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Starship Combat—I Am a Leaf on the Wind

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Illustrations by David Melvin

From androids manipulating reality with technomagic to goblins in spacesuits wielding barely functioning laser pistols, the Starfinder RPG covers the majority of weird and exciting science-fantasy tropes. But it would be a poor game that takes place among the stars if it didn't have starships! Luckily, Starfinder gives you all you need to play the crew of an intrepid vessel exploring the galaxy—and getting into trouble along the way.

The universe is not always a friendly place and there are forces out there, from freebooting space pirates to a whole fleet of undead soldiers, who either want to incapacitate your starship and take your stuff or just blow you out of the void. And of course, you're not going to roll over and let that happen! That's where Starfinder's robust starship combat system comes into play.

While it has some similarities to character-versus-monster combat, starship combat boasts a number of unique and interesting features. It would be impossible to explore every detail in one blog (you'll just have to buy the book to find out more!), but we'd like to give you a taste of what you can expect come August.

When your characters first board their starship, each player chooses one of five roles for his or her character: captain, engineer, gunner, pilot, or science officer. Only one character each can be the captain and the pilot, but depending on the configuration of your vessel, you may want multiple engineers or gunners. Each role gives the character assuming it a number of actions she can perform during the battle. The captain can give encouraging speeches or make demands of the rest of the crew, granting valuable bonuses. A science officer can scan enemy ships and target specific systems on those vessels. An engineer can boost power to the engines or repair a malfunctioning weapon. A gunner fires the ship's weapons at the enemy, taking precise shots or unleashing a volley of lasers.

All that is exciting and vital to the success of the fight, but as Iseph would be quick to remind you, you'd still be a sitting duck without the impressive things the pilot can do!

The pilot has the important job of moving the PCs' starship across the hex-grid map that starship combat uses, ensuring that gunners can shoot the ship's biggest weapons at the most dangerous enemies while hopefully making sure that those foes don't have the opportunity to shoot back. Getting the positioning and facing of the ship right is crucial, as is knowing what the ship is capable of doing and then pushing it beyond its limits.

To that end, pilots have access to a whole suite of stunts—daring maneuvers that only the skilled can hope to pull off. Of course, if the situation doesn't call for any of these fancy tactics, the pilot can always fly normally or step on the gas for an extra burst of speed. The basic pilot stunts are:

Back Off: The pilot throws the ship into reverse, moving backward a few hexes.

Barrel Roll: By spinning the ship on its axis, the pilot allows the ships's port guns and shields to function on the starboard side and vice versa for 1 round. Hope your artificial gravity is turned on!

Evade: This stunt encompasses the standard dodging maneuvers, making the ship harder to hit for 1 round. But it doesn't shake those pesky target lock-ons!

Flip and Burn: The pilot moves the vessel forward a bit and turns it 180 degrees, surprising enemies who might have been in its wake.

Flyby: A dangerous stunt, this takes your ship very close to an enemy vessel (through its hex), which lets a gunner fire any of his ship's weapons at any shield arc of the foe, regardless of where the two ships end their movement. Executing this stunt poorly allows the enemy vessel to get a free shot on you!

Slide: The pilot moves the ship at an angle without changing the way it is facing, like a racecar drifting. This stunt is very useful for ships that aren't very maneuverable.

Turn in Place: Firing up maneuvering thrusters, the pilot alters the direction the ship is facing without moving it from its hex, possibly allowing a specific weapon to make an all-important shot.

Especially talented pilots can also attempt an "audacious gambit," flying the ship in ways never intended by those who built it. But you'd have to be crazy to try something like that!

Since a pilot is nothing without a ship to helm, the Starfinder Core Rulebook also presents both rules for customizing your own starship and a handful of prebuilt starships ready for PCs to use or fight. Shown here are just two examples.

The Drone Mk III is a smaller ship fabricated by shirren manufacturer Starhive. As befits their name, Drones are extremely common and used as freighters, personnel transports, light colonial defense vessels, and more. Despite the ships' mass production, Starhive takes a natural shirren pride in making sure each ship's iridescent paint job is unique.

Built by the vesk munitions company Vindicas, the Tyrant is a dreadnought feared across multiple star systems. Huge weapon batteries tear through even the most formidable capital ships, while its hangars unleash squadrons of fighters to mop up foes too insignificant to be worth the Tyrant's direct attention.

Starhive Drone Mk III and Vindicas Tyrant
Illustrations by Ben Wootten

Finally, if you want to see the starship combat system in action, check out the video of when I ran a brief demo for the folks at Game Trade Media. Benjamin Loomes of Syrinscape also sat in to provide excellent sound effects and atmospheric music! Content warning: This video features amateur rapping.

Thanks for reading and keep watching this space for more Starfinder previews in the months to come!

Jason Keeley
Starfinder Design Team

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Ben Wootten David Melvin Starfinder Roleplaying Game
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Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Tales Subscriber

I can't wait to try my favorite Star Wars dog fighting manoeuvre!

"I'll try spinning! That's a good trick." - Anakin Skywalker, Age 8.

Silver Crusade

DM_aka_Dudemeister wrote:

I can't wait to try my favorite Star Wars dog fighting manoeuvre!

"I'll try spinning! That's a good trick." - Anakin Skywalker, Age 8.

Yeah... dumbest, most annoying line of the movie. And coming from the movie that featured Jar Jar at his worst, that's truly saying something.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Tales Subscriber
Fromper wrote:
DM_aka_Dudemeister wrote:

I can't wait to try my favorite Star Wars dog fighting manoeuvre!

"I'll try spinning! That's a good trick." - Anakin Skywalker, Age 8.

Yeah... dumbest, most annoying line of the movie. And coming from the movie that featured Jar Jar at his worst, that's truly saying something.

Aww no, I was being tongue in cheek! If I was 8 years old, I promise I wouldn't have had anything more clever to say than that.

Back on topic:

I'm excited by the possibilities of Starship combat, particularly how it works with one-crew fighters (like an X-Wing or TIE), because that kind of dogfighting is probably key to my space fantasy fantasies.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Jason Keeley wrote:
Built by the vesk munitions company Vindicas, the Tyrant is a dreadnought feared across multiple star systems. Huge weapon batteries tear through even the most formidable capital ships, while its hangars unleash squadrons of fighters to mop up foes too insignificant to be worth the Tyrant's direct attention.

That ships looks massive! I'm guess something that big isn't expected to be used by five players, or would the ship roles change into something akin to leadership positions, like chief engineer?

Also the mention of squadrons of fighters make me wonder if there are any sort of large scale ship combat mechanics.

I've really been loving all of art shown so far, excellent job! :)


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

This looks like the old d20 star wars ship combat! Awesome, something for everyone to do!


So, as a role, the captain doesn't have to be the one in charge, just the one people listen to in a crisis. A charismatic first mate or co-pilot is just as good in that slot.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Too bad there isn't a co-pilot/navigator role. Every ship should have a Chewbacca or a Chekhov when there is room enough on the bridge or in the cockpit. Even Rey wanted one.


Someone could probably also have pilot ranks who uses aid often to pull off tricky moves


So, what could the mystic do? I'm not sure what role they would fill.


Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Ashanderai wrote:
Too bad there isn't a co-pilot/navigator role. Every ship should have a Chewbacca or a Chekhov when there is room enough on the bridge or in the cockpit. Even Rey wanted one.

I am guessing that co-pilot or navigator is what a captain calls himself when he wants to let the pilot think that he and not the captain/co-pilot/navigator is in charge.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Han Solo, captain by rank, pilot by role.
Chewbacca, co-pilot by rank, captain by role.

Han makes the decisions, Chewie passes out bonuses. At least when one or another of them isn't trying to fix something. The Falcon really could use a dedicated engineer, but Han & Chewie probably wouldn't tolerate somebody else poking around in her guts.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Stone Dog wrote:

Han Solo, captain by rank, pilot by role.

Chewbacca, co-pilot by rank, captain by role.

Han makes the decisions, Chewie passes out bonuses. At least when one or another of them isn't trying to fix something. The Falcon really could use a dedicated engineer, but Han & Chewie probably wouldn't tolerate somebody else poking around in her guts.

You mean Rey? Rey was the engineer. Right up til the promotion.

Paizo Employee Developer

5 people marked this as a favorite.
Stone Dog wrote:
Han & Chewie probably wouldn't tolerate somebody else poking around in her guts.

Han didn't seem nearly as upset as Chewie when Ben was poking around in his guts.

What?

Too soon?


Mark Moreland wrote:
Stone Dog wrote:
Han & Chewie probably wouldn't tolerate somebody else poking around in her guts.

Han didn't seem nearly as upset as Chewie when Ben was poking around in his guts.

What?

Too soon?

It's funny, I always pick canon based on what adds lore (rather than removing it by retcon). Rebels is trying, but they've got a long way to go before it exceeds spin-off status for me.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber
Fardragon wrote:
Mine all mine...don't touch wrote:
My problem is with the fact that presumablely space combat would take place in three dimensions. There appears to be no consideration for attacking from above or below. Space combat in two dimensions feels like it loses something important.

Pretty much every PnP game with space combat I have played (Traveller, Star Trek, Star Wars D6/Star Warriors) uses one or two dimensions only.

Without a computer it's pretty much impossible to keep track of a 3rd dimension.

Quite a few PnP games over the years have used 3-D space combat, they all found the same thing: If you houserule down to 2-D, the gameplay doesn't really change.

It's not that it can't be done, it's that there is little to no benefit in doing it for most fights.


MageHunter wrote:
So, what could the mystic do? I'm not sure what role they would fill.

It isn't really class based.

It would presumably have some relationship to skills in several cases. If you don't have science skills or engineering skills, aren't good at shooting or driving the ship, I guess you're stuck as captain.


Chakat Firepaw wrote:
Fardragon wrote:
Mine all mine...don't touch wrote:
My problem is with the fact that presumablely space combat would take place in three dimensions. There appears to be no consideration for attacking from above or below. Space combat in two dimensions feels like it loses something important.

Pretty much every PnP game with space combat I have played (Traveller, Star Trek, Star Wars D6/Star Warriors) uses one or two dimensions only.

Without a computer it's pretty much impossible to keep track of a 3rd dimension.

Quite a few PnP games over the years have used 3-D space combat, they all found the same thing: If you houserule down to 2-D, the gameplay doesn't really change.

It's not that it can't be done, it's that there is little to no benefit in doing it for most fights.

As mentioned above, any 3 points form a plane. Until there are more than 3 points worth caring about, 2d works exactly as well as 3d (and higher dimensions, if you wanted hyperspace fights)


Chakat Firepaw wrote:
Fardragon wrote:
Mine all mine...don't touch wrote:
My problem is with the fact that presumablely space combat would take place in three dimensions. There appears to be no consideration for attacking from above or below. Space combat in two dimensions feels like it loses something important.

Pretty much every PnP game with space combat I have played (Traveller, Star Trek, Star Wars D6/Star Warriors) uses one or two dimensions only.

Without a computer it's pretty much impossible to keep track of a 3rd dimension.

Quite a few PnP games over the years have used 3-D space combat, they all found the same thing: If you houserule down to 2-D, the gameplay doesn't really change.

It's not that it can't be done, it's that there is little to no benefit in doing it for most fights.

Especially in space. Most areas of space just are not going to have enough "terrain" that depth winds up having that much impact. Generally if you are fighting you eventually are orienting near each other and that effectively is a plane. The game also seems to allow you to cross directly over/under/around somebody with a manuever so you still get the tie fighters strafing the falcon sort of options. Unless one side or the other is so horribly outnumbers they can be fully englobed you just don't gain much but slowing the game down for fully modeling 3d.

Silver Crusade

In re: any combat involving up to 3 points of interest can be modeled as a plane.

Could a 1 on 1 combat then be modeled as just a line? All motion then boils down to Approach, Retreat, or Maintain Separation. The more mobile combatant would have near complete control over the separation distance.

Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.

In space, no one can hear you fly by.

They can hear you screaming, however, if they're in the same ship as you with atmosphere, so that iconic tagline never made any sense.

Silver Crusade

MattZ wrote:

In re: any combat involving up to 3 points of interest can be modeled as a plane.

Could a 1 on 1 combat then be modeled as just a line? All motion then boils down to Approach, Retreat, or Maintain Separation. The more mobile combatant would have near complete control over the separation distance.

No, because the direction your ship is facing matters, so there's more to it than just how close you are. There's also which way you're moving. So besides the two ships, you'd want to track the starting and stopping point of the moving ship on each turn (or possibly point of closest approach or some other interesting point before you reach the end point), which gives you 3 points of interest again.

Which makes me wonder why that also wouldn't create 4 points of interest when dealing with 3 ships, thus bringing us back to 3 dimensions.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Fardragon wrote:
Mk III Drone: you can have it in any colour as long as it's not black.

How much do you wanna bet the Shireen really tried to take special "single color" orders but then they get on the factory floor and all of those color options and then their compound eyes get really big...


3 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
MageHunter wrote:
So, what could the mystic do? I'm not sure what role they would fill.

In the heat of battle, there's always room for someone to close their eyes and pray for dear life.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber
Quote:
The Drone Mk III is a smaller ship fabricated by shirren manufacturer Starhive. As befits their name, Drones are extremely common and used as freighters, personnel transports, light colonial defense vessels, and more. Despite the ships' mass production, Starhive takes a natural shirren pride in making sure each ship's iridescent paint job is unique.

Seriously. I love the bug-people.


DM_aka_Dudemeister wrote:

I can't wait to try my favorite Star Wars dog fighting manoeuvre!

"I'll try spinning! That's a good trick." - Anakin Skywalker, Age 8.

Still can't believe Lucas gave Anakin that line. He could have said nothing from the time he got in the cockpit till the time he left, and he would have seemed a lot more competent as a pilot (as Ben Kenobi built him up to be when talking to Luke about him).


Soo...

Are players' going to have the ability to command capital ships?
Are players' going to have the ability to pilot fighters?
Are players' going to be able to switch roles round to round?

You have 4 months to answer me.


MattZ wrote:

In re: any combat involving up to 3 points of interest can be modeled as a plane.

Could a 1 on 1 combat then be modeled as just a line? All motion then boils down to Approach, Retreat, or Maintain Separation. The more mobile combatant would have near complete control over the separation distance.

Yes, if facing doen't matter - i.e. each ship can fire the guns in one direction whist moving in the other. This is how combat worked in 1st edition Traveller.

2 points define a line, 3 points define a surface, 4 points define a volume.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, PFS RPG, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Fromper wrote:
MattZ wrote:

In re: any combat involving up to 3 points of interest can be modeled as a plane.

Could a 1 on 1 combat then be modeled as just a line? All motion then boils down to Approach, Retreat, or Maintain Separation. The more mobile combatant would have near complete control over the separation distance.

No, because the direction your ship is facing matters, so there's more to it than just how close you are. There's also which way you're moving. So besides the two ships, you'd want to track the starting and stopping point of the moving ship on each turn (or possibly point of closest approach or some other interesting point before you reach the end point), which gives you 3 points of interest again.

You don't need to track starting and stopping points, you just need to track each ship's orientation with regard to the line. When a ship moves, it's speed is represented in both a change in separation distance and an angular velocity. So, still two points.


On switching roles, I assume players will earn experience in each role, in order to unlock the more powerful abilities.

Thus, it would be better to pick one role and stick with it.


For a Star Wars Saga game, I did an experiment with implementing 3-d space battles. Basically, I had rulers taped vertically to a heavy base, with starship miniatures clipped (with those black clip thingies) to the ruler. By moving the base, the ship would move horizontally, and by moving the clip, the ship would move vertically (using the inch measurements on the rulers to tell how far "up" or "down" a ship was from another). Ships on the exact same vertical plane would move onto the same ruler, etc. It was kinda fun, but I only tried it for a few battles. If I were more crafty, I probably could have streamlined the idea better.


Fromper wrote:
MattZ wrote:

In re: any combat involving up to 3 points of interest can be modeled as a plane.

Could a 1 on 1 combat then be modeled as just a line? All motion then boils down to Approach, Retreat, or Maintain Separation. The more mobile combatant would have near complete control over the separation distance.

No, because the direction your ship is facing matters, so there's more to it than just how close you are. There's also which way you're moving. So besides the two ships, you'd want to track the starting and stopping point of the moving ship on each turn (or possibly point of closest approach or some other interesting point before you reach the end point), which gives you 3 points of interest again.

Which makes me wonder why that also wouldn't create 4 points of interest when dealing with 3 ships, thus bringing us back to 3 dimensions.

That's not the point he was trying to make. He was talking about the ships when he said points of interest, and even if you take 3 points and have them face and move in three totally wild and different directions, a flat plane can be made by those 3 points at any given time.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber
Mark Moreland wrote:
Stone Dog wrote:
Han & Chewie probably wouldn't tolerate somebody else poking around in her guts.

Han didn't seem nearly as upset as Chewie when Ben was poking around in his guts.

What?

Too soon?

Yes


Once again, on dimensionality: when facing matters, we have a 6-dimensional system for each object, since there are 6 quantities of interest: x,y,z roll, pitch, yaw. However, when there are few objects of interest, we can simplify space, arriving at x, roll, pitch, yaw (4 dimensions). Information on facing can be preserved, but the "location space" is 1-dimensional, and can thus be modelled as a line.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

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One easy way to represent some 3d on a battle map is with colored poker chips - use, say, red chips for down and blue chips for up, each chip being one space. Put the mini/representation of the ship on top of the stack. Calculating distance requires a little math.


Cole Deschain wrote:
Quote:
The Drone Mk III is a smaller ship fabricated by shirren manufacturer Starhive. As befits their name, Drones are extremely common and used as freighters, personnel transports, light colonial defense vessels, and more. Despite the ships' mass production, Starhive takes a natural shirren pride in making sure each ship's iridescent paint job is unique.
Seriously. I love the bug-people.

I keep trying to come up with a point of comparison to this and what i get is painting a shark's mouth onto the front of your ship but then insisting you make a unique tooth and scar pattern on each one... and then maybe some beauty marks and lip rings to go with it.


In my experience 3D isn't worth the complication in space combat.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Please tell me that, even though they aren't listed here, there are rules for ramming.


Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
CKent83 wrote:
Please tell me that, even though they aren't listed here, there are rules for ramming.

That demo game at GAMA had goblins ramming (or at least trying to ram) the PCs' ship, so it must be there in some form.


David knott 242 wrote:
CKent83 wrote:
Please tell me that, even though they aren't listed here, there are rules for ramming.

That demo game at GAMA had goblins ramming (or at least trying to ram) the PCs' ship, so it must be there in some form.

They said during the demo that it was a house rule, so it will not necessarily be in there.


Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

But it is too fun an idea to give up on.

Even if it is not directly in the core rulebook, I would be very surprised if nobody comes up with some sort of ramming rules within a week of that book's initial release. After all, they would have to cover accidental collisions in some way -- and what is ramming but a deliberate collision?


I would be pretty surprised to not see some form of ramming rules in game. It is one of those things that tends to pop up in anything where people fly around.


5 people marked this as a favorite.

And deliberate ramming was a tactic chosen by a Rebel ship in Rogue One.

Contributor

Even if there isn't a specific rule for it, I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to calculate. Each ship should have statsfor size, hardness and durability. Treat a ship as a bludgeoning (or piercing if the nose is pointy enough) weapon of X size category. Do math.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber
kaid wrote:
Chakat Firepaw wrote:
Fardragon wrote:
Mine all mine...don't touch wrote:
My problem is with the fact that presumablely space combat would take place in three dimensions. There appears to be no consideration for attacking from above or below. Space combat in two dimensions feels like it loses something important.

Pretty much every PnP game with space combat I have played (Traveller, Star Trek, Star Wars D6/Star Warriors) uses one or two dimensions only.

Without a computer it's pretty much impossible to keep track of a 3rd dimension.

Quite a few PnP games over the years have used 3-D space combat, they all found the same thing: If you houserule down to 2-D, the gameplay doesn't really change.

It's not that it can't be done, it's that there is little to no benefit in doing it for most fights.

Especially in space. Most areas of space just are not going to have enough "terrain" that depth winds up having that much impact. Generally if you are fighting you eventually are orienting near each other and that effectively is a plane. The game also seems to allow you to cross directly over/under/around somebody with a manuever so you still get the tie fighters strafing the falcon sort of options. Unless one side or the other is so horribly outnumbers they can be fully englobed you just don't gain much but slowing the game down for fully modeling 3d.

I think there needs to be some consideration for hitting the soft underbelly of a capital sized ship with a snub fighter kind of thing. I have every confidence this will will a great game. I preordered the whole kit. I Just wondered if there is something in place to represent the oddity three dimensions present


1 person marked this as a favorite.

There isn't any reason to build capital ships with a 'soft underbelly.' It's actually a terrible design flaw in a space born ship, you'd want (and have no reason not to) protect it with the same armor and weapon arcs as anywhere else.


Maybe consider Star Trek Beyond for ramming...

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

Does anyone know if the free RPG day booklet will have enough in it to actually play something that day? We here are chomping at the bit to try it and we don't want to wait until august


Given that this is a starship combat thread, I think it is safe to assume that the free rpg day stuff won't include starship combat. Any further speculation would be off topic for this particular thread.


Voss wrote:
There isn't any reason to build capital ships with a 'soft underbelly.' It's actually a terrible design flaw in a space born ship, you'd want (and have no reason not to) protect it with the same armor and weapon arcs as anywhere else.

Capital ships are also unlikely to "land" and there for can actually put a large number of guns and defenses on the bottom.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

though if they did need to land they could have extending legs to not crush the guns

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