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SF Starship Operations Manual - Discussions

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
The product released a few days ago. I just got my printed copy earlier today and I was interested in discussing the book.

When I started learning Starfinder, I saw many posts about the shortcomings of starship combat. After having ran a few sessions, I definitely agree with the criticism. However, the fantasy of starship combat was one of the reason I (and my players) were so excited about Starfinder and I was delighted to see that Paizo had a product planned to expand on this part of Starfinder.

I skimmed through the book from cover to cover, spending a little bit more time on the new starships and the manufacturers and a little bit less time on the adventures hooks and guiding rules to build monsters for starship combat.

My first impression is pretty positive. I'm happy they're detailing a bit more the manufacturers because that is one aspect that I had to spend some time to expand on with my own creations when I began learning Starfinder and its setting. I'll definitely be coupling their stuff with mine. I also very much like the short part where they talk about the different materials used in starship production for the same reasons.

As for the new options for Starship combat, notably the actions and alternate rules for each role, I haven't tried it (will next weekend) but it definitely seems that they're heading in the right direction. Many new starship options that fall in the hands of other roles than gunner and alternate rules to make the other roles a bit more exciting.

However, I still feel Starship combat will feel a bit tedious, if not more, because of the new rules. It's pretty time consuming.

What are your thoughts?
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I always feel that starship combat should not force players to adopt a specific role and limit their options to a list of role-based actions. Each player should be able to do anything they want, and switch between different things.
 

Porridge

Explorer
The product released a few days ago. I just got my printed copy earlier today and I was interested in discussing the book.

When I started learning Starfinder, I saw many posts about the shortcomings of starship combat. After having ran a few sessions, I definitely agree with the criticism. However, the fantasy of starship combat was one of the reason I (and my players) were so excited about Starfinder and I was delighted to see that Paizo had a product planned to expand on this part of Starfinder.

I skimmed through the book from cover to cover, spending a little bit more time on the new starships and the manufacturers and a little bit less time on the adventures hooks and guiding rules to build monsters for starship combat.

My first impression is pretty positive. I'm happy they're detailing a bit more the manufacturers because that is one aspect that I had to spend some time to expand on with my own creations when I began learning Starfinder and its setting. I'll definitely be coupling their stuff with mine. I also very much like the short part where they talk about the different materials used in starship production for the same reasons.

As for the new options for Starship combat, notably the actions and alternate rules for each role, I haven't tried it (will next weekend) but it definitely seems that they're heading in the right direction. Many new starship options that fall in the hands of other roles than gunner and alternate rules to make the other roles a bit more exciting.

However, I still feel Starship combat will feel a bit tedious, if not more, because of the new rules. It's pretty time consuming.

What are your thoughts?

I haven't had the opportunity to actually play with the options in the Starship Operations Manual (SOM) yet. But I think the main things that have made starship combat less fun for us are:
  1. It seems like only one or two players (pilot and gunner) get to do interesting things.
  2. Well-built custom ships are vastly better than the pre-made ships opposing them, making most published starship combat encounters trivial.
  3. There doesn't seem to be much strategic depth, because there aren't that many different strategies available for players to pursue.
  4. There doesn't seem to be a lot of variety with respect to how combats feel.
And SOM adds a number of options that seem to do a reasonable job of addressing each of these issues.

1. Regarding only the pilot and gunner getting to do interesting things: SOM introduces new squadron rules, which allow each PC to pilot their own ship (or pairs of PCs to pilot ships, or whatever). If you use this option then every player will get to do the interesting things with their ship, because every player will be the pilot and gunner of their ship.

2. Regarding combat being boring because custom ships are overpowered: SOM includes (sorely needed) optional Budget Design rules, which go a long way toward making custom ships more balanced. Using those rules, you can't just pour all your BP into top notch shields (no more than 10% of the ship's BP on shields), or just mount you big super-gun on a turret and ignore facing entirely (no more than 15% of your ship's BP on adding turrets, turret mounts, and turret weapons; though you can spend up to 35% of your ship's BP on weapons). This makes starship combat much more balanced and challenging.

3. Regarding the lack of variety in strategic options: SOM adds a number of new weapons, expansions, and kinds of things you can do, which lend themselves to a wider variety of strategies you can build your ship for, or employ in a given combat.

For example, you can add some sweet buster weapons (very high damage to shields, half damage to hull), and some attachment weapons which allow you up to send boarding parties onto ships once their shields are down, or some boarding pods (with boarding parties aboard) which you can fire at opposing ships whose shields are down.

You can add a hacking weapon and have your science officer hack their ship, turning all of their computer bonuses into minuses you can selectively deploy as you wish. You can deploy mines to scatter around the enemy to box them in. You can use teleporting weapons to teleport opposing ships into environmental hazards, or into suboptimal positions. You can use force ramming weapons to use you shields to bash them into submission.

You can add a VI/AI to your ship, to do valuable but repetitive actions which none of the players want to be stuck with.

You can add some TIM modules which allow characters with various feats to gain unique new actions they can use during starship combat, some of which are pretty sweet, or load up with mystical weapons, which allow you to use mysticism ranks and your wisdom modifier for gunnery, opening up the range of attractive options available to people in different roles.

And so on. Lots of ways to spice up starship combat.

4. Regarding combat strategies being the same every time: SOM introduces a number of kinds of environmental hazards and challenges, both in space (asteroids of various kinds, hull-eating bacteria, proton storms, star coronas, gravity fields, gamma ray bursts, nebulas, temporal rifts, wormholes, planar energy nebulas, etc) and in the atmosphere (atmospheric friction, electric storms, ice storms, obfuscating atmospheres, toxic atmospheres, windstorms).

It introduces rules for constructing space creatures (for very different kinds of challenges).
And it includes a discussion of various alternate win conditions (win a race, capture the other ship, getting some key cargo from an opposing ship, either by social means, by boarding them, or by some other means; track a ship to their destination, protecting a key ship from damage, escape to avoid destruction from an armada, drop off some cargo to a certain location and then getting out of there before you get caught, etc).

A liberal mix of these rules should make starship combat encounters feel very different from one another.

So on the whole, I'm pretty optimistic that starship combat will play a lot better now.
 

It seems like only one or two players (pilot and gunner) get to do interesting things.
This is my biggest criticism of practically every sci-fi combat system ever. I like the idea of multiple pilots. I don't know what happens if someone is (say) a marine who is good at boarding actions and repelling them, but not so good behind weapon consoles or in a cockpit.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
This is my biggest criticism of practically every sci-fi combat system ever. I like the idea of multiple pilots. I don't know what happens if someone is (say) a marine who is good at boarding actions and repelling them, but not so good behind weapon consoles or in a cockpit.
The the encounter should include repelling some boarding actions. Or stopping a saboteur in the engine room. Or boarding the other ship. Or rescuing some crewmen from a breached deck. Or running over to man that railgun anyway. Or something. Anything that’s not sitting each player in a locked seat with a limited number of available actions.
 


Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
We did one play test back in the day and it did not go well - let's see if I can dig up my notes...

Edit: there we go:

"Spaceship combat was strange. Because of facing and because winning the piloting role means you go after the opponent, the piloting role is super important - the most important role in the round. A few bad piloting rolls in a row means doom. Because spaceships will circle each other trying to get at the vulnerable spot (usually the rear), once a fight is really engaged it's almost impossible to run away effectively because if you do the other guy will chase you and repeatedly shoot you in the rear arc. This means that spaceship combat should be avoided unless victory is almost certain. "

There is no way to cleanly disengage. I thought that the Star Wars Saga space combat was much better.
 

Some years back I read about a space RPG combat system, where they had the opposite problem: too easy to disengage (by jumping into Hyperspace). Getting the balance right is extremely difficult, apparently.
 

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