Friday, November 6, 2009

Making your own StarCluster Setting

Back when I started working on the first version of what would become StarCluster - about 1995-96, long before I released it - I created a bunch of cascading random tables which were extremely complex, with weighted results and lots of modifiers. These tables I used to create the Cluster, the actual setting for the game. Once I had finished with the tables, I junked them. Tossed them. I never intended to release the game, it was initially designed for just me to use, and I didn't need them any more.

Flash forward to 2002, and the release of StarCluster. One of the persistent requests from everyone who asked me was "How can I generate my own setting for the game?" I had to answer "You can't. I randomly generated the Cluster, then tossed all the notes. I couldn't replicate it from memory if I tried."

Some weeks ago, I read a friend's copy of Diaspora - which I'm in the process of getting for myself because it's damn good - and their cluster generation system tickled something in my brain that wouldn't go away. It sat there in the back of my head and insisted that it was important. I just left it there, knowing how semi-autonomous my brain can be, and let it fume and perk.

Last night, it did a data dump, with a complete random Cluster generation system in three tables. It was far more compact and simple than my original system, but generates remarkably similar results. Here's a random cluster section, the Mammoth Loop:

Now that just *looks* like the Cluster! So far so good!

And here's the randomly Generated Tenderloin System:

Tenderloin is a small, dim star with two Jump Lines ‐ a Jump 5 to Soba, and a Jump 2 to Higgs. Rolling for # of Worlds, we get a roll of 12, for 9 worlds. That’s a moderate number.

World 1: Andalusia
Andalusia is a hot, rocky, and dry world, and is currently unsettled.

World 2: Light Belt
Light Belt is an Asteroid Belt, and is a Diasporan Community State. There are tens of millions of Humans living in this belt. Tech Level is 9.

World 3: Tinkerbelle
Tinkerbelle is a small iceball, and is currently unsettled.

World 4: Blue Ring
Blue Ring is a Ring System, and is a SaVaHuTa Colony with millions in population, mostly Uplifts. Tech Level is 9.

World 5: Hero
Hero is a Gas Giant, and is a SaVaHuTa Colonizer with billions of mostly Human inhabitants living in the clouds. Tech Level is 10.

World 6: Heavy Belt
Heavy Belt is an asteroid belt, and is an Alien Colony, inhabited by Tumuran. Tech Level is 8.

World 7: Char
Char is a burning quasi‐molten cinder, and is unsettled.

World 8: Haricot
Haricot is a water world, with almost no land. it is a SaVaHuta State, with hundreds of millions of people, mostly Humans and Vantors. Tech Level is 8.

World 9: Quiver
Quiver is an icy water world, and is currently unsettled.

What if a Roll Just Doesn’t Fit?

There are two ways to deal with a roll that just doesn’t fit, like a Space Station/Habitat with billions in population. You can ignore the roll and reroll or pick something you think fits better, or you can figure out just how billions of people live on a space habitat, which means getting creative. You choose!

Rearranging the Worlds of Tenderloin

This arrangement of worlds in the order rolled doesn’t make much sense, so we’ll rearrange the worlds into something more reasonable. Char goes into close orbit around the star Tenderloin, as it’s too hot to go anywhere else.
Next out we’ll put the Light Belt, the DC State.
Next out, let's move the Gas Giant Hero, and move Blue Ring, Haricot, and Andalusia around it as moons.
Next out, we’ll put the Heavy Belt, the Tumuran Colony.
Lastly, there is Quiver, the icy waterworld, with its little iceball moon, Tinkerbelle. The Tenderloin system is done.

Again, that really has all the earmarks of a StarCluster system! Several different political systems in the same stellar system? Check! Humans, Humanoids, Uplifts, and Aliens, all living cheek-by-jowl? Check! Stellar system loaded for conflict? Check! Mix of Tech Levels? Check! Unconventional worlds? Check!

This is actually going to work!



  1. So, if I knew StarCluster, would this make more sense? I have Diaspora (directed here from Brad Murray's blog) and am interested in what you're doing, but I don't quite follow. Should I go look up StarCluster first, and then this will all make sense?

    Either way, super interesting. I really like that map.


  2. Hi Noah!

    Yeah, it probably would make more sense!

    I'm attempting to give the players & GMs the ability to create their own Cluster, with the *feel* of the current setting supplied in the game, but the original generation mechanics I used were complex, clumsy, and lost anyway.

    When I read Diaspora, the Cluster generation tables clicked in my head as something I could adapt to do this elegantly. It all came out in a rush last night. The sample cluster map and the sample system I generated with this tool I had created looks like the StarCluster setting without *being* the old Cluster setting. If I set the results into the old setting it would match up nicely.

    Here's the old Cluster maps for comparison:

    Diaspora made me look at a problem I had been avoiding for a decade in a new, approachable way. :D


  3. Experiencing cross-fertilization between game systems is a wonderful thing. I almost wonder what designers did before there were so many games on the shelf to draw inspiration from.

  4. Exactly, Oz! I buy games for two reasons - to run them for my group and as inspiration for my own games. Diaspora may fit both bills. :D