Diaspora: Gathering Resources

What is Diaspora? It’s a science fiction game, a little less fantastic than Star Trek or Star Wars. Ships still spew reaction mass to travel, it’s a world without transporters and replicators (*probably). The short hand was “Traveler with Fate” — so a modern, less cumbersome system, in a traditional GM & Players role, but without 1970s roleplaying tech.

Basically, it’s useful for a universe somewhat like Firefly with slightly more “realistic” (or just different) ship limitations. In the first session, we’ll generate a cluster of 8-10 or so systems that are close enough for trade and travel. There’s a cool methodology that uses random prompts to encourage us to each create worlds, then link those worlds together with a rough diagram of history, trade connections, etc. Cluster generation is collaborative–we each create the worlds together at the table.

Then we make the characters, who will (probably) become a ship crew that travels between systems. The default idea is that you’ll be independent merchants traveling the black, slipping between systems to turn a profit–but maybe you’ll be explorers, or diplomats trying to defuse the cluster’s crises, or even “archaeologists” exploring the ruins of collapsed cultures. (We might make characters in the same session that we create the cluster–or it might be the second session if we get elaborate with the cluster generation.)

Now that we have the characters and the universe they’ll explore, we’ll launch into play.

Some resources:
Diaspora G+ community
VSCA’s Diaspora page. Which includes the Diaspora SRD, if you’re interested… plus a number of quick references.
Astrobit Diaspora play aids
Diaspora files on BGG
Atomic Rockets, and their common misconceptions page.

2011 Cluster Generation at RPG Meetup
Harmonium Cluster
Labcats play Diaspora
Angels and Omens campaign sessions, campaign setup
A pocket full of star dust

BlueMax Studios, Diaspora

NPCs you’ll meet while traveling
Ship with token
Spacehabs mostly cool pictures of space habitats
Random prompt: Aunt Chelsea’s planet
Colors of Blood Earth chemistry discussions
Cool spaceship illustrations
Simple world building from tectonic plates through wind cells and climate zones
Fate SF
Notes on Engineering Goals of Starship Designers
Planetary map generators

Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

You know what’s great? I remix version of a bunch of great essays that you read at the time, but retold and gathered.

It’s a great book, in a convenient format to press on people who don’t spend a lot of time reading online–or those who don’t have the time to read essays.

It was a fast read for me, probably due to the familiarity in part. There are some surprises, and it’s always interesting to see how she approaches media–both those that I’ve also encountered, but also stuff that I’ve only heard about. Similarly, her articles about Requires Hate feel very different now, instead of in the middle of the internet’s shock and horror.

Sadly, her asides about her grandmother growing up in Vichy France are even more pointed; her ability to deal with and dismiss abuse hurled her way seems too like a minimum qualification for being an outspoken woman on the internet these days.

If you’re interested but want a sample before you commit, her Hugo winning essay is here: We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative. (her blog)

Dead Out by Jon McGoran

A modern day thriller set in Martha’s Vineyard. It sounds like a book 2–there are lots of asides about the tolls of the events of 6 months ago, which makes me think that’s a better starting place.

Our hero’s a cop, hard driven–forced to take vacation time to deal with his stress, but reluctant to do so. His relationships are tricky and fraught; his opposition escalates to violence early–almost implausibly so. There’s a great undercurrent of suspicion and hidden motives; big money makes its play.

It was a fine book–I’d read more by the author, but I’d be sure to read book 1 next. There was too much void in this book, making it feel incomplete without the even more momentous events in book one.

One Jump Ahead by Mark L Van Name

Fast, straightforward and shooty, this is great golden era inspired sci-fi. The gates are alien and weird; the nano-technology is filled with hand waving, but feels limited (particularly by requiring time), while the other technologies feel like reasonable extrapolations–and are completely taken for granted by the locals. The hero is a craft, clandestine survivor–he reminded me a bit of the Stainless Steel Rat.

It’s a fun universe with a lot of “now” aspects carrying forward–Corporations are much like today’s multinationals, just expanded to mutli-planetary. Similarly, despite extensive body modding, gender is basically 20th century, while race has mostly dropped out of description and consideration.

Again, it’s fun and fast–I’ll read the sequels from the library and enthusiastically recommended it to Jennifer.

Species Imperative by Julie E Czerneda

A followup to Survival: Species Imperative, this is the whole trilogy (Survival, Migration, and Regeneration) all under one cover.

The first book, Survival, I discussed in the linked post above. It’s a solid start to the series, with a seriously out of the norm heroine–capable, but uninterested in space, travel, and foreign to conflict.

The second book (Migration) returns less than a year later; Mac’s back on earth preparing for the next crop of grad students and the next salmon run. But she’s different–impatient to hear about offworld activity now that she’s experienced it. There’s a bit of misdirection, kind of a slow speed evasion that’s interesting–and we meet 14, who’s a very interesting character.

That said, this book is slower–in part because it’s the middle book of a trilogy, but also because the second half of the book is basically a scientific conference. It’s interesting to read, but it’s not action packed–it’s definitely something that’d get butchered in a movie, cut down to a series of speech snippets, instead of feeling like an academic conference.

The last book (Regeneration) begins on a tenser note, but that quickly bleeds away. (The excitement has passed over to Nick, but we only get erratic updates on that front.) In the second half of the last book, the aliens are all revealed as truly alien, a scientist and Mac together discover a secret that reveals a new future for the Dhryn, war almost breaks out… it’s a tense end. Still no light sabers or running gunfights–it’s true to a science centered investigation.

Definitely a different approach than most SF&F, treating the science part with honesty as sometimes grindy and never as exciting as a space battle.

Remembering Jim Martin – Vitals and Sports

Vital Stats

Jim was born in May, 1944, in Sacramento where his Dad, William Elmer was training glider pilots for the war effort. After the war, the family settled in Bakersfield; his Dad became a teacher and he got a sister, Mary.

In high school, Jim’s father was named principal for Johnsondale, a lumber town above Porterville. james_d_martin-obit-picture Instead of graduating from such a tiny school, he was sent to Carpinteria High for his senior year, where the thrived

He went to Porterville City College, then to Fresno State, where he graduated with a BA in English.

He married Meredith Lynn Crosby in 1969… during one of Fresno County’s worst floods. He fathered two children, Scott (born in 1973) and Eric (born in 1975). Their first house was on Malsbury, in the Fig Garden Loop. Later, they moved to Sanger, to spare Meredith driving long distances through the winter fog. The lived for a few years on Quality, in a small house backing on fields, then moved into a beautiful house on Jenny that backed on a canal that filled with wild blackberries in the summer.

In 1983 Meredith died from a breast cancer that metastasized, leaving Jim a widower. He raised his sons alone, save for his “19 month mistake,” when he only wished he was raising them alone. They relocated into Fresno from the county, moving into his house on Mesa in 1987, as Eric entered junior high and Scott was a high school freshman.

He retired after 33 years of teaching in 2002. In 2011, Mary Ferchak traveled to California to be his girlfriend and eventual fiancee. After years of health issues, a viral infection killed more than 50% of his heart muscle, sending him to the hospital shortly after Christmas 2012. He spent New Years 2013 in the hospital, but emerged slight of breath thereafter. His stamina never returned; a pacemaker was installed that activated twice in his lifetime.

In 2015, Jim fell into a depressive funk. In January 2016, Mary returned to family in Pittsburgh, while Jim got treatment for his depression and weathered the separation. On September 26th Jim went to the emergency room, where he was swiftly admitted. On the 29th he was moved to the ICU. He never left; on October 3rd he aspirated, his heart stopped, and he couldn’t be revived.


As a kid, Jim rambled the neighborhood, climbing in dry canals and building forts for his army men. (And throwing them in the air with kleenex parachutes and bombs tied to the army men…) He rode widely on his bicycle and hung out with friends in convenient empty lots. One day he was throwing a horseshoe nail he found at a rock… and it bounced back up, piercing his eye, grievously damaging the vision in it for the rest of his life. He laughed about his lack of depth perception as an adult.

In high school, Jim ran in several track events–all the short distances and the triple jump. “I’m a quarter-horse, not a Clydesdale,” he often remarked later. The 440 was as long as he’d run–and that not willingly. He also played football for Bakersfield High… but the campus was huge, so he was on the “D” squad, due to his small size and light weight. In his senior year he transferred to Carpinteria High, where his coach called him “98 pounds of dynamite”! He played as both a defensive end and a running back.

On Friday, at the reception after Jim’s funeral, his friend Brian Husted told a story of Dad’s first day of practice at Carpinteria High. They were doing a goal line drill; Brian was the running back and Dad was on defense. They lined up and Brian charged the hole; Dad accelerated at full speed and slammed into Brian. After they peeled everyone off the pile, Dad’s back was tweaked by the impact, but he crowed when he heard that he’d kept Brian out of the end zone. Thereafter, they had a call and response at parties and other gatherings; Jim would remind everyone that he’d stopped Brian, and Brian would ask him how his back was.

As a teacher, he often coached sports, particularly track and field and flag football. (He had a story about being interviewed and rejected by the Clovis School District. His interview was going well, but came to an abrupt end after he replied that full contact football in elementary grades was bad due to concussive impacts and greenstick fractures.)

Especially early in his career, he’d be out at Saturday track meets throughout the spring. At later schools, when teachers would divvy up the responsibilities (like yard duty, Christmas plays and the like), he’d often coach–football, basketball, and track. (Never baseball–he wasn’t a fan of the slow pace. And being one eyed was a particular challenge for playing baseball.)

I remember playing basketball with Dad and Uncle Gary against me and Eric in front of the Correia house on Iris on holidays. He loved to startle you with a sharp “boo” when you were trying to shoot. He and Gary played against us as a pair of rambunctious teens–even when I had my inches on him and Eric’s athleticism, they could still intimidate us into taking terrible shots instead of laying up.

When I was at Roosevelt with him (for my 5th and 6th grades, 1984-86), he would still jog around the track to keep the pace, and sometimes line up for a play or two in flag football to demonstrate a technique. The teachers would play basketball 3 on 5, sometimes, at lunch recess. Somehow, five were never enough… especially when I was trying to shoot. [As Dad said a few times… I always knew where to be, but could never capitalize on being open. Fortunately, my early height at least let me get gangly arms waving in the teachers’ face…]

He turned out to coach Eric’s under-10 soccer team; he seemed genuinely happy to get out and drill the kids, even after a day of teaching. Unfortunately, Eric and I came down with serious asthma the same season… so he wound up coaching even after his kids could no longer play. (That was the season of Sara, the great mistake, which connects some dots…)

Remembering Jim Martin 1

So, I started writing an “unlimited length” obituary for Dad and found I was writing the exact wrong length for me. I was cutting the long stories down, and what I was writing kept prompting side stories–about Ralph the Wonder Chicken, his love of Greatest American Hero, working at the lumberyard and at Five Points, playing poker for grocery money in college, the story of my first time playing D&D with him and Mr. Reed (as a 1 HP fighter…), there are so many stories that I couldn’t even nod at them and finish anything.

So, I then decided to break his life out of chronology and group it by topic. But life is an interwoven tapestry; some of the things that mattered so much to me were very tied to what he was going through in other facets of his life at the time.

So, rather than aim for perfection, I’ll instead spill words and more words over time. Hopefully it’s therapeutic–or at least a nice structured way to get thoughts from him down while they’re still somewhat fresh.

For other stories and facets of Dad, see the responses on facebook to the news of his death. Even more responses are here.

The short version of his obituary made it into the Fresno Bee and should make it into the Carpinteria Herald. I’ll place it here too, just so link rot doesn’t doom it.

James D Martin died October 3rd at 7:20 am at 72 years old. Graveside services were held October 7th at the Carpinteria Cemetery.

Jim was the son of Irma Viola Crump and William Elmer Martin—and could name several generations further back, if you gave him a brief space to explain. His sister Mary and two adult sons, Eric and Scott, each continue with families of their own. He is predeceased by his wife Meredith.

When Jim was born in Sacramento, grew up in Bakersfield, played football as a running back, and competed in track, both in Bakersfield and for Carpinteria High. From Porterville Community College he transferred to Fresno State, where he earned an English degree and began teaching.

He taught elementary students for 33 years throughout Central Unified—at McKinley, Roosevelt, and Steinbeck elementary schools. He was a mentor teacher with a master’s in education, known for his history simulations and the integration of life skills into ordinary lessons.

A memorial will be held in Fresno on Monday, October 10th at the 3602 W Shaw Marie Callender’s from 4 to 6 pm.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Such a good book, so well written.

The book touches a number of tough topics. Baru is a deviant (at least in the society she chooses), exploited talent in a colonial system, a skilled administrator and accountant–and how easy is it to make accounting sound interesting?

At the heart of it is Baru, who is very engagingly written and someone I was interested in seeing both what she chose to do, and what she’d pay doing it.

The author does a great job of making her viewpoint consistent and engaging; I was a huge fan of Baru, even as a child in a terrible system. The empire she serves feels like a well established empire, successful at recruiting and converting at least some locals to support the system.

It’s engaging and well written; while there is strong closure, I can also imagine a sequel. Whichever way it goes, I’ll pay attention to Seth Dickinson going forward.

Visiting Gatewaycon 2016

Last weekend Jennifer and I drove down to Strategicon. We had a good weekend–not perfect by any means, but a great getaway.

On Friday, we hit a Santa Monica local place for lunch, essentially at random. It was tasty Thai… and I’ll probably never be able to find it again.

We checked into the hotel around 4, got things moved up to the room easily (we didn’t overpack as badly this time), and rested after our ride, before dusting off Pathfinder and checking out our characters. We brought some snacks down, joined Zach, and played some PFS from 8 until past midnight.

Unfortunately, the GM had received the adventure less than 2 hours before the game started and he was new to GMing. He did great though–and it turned out that he’d prepped wisely, by pressing his girlfriend into work as his dungeon drawing assistant while he read the adventure. (She was done before we reached the table–she had a game of her own to play.) Anyway, it was a good experience, though mostly because we got to play with Zach.

Saturday had a lazy beginning–no urgent morning game. Jennifer and I cruised the dealer hall… a little too quickly. The turnout among venders was much worse; basically no one was carrying indie games unless they were demoing their own. Speaking of which, I did get to play an enjoyable abstract–reminiscent of checkers, with movement allowances dictated by a card deck draw. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not one that’d make it to my table. Still, pleasant enough and the game was quick to play.

After lunch with Zach and Jennifer, I grabbed my gear and headed down to run my Dogs in the Vineyard game, Destiny Branch. (It’s the same branch I ran at the minicon–the familiarity from repeated exposure to the NPCs was great.) I had two preregistrations on day 1, which filled the game. (Only half can be reserved online, with the other half available for signup at the con.) At the con, I had +3 signups on paper. Only 2 people, both the preregistrants, actually sat at my table. Fortunately, Dogs is great with a pair.

They tackled it in a very different manner from my June game, in part prompted by the different relationships they selected with the locals. The blight sign (from an overlook of the town) prompted them to ride directly to the farms, where their relations (and a love interest) were. The next morning they talked with the most affected farmer, then rode into town and encountered the obnoxious gold leaf being placed. From there they saw the Steward… and went off to the final confrontation.

It was a solid session; both players were new to the game, but character generation led to interesting characters who really engaged. They’d both heard about it recently and decided to give it a try. Both really enjoyed the dice mechanic, but wondered about drifting the game to another setting (a less problematic one). I talked about how the problematicness was baked right in, intentionally… it was a great discussion.

After the game, I grabbed a quick Cobb salad (thanks to Bryan for putting that in my head–it’s good fuel!) from the hotel Starbucks and headed up to my table to run my fate game, Camp X. Unfortunately, while it also had two signups early in the online preregistration, by the con one had been changed to “badge refunded”. The one player wasn’t joined by any paper signups, so decided not to bother showing up for a game that wouldn’t fire. [I presume.]

After waiting 15 minutes and noting the attendance as zero, I excitedly headed to the (poorly advertised) Games on Demand. When I got there, a sign explained that six games were on offer (mostly GMless favorites, like Microscope, The Quiet Year, and Kingdom).

(Aside) Games on Demand Pros:

  • Games on demand is a great concept, successfully implemented at GenCon, etc.
  • They scheduled the slots to begin 30 minutes after the roleplaying slots–so, if your game was canceled, you always had a backup available.

Games on Demand Cons:

  • Poor advertisement: It got a decent placement, but I hadn’t heard about it at all, and it was only a line in the Con Schedule Book. I don’t know if it was listed online–since “on demand” meant that you don’t signup in advance.
  • At 8:20 pm, one guy was holding the room and didn’t really seem to understand the concept. He wasn’t a player or GM, didn’t point me to the game interest/signup list or anything else.

Anyway, no game fired with only me present and signed up as interested. After 8:30, we both wandered away.

I headed down to the board game area; it was still quite busy. After drifting around the room and awkwardly looking over people’s shoulders, I came to the HQ table, where they kept track of the events on a white board. I noticed that a Captain Sonar 101 (demo) was going to start at 9, which was in just a few minutes. I was present when the organizer arrived and they discussed which tables would be free for use and where we could muster and discuss crews. There were 31 signups; I made 32.

We gathered in the hallway where we could discuss things without having to shout so loudly. Most of the attendees had never played, though a few had played one position. As resident “expert” and enthusiast, I was provided a crew of three other players and an opposing team. Much as when Josh taught us, we went through a few turns… then leaped into real time. My ship took terrific damage from loading up systems, but eventually we cornered our foe and landed a pair of perfect torpedo hits, eeking out a victory.

Unfortunately, we had only one game box, so we all got up and swapped out for the next two crews. Much like previous times, the people who weren’t playing (and random people walking by) clumped up around the game to study and cheer the teams on. After the second match, we had hit “tournament time” (the demo was scheduled for an hour), but with only one box we built a few more crews (I played one more match) and turned the subs loose on each other. All in all, a very fun end to the evening.

I set my alarm so I could get to Pat’s table for his Fate: Pacific Rim game. He had perfect attendance–6 players showed up on time, with one showing up 20 minutes late and having to get turned aside.

It came off incredibly well; he’d prepared a cool soundtrack that ran in the background (with key moments having custom tracks), and a great in media res beginning with a patrol off to rescue a crashed ship… and fight off a wave of Kaiju.

The fight was the densest, most complete Fate fight I’ve experienced. The pair of people working together to manuever a Jaeger made for a great partner to bounce ideas off. We generated a ton of Aspects for our positioning, target systems, our efforts to distract them and more–and needed them, since the Kaiju could take a tremendous beating and ignored minor pokes.

It was a slick, well produced game–clearly a labor of love. We even walked away with cool mini-movie posters featuring our Jaeger: mine was Aurora Bombshell. Don’t mess with Artemis and Athena!

After another Cobb salad, I got to my afternoon Dungeon World game. It was stacked with engaged players; a pair were new to the system, while the guy to my right was a regular GM of the game.

We explored (and slew!) the Everinth, a twisting collection of elements the demon had eaten over time, including whole towers, sewers, natural caverns and much more. It was a weird and sometimes surreal journey to the labyrinth’s heart…

It was a great one-shot. I made a mistake that I often do–picking a less flashy character–but my portly dwarven cleric got plenty of well tailored hooks (and moves) directed at him. There were a number of good moments, including the PCs stretched out along an icy cliff and climbing–only to hear dragon wings as the lead team reached a cave ahead! Poor Drummond clung to the icy wall, but Dagolir went tumbling down to smash into the icy pond below. Fortunately, Slog kept the dragon busy until Cinder Colfang scorched it badly in its protruding rear… which prompted a roar of pain… and Slog’s sword stab through the top of the dragon’s open mouth.

Several other good scenes popped up; the GM had a logic to the connections between the surreal locations that we moved between–eventually discerned–and lots of vivid locations for us to court danger. Plus our bonds threw us together and encouraged conflict in good ways throughout the adventure.

All in all, it was a great night and a cool tale to kick Drummond’s adventures into new motion.

After the session, I caught the close of Mike’s Traveler game, where I was scheduled to join Mike and Pat for dinner. Unfortunately, a mishap left Mike unable to join us, so Pat and I headed out for night of good conversation on the town. It was nice to get away from the con a bit and catch up.

On return to the con, I headed down to board games learn Glory to Rome. It’s an interesting card game; still popular despite not being published for a while. After a half-game during the 101, I joined the tournament that followed. There… I got to see some very effective strategies, though I did luck into a pretty good one myself. After being eliminated, I headed up to sleep.

Monday We slept in late, before checking out and loading up the car. We returned to see Shane’s game being playtested, but got distracted in the hall by a cool Sherlock Holmes game in development. We got a good description, then got to play through a quick game with another curious customer and the friend of the designer who was demoing.

It’s a fun cooperative game with great art. It’s thematic, and has a great mechanism for connecting clues to tie Moriarty to crimes. On the flip side, Moriarty’s deck makes him threatening… but sometimes he’s so scheming far ahead that you don’t have to worry about this turn’s fiendish twist.

Afterwards, we got a chance to see (but were too late to play) Shane’s space merchant game in development. It was in a much earlier phase–still printed pieces without art. It looked interesting but complicated to explain. Gameplay seemed much less complex once you got started only the techs of your specific ship to worry about.

After watching them play for about a half-hour, Jennifer and I hit the road home. We beat the worst of the traffic–there was some stop-and-go after the 405 joined the 5, but it wasn’t that bad. Then over the mountains and the flat road home.

The Secrets of Bone and Blood by Rebecca Alexander

A second book where I didn’t read the first previously; it suffered for it.

There are three major characters who went through a big conflict last book, and now its time to beat themselves up about their efforts and miscalculations along the way.

Edward Kelley gets flashback chapters to renaissance Venice, where he’s a fish out of water, taken by the locals, in the crosshairs of the inquisition, and manipulated by the duchess. It’s well written and interested me in renaissance Venetian politics, wondering what created the deep forces that Edward only perceives the edges of.

Felix begins the story in modern New Orleans, where he’s worried about the consequences of blood sorcery (probably used at the highlight of the previous book). It’s a tense investigation of various blood drinking societies… but it never really feels tense or dangerous. It’s interesting, held at a studied distance.

Jack gets the main chapters, along with her “sister” Sadie. It begins with an almost homey inheritance of an English cottage, with the associated work to tame the overgrown garden and clear out the house where the previous owner died. It’s not that simple… but the threat lays quiet throughout the first half.

As a second book, on the heels of the first, it’d probably work better for pacing. As a stand alone, there are well drawn characters spread out and non-interactive, investigating different topics that we assume are linked. Eventually, they gather, and the conflict becomes a lot more direct.

I’ll have to read The Secrets of Life and Death at some point; without it, the book doesn’t inspire a demand to read on into a sequel.