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Space Combat (starship systems)

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
I've run a number of sci-fi campaigns, and these inevitable lead to starship combat at some point. I used the rules from FASA's Interceptor, and later, Silent Death because they had sufficient tactical depth to ensure that every player, if not every PC, was involved, and the damage system was detailed enough so that defeat did not equate into a TPK as the PCs' ship blew up.

But had the set-back, however, of being stand-alone combat rules sets, so the learning curve was such that three or four starship engagements over 60-odd game sessions meant that there was not a lot of player innovation.

I'm going to be using a magic-free, psi-free version of 5e (from Spilled Ale Studios, primarily), so all I want are starship combat rules that are simple but have enough nuance to involve five players, and a damage system that is not just 'ships have hit points, hit zero and it is over'. And yes, dice must be involved.

I don't need a setting or overall rules.

Any suggestions?
 

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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Wow! Haven't touched Silent Death in YEARS!

I’ve used Star Fleet Battles, Federation & Empire and Starfire in much the way you describe. Which one I used depended on who I was playing with and how much space combat was actually involved.

In many ways, Battletech and Crimskn Skies are also mechanically similar to SFB. In all three, ships don’t have HP, you damage vehicles by damaging discrete systems. Very crunchy, and can be kinda slow, but certain players find thar EXTREMELY rewarding. Especially if they’re able to customize their vehicles or even design them from scratch.

Hell, file off the serial numbers, and Car Wars could be used the same way.

Wargames like F&E or the plethora of WW1 & WW2 aerial r naval combat games could work for simplified combat. But you’ve already seen that in action.

Starfire is somewhere in between. It’s much simpler than SFB and similar games, but you still track individual ship systems. However, this is VERY abstracted and plays similarly to simpler wargames, but the ships take more than a single hit to disable or destroy. Like SFB, damage to a ship affects what the ship can do, system by system. Best, while simple and abstract, the option for customization is intrinsic to the game design.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Last space combat I ran recently, within the last few months, is the Classic Traveller "Book 2" style (also found in The Traveller Book) with its pseudo-newtonian movement, and with a few mods for a little bit harder sci-fi.
 

Ryder

Villager
If I recall, the FASA Star Trek Starship Combat Simulator, had an option for team play. With PC's taking the roles of Helmsman, Engineering etc.
If ship combat isn't a common element in your game; perhaps pull out a boardgame like Space Cadets for the night. That way everyone gets to do something fun and co-operative in the battle. Then you can guess-timate what the effects of the ship damage is in your main games ruleset.
 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
I'm going to be using a magic-free, psi-free version of 5e (from Spilled Ale Studios, primarily), so all I want are starship combat rules that are simple but have enough nuance to involve five players, and a damage system that is not just 'ships have hit points, hit zero and it is over'. And yes, dice must be involved.
5e already has these rules.

Glob each PC together into a "starship." The weapon-characters get to attack, the engines character gets to move (and rotate), and the captain/bridge character gets to do everything else, like perception and help-actions. Since each character/portion of ship has HP, "killing" that character means that portion of the ship is disabled.

My character would run the escape-pod section 🤓
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Whatever you do, don't strap characters into specific immovable chairs and grant them only a couple of things they can each do for the entire game. Let any character do anything each round (fire a gun, do some first aid, rush to fix an engine, etc)
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
Whatever you do, don't strap characters into specific immovable chairs and grant them only a couple of things they can each do for the entire game. Let any character do anything each round (fire a gun, do some first aid, rush to fix an engine, etc)
How would that work? PC 1 shuts down ECM to run over and man a PDW because he feels like it? That's not how a crew operates.

In the past, I've used one PC on the helm , one on ECM/EW/CM, one on missiles/torps, one or two on guns, and the rest on damage control.

I'm just looking for better rules.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
5e already has these rules.

Glob each PC together into a "starship." The weapon-characters get to attack, the engines character gets to move (and rotate), and the captain/bridge character gets to do everything else, like perception and help-actions. Since each character/portion of ship has HP, "killing" that character means that portion of the ship is disabled.

My character would run the escape-pod section 🤓
My players would never go for something like that. Besides, there are skills involved.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
If I recall, the FASA Star Trek Starship Combat Simulator, had an option for team play. With PC's taking the roles of Helmsman, Engineering etc.
If ship combat isn't a common element in your game; perhaps pull out a boardgame like Space Cadets for the night. That way everyone gets to do something fun and co-operative in the battle. Then you can guess-timate what the effects of the ship damage is in your main games ruleset.
Thanks, but not an option my players would accept. I guess I'll just dust off Silent Death and make another try at present the rules in a lighter package.
 

moriantumr

Villager
Stars Without Number revised edition has some decent starship combat rules. While the ship does have hp, subsystems can be targeted separately and there is a mechanic called Ship Crises that makes things more interesting than standard hp loss.
In short, once per turn the captain can negate a hit by enemies and take a ship crisis. The dm comes up with the crisis and they crew than have to deal with it. This leads to more narrative play than just plinking away at the hp, and let’s players who may not be outstanding pilots or gunners participate in ship combat by using their skills to solve crises that come up.
Bonus, you can get the free edition of SWN on dtrpg and if you like it can then pay what you want later.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
Starfire is somewhere in between. It’s much simpler than SFB and similar games, but you still track individual ship systems. However, this is VERY abstracted and plays similarly to simpler wargames, but the ships take more than a single hit to disable or destroy. Like SFB, damage to a ship affects what the ship can do, system by system. Best, while simple and abstract, the option for customization is intrinsic to the game design.
I played Starfire back in the 80s. Hadn't thought about it in years. I remember the string of codes that was a ship.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
How would that work? PC 1 shuts down ECM to run over and man a PDW because he feels like it? That's not how a crew operates.
Yes.

That's not how a crew operates
It's certainly how the Millennium Falcon works. Luke, get on those guns! R2 see if you can figure out why the hyperdrive isn't working!
 

pming

Adventurer
Hiya!

What about Jovian Chronicles and/or it's "Lightning Strike" offshoot? Both by DreamPod 9. I think you can get them on DriveThru. I don't have any experience with Lightning Strike, but the vehicle and space rules for JC seemed to hit that 'middle spot' between "cinematic character driving" and "crunchy space combat considerations".

Other than that, there's always the HERO System; in particular StarHero. Might be an option...?

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 


Jd Smith1

Adventurer
Hiya!

What about Jovian Chronicles and/or it's "Lightning Strike" offshoot? Both by DreamPod 9. I think you can get them on DriveThru. I don't have any experience with Lightning Strike, but the vehicle and space rules for JC seemed to hit that 'middle spot' between "cinematic character driving" and "crunchy space combat considerations".

Other than that, there's always the HERO System; in particular StarHero. Might be an option...?

^_^

Paul L. Ming
I hadn't considered Dreampod 9. I'll poke around their material.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
Stars Without Number revised edition has some decent starship combat rules. While the ship does have hp, subsystems can be targeted separately and there is a mechanic called Ship Crises that makes things more interesting than standard hp loss.
In short, once per turn the captain can negate a hit by enemies and take a ship crisis. The dm comes up with the crisis and they crew than have to deal with it. This leads to more narrative play than just plinking away at the hp, and let’s players who may not be outstanding pilots or gunners participate in ship combat by using their skills to solve crises that come up.
Bonus, you can get the free edition of SWN on dtrpg and if you like it can then pay what you want later.
This looks like the one. I'll have to port in skills (I'm thinking just five, to match the departments), and throw in some stand-off weapon systems, but I like the department system, which is basically how we handled starship combat in the past.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Open question for anyone who has been in this situation, just out of curiosity, how do you handle PCs without relevant ship operation skills?

Most of the time, I mention the possibility of ship operations in ChaGen, but there’s always the chance someone’s PC concept won’t involve relevant skills. (I’ve been that player myself, TBH.)

In my experience, those PCs start assisting with damage control and casualties.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Open question for anyone who has been in this situation, just out of curiosity, how do you handle PCs without relevant ship operation skills?
There's a saboteur in engineering!

Some people have been trapped by debris on Deck 14!

Prepare a boarding party.

Repel boarders!
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
In my experience, those PCs start assisting with damage control and casualties.
If they have been on a ship, they get spacecraft 0 level at least. I give the players points to which they can pick relevant skills, so that generally that only happens for them to not have the skill if they want it that way. Also, the ship is generally an NPC, as well as other ship's crew; PC's are always asking the ship and crew to do things, interacting with them. Combat is generally pilot, sensors, electronic warfare, gunner, engineer, and marine; sometimes medical personnel. Once the lasers, and missiles start flying, it's rare for combat to last over 5 turns, you don't ever want to get caught in a fair fight; the last big attack, against a liner, more time was spent with the boarding party, than ship to ship combat.
 

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