Holy Cow! Starship Combat!


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Finally got my first taste of starship combat during an organized play event at a convention today.

All I can say is HOLY COW! It is SO much fun, and quite difficult to wrap one's head around.

Had two encounters, one against an equally powered ship in open space in which I played the gunner, and another in an asteroid field against a superior foe in which I was the pilot.

The first encounter was relatively straight-forward, but we quickly learned just how important positioning and firing arcs are! In the second encounter, we played tag around the asteroids, being very careful not to expose our aft, as it had no weapons and minimal shields. I could not believe just how much more the pilot could do! Having competent gunners is hella' important, but man, when you're the pilot, it sure seems like you're the focus, nevermind the captain, engineer, or science officer. They all help out, sure, but they all basically live or die based on your ability to pilot the ship into an optimal position every round.

I made tons of mistakes. There were at least two rounds in which I could have used evasive maneuvers, but I was so focused on where I was going to move and how I was going to move there, that I simply forgot to declare it until it was too late. One such round really cost us, as the enemy blasted us with their missiles, all of which would have missed if our TL was 2 points higher. :(

Ultimately, we hightailed it and ran from the enemy, which made us realize that we had superior range, so we kept our distance and sniped, forcing the enemy to take penalties to their attacks, giving us just enough edge to survive by the skin of our teeth.

It was so much fun. So exciting. The rules have a decent learning curve, and team work and communication are an absolute must, but we're starting to get the hang of it more and more.

If the gunners had missed their mark, if our engineer didn't keep the ship and shields together, if I didn't put the ship in place to fire our optimal weapons while protecting our weak spots, if the captain hadn't made certain checks possible, if any one person didn't do their part--well, I wouldn't be alive today to tell you about it. :D

No rules in ANY roleplaying game to date has made me feel more like part of a team than Starfinder's starship combat rules.

Thanks for the great experiences Paizo! Keep up the good work! :D

Liberty's Edge

I've only experienced it from the GM side, but I agree. It's a lot of fun when you get it right.

Having a good pilot makes a huge difference, especially since the piloting checks determine the initiative. Being able to move after your opponent means you'll almost always be in a better position.


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Same fun experience with our group.

Everyone had a "role" and everyone made an impact.

The most hilarious was that my Rogue PC from Dark Sun basically had his mind transferred into an Android Outlaw for the Starfinder game (we retired one setting to start the other), so he was completely lost with jumping from Dark Sun to Space, yet he had the best piloting skills.

I'm from a magic-lean and technology non-existent world where metal is so rare a dagger makes you rich, yet I can hot dog around these stars better than any of you gits...

Liberty's Edge

The quest is a very well written story with fun adventures to teach new players the basics of the game.

Grand Lodge

What does everything think about Space Combat taking very long?

At first I thought the players weren't used to it, but later on (with the FAQ) I realized that the Engineer can keep healing the shields. That's basically a free fast-healing.

As a GM, I advice players to have two gunners even in small groups of 4, but I wish there was another good trick to shorten Space Combat.

Grand Lodge

Varun Creed wrote:

What does everything think about Space Combat taking very long?

At first I thought the players weren't used to it, but later on (with the FAQ) I realized that the Engineer can keep healing the shields. That's basically a free fast-healing.

As a GM, I advice players to have two gunners even in small groups of 4, but I wish there was another good trick to shorten Space Combat.

My experience with low-tier ships slugging it out is that if both ships' engineers can keep restoring shields, combat grinds to a stalemate as neither ship's weapons can get through to the other's hull.

Multiple gunners can help with this IF a ship has multiple guns in an arc, which may not be the case for all arcs for a low tier ship.

And at tier 2, the SFS Drake especially suffers from running out of ammo for its one turret weapon too early in the battle.


Pathfinder Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

Agreed on the starship combat. I've tried a couple systems before but having the whole group running the different parts of the ship and making everyones turn meaningful to the ships performance is really awesome.

I like how it showcases the abilities of some of the "non combat" classes too. I have a player who was disappointed by the engineers abilities in normal combat ("why cant I change the energy type of a gun as an action?"). Then he manages to save the entire ship from exploding with some key repairs and all issue went out the window ;)

As for early starship combat it feels like they didn't want ships just one shotting each other since it would be really easy to TPK. Also comparing the HP and shield levels of different ships it looks like the SFS Drake is heavily skewed towards survivability and outlasting the enemy vs the SFS Pegasus being a little more maneuverable and able to bring a bit more focus fire. Neither are appearing to be a "fighter". So it would make sense that the engineer on both ships would be able to keep the shields up.

Also don't forget that players can change roles between rounds, and none of the roles are required... if you thing your pilot can get you lined up for a great shot even your captain can take a gunner slot for a turn. It all just has to be declared at the beginning of the round.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Solaredge wrote:
It all just has to be declared at the beginning of the round.

This came up during our games at the convention: Does a gunner have to declar WHICH gun and/or arc he is on at the beginning of the round? Or does he just have to declare that he is A gunner?

Also, does a gunner on a turret have to choose which arch the turret is facing at the start of each round, or when he goes to fire it?


so question is it better to use unwieldy ranged weapons or melee weapons for the envoy?

Id lean towards ranged weapons because it prioritizes dex, and makes them less MAD


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

I've been going with just declaring A gunner, when I run. Nothing I've seen says they have to declare which one, and if people can switch roles every round, I've been seeing it as relying on being able to slave terminals to different controls, not always running to the far end of the ship.

Seems to make more sense to me. But I have no textual support in either direction.

Liberty's Edge

Ravingdork wrote:
Solaredge wrote:
It all just has to be declared at the beginning of the round.

This came up during our games at the convention: Does a gunner have to declar WHICH gun and/or arc he is on at the beginning of the round? Or does he just have to declare that he is A gunner?

Also, does a gunner on a turret have to choose which arch the turret is facing at the start of each round, or when he goes to fire it?

No, the rules just state that a character declares the role. Noting about what arc or anything like that.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

Additionally, now that I go back to it, the Fire At Will gunner action lets you fire any two weapons, regardless of arc, as one action.

So the idea that you have to select a weapon or arc at the start of the round holds no water at all.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Then what's the point of turrets?


HammerJack just means Fire At Will allows you to select two weapons in different arcs, so the idea that a gunner has to select a weapon or arc doesn't hold water.

Turrets, and the arcs of weapons, are still important. If you have two ships to fore and aft, Fire at Will allows you to fire at both, despite being in different arcs. You can still only target them with the respective fore- and aft-arc weapons, or turrets.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

The issue with recharging shields goes even worse when the players realize that just by getting a huge power core and better shields as an upgrade the engineer can make the ship invulnerable to same level balanced ships. 200 PCU power source gives 10 points of shields every turn, in the AP book 3 the pirate ship never got a single shot through their Tier5 ships shields.

Dark Archive

The big thing with the time of starship combat is to make sure to invoke the fight is over rule (it was nice that was actually written in to the Core rule book) Finishing a ship off can take quite awhile but whether it is having a great engineer and shields or a vast advantage in piloting and maneuvering it is easy to reach a point where it might take 5 or more turns, but they will be repetitive.


Ravingdork wrote:
Then what's the point of turrets?

Why did battleships transition from guns mounted on the side of the hull to turrets? Why did tanks do the same? There are technical advantages like weight or cost savings, or reducing the number of gunners, but I think one of the biggest advantages is tactical flexibility.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

It seems to me that the starship combat is primarily about two factors, getting your strongest shield arc and strongest weapon arc to face the enemy, you have to change the priority of those two factors depending on how the fight has gone. But if you prioritize putting your best gear into the turret slot than its just down to keeping your best shield arc facing the enemy which can make your ship effectively much tankier, yeah?

Liberty's Edge

Ravingdork wrote:
Then what's the point of turrets?

I think you are getting too far into the weeds here. The computer, with input from the gunner, points the turret. At least that is how I visualize it. The gunner is sitting at the console and directs the weapon the to fired from it. I don't see a gunner sitting in a turret cockpit like on the Falcon. I see gunners more like those on Star Destroyers controlling the action of a weapon remotely.

The intent is to make space combat fun and flow quickly. If a player has decide what weapon to fire at the beginning of a round it will only slow down the combat.


Ravingdork wrote:
Ultimately, we hightailed it and ran from the enemy, which made us realize that we had superior range, so we kept our distance and sniped, forcing the enemy to take penalties to their attacks, giving us just enough edge to survive by the skin of our teeth

Was not one manning the Science Officer Station? Did you not scan them to see their weaponry?

A good Mechanic can do both jobs in a pinch switching roles at the top of the round.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Gilfalas wrote:
Ravingdork wrote:
Ultimately, we hightailed it and ran from the enemy, which made us realize that we had superior range, so we kept our distance and sniped, forcing the enemy to take penalties to their attacks, giving us just enough edge to survive by the skin of our teeth

Was not one manning the Science Officer Station? Did you not scan them to see their weaponry?

A good Mechanic can do both jobs in a pinch switching roles at the top of the round.

We only had four PCs during the second encounter, not enough to fill all the ship roles. There was already a lot of switching going on too, but manning the sensors seemed like the least priority at the time.

Liberty's Edge

Ravingdork wrote:
Gilfalas wrote:
Ravingdork wrote:
Ultimately, we hightailed it and ran from the enemy, which made us realize that we had superior range, so we kept our distance and sniped, forcing the enemy to take penalties to their attacks, giving us just enough edge to survive by the skin of our teeth

Was not one manning the Science Officer Station? Did you not scan them to see their weaponry?

A good Mechanic can do both jobs in a pinch switching roles at the top of the round.

We only had four PCs during the second encounter, not enough to fill all the ship roles. There was already a lot of switching going on too, but manning the sensors seemed like the least priority at the time.

A good roll one time will get you enough information. Always considering this so you can get the basic info on your enemy.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Especially since there isn't a huge amount else for the Engineer role to do before you've taken fire. Sure, you *can* overcharge someone else's action, but sensors are so much better.


Ravingdork wrote:

Finally got my first taste of starship combat during an organized play event at a convention today.

All I can say is HOLY COW! It is SO much fun, and quite difficult to wrap one's head around.

Our first experience with starship combat was a little underwhelming, but I can see huge potential there and I'm looking forward to the next one.


Metaphysician wrote:
Especially since there isn't a huge amount else for the Engineer role to do before you've taken fire. Sure, you *can* overcharge someone else's action, but sensors are so much better.

Couldn't sensor scans tell you where the shield points are being distributed on an enemy ship during combat as they take damage so you could maximize your positioning?


Whoa!Whoa! wrote:
Metaphysician wrote:
Especially since there isn't a huge amount else for the Engineer role to do before you've taken fire. Sure, you *can* overcharge someone else's action, but sensors are so much better.
Couldn't sensor scans tell you where the shield points are being distributed on an enemy ship during combat as they take damage so you could maximize your positioning?

Yes, but most opponents will put their shield points where you're probably going to shoot them, so that's of limited utility. The best reason to scan early is preliminary digging, so you always start your Scan with Defenses or better (if the enemy SO hasn't reset your Scan with Balance Shields).

How good Divert is on the ship's weapons depends on their damage die - Coilguns get a much better buff than Plasma Cannons.

d4: 10% more damage
d6: 4.76% more damage
d8: 2.78%
d10: 1.81%
d12: 1.28%


I'm gathering that the intention is to have the party in a single ship, but I'm wondering has anyone gamed it out to see how things play out if those same types were all in their own ships, like fighters?

Not sure if they would get their full CL each for purpose of BP, but even if so, would having 4-6 snubfighters lead to more deadly results (presumably due to lesser pilot scores when spread out among individual party) and 'can't really do repairs' stuff? Generally speaking does the 'one target, but broader abilities' balance out vs 'numerous smaller targets, but with lesser abilities'?


The biggest problem with fighters (as I've gathered from reading stuff) is that, since they typically have only one person, and each person can only have one role, you have very limited actions per round. The typical round for a one-man fighter is probably going to be either "Glide and Shoot" or "Fly and Snap Shot". If you try to do any other action, you're either a sitting duck or don't get to shoot that round, since you can only take one Minor Action per round. Can it work? Maybe. Is it advisable? Definitely not.


You can have a system which tries to give every PC on their ship a job to do, or you can have a system which encourages fighters. Starfinder does the first.

I've seen suggestions like adding together the CRs of the PCs ships (in the usual way for CRs) so that you might start at level 1 with 4 CR 1/4 ships, for example, or at level 10 have 4 level 6 ships.


Gary Bush wrote:
A good roll one time will get you enough information. Always considering this so you can get the basic info on your enemy.

Exactly. Just look at how much you can get with one or two good Science rolls to scan the enemy. Weapon loadouts and facings, shields, cargo and add ons.

On round one and two most mechanics can go Science Officer to get that critical data and then switch to Engineer to start doing re balancing/repairs/weapon and shield boost/etc.


I think the easiest way to bring fighters more into the fold is allow for certain roles (predominately Captain and Science) to be applied to a squadron from one person at the head/in the carrier rather than individually. Maybe an add-on that replaces the normal scanners?


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note, the post title of "Holy Cow!Starship Combat!" should not be confused weith "holy, cow starship combat." which is when Nuar priests engage in space based holy war.

it's like Steer Wars meets Cattlestar Galactica.


The Sideromancer wrote:
I think the easiest way to bring fighters more into the fold is allow for certain roles (predominately Captain and Science) to be applied to a squadron from one person at the head/in the carrier rather than individually. Maybe an add-on that replaces the normal scanners?

I like that idea (Captain bonus applied to entire squadron and/or data shared by Science officer). You could have a big ship that deploys 1 or more smaller fighters.

But for Engineer role in smaller, 1-man shipds, such as repairing shields and such, a droid could work. An example is R2D2 and BB8 in Star Wars. The droids basically handle the repairs done in the Engineer's turn.


Haven't played much...

But is there potential for their to be the main ship and ap layer out in a fighter?


Zwordsman wrote:

Haven't played much...

But is there potential for their to be the main ship and ap layer out in a fighter?

Not even remotely with the rules as written. The game is very rigorously tuned to there being one PC ship and one PC ship only. Further, fighter chassis ships scale terribly and become screaming metal death traps for whoever's in it as you climb the levels. Then there's the fact that the system in general more or less forces you to have multiple crew in order to not suck in ship combat (aka not getting stuck with minor actions due to only being one guy).

You need heavy rule jury rigging to pull this off and honestly the easiest version would be to make something like a fighter/bomber squadron "weapon" where a PC hops in a little ship in the hangar and has a bunch of drone ships follow his lead or something like that.

Liberty's Edge

Gilfalas wrote:
Gary Bush wrote:
A good roll one time will get you enough information. Always considering this so you can get the basic info on your enemy.

Exactly. Just look at how much you can get with one or two good Science rolls to scan the enemy. Weapon loadouts and facings, shields, cargo and add ons.

On round one and two most mechanics can go Science Officer to get that critical data and then switch to Engineer to start doing re balancing/repairs/weapon and shield boost/etc.

Also, keep in mind that Scan rolls are cumulative. Once you learned something, you get more information on the next roll, not just the same stuff again. Unless you wanted that info again.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Tarik Blackhands wrote:

Further, fighter chassis ships scale terribly and become screaming metal death traps for whoever's in it as you climb the levels.

I keep hearing this, but wonder if it's really true, or just a bunch of armchair theorizing.

Has anyone tried running a smaller craft in an actual game?


Ravingdork wrote:
Tarik Blackhands wrote:

Further, fighter chassis ships scale terribly and become screaming metal death traps for whoever's in it as you climb the levels.

I keep hearing this, but wonder if it's really true, or just a bunch of armchair theorizing.

Has anyone tried running a smaller craft in an actual game?

While I haven't, I like that small starships and below can't be targeted by capital weapons, but I don't think fights against capital ships is all that common.


It's all theory from my end, but the writing on the wall seems pretty tangible that tiny craft will eventually become nonviable.

The sheer limitations of only being able to use light weapons (and two weapons per arc) generally means you're going to have pitiful damage against equivalent threats and very likely won't even be able to spend all your BP as you ascend to higher ranks (That will take number crunching admittedly). Plus max crew of two means you're going to need some very self sufficient PCs or just utterly ignore all engineering and science actions since pilot/gunner take priority by a significant margin.

No expansion bays also sucks.


I did some futzing and saw that even if you threw 800 points into a fighter or interceptor, you still run into hard limits on your damage output (due to size), shield output due to power and power output due to size.

If I recall you're going to be hard stuck at like 200 power.


It sounds like you would need large swarms of small fighters to do damage to larger ships.

What would be the effect of allowing starship weapons to do double damage on critical strikes? Might this substantially shorten starship combat in an agreeable way? What would the downsides be?

Scarab Sages

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I personally think you should try it out...not in SFS. I know I will.

In a home game it would be interesting to have a main ship and 1 or 2 small fighters. Also scaling isn't a huge obstacle if your not a rules lawyer. What does a fighter need to compete? A reasonably damaging gun? Some more shields? You got it. With equivalent weapons and maybe a little less shields a small fighter is still inhibited by actions. PLUS, when a ship reaches 0 HP it is disabled not destroyed, so you don't have to get overly much about killing players.

I can say from experience that there is very little excitement with a 1 v 1 ship combat without asteroids or something environmental to steer around.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I'd like to see some squadron rules someday; rules that would allow the GM to throw swarms of little weak ships at the PCs, but have them grouped up so that each squadron acts more like a single larger, more threatening ship--kind of like the tie fighter squadrons in Star Wars.


I have a custom tiny frame with a single expansion bay and two crew as well as a shuttle that my PCs will be using in lieu of the single explorer that the SFS adventure provides next week. I was looking at the combat that they will be completing and it should be a tough fight. With the lower HP and shields that the individual ships end up with it's likely that I will end up disabling one of the two ships. I will be sure to post how it goes in practice.


Having run my second session of starship combat now, I must say I have to echo the sentiments of the OP. Holy cow, this was fun.

I think there were some important preconditions:

- My session involved a kind of warm-up encounter with little real threat that allowed us all to acclimatise better to how turn orders in starship combat work.

- I had enough lead time to work up "action cards" for players in Roll20 that incorporated the adjusted DCs of various actions from the errata, making it unnecessary to flip back and forth through the rules.

- I was also able to work up macros in Roll20 that automated the piloting contest in each round at the click of a button and reminded us visually how turn order worked.

- Our main starship combat encounter involved a crowded Star War-style "clashing rocks" asteroid field that their enemy (who "knew the ground" better) tried to use to periodically run them onto -- or into -- the rocks. There was lots of dodging around for advantage and critical use of Piloting Stunts by both sides. The enemy was tactically acute and used the weapon in its arsenal that best exploited the hero ship's weakness (a comparatively lower TL).

- Our enemy ship was alone, but of matched tier to the players, making it a Hard encounter in CR-balancing terms and making it genuinely dangerous, thus upping the stakes of their rolls. There was in particular a clutch use of Flyby which it became clear to the players they needed to pull off to have the best chance of surviving (especially since they'd been battered by various navigational hazards on the way into the encounter and their Engineer was constantly battling just to keep the ship together).

- All the crew's actions mattered tremendously, as every possible edge counted even with the adjusted action DCs.

It all added up to a thrilling encounter in which the players weren't the ones who got blown up... though they certainly could've been. I sensed the starship combat rules had possibilities; I'm glad to see that sense was right, although that said, I'll be hesitant to throw the players into an encounter this high-risk too often.

(I did not, as it happened, wind up allowing starship weapons to do double damage on critical strikes, as it proved unnecessary and nobody critted in this particular combat anyway. I'm not ruling this out for the future, though.)

Paizo Employee Starfinder Design Lead

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Ravingdork wrote:
I'd like to see some squadron rules someday;

Me too. :)

Grand Lodge

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Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:
Ravingdork wrote:
I'd like to see some squadron rules someday;
Me too. :)

If only you knew somebody.

Liberty's Edge

Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I ran (non Society) Starfinder at TotalCon in Marlboro MA all weekend (six 4 hour sessions) and the last one was a massive space battle. As GM I had 3 capital ships with fighter escorts and among 7 players there were 15 or 16 ships (some fighters and some not). It was glorious, but in a very EVE Online kind of way (read: slow).


Our home group loves Starship combat.

It is the most fun part.

Someone asked about Fire At Will - You can shoot any two weapons, yes, but you can still only hit an enemy with a weapon that the enemy is in the proper firing arc of.

Still - It is the most fun part of our home game.

We have it down to a tactical art.

Generally our people have roles specific as part of our character personas... So Captain Ciaphas is our Captain. We have a Mechanic who is our Engineer, an Ace Pilot Solarian. An Android Gunner, and a Mystic Science Officer.

Our Space Combat is *very* quick.

Captain Ciaphas tells us what he wants us to do, taking suggestions from us, but he's the Captain, he has final say.

Our Engineer does Repairs and what not.

Our Science Officer handles shields sensors and such.

I pilot the ship and get us into the position that Captain Ciaphas wants us in.

Our Android shoots.

We are a well oiled machine, it is quick, it is fun.

-----

For SFS play it is... A little less fun... People tend to cluster on roles... So there are a million Pilots, Captains tend to get relegated to "Aid Monkey" without any input into the situation, half the time people don't even bother with Engineer or Science Officer and try to cram as many people as possible into gun turrets.


So I have run two starship combats. The first was fun, tense, and enjoyable. The second was a bit of a slog, with the party falling into set patterns trying to bludgeon the enemy into submission before they got disabled. I'm not sure why the difference.

Any suggestions on running space ship combat effectively? At-the-table procedures that might help?

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