Josh Peters
▶ Stars Without Number

Privateering Campaign Update: some harrowing ship combat.

The crew of the armed merchant ship Zorya decided to take on a semi-humanitarian mission to a world 4 spike-1 drills away. They had to hire a second free merchant, a lightly-armed freighter with huge cargo bays, to lug most of the supplies and personnel to this world.

Both ships were equipped with a single fuel bunker, meaning that they had to refuel after the second spike drill. This, unfortunately, put them in hostile territory. The Zorya encountered a free trader which properly made them as privateers and broadcast the ship's presence in the system to anyone who would listen. The players figure they've got a day or so to find fuel in the system and get out before a punitive patrol arrives.

They indeed manage to scrounge fuel for their ship and their hired freighter from an abandoned settlement they knew about. Unfortunately, the patrol knew about it too, and deemed it the most likely place they'd go to.

The situation: the Zorya (privateer merchant, Spike-2) and the Katan (free merchant, Spike-1) are being pursued by a corvette (4 reaper batteries with specialized mountings), two patrol boats, and three fighters (all spike 2). Everyone knows that the Katan is toast if the patrol catches up with them, so the players devise a particularly daring and insane plan: they'll turn and face down the six vessels for a round, and hopefully give the Katan time to escape.

The PCs now consist of four level 6 characters with skill level-3 in Fix, Program, and Lead, and level-2 in Pilot. The new gunner is level 4, and has level-2 Shoot. The Zorya has a plasma beam and a volley capacitor. It also has emergency thrusters (which will come in handy later).

The first round the Engineer and Captain PCs generate 10CP, and spend quite wisely: the Comms officer boosts the ship's AC to 17, and the Pilot boosts it up to AC 19. Still 6CP left, and the Gunner opts to engage the Volley Capacitor. So that's 10CP for shooting: 5 blasts with the plasma beam. The rolls are atrocious: one fighter is damaged, another destroyed. That's it.

I grin evilly. The two patrol boats break off to chase down the Katan at spike-2. The corvette and the fighters hang back to handle the Zorya.

The Zorya (20HP) manages to hold on with only 5HP left, a Cargo hold Crisis, and a Fuel Leak crisis, by the end of the round. I realize that if the Captain is generating CP with going Above and Beyond, he shouldn't be allowed to take a crisis on his own, but I figured that that paid off because of the Fuel Leak crisis: which threatened to undo the entire effort getting the fuel in the first place!

The next round was another nail biter: the engineer repaired the ship as best as he could, the others deal with the crises, and they didn't get hit too badly.

Round three: time to FLEE! The PCs generated 12CP, gave them all to the Pilot, who rolled quite poorly to Flee against the fighters (highest speed). However, with the judicious use of Emergency Thrusters (+2 to speed), the PCs generated their requisite 3 points of Escape, and that was it.

They then trimmed the course and intercepted the Katan and the two patrol boats that were about to tear it apart. Now the gunner rolled well, and cored both patrol boats with three shots each (one crisis taken each). And then they ran away, both ships badly scarred.

The prospect of a TPK hung over the room quite heavily. Mammas, don't let your babies grow up to be space pirates!

The new player who played the level 4 gunner forgot about his auto-hit ability. Whoops!

I need to work some basic rules for "positioning" to make some of the tactical aspects of what my players want to do work mechanically. Things like attacking from odd locations, maneuvers to keep the ship in the blindspot of an enemy's gun... I wonder just how useful the Skyward Steel ship combat system would be for this sort of thing.

Josh Peters

+Mark Stanley initiative is probably the most important determinant for success in starship combat, all other things being equal. When the players manage a plan that gives them first strike in an engagement, they can inflict major damage and force their opponents to enter a crisis-management or repair cycle. With so many NPC command points going to repairs, the PCs can keep one step ahead of an entire group of NPC ships.

But when the PCs miss that first strike opportunity and don't have the armour or hit points to endure a round's worth of damage, it gets pretty tense! That corvette with four reaper batteries is perfect for murdering pirates in free merchants: 2 points of armour is not going to protect enough against a reaper battery, let alone 4 of them.

These players also optimized or nearly optimized their PCs for ship combat: specialist/Fix, and specialist/Program foci with skill level 3 with an attribute bonus make Going Above and Beyond a very reliable action. Add the Star Captain focus, and they generate 10 CP between two PCs. That's without counting the captain (Star Captain focus aside), pilot or gunner. That leaves up to 3 PCs to handle crises, or add even more CP, or perform a ship action for 2-3CP and still have enough points left for shooting.

It has also helped them that I have been rolling terribly in ship combat.