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!
Starfinder Design Team