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Thoughts on Diaspora RPG and Collaborative World-Building.

Picked up VSCA publishing’s Diaspora the other day. Diaspora is a hard-sf game tool-kit using the FATE rules system, with an emphasis on collaborative world-building and shared authorship. from the introduction …

Diaspora is written deliberately to be a tool kit. We provide a setting but we encourage you not to use it. We want you to build your own. Instead, we provide a set of axioms about the universe and make some hand-wavey statements about humanity’s place in it. And then we give you the tools

We give you tools to create a cluster of worlds in which to adventure. We give you ways to generate and describe the worlds and their connections as full-table exercise rather than the more typical GM-only mini-game. We give you tools to describe characters that are organic to the cluster you just created and have intrinsic connections to the characters the other player will create. We give you an arsenal of weapons from which to choose, and for those inclined, we give a system to generate more.

In the introduction they list Traveller as a major influence. Indeed traveller’s host of design systems, character, sector, spaceship, creature design system’s is one of its great strength’s. Tinkering with the design systems captures part of the enjoyment of a roleplaying, imagining and exploring other worlds, other environments. Something that has traditionally reserved to the GM role.

They then mention Universalis, Burning Wheel, as major influences, games which featured the democratization of the various game roles and creative authority.

Thus Diaspora provides a Hard SF version of much of what I want to accomplish with Oneirkos: Chronicles of the Eternal Cycle.


Diaspora play starts with a ‘Genesis session’ in which each player is given at least one ‘system’ to design. Note the mention of each player, in the genesis session, all players are given roughly equal authority. One player takes on the role of the ‘caller’, who moderates the design process.

So each player records his world info, first generating 3 attributes for the world. Technology, Environment, and Resources. (the default method is random generation, using the fudge die range of –4 to +4)

Technology measures overall tech level of the system, with the focus on level of space-travel tech. Environment represents the habitability of the worlds in the system. Last, Resources represents what valuable resources exist within the system, and whether the system is self-sustaining.

The system is a given a name, and then two ‘aspects’ are created for the system, with input from the rest of the players. These aspects could relate to politics, philosophy, geography, hydrography, local astrography, or history, etc.  Aspects represent narrative hooks and points of interest and are not obvious from the attributes. (Traveller has more detailed planetary generation, with attributes for gravity, geography, politics, etc. These are shuttled into Aspects under the Diaspora system.  This world attribute generation system is a design pattern I will be using in Oneirokos as well. Mystic Empyrean uses an 7 attribute world design sequence. The pattern can also be found in the Axiom’s of Torg, and Multiverser’s Bias)

The individual system are then linked together in clusters. These clusters are related by the slipstream FTL technology, but are not connected by simple logical spatial distances, some worlds of a cluster could have no idea where they are located in space to others. Finally, a 3rd aspect applied to each world to represent it’s status in the ‘geo-political’ state of the cluster.


The second part of the Genesis session is character creation. Here, Diaspora recasts’ Traveller’s multi-term life-path system from an individual mini-game into a troupe-based exercise. All of the player’s make at least one character, including any nominal referee using a 5 phase background generation process. (growing up, starting out, moment of crisis, sidetracked, on your own.) As part of phase 3 and 4, each player incorporates the character of the player to his right into his character’s story. With that character’s story being retold from his perspective in phase 4.

In each phase, players define 2 aspect for their character’s. Where aspects are major elements of the character, be they attitude’s, goals, history, archetypes, etc. These are Aspects ala the FATE ruleset. That can be used both for and against the character during play. Another element of loose character coupling in the game. In addition to Aspects, you define Skills (15 total using a pyramid or 1/2/3/4 from highest ability to least), stress tracks and Stunts.

One interesting homage to Traveller is that there is no overt character advancement, character’s simply change focus, with new skills becoming more advanced, while other’s degrade or are replaced.


Overall, Diaspora is a very good system (even if I’m not in love with FATE system) Though it feels a bit under-crunchy too me, even though it is very system-heavy. the core mechanics are rules medium and it plays very loose/free-form imo.

Most important however, is its use of collaborative world-building and engaging all of the players in use of the design systems. By encouraging loose coupling of character’s, and a troupe focus, it makes the game ‘universe’ a major character shared by all the players.

The exploration of this character is further enhanced by the addition of the design systems and mini-games. Diaspora endorses the fun of design tinkering and world exploration by highlighting the value and fun of simple mini-game action. To see the ‘cool bit’s’ of the game universe in action.

It also provides for more grand storytelling options by use of the space and platoon combat systems, as well as the extended social combat system example in which they discuss waging a political campaign to abolish slave-ownership within a cluster. I plan to make this sort of grand story-telling and large-scale gaming a feature of O:COTEC as well. It will be influenced by Aria’s interactive history, as well by the more nuts and bolts methods as present in Burning Empires.

So, I really like Diaspora, it is definitely at the forefront of collaborative world-building focused RPG design, and it has charted a lot of the territory I am going to cover with my game. Next I will be looking at Mystic Empyrean, which is another solid system, it features a very cool meta-setting concept that drives it’s world creation.



1 thought on “Thoughts on Diaspora RPG and Collaborative World-Building.”

  1. Hey this is great stuff, and not just because you’re so nice to us at the VSCA. 😀 Very happy you’re inspired by our work and I can’t wait to hear more about what you do with it!

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