The firing squad lines up across the ruined courtyard.Perspiration drips into Tahm’s eyes. The not-flies settle on his face. He strains against his cuffs, the rough wood of the post scraping his arms.
The sergeant barks an order, startling a swarm of lizard-birds into the sky. Twelve rifles come to bear.
Tahm watches the lizard-birds, mentally follows them to where they will roost. He’s a scout and the jungle is his life. Was his life. Soon the jungle will gain life by feeding on his body.
There’s a cracking sound like lightning striking distant treetops, screams, more cracking. Then silence.
Tahm looks down into the courtyard. The execution party now lie sprawled in the mud, smoke billowing from ruined heads and torsos.
A man in scarred battle armour emerges from the ruins. He carries no unit insignia, belongs to neither side in the civil war. Nor does his gun belong; a sleek energy weapon that can only have come from orbital factories of the Grim system.
Their eyes meet.
“Don’t shoot me,” says Tahm.
The gun man’s eyes narrow. “You didn’t see anything.” He turns away and vanishes back into the rubble.
Moments later, the dead men’s assault shuttle roars into the sky, leaving Tahm still tied to the post, now surrounded by corpses.
The boys — “Kurtzhau” (10) and “Polyhedrus” (9) laugh with a mixture of glee an awe.
“Then that’s when I find you wandering in the jungle?” says Polyhedrus.
“Yes,” I say, imagination revving. “Kurtzhau’s character was conducting a black ops against the gangsters I work for, but I used my computer savvy to take down his shuttle.”
It’s a rainy holiday afternoon (in space), and we are trying out the character generation system of Diaspora, an award winning independent roleplaying game regard by some as a successor to Traveller. It uses FATE as its role-playing engine (which is presumably why Evil Hat have started publishing it).
Diaspora is a million miles from what I’m used to!
I’m a gaming Rip Van Winkle. Years ago, I swapped my dice for real swords. When fatherhood brought me back to the table, I discovered that the world had changed somewhat. The Fate system perhaps best typifies this change.
For a start, in Fate, character generation works by collaborative storytelling. Players decide what happened during the different phases of their lives and tag the involvement of other player characters, especially at crisis points. That’s how my orbital dwelling super-geek ended up working for the mob in the middle of a planetside civil war, how Olaf — Kurtzhau’s black ops guy — ended up as the last man standing from his mission, and how he rescued Tahm in passing.
Diaspora takes this one step further and has the players invent their own star systems based on a handful of dice rolls: Technology, Environment, and Resources. Essentially, the players read these like tea-leaves and make up cool stuff.
My world turned out to be hi-tech, but unpleasant, with poor resources, so I called it Grim and decided it was a rather desperate place reliant on its industries to pay for imports. Kurtzhau ended up with a garden system “worth defending.” Polyhedrus created a self-contained world and — inspired by the animated Clone Wars — decided it was a jungle planet with a creed “Everything is nice.” Since he wanted to be a military scout, that implied civil war over what constituted “nice,” hence his story of going to war, deserting, and then escaping the firing squad.
The effect was, putting it mildly, mind-blowing. Not only was it immense fun, we ended up with characters and worlds that felt emotionally real to us. Better still, from my perspective as the GM, I now have the setting and seeds for a very interesting set of missions…
What will also be interesting is how Fate and Diaspora feel to play.
Fate takes all the fudges and “because it’s cool” rulings that GMs did in my youth and turns them into a story building sub-game, rather than a set of overrides. Everybody at the table can “make stuff up,” but in ways that don’t devolve into a chaos of egos.
Meanwhile, Diaspora uses the Fate mechanics to abstract elements of SF adventure, making it easy to — say — run a political campaign on a planet, or fight a space battle, and still preserve some sense of realism.
Watch this space…
M Harold Page (www.mharoldpage.com) is a Scottish-based writer and swordsman who is enjoying introducing his kids to geeky pursuits. His historical adventure yarns are all available on Amazon. The next one has Vikings in it.