I assume most of my readers come from the Diaspora community on Google+ but as I publish this blog out on the web for anybody to find, I imagine the demographics will include more and more outsiders.
This post is for the benefit of people who have no idea what I mean when I say slipstream or T2 and are just here for the generic sci-fi stuff.
What does Diaspora mean?
- Noun, scattering across.
+ The dispersion of any people from their original homeland.
+ The people so dispersed.
Diaspora is a hard sci-fi tabletop role playing game made by VSCA Publishing. It is powered by FATE, but uses an earlier version of the rules and there are several minor differences between it and FATE core. I might make a conversion, someday but I digress.
For people more interested in story than dice mechanics, Diaspora takes place in a universe where humanity is scattered across several planets in isolated solar systems connected only by a mysterious network of navigable wormholes called the slipstream. These solar systems are collectively known as The Cluster and humanity has been living here long enough that the civilizations of each planet have risen and fallen many times and occupy stages of technological development all the way from stone age hunter gatherer tribes, to post singularity techno-wizards, and everything in between.
The origins of humanity and the slipknot are deliberately ambiguous. It us unknown weather humanity is a species that evolved separately in each system, and merged together through interbreeding, or a species that evolved on a single planet and spread across the cluster after discovering Slipstream travel for the first time. None of the planets are likely to be earth, at least not as we know it. This story could take place millions of years in the future after a human civilization colonized the stars before collapsing, or like star wars, A long time ago in a galaxy far far away.
Because much of Diaspora is deliberately ambiguous, there are few concrete facts about the cluster. At the start of each campaign the players randomly generate their cluster and it’s planets, and decide how everything fits together. Perhaps each game is a parallel universe? Or perhaps all these clusters used to be part of a greater super-cluster and have since been separated? Maybe all and none of these answers are true, and the clusters hang like jewels on Indra’s net. It’s up to us to decide.
What’s hard sci-fi?
Hard sci-fi is science fiction which obeys the laws of physics aside from a few gimmicks such as faster than light travel. Hard sci-fi is often contrasted with space opera, where space travel is simply a backdrop for the story and science takes a backseat to storytelling. Diaspora tries to strike a balance between two extremes by limiting any ‘magical’ or ‘pseudo-scientific’ elements to the slipstream, and exotic T4 technology.
This means that Interplanetary spacecraft are vast spindly creations assembled in orbit, with either large tanks or large radiators to keep their powerful engines fueled and cooled. Ships designed to land on planets, resembling either large aircraft or retro style rockets, are called Interface vehicles, and serve as auxiliary craft serving the much larger interplanetary ships.
Faster than light travel is only accomplished with the use of slipstream drives, and the only method of communicating faster than light, is to send a messenger ship to the next system.
The core book implies that Bio-tech and Artificial Intelligence are only possible at T4, but I and most players tend to ignore that rule. It also discourages but does not prohibit the existence of alien life-forms as playable characters.
What does T4 mean?
Probably the biggest piece of Game jargon that shows up in my writing is Diaspra’s T level system. Civilizations in Diaspora are rated on an 9 point scale ranging from T-4 (Primitive) to T4 (Post singularity) with T0 representing 21st century earth. Diaspora is mostly a hard sci-fi game with a few exceptions. Technology obeys the known laws of physics except for the Slipstream (invented in T2) up until T4 when technology starts to look like magic.
Tech levels are generated by rolling 4df to generate a result between +4 and -4 with 0 as the most common result. Although this system can sometimes leave a lot to be desired (Why is a period marked by rapid change and instability the most common? Why are the hunter gatherer societies that lasted for over 2 million years in real life so rare?) it makes sense in the context of the Cluster.
The Tech levels are as follows.
- Stone Age. Hunter gatherer societies, or possibly no intelligent life at all. Because of the collapse cycle, this is usually a planet which has very recently suffered from a societal Collapse.
- Metallurgy. The Classical era through the Middle ages on earth. In Diaspora this typically implies an isolated or backwater planet that is rarely visited by space travelers. Or a planet slowly rebuilding it’s civilization from scratch.
- Industrialization. the Enlightenment up until the 20th century on earth. In diaspora this is a planet who’s development is somehow slowed, or has made a conscious decision to avoid further development. Such a civilization might have the ability to contact space travelers, but is unable to interact with them on their own terms.
- Atomic power. A technological level comparable to 20th century earth. This civilization can build crude spacecraft and nuclear weapons. Enough to make space-fairing civilizations at least notice them, but not much else. A T-1 society is often a very conservative T0 society more concerned with life on the ground than exploring space.
- Exploring the system. Roughly equivalent to 21st century earth. Although in real life this is a very narrow time period marked by unsustainable growth, In Diaspora this is the most common tech level. A T0 civ is capable of sending exploration missions across their solar system. They can also comfortably accommodate visiting space travelers and refuel their ships, if not build spacecraft of their own.
- Exploiting the system. This is a Type I civilization on the Kardashev scale capable of efficiently using all of the energy produced by their home planet. They are capable of sending civilian spacecraft to extract additional resources from the asteroid belt and gas giants, and military spacecraft to at very least discourage other civilizations from doing the same.
- Slipstream use. This is an early Type II civilization. Capable of efficiently harnessing all of the resources of a single solar system. They may have civilian populations scattered across the solar system, but most importantly, a T2 civilization can build spacecraft with slipstream drives capable of visiting other solar systems in the system.
- Slipstream mastery. A mature type II civilization capable of controlling more than one system in the cluster. Although not every cluster has a T3 civ, the ones that do exist tend to be superpowers. Although they unimaginably more powerful when compared to non space-faring civilizations, they do not represent the end of innovation, only the end of sustainable innovation.
- On the verge of collapse. A T4 civilization has reached Type III and has enough accumulated energy to do whatever they damn well please. The laws of physics are no longer a limiting factor, and things begin to change at an unsustainable rate. Without exception, T4 civilizations either violently collapse or retire from public life within 100 years. These collapses are sometimes violent and result in the system being knocked back down to T-4.
One important feature of this system, is that it is non-progressive. A civilization is just as likely to collapse backwards as it is to advance forwards, and the further it gets from the baseline, the more unstable it gets. A society below T0 is inclined to advance. A society above T0 is inclined to decay. Many religions and philosophies speculate as to why this is, perhaps it’s just a trick of entropy trying to reduce the sum to 0, or many man’s hubris goes against the divine will of the universe itself. If anything is certain, this setup creates a lot of hooks for adventures. Players could make a killing selling advanced weapons to a primitive civilization, or riding the ruins of a collapsed T4 civ in search of valuable artifacts.
What’s a slipstream
The slipstream is a network of navigable wormholes that connects all the systems in the cluster. Traversing the slipstream is instantaneous, but doing so is only possible at a pair of ‘Slipknots’ located exactly 5 AU above and below the star’s north and south poles. At T2 it is possible to locate these slipknots and create a device that opens the wormhole. The Slipdrive is relatively small, but it’s operation generates large quantities of heat which must be dissipated through the ship’s radiators.
What exactly the slipstream is, is another thing the setting leaves ambiguous. Each system in the cluster is so far separated from the others that their relative positions in space cannot be determined through astronomical observation. The systems also do not appear to have anything in common aside from being inhabited by human civilization. Whether this is because humans used to to colonize space, or because it is somehow connected to human civilizations has been hotly debated.
Some theorists actually speculate that the slipstream does not connect different regions in space, but rather the same solar system in several parallel universes. Or alternately, that it was created artificially by a now long extinct T4 civilization. At any rate, leaving the system by any method other than slipstream travel is impossible within a human life-span, and altering the slipstream in any way is a feat only T4 civilizations are capable of.