Ferrymen: Adapting Diaspora to Fate Core (Part 1 of many)

Over three years ago, I started running a Diaspora campaign for five of my nerdy friends. That game – Ferrymen – transitioned to Fate Core upon that game’s release, and this weekend I ran its 37th gaming session.

I’ve talked about Ferrymen in passing before, and it holds a permanent position in my “Currently Running” widget up on the top right, but I’ve been hesitant to blog about it in much detail. I’m well aware of how tedious it is to listen to someone rant at length about an RPG campaign you don’t play in, and this blog’s readership extends beyond that game’s five players (hopefully!). Given that my emotional connection to Ferrymen is especially intense (it’s by far my longest running game, most of my campaigns last a dozen sessions or less), I’m even more liable to waffle on without saying anything interesting than I would be for my other campaigns. Consequently, I very rarely post Actual Play reports or campaign summaries. The reviews, essays and rules hacks I publish here are heavily informed by my play experiences, but my preference is to use them to illustrate points within those articles, rather than be the focus of their own posts.

Recently though, I’ve been moved to write more about Ferrymen for two reasons. The first is that, 37 sessions in, I’ve now accumulated an awful lot of rules hacks and extra bits that might actually be useful to other players, especially people like us who wanted to take the principles of Diaspora and update them for Fate Core.

The second is that people besides me have started producing some really fantastic content for this game, and I want to show it off.

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The picture above, depicting the PC party and their NPC crewmates, was commissioned from my good friend Melissa Trender (yes, the one who helped tidy my blog!) by my players as a surprise birthday present. They’re great. Melissa’s great. And yes, she is available for other commissions.

THE STORY SO FAR

Summarising the events of hundreds of hours of roleplay is an intimidating challenge. But I’m going to give it a go, so that everything that follows has some measure of context.

Ferrymen is set in a cluster of seven star systems, connected to one-another by slipknots that make faster-than-light travel possible. However, only one of those systems – Carthage – have successfully mastered that technology, requiring other systems’ inhabitants to lease slipstream-capable ships from them. The Erebus is one such ship, and the key crew members of that ship comprise the player party. Together, they struggle to get by and make a difference in a sometimes cruel and often dangerous universe, caught between the Carthaginians who leverage their technological monopoly to achieve cluster-wide domination, and the pirates who covet slipstream vessels as the ultimate prize worth killing for.

Our starting characters were:

  • Luke, the famed and inspirational captain of the Erebus, who strives to bring equality to a broken cluster whilst trying to keeping his crew safe.
  • Corran, an ex-military engineer whose temper, alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder are a frequent source of drama.
  • Farlo, a driven and idealistic former spy, who recently faked his own death and returned under a different identity.
  • Damian, a master hacker and thief who abandoned a life of selfish criminality to work with the crew as their “security expert”.
  • Mac, a representative of the Carthaginian Consultancy, which deploys agents to all slipstreamers to ensure their crews are compliant.

About ten sessions ago, Mac’s tensions with the rest of the crew reached breaking point. His player decided to replace him with a new character, Jack, another former soldier whose “special set of skills” have found him employment amongst the crew.

Over the course of three years, the crew has worked a number of different jobs: beginning as a luxury passenger liner, whilst smuggling black market goods to struggling systems on the side, before re-tooling as a dedicated pirate-hunting vessel. They’ve tasted defeat, such as when they were blackmailed into betraying the governments they smuggled for. And they’ve won great victories, such as when they broke into the Carthaginian Consultancy’s secure headquarters and leaked incriminating data to the public. Their enemies include criminals they exposed, and anti-Carthaginian fanatics whose extremism they thwarted; but key political figures they’ve worked alongside have become allies, who might help make their dream for a fairer cluster a reality. Right now, the crew work to build a union of captains, “The Ferrymen”, that when combined might wield enough political influence to successfully lobby for change. But the Carthaginians view the activities of Luke and his crew with suspicion, and the enemies they’ve made haven’t gone anywhere…

DIASPORA 2.0

When we made the jump to Fate Core two years ago, we continued the ongoing narrative, but mechanically we pretty much started from scratch.

Diaspora’s setting creation is really really great, and it’s something I’d recommend to players starting a hard sci-fi game in Fate, but it’s something you only use once. Now that we have our universe set up, we find a game aspect for each system provides all the mechanical detail we need. Similarly, whilst Diaspora’s social conflict chapter has its own quirky charm, Fate Core’s approach of just running it exactly the same as a physical conflict suits our purposes much better.

Rather than “updating” our Diaspora character sheets to be Fate Core compliant, we chucked them out and genned up completely new stats for those characters in Fate Core, albeit whilst remaining true to the capabilities they had exhibited in the campaign so far. Since Diaspora’s overlong, poorly balanced skill list never suited us, we use Core’s default skill list, albeit with several skills renamed, and with new skills for the setting-crucial abilities of Seamanship and Bureaucracy. Every character gets five aspects, stunts are designed in the style of Fate Core, and generally the contents of the Core rulebook give us everything we need to run a hard sci-fi game.

There are a few respects though in which Fate Core doesn’t provide everything we need, which is what I intend to address in the upcoming series of blog posts.

MINOR MILESTONES

The obvious thing to share are the rules we use for spaceship combat, and that will follow in my next blog post. But this is only the first in a series. Recently, the crew have been looking at getting a new ship with a combat-interfacer vehicle, and the additional rules for those will follow up as an Extra. The game’s upcoming focus on galactic politics prompted me to create rules for factional conflict as well, and I’m not sure how much demand there is for big long lists of custom stunts, but I sure have created a lot of them whilst running this game. Essentially I’ll keep running this thing until I feel I’ve reached peak self-indulgence. I guess we’ll find out where that point is together.

4 thoughts on “Ferrymen: Adapting Diaspora to Fate Core (Part 1 of many)

  1. This is very interesting! I’ve been wanting to run a Fate-based sci-fi game for some time now (even though hard sci-fi doesn’t go down too well with my PRG-mates). But I like it that basically Fate Core plus Diaspora’s cluster generation (and, I assume, their charts for interplanetary navigation) are sufficient to make a realistic spacefaring game.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. I’d be especially intrigued to know how you’re dealing with wealth.

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    • Yep, the navigation charts are useful reference, though I tend not to follow them too stringently. These days I set travel time as a month with a good navigator, plus or minus a week or so. I also ask for Education rolls from the ship’s navigator to determine orientation upon departure from a slipknot. When I remember 😛

      As for wealth, I wouldn’t set your expectations too high: we just use the Resources skill. It’s not perfect, but nor was Diaspora’s stress track (which in our experience made frequent expenditure trivially easy). Money in roleplaying is just really hard to do well, and since it had never been a huge part of our game beforehand (if only because it had been so easy), we just chose the easiest option.

      I meant to go back to my Firefly hack at some point to write about “Pressures” – special game aspects like “Trouble with Money”, “Trouble with the Underworld” or “Trouble with The Law” that prohibited some actions and rewarded others. Never came to fruition, though you’ve inspired me to have another look at it. In the meantime, Ryan Macklin has some interesting ideas for the Resources skill to play with:

      http://ryanmacklin.com/2014/02/one-rethinking-resources/

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    • The other thing we played with for a while was giving the party’s business (as opposed to an individual character) it’s own Resources skill, which went up and down depending on what jobs you were doing, and could be rolled for business expenditures. We gave up on it because it was seldom used, and because the campaign moved far far away from the minutiae of running the business, and into political activism. Ironically, a more advanced version of this is likely to return for the “Factional Conflict” system, where the crew’s new trade union has its own full character sheet, which will include a Resources skill for the union’s expenditures. That’s my next blog post 🙂

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