How does one make starship combat fun for the whole crew?


General Discussion


I'm curious how Starfinder will go about tackling this challenge.

Does each party member have a role to play? Is the engineer more fun than just rolling knowledge (engineering) to repair/boost a system each round?


systems of systems? Give ships a low automated option for parties that dont have the skills for it and dont want to focus on ship combat. For those that do then assign players to movement, one for electronic attack/defense/support, one for weapon systems, one for leadership/morale/team buffs, magic amplifiers to allow magic users to fling spells back and forth. Mind controlled combat drones for some players to dog fight while the rest fight the ship. They could even make damage control fun if the engineer can choose to buff some systems instead of using time to repair others.


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What I don't want to happen is this:

GM: Engineer, it's your turn.
Engineer: Oh, I guess I boost power to weapons for *rolls* plus two. *Player goes back to browsing internet*

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

I'm concerned about this as well; I've run enough Star Wars games to know that most ship combat involves the pilot and a gunner and everyone else sits around waiting for it to end.

Ideally, a PC ship would have at least enough guns for everyone to fire one, and possibly some other "combat systems" that would let enterprising players do interesting effects.

It's not a bad thing if the "engineer" player can repair ship hp damage during combat, but they need something to do before the ship gets hit too.


So, as a basic concept, look at combat roles a party can fill and add in equivalent systems for ships? It still limits action economy though, if everyone is in the same ship than the whole party only gets that one movement and if Soldier is running the turret(s) than buffer cant take shots in between setting up buffs. Has anyone seen it done well?


I would imagine it will work like any other role in a RPG: some will have the skills or will have been built to handle certain things, others will not.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Im sure the spell casters will have plenty of options. Skilled characters can pick up tech options.

Dont make classes with out skills or magic.


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I imagine it'll work the same way as ship to ship combat in Pathfinder.

Everyone gets bored the first time the rules are used, and then the GM expedites matters so you jump straight to the boarding section after a cinematic chase scene.


There's lots of things that can be done to make one-on-one ship combat viable for the entire crew.
- what if each character can operate a different weapons system? Yeah, you get four attacks each 'round', but this isn't the same as PC combat.
- what if all your defenses were entirely manual. No force-fields that just drain, but instead players have to go around patching leaks or firing counter-measures to prevent catastrophic ship explosion.
- what if ranged attacks in space were the exception, and boarding was the norm?
- what if each character got to control the entire ship and make a full set of actions during their turn?

All of these are things the design team is probably thinking of, but they're just what popped into my head. I don't expect to be disappointed if it's something that's going to be a relatively major part of the game.


It might be best to slap a sidebar in the core book along the lines of, "Some groups like space combat and some dont. If you want to tell a story of ship to ship combat in the void of space than tell your players ahead of time that they will want classes, skills and feats to participate in those fights. If you dont want to run space battles than let your players know master turreteers and ace pilots will not have as great a role in this campaign."

I am thinking of Traveller's skill packages for groups, if you are playing a space combat based campaign than after character creation the group gets to pick from a list of space combat skills so that they can all do something on the ship if the character they rolled doesnt already handle some of that. Something like that could work in Starfinder i suppose.


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I have an idea that I have basically riped from FTL, but they riped it from battlestations so turn about. :P The idea is to focuse on the players rather then the ship.

The ship would act more like terrain. A ship would consist of a set of rooms with different systems for players to use. The ship itself doesn't have HP or AC. It's more about the players skills in using the ship systems.

All space weapons are AoE, To fire them, you pick a room on your target ship and everything inside makes a save or takes damage. So the ship doesn't actually protect the player from attacks. (It gives the ships medic something to do and also it keeps the depth of normal combat. Your HP, DR, Saves, ect all still matter.) The system in the room can also take damage and might have to be repaired. (Something for the engineer to do. They get to make a choice about what is important to fix fist or even what they can fix.) Weapons would also often come with an lingering environmental effect too. Like a missile might breach the hull, or a laser might start a fire. Now the players have to deal environmental hazards on changing terrain.

Different characters can operate different systems with the idea being that no system is needed and that you will have more systems then players. So a ship for five people would have A helm, Shields, Weapons, Engineering, life support, A Drone Bay, A Teleport, and maybe a cloaking field. Any system can be maned by anyone. Players would be moving between systems to use the one most needed at the time well avoiding hazards (If this was 5ed, then I would make them tool proficiency, but maybe just have every system use the same skill in starfinder.)


In other games I have divided up the tasks for various group members to do if they did not have a PC in the situation (ie space combat).
I have had players roll for the enemy, keep track of the enemies stats and essentially run the craft that are attacking the craft the players are on.
I have also decided at the beginning of a campaign to have each player roll up 2 PC's, one action based and the other more tech based. This almost assured that a player would have something to do during star ship combat. But I also agree this might not be the best solution for every group.

MDC


I think a lot of ship combat can really come down to how you describe everything. If you're just saying, "There's a hull breach, roll to repair.", then that's going to be boring. Add some flair and danger to raise the stakes for the player. Make that hull breach actually start suffocating everyone near it and try and pull them out into space.

There's also the idea of using electronic warfare. It gives the hackers something to do while the gunners are all doing something. hacking the enemy ship to shut off certain systems. There was also the idea of giving people small drones that can also act as weapon systems, support, repairs, etc. It is the future after all.


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As someone who has logged over 1000 hours in FTL, I'd have to say Nomotog's suggestion is a very good starting point to build a Ship-to-Ship Combat system from.

I would have to disagree with the ship not having HP though. I'd say give the ship HP, but have it's 'AC' be determined by the Pilot. Or maybe instead of AC, do something like 'Roll Reflex/Pilot Skill vs the opponent Attack roll', although that might get rather tedious in large scale fights. Still, just throwing ideas out there.

The real trick here, is how to incorporate magic properly. If this were strictly tech based, it would be simpler. But magic with tech, always causes a complication somewhere.


Fallen_Mage wrote:

As someone who has logged over 1000 hours in FTL, I'd have to say Nomotog's suggestion is a very good starting point to build a Ship-to-Ship Combat system from.

I would have to disagree with the ship not having HP though. I'd say give the ship HP, but have it's 'AC' be determined by the Pilot. Or maybe instead of AC, do something like 'Roll Reflex/Pilot Skill vs the opponent Attack roll', although that might get rather tedious in large scale fights. Still, just throwing ideas out there.

The real trick here, is how to incorporate magic properly. If this were strictly tech based, it would be simpler. But magic with tech, always causes a complication somewhere.

I was thinking AC would be based on a pilot roll too. (I didn't want to post my whole rule set at the start. It's long and it's also in 5ed format.) With HP my current idea is to not have it because I want to keep focus on the crews, but I am also thinking including it can help with the systems ability to handle larger battles. It's rather in depth, so you can't really use it for massive battles or massive ships. (That mostly works for me though. It's going to be rare that the players will get there hands on a really big ship or a fleet.)


Starfinder Superscriber

I had really good luck with the first d20 Star Wars ship combat. Basically they had the pilot (makes the checks to get bonuses on some actions), Engineer (shields), Computer ops (bonuses on checks to one person), and gunners. Seemed to work for a party of 7 really well. And no round passed where everyone didn't have something to do.

President, Jon Brazer Enterprises

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I was thinking of this problem over the weekend and here's my conclusion:

Regular combat is fun because you have alot of options. Classes give you lots of options in personal combat. Sure they give you a few tricks out of combat, but mostly they player have lots of options. Fighters choose feats to tailor their unique attack style to how they want to play their character. Rogue players have to figure out how to set up their sneak attack. Various classes have some resource to manage (various pools of points, abilities that work x/day). Spellcasters have to figure out which spells they prepared that day work best on the monster at hand. And at the end of the combat, players get to feel that their choice of tactics, the way they maneuvered through combat, their choice of spells paid off.

Ship combat (and mass combat as well) is not fun because all those options are gone. I know mass combat better than ship combat, but from what I've seen, they are similar in this respect. In mass combat, all those spells you prepared, all those class options and feats you earned, all those tactics you honed are simply gone. You have one options: have your mass combat unit attack/fire your ship's gun and do damage to the enemies hp. That's it. There is no rewarded feeling of "something I earned or choice I made really helped." A mass combat unit of fighters feels identical to a mass combat unit of rangers.

For Ship Combat to be fun, it has to integrate with class abilities and have LOTS of options in it. In regular combat, a rogue has to set up a flank with a teammate. But in ship combat, the ship moves, and not necessarily where the rogue wants it to go. This means the rogue already has less options. In order for ship combat to be an integral part of Starfinder, class options/feats/etc have to present a reason why character X should be at the plasma guns while character Y should be arming the torpedoes. Does one class provide a bonus to energy weapons (i.e. a tech class) while another allows you to grant a bonus to physical weapons (i.e. a magic class). Can the pilot do something other than steer the ship to where the other characters on the guns want it to go? Like can the pilot try scrambling their sensors to give their enemy a blanket penalty to hitting them or adjust the shields to give the ship resistance to certain kinds of damage. Is there a reason why a low-BAB spellcaster be on a gun over the fighter that doesn't involve a spell?

This is what I think ship combat needs to be a serious part of the game.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Dale McCoy Jr wrote:

I was thinking of this problem over the weekend and here's my conclusion:

Regular combat is fun because you have alot of options. Classes give you lots of options in personal combat. Sure they give you a few tricks out of combat, but mostly they player have lots of options. Fighters choose feats to tailor their unique attack style to how they want to play their character. Rogue players have to figure out how to set up their sneak attack. Various classes have some resource to manage (various pools of points, abilities that work x/day). Spellcasters have to figure out which spells they prepared that day work best on the monster at hand. And at the end of the combat, players get to feel that their choice of tactics, the way they maneuvered through combat, their choice of spells paid off.

Ship combat (and mass combat as well) is not fun because all those options are gone. I know mass combat better than ship combat, but from what I've seen, they are similar in this respect. In mass combat, all those spells you prepared, all those class options and feats you earned, all those tactics you honed are simply gone. You have one options: have your mass combat unit attack/fire your ship's gun and do damage to the enemies hp. That's it. There is no rewarded feeling of "something I earned or choice I made really helped." A mass combat unit of fighters feels identical to a mass combat unit of rangers.

For Ship Combat to be fun, it has to integrate with class abilities and have LOTS of options in it. In regular combat, a rogue has to set up a flank with a teammate. But in ship combat, the ship moves, and not necessarily where the rogue wants it to go. This means the rogue already has less options. In order for ship combat to be an integral part of Starfinder, class options/feats/etc have to present a reason why character X should be at the plasma guns while character Y should be arming the torpedoes. Does one class provide a bonus to energy weapons (i.e. a tech class) while another allows you to grant a bonus to physical weapons (i.e. a magic class). Can the pilot do something other than steer the ship to where the other characters on the guns want it to go? Like can the pilot try scrambling their sensors to give their enemy a blanket penalty to hitting them or adjust the shields to give the ship resistance to certain kinds of damage. Is there a reason why a low-BAB spellcaster be on a gun over the fighter that doesn't involve a spell?

This is what I think ship combat needs to be a serious part of the game.

This is a very important point. Some space oriented games have done it well others less so. If you want space ship encounters/combat to be fun you have to put as much effort into integrating character abilities into it as you do ground encounters/combat. Either you make sure every class has enough of their abilities translate to spaceship combat effectively(usually this means slightly altering targets of abilities, or the range/scale of abilities) or you add space ship specific abilities to every class. The engineer shouldn't just roll knowledge engineering, he should have specific abilities that for instance require him to move around the engineering room or even to other sections of the ship to enact.

This is absolutely vital. The same way we have slowly made sure every class can be in some way relavent in combat encounters, you need to do this for space ship encounters in star finder.

In addition, encounter design is really important here. You can for instance combine boarding actions, environmental hazards and all sorts of other things with a space ship battle, so that more then just the pilot and gunner are directly involved.


How about having the characters linked to combat drones, attempting to create openings in opponent defense for the big ship guns?


Daw wrote:
How about having the characters linked to combat drones, attempting to create openings in opponent defense for the big ship guns?

This is an idea i have been batting around for a while too, it sort of locks ship combat into a specific format but have each player control a drone with specialized abilities that correspond to their classes. They work together to jam, lock, distract, negate and destroy the enemy ship. You could still have the ships with the actual characters onboard act as capital ships no matter their size and they bring in the killing blow once the drones have disabled the enemy capitals. I also like the idea of spell amplifiers that magic users can log into to let their spell effects work on ship scale combat.


I see an issue with players being forced into taking certain skills, thus taking the points away from what they want to do and into what they have to do so they can take part in ship combat. This will especially hurt the 2+int characters.


Jaçinto wrote:
I see an issue with players being forced into taking certain skills, thus taking the points away from what they want to do and into what they have to do so they can take part in ship combat. This will especially hurt the 2+int characters.

There are a few ways of handling that, from either upping skill points per character, giving every class a feature to work with ships is another. making it an optional rule for GM's to implement in ship based campaigns is another route. make basic ships easy to interface and not requiring any additional buy in to use while advanced ships might require character investment. Make interfacing an option through a "cyberjack" implant characters can buy instead of requiring feats or skills


I remember playing in Star Wars Saga Edition and remembering the space combat scenes with not much fondness at all. First I was trying to spec out a combination Ace Pilot/ Sniper ranged combatant. Due to the way the adventures were set up, I had Pilot abilities I wasn't using for long stretches, and when I was using them, because I also had to take feats and talents to be able to contribute in a firefight (I wasn't even a master Sniper yet, just getting the basics like Point Blank Shot), they weren't at the level of equivalent Pilot NPCs who get dropped into the adventure out of nowhere and didn't have to have a broader range of abilities just to get to that level.

My second character was a Force wizard Martial Artist whose major contribution in a space combat was rolling Mechanics checks in the engine room because that was all she could do. Fortunately, space combats were so few and far between that my decision to focus all of her feats and talents on non-space combat abilities didn't come back to bite her in the rear almost any at all (she was a helpless NPC for maybe four encounters the entire campaign and I considered that a success).

To avoid pitfalls like these, I would recommend that Starfinder, if it intends to make space combat an integral part of the setting, automatically give PCs some major way to contribute to a space combat. I think it would almost need to be a gestalt setup: all Starfinder characters get two classes, one dealing with their non-space combat abilities, the other being what comes into play during space combat. And there would need to be almost no possibility of overlap between the two. That way, characters who are supposed to be ace pilots get to do so without eating into the resources they need to survive long enough to even see a space combat. Nor is there the chance that they'll get eaten alive by NPCs that never even see a non-space combat encounter. And you don't run the risk of alienating players to the entire premise of there being space combats in the first place.


I've long been thinking of doing a Battletech-like game, where players build their characters as normal (for whatever system I end up using, probably not d20), then pick a 'mech training package' that adds their vehicular skills on top of that and progresses independently.

The packages would be something like:

Tactical Pilot
Electronic Warfare Pilot
Guerilla Pilot
Assault Pilot

And so on. You can pilot any mech, and the packages add special abilities. Of course, some might synergise particularly well or poorly with different mechs and mech systems. Such as an Electronic Warfare ability having a bonus based on the mech's electronics suite, or an Assault's 'bulldoze' ability having a bonus based on your mech's strength or armour or somesuch.

In a pinch, your assault pilot might end up grabbing a nearby light utility mech while your party makes an exit from infiltrating a base, then uses that bulldoze ability (with poorer stats) to clear a path.

Or an ECM pilot could coopt the sensor systems of a dedicated tank to instead act as makeshift countermeasures.


Umbral, I would love to play the battletech roleplaying game, not just the tabletop war game. I have the rules for 2nd and Time of War but never had a chance to play either. I noticed though that the RPG is really more "no mechs"

Grand Lodge

Kolokotroni wrote:
Dale McCoy Jr wrote:

I was thinking of this problem over the weekend and here's my conclusion:

Regular combat is fun because you have alot of options. Classes give you lots of options in personal combat. Sure they give you a few tricks out of combat, but mostly they player have lots of options. Fighters choose feats to tailor their unique attack style to how they want to play their character. Rogue players have to figure out how to set up their sneak attack. Various classes have some resource to manage (various pools of points, abilities that work x/day). Spellcasters have to figure out which spells they prepared that day work best on the monster at hand. And at the end of the combat, players get to feel that their choice of tactics, the way they maneuvered through combat, their choice of spells paid off.

Ship combat (and mass combat as well) is not fun because all those options are gone. I know mass combat better than ship combat, but from what I've seen, they are similar in this respect. In mass combat, all those spells you prepared, all those class options and feats you earned, all those tactics you honed are simply gone. You have one options: have your mass combat unit attack/fire your ship's gun and do damage to the enemies hp. That's it. There is no rewarded feeling of "something I earned or choice I made really helped." A mass combat unit of fighters feels identical to a mass combat unit of rangers.

For Ship Combat to be fun, it has to integrate with class abilities and have LOTS of options in it. In regular combat, a rogue has to set up a flank with a teammate. But in ship combat, the ship moves, and not necessarily where the rogue wants it to go. This means the rogue already has less options. In order for ship combat to be an integral part of Starfinder, class options/feats/etc have to present a reason why character X should be at the plasma guns while character Y should be arming the torpedoes. Does one class provide a bonus to energy weapons (i.e. a tech

...

Couldn't agree more with both posts.

Another way they could tweek the system to be more inclusive, could be to consider different rules for different scales of ships.

Early level encounters could evolve smaller ships, with a focus more around maneuvers, basic weapons, simple role actions and low HP. Short, sweet and full of suspense, the engineer is still doing basic things like repairs, but with lower ship HP, the chances to repair are more significant.

Then have your larger, longer engagements between the big ships. In these you'd probably spend more time deciding what to do, and would have more option/opportunities per role due to the duration of the fight, but also when those actions are decided, the outcome would be more significant.


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So I don't know if this would make battle more fun per se, but there are other tasks for players to do during ship combat besides taking their turn. Basically keeping track of things so the GM only has to track the stats on the enemy ships. This will help the players stay more engaged and paying attention.

Here is my list:

1) Captain: The captain records all ship and crew bonuses and penalties and double checks that other crewmates are adding them into their rolls.

2) Engineer: The engineer tracks ship HP, critical threshold, critical damage, and reports critical damage to the captain so she can track the penalties.

3) Science Officer: The Science Officer tracks shield points, and records all known information about the other ship.

4) Gunner: Track ship AC and TL and reports if enemy attacks hit or miss.

5) Pilot: Didn't come up with an extra job for pilot, but they probably have the most active job so this is okay.


I've been through Sf ship combat a few times with SFS. One point to remember is the ship combat is very simplified because SF is not a ship combat game.

As long as the ship has enough guns then everyone gets to play along. With practice it will get faster. You do need to pay attention if you are the engineer or computer guy because you need to know what to do on your next turn. If you don't notice all the shields are gone, you can't fix them next turn.

Admittedly, a lot has been left out of ship combat. But then, I'd like to not have another 100pages of rules to know.


1) There are no 2+Int classes.
2) Everyone has a charisma and dex score which means anyone can be captain, pilot or a gunner. They all use skills that can be used untrained, or use BAB.
3) If you're playing in a campaign involving space ships and you don't have any skills to use on a space ship, why is your character there?

Jaçinto wrote:
I see an issue with players being forced into taking certain skills, thus taking the points away from what they want to do and into what they have to do so they can take part in ship combat. This will especially hurt the 2+int characters.


Mustachioed wrote:

So I don't know if this would make battle more fun per se, but there are other tasks for players to do during ship combat besides taking their turn. Basically keeping track of things so the GM only has to track the stats on the enemy ships. This will help the players stay more engaged and paying attention.

Here is my list:

1) Captain: The captain records all ship and crew bonuses and penalties and double checks that other crewmates are adding them into their rolls.

2) Engineer: The engineer tracks ship HP, critical threshold, critical damage, and reports critical damage to the captain so she can track the penalties.

3) Science Officer: The Science Officer tracks shield points, and records all known information about the other ship.

4) Gunner: Track ship AC and TL and reports if enemy attacks hit or miss.

5) Pilot: Didn't come up with an extra job for pilot, but they probably have the most active job so this is okay.

This is a really good idea. It off-loads some record-keeping to the players, and keeps them invested in their ship like another character. It also gives them something to do during other parts of the combat than just their turn, and what they track is pretty thematic. I like it a lot!

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