Benois.
Getting the equipment to Dauphine is complicated due to the fact that the fast, quick route to Dauphine is through Caliban who (a) polices their slip-points (b) doesn’t want Dauphine getting better at utilizing their resources and (c) is hunting for most if not all of the PC characters for different reasons, so they either need to risk it, or take a longer, potentially more costly route.
I went for a ship-based mission right off the bat because when I looked at the characters we’d come up with, everyone had some kind of ship-based combat skill somewhere in their top teirs, and there was no other kind of activity (such as social conflict, personal conflict, et cetera) that was so universally present).
“Play to their strengths for this first session,” I thought.
Anyway, having worked out the basic plan, I crawled through the book and nailed down exactly what rules I wanted to hit.
This was just to introduce this idea to the players. It was a pretty easy check to make (basic maintenance, upkeep-level repairs, refueling, etc), complicated just a little bit, due to the crew not actually working at making any kind of profit recently.
Setting up the job
Which I figured might involve a little roleplay and maybe a brokerage roll.
The trip could take as little as 13 days, but could run 52 days (or more), and I wanted to make sure I knew the options well enough to be able to handle all the possible permutations the players might try to pull off.
Ship to Ship combat
Because obviously, there has to be some of that. For this, I grabbed and tweaked some of the pregenned ships from the book. (The pirate ship with the “Bowls of Fresh Fruit” aspect and a captain who’s apex skill is “Profession: Spokesmodel? Sold!) Pretty soon, I had a trio of privateer/wildcatter ships: The Ingenue, the small-but-heavily-armed Queen Maab, and the modular, ore-hauling Keepdown Krab.
The session opens with most of the PCs on the bridge of The Tempest. Before them, a azure-tinted holographic representation of three ships floats in the air. Over the comms, a voice says:
“Tempest, this it The Ingenue. Come to and prepare to be boarded. I repeat: come about and prepare to be boarded.”
Everyone looks at Captain Miranda.
Captain Miranda: “Ummmmm….”
We get a black screen with the words, “21 days earlier…”
We see the crew of the Tempest debarking, eager for a few days “shore” leave on Unity Orbital Station. As they file past, Captain Mirana “Drake” is charging their cred sticks with their pay and reminding them to be back on the ship in 45 hours. Kaetlyn, Phyll, and “Iago” (Titus Belliago) linger in the background.
As the last of the ‘lesser’ crew file down the docking port, Kaetlyn steps around in front of Miranda, hands her her cred stick and says “running low on funds yet?”
“Not yet,” Miranda’s voice is calm, but she’s clearly a little tense — since buying the ship and fleeing with the barest of skeleton crews, they’ve been hoping from system to system, filling the roster but taking on no jobs until she knew that she hadn’t been spotted by her relatives on Prospero Station. “We’ll have work lined up by the end of the day.”
“It’s a good place for it,” comments ‘Iago’. He looks around. “However, it’s possible I might not be the most welcome person here, so I think I’ll… stay on the ship.” He heads back into the Tempest without bothering to get his pay stick charged. “Good luck. Take someone with you.”
Miranda nodded. “I’d like to, actually.”
Phyll, always helpful, says “I can come along.”
Kaetlyn glowers at him.
“What?” He thinks. “You can come along too.”
“Well, I guess I have to, don’t I?”
“Oh…” he thinks some more. “Weren’t you going to go shopping?”
The glower acquires additional glower. “Well not now.”
The meeting with the Ladder rep is at a sort of “rent a meeting room” facility on the station. Amalie Silas is refreshingly open and straightforward about the job; they want to hire the Tempest because it’s a Caliban-designed ship whose captain did not enter into an “indenture” relationship to afford it — this means it will be unremarkable in Caliban space, but the crew will not beholden to Caliban in anyway. This is desirable, because they are shipping deep space mining gear to Dauphine, and as Caliban routinely sends wildcatter/privateers into that system for resources, they would NOT like this shipment being made.
The pay is good (Silas is paying for the longer, four-jump route, but points out that they can jump right through Caliban’s system if they want to risk it, drastically shortening the trip and probably reaping a tidy profit… if they don’t run afoul Caliban’s slippoint station “refuel enforcement”.
Miranda negotiates a bit, and gets Silas to put an additional 2-day pro-rated bonus on top of the standard payment if Miranda calls her crew back from shore leave immediately and sets out today. Kaetlyn storms out, her dreams of shop(lift)ing shattered.
The cargo bay of the Tempest is stuffed full of crates and hard-to-package mining equipment, to the point where Iago comments they’re going to need to grease the ceiling to get the last two crates on. Everyone piles back aboard, their griping nicely muted by the fat pro-rate bonus the captain hands them as they return.
They set out for the six-day burn toward Orpheus’s “northern” slip point, and the command staff meets in the CIC to discuss the route they’ll take.
No one really wants to get into specifics about why certain systems should be avoided, so some of the reasons given are a bit vague, but the upshot is that Miranda, who’s “A bit Rusty” [aspect] doesn’t like their chances of slipping to Caliban, reorienting, reacquiring the slip point, and slipping out again before they’re intercepted by “escort boats” that will “forcibly invite” them to stop and refuel at the slip point station maintained (at great expense) at Caliban’s heavily-used slip points. While it sounds good in theory, in practice almost no one in the CIC wants to set foot on that station.
With all that said, they settle on a jump path of Orpheus -> Achilles -> Lear -> Shylock -> Dauphine, with a maintenance stop planned at Shylock’s “tourist moon” of Nasira.
Business proceeds as normal up to the first jump (except for Phyll, who takes whatever opportunity he can to sneak into the cargo bay and poke through all the “really interesting” mining equipment).
Once at the slip point, Miranda makes her calculations, Iago and Phyll initiate the jump, and The Tempest arrives at the Achilles slip point, cooling panels already deploying to shed excess heat while they calculate the next jump. They picked up a lot of momentum on the slip, and it takes them almost five hours to get the ship back to optimal slip range. Miranda silently notes that if that slip had been into Caliban space, there’s no way they’d have gotten out before being intercepted.
In the lull, Iago leaves the helm in (NPC) Keen’s hands and heads to the galley to start putting together the day’s main “together” meal. Many on board think he enjoys his role as cook more than that of pilot. They might not be wrong.
While doing so, Iago comms Phyll, asking him to come from engineering and help out. Ariel (the ship’s V.I.) informs him that Phyll is actually in the cargo bay. Iago deduces what Phyll’s up to and tells him to leave all the stuff there.
Food prep is made, Phyll natters on about how cool and infinitely modular the so-called mining equipment is (“You could make anything out of this stuff: plasma drills, yes, but also station defense systems, ship’s guns, automated laser platforms…”), and Miranda decides to do a little research into The Ladder.
What everyone learns from this is:
- The Ladder is more R&D than manufacturing, and has a reputation (and notoriety) for providing advanced tech to “underdogs” throughout the Cluster, turning a profit, yes, but also following the credo encoded within their corporate logo: “Technology is the Great Equalizer.” (Like guns in the old west, right?)
- Dauphine doesn’t really “do” tech and space exploration. Whoever’s doing all this is a minority in Dauphine.
- NO one from Caliban will like ANYTHING Dauphine could make out of the equipment in their cargo hold.
The slip into Lear is nearly perfect: it takes the crew less than 15 minutes to reorient and slip out of the system: barely enough time to disperse heat and do the calculations. Everyone is happy about this, because Lear is a shithole.
The next jump takes them to Shylock. Reorientation is quick; Iago and Miranda get the ship on a course headed in-system, leave Ariel flying things, and head down for a Big Meal.
All eleven crew members are there, chatting about whatever comes up — talk is playfully steered by Iago to the topic of getting a hot tub installed for “crew comfort,” but Miranda quells that notion before the main course even comes out. Denied that, the crew starts speculating about the cargo, with Phyll talking about all the wonderful, destructive things one could make from the components. The talk gets turned around a little bit, and somehow returns to some speculation about a mining-laser-heated hot tub, at which point in time Miranda excuses herself and returns to the bridge.
Ariel: “Anything I can do, Captain?”
Miranda: “I’m fine.”
Ariel: “You seem… tense. Perhaps a game of chess?”
Miranda: “No…” (pause) “Load up C’tan.”
Ariel: “Yes, Captain. [pause] would you like the standard automated opponents?”
Miranda: “Two of them, yes. On Expert.”
Ariel: [dejected] “Yes, Captain.”
Miranda: [vaguely amused] “Would you like to play as well?”
Ariel: “May I?”
Miranda: “Certainly. Load scenario 23-B, with the random forest fires.”
Ariel: “Oh. My favorite…”
… and so they passed the flight.
[[I am slowly statting out Ariel-the-V.I.; one of her Aspects is totally going to be “Do you want to play a game?”]]
Their efforts are opposed by foreign government
The trip into and out of Shylock was relatively uneventful — the wear and tear from consecutive slips without maintenance was negligible, and the slip into Dauphine was, if anything, better than the Lear slip.
No sooner had they gotten reoriented, however, than Ariel announce multiple inbound contacts.
Before them, a azure-tinted holographic representation of three ships floats in the air. Over the comms, a voice says:
“Tempest, this it The Ingenue. Come to and prepare to be boarded. I repeat: come about and prepare to be boarded.”
Everyone looks at Captain Miranda.
Captain Miranda: “Ummmmm….”
Diaspora has a rule where anyone can spend a Fate point and declare something about the setting, as long as it pertains to their apex skill. Miranda’s apex skill is Brokerage (with a related “military grade” stunt that means she’s expert in the trading of goods in markets black or white); before she bought the ship, she advised hundreds of ship’s captains about the kinds of jobs to take and the kinds of upgrades to makes.
Kate spent a Fate point, announced that she knew the captain of the Ingenue and barked. “Jorge? Is that you? What are you doing and why are you in my way?”
I had her make a roll to see how well she knew Jorge and the Ingenue, and Kate rolled huge numbers, so I pretty much gave her everything I had on the ship:
“The Ingénue”, T2 Civilian Pirate
* Rotating license plates
* Glory-hungry pirates
* Camel of space (long time between refills and repairs)
* Friendly and approachable
* Big bowls of fresh fruit
Captain [Jorge] Demont
Profession: Spokesmodel 3; Resolve 2, Alertness 2; Charm 1, Slug Thrower 1, Intimidation 1
During the ensuing exchange, I also gave him aspects…
* I didn’t want to be a pirate
* Pretty and vain
* “I do love citrus…”
I had it all set up so that we’d be fighting these guys, plus:
* Defending our weak friends
* Little room for cargo
* A monkey could fly this thing
* Gets pretty hot in here
* Out of ammo
“Keepdown Krab”, T2 Modular Cargo Hauler
* All cargo is expendable
* Save our skins
* Unexpected burst of speed
* Plenty more space back there
* Can’t make money dead
… who wasn’t really interested in the fight; she had a full load of Dauphine ore and was ready to jump out of the system and screw the “bonus” promised by some mystery man who wanted them to empty the Tempest’s cargo hold.
But no fight was in the offing. Through a series of rolls, the crew convinced Captain Demont to come aboard and “inspect the cargo hold personally”, and I shucked the the Space Combat set up and starting setting up for a Social Combat (which I hadn’t prepped at all.)
Here are my notes… some of which won’t make sense if you haven’t played the game, but luckily the system for the conflict conveys events of real weight into the actual story of the session, so “what happens” is just as clear as “how”.
- I started with a basic kind of ‘v-shaped’ map, like the one presented for the ‘romance’ social combat in the book, so… seven zones in length. On one end of the map was the “Fight” zone, and on the other was “Flight”.
- With seven zones, the conflict was given seven turns to resolve. Each box represented an hour of real time.
- If, at the end of a turn, all the remaining pirate ships were in the Fight box, they’d decide to fight. Or leave, if they were all together in the Flight box.
- All the players got a chance to act in each turn, but they were represented on the board by a single “Tempest” marker which started at the bend in the “V”.
- The Ingenue was also at the bend in the V.
- The Queen Maab was halfway between the center and “Fight”.
- The Keepdown Krab was one square away from “Flight” at the start.
- The order of actions was Miranda -> Ingenue -> Tim -> Maab’s captain -> Chris -> Krab’s captain.
Miranda started off by receiving the captain of the Ingenue in the CIC, having Iago serve him a nice pina colada, and basically promising him a big payoff if he went back and told the other ships that the cargo bay didn’t have what they were looking for in it.
A big payoff. Big. HUGE. She tapped the amount out on a pad and showed it to him. He was very impressed.
[In game terms, Miranda used Assets to erect a “barrier” between the zone that she and the captain were in and the next zone closer to “fight”. It was a BIG barrier, because she nailed the roll and tagged her Liquid Assets aspect and… some aspect on the ship, I think, maybe. At any rate, the barrier had a pass value of SEVEN. Bam.]
The talk was very pleasant, except for Dumont mentioning that the captain of the Maab seemed very motivated to fight her, and seemed to know something about why she’d be out here flying an independent trader… such talk made Miranda nervous.
[Dumont used… I think Spokesmodel or intimidate… or maybe one augmented by the other to smoothly lay down a veiled threat on Miranda — a composure attack. The roll was good, and Miranda took two hits to her Composure track and mitigated the rest of the damage with a Minor (taggable) Consequence “Delgado might remember who I really am.”]
Dumont returned to his ship with a lot to think over. As he departed, Iago revealed that he’d fed the captain a bugging device in the fruit in his drink.
[Tim did a Maneuver to put the Aspect “Bugged” on the captain. I believe he might have tagged the Captain’s “I do love Citrus” to make the roll.]
Once Dumont was back on his ship, Delgado opened a tight-beam comm with him to find out what was going on and to try to get the two captains on the same page about what they were really here to do. The crew of the tempest listened in via the Bug as Delgado tried to browbeat Dumont into taking action “as they paid us to do”, and Dumont played dumb and stonewalled, clearly (to Miranda) more motivated by the fat payoff she’d promised than by Delgado’s threat.
[Delgado tried to ‘get close’ to Dumont by taking a move action, using Intimidate, but the barrier Miranda erected was too high, and I rolled absolute crap — Delgado was only able to erode the barrier from a 7 to a 6, and still hadn’t gotten close to Dumont in any viable way.]
Phyll, listening to this conversation, decided that the captain of the Maab needed a lesson in caution. He headed down to the cargo bay and, working with Ariel, activated all the “mining” power sources stored in the bay, calibrating their output signature to mesh with the power plant of The Tempest — specifically with the power source for the ship’s guns. Ariel, a V.I. installed on a privateer vessel, was disturbingly competent at this kind of electronic subterfuge. When he hit the switch, the Maab read the resultant spike as though the Tempest had, approximately, a Frigate’s worth of firepower behind their beam weapons.
[Chris performed a composure attack on the captain of the Maab, rolling Engineering and tagging the Tempest’s “A most Delicate Monster” aspect (which refers to Ariel) for the boost that got him the shifts he needed to fill in some boxes in on the Composure track.]
The captain of the Krab made it clear to both her allies that if they fought, she was leaving without them, and reminded Delgado that he was there to protect her ship, and that You Can’t Make Money Dead.
[The captain of the Krab made a move self action to enter into the Flight box. Basically, she was an ally for the PCs in this fight.]
ONE HOUR UP. TIME FOR ROUND TWO.
Miranda reopened comms to the captain of the Ingenue, but “accidentally” left it on an open channel, and said something like:
“You know, since we have you here, I just thought of something — there’s a job I had to turn down, very lucrative, but we didn’t have the cargo space for it. I’m friends with the client, though, and he asked me for recommendations when I turned him down. Would you lot be interested?”
[This was a Brokerage roll, and we debated whether to put an aspect on someone or something, but we instead settled on doing a “move another” action, which moved the Captain most of the way toward Flight. He wasn’t QUITE convinced, though.]
I think the Captain replied with a tight-beam message he just got from Delgado, talking about reporting her “real identity” to Caliban. Maybe? Maybe.
[In any case, this was a compel on Miranda’s “Pirate’s Daughter” aspect, inducing her to panic, and Kate denied the compel, paying me a Fate point.]
[edited to fix] Tim’s attack wasn’t even an action his part. As Dumont sat on his ship, thinking things over and toying with the little umbrella from the drink Iago had served him, he noticed a sizable diamond earring pinned to the inside of the thing. An extra little bribe.
[This was, I think, a Charm check to move the Captain the last space into “Flight.” It worked, once Tim tagged the Captain’s “Pretty and Vain” aspect for a bonus. [edited to add] Tim was really tickled that his attack could easily be described as someone ELSE doing something.]
Delgado beamed a private message to Miranda, which she took in her ready room. It was a text message that basically said “I know who you are, and the Lafite familiy will be so relieved…”
[This was NOT a composure attack — it was an attempt to Move Another — Delgado was trying to move Miranda into the Fight box! I rolled A BIG number, and moved the Tempest crew entirely through the 6 Barrier, thus removing it.]
Miranda stormed out of her cabin and straight for the the gunnery stations.
Meanwhile, Phyll wasn’t done with the Maab. He ran an analysis of the other ship, and sent the captain a quick visual image of the Maab’s schematics, with all the weak points on the ship highlighted. The “caption” to the image was “proceed with caution”.
[Chris got a big hit on this with… I’m not sure what he rolled. I hope it wasn’t engineering, because you can’t roll the same skill twice, but I might have missed it. He tagged the Maab’s “Gets a little hot in here” as well, to indicate on the map how vulnerable the ship was to beam weapons. I mitigated the damage with a Minor Consequence (second thoughts) and Severe Consequence (“The crew of the Tempest is just… too good.”)]
I don’t remember what the Krab did at this point.
END OF ROUND TWO. TWO HOURS IN-GAME, DONE.
… and the conflict was almost over, too.
Miranda stormed onto the gunnery deck, pulled Anjela out of her seat, dropped in, activated every weapon within the Tempest’s considerable arsenal…
… and targeted all the weak points Phyll had just pointed out.
[Composure Attack, using Gunnery (well, Navigation with a stunt to let it sub in for Gunner, but whatever), free-tagging the Severe Consequence Phyll had just put on the captain, and Taking him Out. This gave Kate the ability to decide what happened to the captain — we decided he completely lost his nerve at this point, and would flee the scene, go into dry dock, and eventually sell his ship at a loss and take up farming on Achilles. He. Was. Done.]
And with that, the conflict was over. The ships parted ways…
[Miranda tagged her Liquid Assest aspect to hit a level 5 Assets check and wired a LARGE payment to Dumont, as promised (she has an aspect of “Respect, Not Fear”, so she keeps her promises).]
And the Tempest turned in-system, ready to deliver their shipment.