Starship cloaking field


Rules Questions


Hey all, quick question for you.

In Pact Worlds we got a much requested piece of starship technology, a cloaking device. The text reads as follows:

"Cloaking technology is named for the maximum quality of
sensors that can’t detect the cloaked ship. Cut-rate cloaking
technology fools only cut-rate sensors; budget cloaking technology
fools only cut-rate and budget sensors, and so on. Sensors
capable of detecting a cloaked starship can do so only when the
cloaked starship has entered the sensor’s first range increment.
Engaging a Drift engine or thrusters or beginning starship combat
(Core Rulebook 316) immediately negates the cloaking ability,
whereupon the ship reappears and can be detected normally."

So my question is regarding the last sentence, specifically that engaging thrusters immediately negates the cloaking. Am I interpreting that correctly? Any type of movement instantly makes you visible again? Or is there something in the core rulebook I missed that describes engaging thrusters as a very specific action which is distinct from general movement?


Ethan Winters wrote:

Hey all, quick question for you.

In Pact Worlds we got a much requested piece of starship technology, a cloaking device. The text reads as follows:

"Cloaking technology is named for the maximum quality of
sensors that can’t detect the cloaked ship. Cut-rate cloaking
technology fools only cut-rate sensors; budget cloaking technology
fools only cut-rate and budget sensors, and so on. Sensors
capable of detecting a cloaked starship can do so only when the
cloaked starship has entered the sensor’s first range increment.
Engaging a Drift engine or thrusters or beginning starship combat
(Core Rulebook 316) immediately negates the cloaking ability,
whereupon the ship reappears and can be detected normally."

So my question is regarding the last sentence, specifically that engaging thrusters immediately negates the cloaking. Am I interpreting that correctly? Any type of movement instantly makes you visible again? Or is there something in the core rulebook I missed that describes engaging thrusters as a very specific action which is distinct from general movement?

Maneuvering/moving in starship combat gets you detected.

Drifting by on momentum does not. Starship combat does not include that 'action', and really, if you're using a cloak to sneak past some ships you aren't actually in starship combat.


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Remember, it's space once you get up to speed you keep moving at that speed until acted upon by an outside force.

Practically speaking, in between solar systems you can just coast to your next destination. Inside a solar system you probably need to build up some momentum, and use the gravity wells of planets and the star to get you where you want to go, but it should be mostly possible with only short periods of time where you need to accelerate again and use thrusters. Also, if something is substantially far away it wont matter if they momentarily are aware you're there, and if they're close enough that they could detect you, you can probably just cruise by on whatever trajectory you're on and then adjust later.


Claxon wrote:

Remember, it's space once you get up to speed you keep moving at that speed until acted upon by an outside force.

Practically speaking, in between solar systems you can just coast to your next destination. Inside a solar system you probably need to build up some momentum, and use the gravity wells of planets and the star to get you where you want to go, but it should be mostly possible with only short periods of time where you need to accelerate again and use thrusters. Also, if something is substantially far away it wont matter if they momentarily are aware you're there, and if they're close enough that they could detect you, you can probably just cruise by on whatever trajectory you're on and then adjust later.

So this is my fault for not quoting the entire rule, but it does state that in order to engage the ships cloaking field the ship must not be in motion.

"Activating a cloaking device takes one action by an engineer while the starship is neither in motion nor engaged in combat. The ship vanishes from view, and based on the cloaking device’s level, another ship must have sensors of a minimum level to detect it."

I'm not sure what the practical feasibility of making a ship hurtling through space come to a complete halt would be, but its the future so who knows.

It kinda seems like the intention was for ships to be able to just camp out somewhere and hide? If that is the case I may wind up house ruling it that they are able to coast on momentum and do minor movements on maneuvering thrusters while still remaining cloacked. Or maybe just the maneuvering thrusters bit so they don't use being cloacked to bypass every possible conventional space encounter I design for them. If I'm still misinterpreting this let me know.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

"Not in motion" doesn't actually MEAN anything coherent in space. You'd have to define a complete stop to come to one.

"Not accelerating" is something you can actually use as a rule.


HammerJack wrote:

"Not in motion" doesn't actually MEAN anything coherent in space. You'd have to define a complete stop to come to one.

"Not accelerating" is something you can actually use as a rule.

Yeah, I totally agree with that. This is probably how I'll wind up ruling it. Either way my players will probably manage to make a case for using it to travel, at least this way I won't have to deal with them trying to calculate Aucturns orbit to project where it will be in two weeks so they can just wait cloaked in that exact spot.

Thanks all!


Garretmander wrote:

Maneuvering/moving in starship combat gets you detected.

Drifting by on momentum does not. Starship combat does not include that 'action', and really, if you're using a cloak to sneak past some ships you aren't actually in starship combat.

It's fairly clear that you can't use cloaking while in starship combat. Which is probably a good thing.

But the rules for starships actually don't say that you can move based on momentum even when out of combat. In fact, I don't think the rules say anything about how starships move outside of combat other than the rules about having to be stationary and powering down the thrusters when preparing to jump to/from Drift space.

So whether or not you can follow the space physics we are familiar with from our actual universe or not is dependent on the lore of the campaign you are in. And I don't think there is any official lore for this. Link me some if I have missed something.

Personally for my house-lore of space travel: newtonian-physics thrusters were never viable for travel outside of a solar system and were almost completely impractical within a solar system - much as they are in our own universe. So when races took to the stars in force, new technology was needed and the Etherial Anchor thrusters were created. They create a minor anchoring to the etherial plane and the thrusters can push against it directly, much like a jet engine pushes against air. Much more efficient. The downside is that you have to use the thrusters in order to move at all. There is no momentum-based moving around in space. This also explains why starship combat maneuvering behaves in the non-newtonian way that it does, and it explains why you can't do a Drift jump with your thrusters on. You are literally anchored to your current location in the etherial plane and can't plane shift.


HammerJack wrote:

"Not in motion" doesn't actually MEAN anything coherent in space. You'd have to define a complete stop to come to one.

"Not accelerating" is something you can actually use as a rule.

Yeah, not in motion relative to what?

Do you think you're not in motion when sitting on your couch? As the planet your on hurtles through space around the sun, which is hurtling through the the galaxy, which is hurtling through a cluster of galaxies.

Does it just means relative to your local frame of reference you're not moving?

I'm assuming that it means your not attempting to maneuver through the use of your thrusters or otherwise adjust your momentum and trajectory.


Our group never found anything about using drift drives on a planet, or size limits for the drift 1 engines.

We made an agreement not to explore the ramifications of those omissions. Although attaching a drift 1 to absolom station and playing 'mess with traffic control' was tempting.

For the cloaking field it also means that you can't use it to escape combat. It's only purpose seems to be enabling plot based ambushes and hiding landed ships.


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breithauptclan wrote:
Garretmander wrote:

Maneuvering/moving in starship combat gets you detected.

Drifting by on momentum does not. Starship combat does not include that 'action', and really, if you're using a cloak to sneak past some ships you aren't actually in starship combat.

It's fairly clear that you can't use cloaking while in starship combat. Which is probably a good thing.

But the rules for starships actually don't say that you can move based on momentum even when out of combat. In fact, I don't think the rules say anything about how starships move outside of combat other than the rules about having to be stationary and powering down the thrusters when preparing to jump to/from Drift space.

So whether or not you can follow the space physics we are familiar with from our actual universe or not is dependent on the lore of the campaign you are in. And I don't think there is any official lore for this. Link me some if I have missed something.

Personally for my house-lore of space travel: newtonian-physics thrusters were never viable for travel outside of a solar system and were almost completely impractical within a solar system - much as they are in our own universe. So when races took to the stars in force, new technology was needed and the Etherial Anchor thrusters were created. They create a minor anchoring to the etherial plane and the thrusters can push against it directly, much like a jet engine pushes against air. Much more efficient. The downside is that you have to use the thrusters in order to move at all. There is no momentum-based moving around in space. This also explains why starship combat maneuvering behaves in the non-newtonian way that it does, and it explains why you can't do a Drift jump with your thrusters on. You are literally anchored to your current location in the etherial plane and can't plane shift.

Pretty sure this setting assumes real world physics are in effect until magic/strange science/gods are in play. Assuming 'ether' is a thing because the lore doesn't mention that p=mv in space is a pretty big stretch.

Settings where real world physics aren't in effect tend to tell you up front. Those sorts of things are important in world building. In starfinder we have several examples: magic, gods, the drift, etc. Getting from point A to Point B requiring momentumless drives to be useful - not mentioned, so probably not true.

Sure, starfinder starship engines probably work closer to star wars engines than real life chemical rockets. This is a sci-fi setting after all. Assuming they work on entirely different physics is a bit silly.

Dead Suns:
Now, we do have an example of a momentumless drive. It's a motorcycle, not a starship, but ancient Kish technology might have used similar principles for starships. Of course that technology isn't the same as that used in the pact worlds.


Garretmander wrote:
Assuming 'ether' is a thing because the lore doesn't mention that p=mv in space is a pretty big stretch.

Well, I am assuming that the Etherial plane exists and borders the Prime Material Plane because that is what the book says that it does.

But to each their own. My point isn't to convince everyone that my ideas should be considered canon. The point is that when discussing the rules, we shouldn't assume rules that don't exist. Saying that a cloaked ship can float past enemies as long as they don't change direction or speed only works based on the setting in play at the table - not as a general rule that follows logically from the stated rules of the game.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Or, one could make the even easier interpretation, and go "These rules were not written as either legal text or scientific treatise." So rather than trying to jump through hoops to 'explain' why Paizo used the word "stationary", you can instead just realize "Oh, they 99% certainly mean 'not firing the engine to move'" and go with that.


I mean the classic idea of the cloaking device is probably based embodied by the Klingon Bird of Prey, except that would be too good if it could be used in combat like the Bird of Prey did.

But to think that absolutely under no circumstance could you be moving...I mean if the ship were stationary and powered off, it probably wouldn't even show up on sensors unless the enemy were already at close range.

I always liked Mass Effect's take on cloaking technology, was basically that it sunk all the thermal energy in the hull of the ship, and heat was the main method of tracking ships in the universe (at distance). Other sensors only worked at closer ranges, and it did nothing to visual imaging. It's just that space is huge and spotting an individual ship in the vast nothingness of space that isn't actively trying to be noticed (outputting communication) should actually be quite hard.


Metaphysician wrote:
Or, one could make the even easier interpretation, and go "These rules were not written as either legal text or scientific treatise." So rather than trying to jump through hoops to 'explain' why Paizo used the word "stationary", you can instead just realize "Oh, they 99% certainly mean 'not firing the engine to move'" and go with that.

But if you aren't 'firing the engines to move', then you aren't moving. Starships in Starfinder don't drift - other than the plane-shifting meaning of the word. In combat when you don't have any of the characters taking piloting actions that move the ship, it doesn't move. Even if it was moving during the previous round.

The thrusters described in the PHB are very clearly not following Newtonian physics(* see spoiler). And those combat thrusters are the only means of propulsion that are defined in the rules. If you want to have the ships using some other non-rules-defined thrusters for out of combat travel that follow something closer to IRL space travel, that is fine. But I don't think that should be the default assumption.

Non-Newtonian thruster justification:

If the thrusters were following Newtonian physics in combat, I would expect the following types of rules:

1) No maximum speed. I don't have a conversion between 'hexes per round' to 'meters per second'. But since it takes three to eight days to travel from one planet to another, even T14 thrusters don't approach the speed of light (light can travel interplanetary distances in a few hours at most). So thrusters should be applying thrust rather than defining a maximum speed for the ship to obey.

2) Current momentum (direction and speed) would be tracked between rounds. If no character takes piloting actions to change the momentum, the momentum would still be in effect during the next round also.

3) Turning, or changing direction of motion, would be costly. Overcoming your current momentum takes quite a bit of force. Stopping entirely and reversing direction would both be even more difficult. If you have built up a large momentum in one direction, changing direction or stopping would take several rounds of thrust to accomplish.

4) Ship facing is independent of direction of travel. If anything, it ship facing should be dependent on the direction you are applying thrust in.

Since we instead have rules where thrusters define a maximum speed, we don't track momentum, direction can change practically for free (it only requires sufficient straight line movement, it doesn't reduce the total distance traveled), and ship facing is always based on current direction of travel, I have to conclude that the thrusters defined in the rulebook are not using technology based on Newton's 3rd law of motion.


Turn the thrusters off and there's no obvious way they'd hold you in place even if they used the ethereal plane to grip, right? And in that case I'd expect gravity and momentum to take over.

And then there's 'stationary relative to what?' If you're in a fixed position relative to the Earth then you're moving relative to the Moon and vice versa, even the Lagrange points aren't geosynchronous.


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I tend to take game mechanics with a grain of salt when I'm trying to figure out lore. Taking the idea that you stop moving in simplified hex grid combat as proof of non newtonian motion being standard lore for starships is taking game mechanics too literally IMO.

Does the average character quantum leap in 5' increments when they move instead of regular locomotion? Are automatic weapons 'smart' weapons that only continue firing if you work the weapon in a cone, or are they just weapons with an automatic action? Is there some interstellar law that requires launcher weapons to only have five warheads at a time, or is that just a game mechanic?

Does applying directional momentums, acceleration, facing, etc. in starship combat make sense? yes. Does it streamline the play experience? no.


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breithauptclan wrote:
Metaphysician wrote:
Or, one could make the even easier interpretation, and go "These rules were not written as either legal text or scientific treatise." So rather than trying to jump through hoops to 'explain' why Paizo used the word "stationary", you can instead just realize "Oh, they 99% certainly mean 'not firing the engine to move'" and go with that.

But if you aren't 'firing the engines to move', then you aren't moving. Starships in Starfinder don't drift - other than the plane-shifting meaning of the word. In combat when you don't have any of the characters taking piloting actions that move the ship, it doesn't move. Even if it was moving during the previous round.

That's because the combat rules are a (bad) abstraction of what is "really" happening. That's why there's no fixed time length or hex width, either - you're essentially playing checkers to simulate Operation Overlord.


Having starship movement approximate actual space physics isn't hard. If you can calculate a total skill bonus for a skill check, you should be able to do this.

Assign a 3-axis coordinate system to the hex grid. I'll call the axes w, x, and y. Each has a positive and negative direction. So from any hex grid, there are 6 facing directions: +w, +x, +y, -w, -x, -y.

Current momentum is a 3-tuple of (w, x, y) values.

For thrust, you pick a facing direction (or maybe two adjacent facing directions if you want more fine control) and apply the thrust rating of your ship's thrusters to those axes to get a thrust vector. Then add the thrust to the current momentum to get a new momentum and move the ship according to that momentum.

Example: current momentum is (2, -1, 5). If you choose the facing of -w and apply 5 points of your M8 thrusters you would have a thrust vector of (-5, 0, 0). Adding that to the current momentum results in (-3, -1, 5). You then count off on the grid the appropriate directions and distances to find the destination hex. The ship then moves in a straight line from its current hex to that destination hex.

Not hard. Certainly streamlined enough to be viable in actual play at the table. And it checks all of the points I mentioned previously.

1) No maximum speed.
2) Momentum is conserved across rounds of play.
3) Changing direction becomes more difficult when you have a large momentum built up.
4) Ship facing is independent of the actual direction of movement.

So why wouldn't the game have shipped with these rules if it was supposed to be representing and approximating actual space physics? The fact that the rules obviously use something very non-Newtonian for the starship movement rules leads me to believe that the design decision was deliberate.


avr wrote:
Turn the thrusters off and there's no obvious way they'd hold you in place even if they used the ethereal plane to grip, right? And in that case I'd expect gravity and momentum to take over.

I didn't write the rules, I just try to interpret them into some sci-fi technology explanation that works.

When you are trying to jump to the Drift, you have to completely power down the thrusters - not just stop using them. Which takes a minute to finish the power-down sequence.

So if you just stop using the thrusters to move, your starship comes to a stop (relative to what, I am not sure - the ambient etherial plane movement?). But to have gravity, momentum, and Newton's other laws of motion take over would require a minute of being stopped and completely powering down the thrusters.

--------

The closest real-world analogy that I can think of that follows rules similar to those for starship movement is a steam-powered paddle boat on a lake.

2-dimensional movement.
The paddles can push the ship through the water with a maximum speed.
You can have the engine run slower to go slower if desired, but it is difficult to get it to go faster than it is designed for.
Turning the ship is easy. Larger ships turn slower than smaller ships, but neither loses noticeable amounts of speed when turning.
And when the engine stops, the ship comes to a stop fairly quickly afterwards.
A lake because there is no ambient current.

So if you had a cloaking device on a steam paddle boat that only works when the paddle is not spinning, could you cloak and sneak past other ships on the lake?


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breithauptclan wrote:

Having starship movement approximate actual space physics isn't hard. If you can calculate a total skill bonus for a skill check, you should be able to do this.

Assign a 3-axis coordinate system to the hex grid. I'll call the axes w, x, and y. Each has a positive and negative direction. So from any hex grid, there are 6 facing directions: +w, +x, +y, -w, -x, -y.

Current momentum is a 3-tuple of (w, x, y) values.

For thrust, you pick a facing direction (or maybe two adjacent facing directions if you want more fine control) and apply the thrust rating of your ship's thrusters to those axes to get a thrust vector. Then add the thrust to the current momentum to get a new momentum and move the ship according to that momentum.

Example: current momentum is (2, -1, 5). If you choose the facing of -w and apply 5 points of your M8 thrusters you would have a thrust vector of (-5, 0, 0). Adding that to the current momentum results in (-3, -1, 5). You then count off on the grid the appropriate directions and distances to find the destination hex. The ship then moves in a straight line from its current hex to that destination hex.

Not hard. Certainly streamlined enough to be viable in actual play at the table. And it checks all of the points I mentioned previously.

1) No maximum speed.
2) Momentum is conserved across rounds of play.
3) Changing direction becomes more difficult when you have a large momentum built up.
4) Ship facing is independent of the actual direction of movement.

So why wouldn't the game have shipped with these rules if it was supposed to be representing and approximating actual space physics? The fact that the rules obviously use something very non-Newtonian for the starship movement rules leads me to believe that the design decision was deliberate.

Ah yes, the rules are really quite simple. You just need a calculator capable of matrix multiplication, not hard at all.

I'm using hyperbole of course.

The point is that the current starship rules are simplified, easy to play, recreations of on screen star trek battles. They have many issues, but they are simple, and they are easy to grasp without any understanding of math, geometry, or physics.

A three dimensional, momentum conserved version of the rules is not that. It would slow down play, cause arguments over who is where and who has what momentum, require round to round tracking of another set of variables, etc.

breithauptclan wrote:
The closest real-world analogy that I can think of that follows rules similar to those for starship movement is a steam-powered paddle boat on a lake.

Why do you insist on using a set of simple hex grid fighting rules as a justification for weird science momentumless drives?

Either A) the rules are simulationist for the setting. Starships don't have momentum, railgun rounds dissipate at ___ number of hexes and don't continue moving until another force acts on them. Ships don't really take structural damage until they hit 0 HP. etc.

Or B) The rules are an abstraction. Assume normal physics unless otherwise noted.

Apply Occam's razor, the answer is B.


Garretmander wrote:

Ah yes, the rules are really quite simple. You just need a calculator capable of matrix multiplication, not hard at all.

I'm using hyperbole of course.

The point is that the current starship...

Actually classic Traveller solved this way back when, although they did realize that 3d wasn't going to happen. You use a blank sheet of paper and a ruler, current speed and direction is a line. On your turn measure out the current direction and length, put a dot there. Now pick your new orientation and thrust from that dot. Draw a new line from the starting point to the end point. That is your new direction and speed. You can even do orbits this way.

Really what the current rules are is a board game, like chutes and ladders, very simple. It is not an approximation of anything, especially not any form of physics we're familiar with.

All the rules say is that if your thrusters are off or not being used then you don't move, and cloaking requires you to not use the thrusters and not be in combat.

Sovereign Court

Just get some Gray cloaking fields, allowing you to move while cloaked. Avoid all the arguments!


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Telok wrote:


All the rules say is that if your thrusters are off or not being used then you don't move

You don't move in combat relative to the abstract representation of other ships and tracking weapons.


Garretmander wrote:

The point is that the current starship rules are simplified, easy to play, recreations of on screen star trek battles. They have many issues, but they are simple, and they are easy to grasp without any understanding of math, geometry, or physics.

A three dimensional, momentum conserved version of the rules is not that. It would slow down play, cause arguments over who is where and who has what momentum, require round to round tracking of another set of variables, etc.

Why do you insist on using a set of simple hex grid fighting rules as a justification for weird science momentumless drives?

Either A) the rules are simulationist for the setting. Starships don't have momentum, railgun rounds dissipate at ___ number of hexes and don't continue moving until another force acts on them. Ships don't really take structural damage until they hit 0 HP. etc.

Or B) The rules are an abstraction. Assume normal physics unless otherwise noted.

Apply Occam's razor, the answer is B.

The point is that the rules should be consistent.

I agree that the game rules are built for being simple to play. It is less information to track, less math to calculate, and more intuitive to understand exactly what the result of your decisions are going to be.

The point is that then when the published rules for a cloaking device state explicitly that you can't use the thrusters while cloaked, they are intending for the device to not be able to allow you to bypass starship combat encounters that the GM has put in place. You can't use the thrusters while cloaked = you can't move while cloaked. Because that is how the rules for the thrusters works.

Trying to bypass that game design decision based on the argument 'well, that is how it works in real life' doesn't sit well with me.


Xenocrat wrote:
Telok wrote:


All the rules say is that if your thrusters are off or not being used then you don't move
You don't move in combat relative to the abstract representation of other ships and tracking weapons.

Yup. So if all the ships, tracking weapons, and relevant asteroids are all moving at 3000 hexes per round we wouldn't be bothering to have a 10,000 hex mat to try and represent that. That would be silly.

But if one of the ships accelerates to 3008 hexes per round and another one doesn't, then they should have a permanent 8 hex per round speed relative to the other ship. Where did that momentum go at the end of the round?


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breithauptclan wrote:
Garretmander wrote:

The point is that the current starship rules are simplified, easy to play, recreations of on screen star trek battles. They have many issues, but they are simple, and they are easy to grasp without any understanding of math, geometry, or physics.

A three dimensional, momentum conserved version of the rules is not that. It would slow down play, cause arguments over who is where and who has what momentum, require round to round tracking of another set of variables, etc.

Why do you insist on using a set of simple hex grid fighting rules as a justification for weird science momentumless drives?

Either A) the rules are simulationist for the setting. Starships don't have momentum, railgun rounds dissipate at ___ number of hexes and don't continue moving until another force acts on them. Ships don't really take structural damage until they hit 0 HP. etc.

Or B) The rules are an abstraction. Assume normal physics unless otherwise noted.

Apply Occam's razor, the answer is B.

The point is that the rules should be consistent.

I agree that the game rules are built for being simple to play. It is less information to track, less math to calculate, and more intuitive to understand exactly what the result of your decisions are going to be.

The point is that then when the published rules for a cloaking device state explicitly that you can't use the thrusters while cloaked, they are intending for the device to not be able to allow you to bypass starship combat encounters that the GM has put in place. You can't use the thrusters while cloaked = you can't move while cloaked. Because that is how the rules for the thrusters works.

Trying to bypass that game design decision based on the argument 'well, that is how it works in real life' doesn't sit well with me.

If cloaking devices aren't intended to help you bypass ship combats what are they supposed to do?

Because under your idea of how they work it's basically only good for parking your ship and hiding it someplace. I just don't see that a reasonable way to use your ship. If you've landed your ship on something and it's powered down, you're probably not going to be worried about it being detected anyways. Either the enemy already had a good idea of where you were going or wasn't going to be near you anyways.

Under your theory of operation you can't even orbit a planet or something because you would still be moving.

From my perspective the cloaking device, as you describe the mechanics working, is basically worthless.


Claxon wrote:
Garretmander wrote:


The point is that then when the published rules for a cloaking device state explicitly that you can't use the thrusters while cloaked, they are intending for the device to not be able to allow you to bypass starship combat encounters that the GM has put in place. You can't use the thrusters while cloaked = you can't move while cloaked. Because that is how the rules for the thrusters works.

Trying to bypass that game design decision based on the argument 'well, that is how it works in real life' doesn't sit well with me.

If cloaking devices aren't intended to help you bypass ship combats what are they supposed to do?

Because under your idea of how they work it's basically only good for parkin gyour ship and hiding it someplace. I just don't see that a reasonable way to use your ship. If you've landed your ship on something and it's powered down, you're probably not going to be worried about it being detected anyways. Either the enemy already had a good idea of where you were going or wasn't going to be near you anyways.

I agree that as written the cloaking device is nearly useless, but I also agree with Garretmander that this is how it is written. It specifically says you can only activate while 'not in motion' and says that activating thrusters deactivates it. This is a similar pattern to the rules for using Drift engines to enter/exit drift, which state your ship must be 'stationary with its conventional thrusters turned off' (CRB pg 291). It's a double statment, thrusters off *and* not moving.

So the far the only uses I can see for a cloaking device as written are for NPC/Enemy ships, for which I can think of 2 options:
1) A 'secret base' carrier ship that is permenantly cloaked and uses shuttles/fighters that the PCs must track back or stow away on

2) A pirate/assassin ship that sits cloaked on a known supply route, or in the predicted path of its target, and decloaks to open fire with short-range weapons when the prey gets close.

The first option couldn't be used by PCs without a GM houseruling past the single ship Tier level rules.
I suppose the second option could be used by PCs but only if they build a ship around the tactic and do a lot of hacking or espionage to learn the courses enemy ships have logged (though even that requireds the GM to rules that courses are actually logged with traffic control or merchant unions or high command or whatever). There seems to be no official-rules way to track enemies through the drift in a way that you could get ahead or intercept for a cloaked ambush - the comm system section of the CRB mentions a transponder for ships but no specifics on how that could be tracked, while the tracking device gear is far too short for ship scale, and the Tracking weapon in the Nearspace book is written to be nearly useless as it stops working when the tracked ship enters drift (as well as them knowing if they are tracked).

I can only hope the Starship Operations Manual adds a better tracking method and/or revises the cloaking device rules - The nearspace book actually refers to the SOM a few times in ship stat blocks, so it seems to have already been partially written.

Claxon wrote:

Under your theory of operation you can't even orbit a planet or something because you would still be moving.

It's definitely true that you can't orbit while cloaked under the written rules, because the CRB states "a starship in orbit always has its thrusters active" (page 291, under Start Thrusters), and the cloaking device states it deactivates if thrusters are activated.


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breithauptclan wrote:
Metaphysician wrote:
Or, one could make the even easier interpretation, and go "These rules were not written as either legal text or scientific treatise." So rather than trying to jump through hoops to 'explain' why Paizo used the word "stationary", you can instead just realize "Oh, they 99% certainly mean 'not firing the engine to move'" and go with that.

But if you aren't 'firing the engines to move', then you aren't moving. Starships in Starfinder don't drift - other than the plane-shifting meaning of the word. In combat when you don't have any of the characters taking piloting actions that move the ship, it doesn't move. Even if it was moving during the previous round.

The thrusters described in the PHB are very clearly not following Newtonian physics(* see spoiler). And those combat thrusters are the only means of propulsion that are defined in the rules. If you want to have the ships using some other non-rules-defined thrusters for out of combat travel that follow something closer to IRL space travel, that is fine. But I don't think that should be the default assumption.

** spoiler omitted **...

Okay, that stuff in bold is the problem here. You are mistakenly assuming that only those things mechanically described in the rules exist in the setting or are possible. This is, bluntly, not the case. The rules exist to facilitate play in the setting. They are not all-encompassing and all-inclusive. The rules don't describe how accountants and factories work, either, that doesn't mean they are impossible.


Just FYI (as it has come up several times, not just in the last post), the CRB does state thrusters are used out of combat (though an argument could still be made that they might behave differently out of combat).

From page 296, under heading 'Thrusters'

"Ships rely on conventional thrusters to move between locations in a system, to navigate the reaches of the drift once they arrive there, to explore, and to engage in combat."

Sorry if I'm getting too rules-lawyer, but this is the "Rules Questions" forum, so I think it's valid.


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Alangriffith wrote:
It's definitely true that you can't orbit while cloaked under the written rules, because the CRB states "a starship in orbit always has its thrusters active" (page 291, under Start Thrusters), and the cloaking device states it deactivates if thrusters are activated.

You're missing the thrust of the argument being made though, which is basically that you're never stationary or not moving.

The rules never indicate with respect to what you should be stationary, and this is actually a major issue in space. Everything is moving. Everything. All the time. The only time you're stationary is when you might look at two (or a few) specific objects and say the relative motion between them is 0.

Think about it like this, you might be stationary relative to a solar system's sun, but you'll be moving relative to any planets. If you're stationary relative to a planet, you'll be moving relative to the sun.

You can never be stationary! You have to look at frames of reference, and in space multiple frames of reference are equally valid.

So either the rules should mean that you're simply not using thrusters to adjust your momentum, or the cloaking device simply doesn't work ever. Or they need to go into an in depth explanation of what frame of reference you need to be stationary in.


But the rules for spaceships are basically "Thrusters on, you're moving" and "Thrusters off, you're stationary."

So, ignoring How Things Really Work, and instead using The Rules of The Universe That Our Characters Live In, it becomes pretty obvious how the cloaking device works. We can toss all that momentum, 3d movement, relative movement, the impossibility of being stationary in space, and the impossibility of being stationary at all given that all of creation is actually moving all the time out the airlock. We don't need those rules here, because they're not part of the system.

Which isn't to say the cloaking device is any good. A device that keeps your ship hidden, but only if it happens to be parked, is incredibly niche and probably not great for most players. So I question the existence of the item, but as far as I'm concerned "It works when the thrusters are off" is as detailed as it needs to be, given the relative amount of detail the rules contain for the motion of the stars.


Where are you getting "thruster off you're stationary" from?

Maybe that might be true in space combat, because you're looking at a specific frame of reference at that point, but honestly we can ignore space combat because we already know in space combat cloaking doesn't work. So we need to look at the rules outside space combat (which are almost non-existent) for what spaceships do.

But in general, "thrusters off = stationary" is just patently not true, as all the celestial bodies will continue to move and you will not be stationary unless you define what you're stationary to.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Extrapolating the lack of momentum from starship combat to assume that all movement of bodies in space works in a wildly different manner from the physics we know is like extrapolating from hit points to say that no one in the Pact Worlds has ever had a broken leg, or assuming that paramedics have never needed to be a thing, because because NPCs either have a hit point and are mobile, or have 0 hitpoints and are dead.

There is a difference between playing by the rules and shaping the world by those rules in ways that those rules were never meant to describe.


Except rules for a broken leg (well, a leg that suffered from the Wound Chart, anyway) actually exist.

The argument would more accurately be described if Paizo had included an item that is described as mending the broken bone and restoring the limb to full functionality, but we’re all arguing that something that repairs a bone but doesn’t take the treatment of blood clots or the toxins released by crushed muscle tissue into consideration can’t possibly work.

I mean, you’re adding rules into a system that the publishers didn’t add (for whatever reason) and then getting mad that items in the game don’t work right when you apply your special version of the game’s rules to them.


Except I'm not applying a special version of the games rules in this case.

The only use of a cloaking device in combat is for an ambush. All other uses of a cloaking device are narrative and up to the GM.

What I am arguing, is that an average GM should allow a party to drift on momentum while cloaked and outside starship combat.

A good GM will set up his NPC ships so that there are holes in where their sensors can detect the PCs, and allow them through luck or skill to use their cloaking device and momentum to bypass enemy ships if the situation calls for it.

I'm not arguing to add momentum to starship combat. I am saying that momentum is a thing in the starfinder universe, and that clever PCs should be able to work with their GMs to find ways to use a cloaking device outside of combat.


Thrusters actually work according to real world physics and impart acceleration while on. It's the combat rules that are all false - in reality they vary between minutes and hours long, depending on closing vectors, and you see the enemy hours or days before you fire your weapons. And all the BS manuevering on the battle map is an illusion to simulate the few hard manuevers you do to dodge weapons and rotate to display your weapons at optimal angles as you make either one brief pass (opposing vectors) followed by hours/days to reengage if a target survived or an extended slugging match (matching vectors) as you unload everything in a short burst.


this is why I said initially that whether or not the cloaking device lets you drift past enemy ships while cloaked depends on the setting and lore of your game - not on the rules in the CRB.

Because different games and different players may have different expectations of how the physics works based on the rules of the game. Some may see the the combat movement as a drastic oversimplification that is bordering on flat-out wrong. Others may extrapolate those same rules to be the general way that movement in space works.

So it should not be the default assumption that drifting past enemy ships while cloaked is going to work.


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Xenocrat wrote:
Thrusters actually work according to real world physics and impart acceleration while on. It's the combat rules that are all false - in reality they vary between minutes and hours long, depending on closing vectors, and you see the enemy hours or days before you fire your weapons. And all the BS manuevering on the battle map is an illusion to simulate the few hard manuevers you do to dodge weapons and rotate to display your weapons at optimal angles as you make either one brief pass (opposing vectors) followed by hours/days to reengage if a target survived or an extended slugging match (matching vectors) as you unload everything in a short burst.

Also, this made my day. It is very accurate to the real world. It is also the only description of Starfinder starship combat I have read that I think would be more boring to actually be in than to play at the gaming table.


breithauptclan wrote:
So it should not be the default assumption that drifting past enemy ships while cloaked is going to work.

I say that it should be the default assumption. Like most settings, assume real world norms until the lore states otherwise. The lore does not state otherwise, therefore real world norms are in effect for starship momentum.

At least for the default, unaltered starfinder setting.

It's not like GMs don't have enough tools to prevent it working if they need to for story reasons.


Garretmander wrote:
breithauptclan wrote:
So it should not be the default assumption that drifting past enemy ships while cloaked is going to work.

I say that it should be the default assumption. Like most settings, assume real world norms until the lore states otherwise. The lore does not state otherwise, therefore real world norms are in effect for starship momentum.

At least for the default, unaltered starfinder setting.

It's not like GMs don't have enough tools to prevent it working if they need to for story reasons.

Very true, not sure if it's accurate to the written story line but in the Dead Suns campaign the corpse fleet got a tracking put on our ship when we visited Eox (I think). That turned out to be the reason why they we're able to show up every place we went to, usually not far behind us.

Every time we'd arrive some place the fleet would either be there or right behind us and it was a race to get to the thing we we're looking for (usually the next clue).


breithauptclan wrote:
Xenocrat wrote:
Thrusters actually work according to real world physics and impart acceleration while on. It's the combat rules that are all false - in reality they vary between minutes and hours long, depending on closing vectors, and you see the enemy hours or days before you fire your weapons. And all the BS manuevering on the battle map is an illusion to simulate the few hard manuevers you do to dodge weapons and rotate to display your weapons at optimal angles as you make either one brief pass (opposing vectors) followed by hours/days to reengage if a target survived or an extended slugging match (matching vectors) as you unload everything in a short burst.
Also, this made my day. It is very accurate to the real world. It is also the only description of Starfinder starship combat I have read that I think would be more boring to actually be in than to play at the gaming table.

Read the Expanse novels, the few space battles are quite exciting! It's the one area I think is definitely better than the tv show.


Xenocrat wrote:


Read the Expanse novels, the few space battles are quite exciting! It's the one area I think is definitely better than the tv show.

No kidding? I've rather enjoyed the space battles in the show so far.


The Expanse is great for a (mostly) hard sci-fi setting.

And the space battles really do represent quite well what it would be like to pilot a metal tube through space and then have to duke it out against someone else doing the same.


Ethan Winters wrote:
HammerJack wrote:

"Not in motion" doesn't actually MEAN anything coherent in space. You'd have to define a complete stop to come to one.

"Not accelerating" is something you can actually use as a rule.

Yeah, I totally agree with that. This is probably how I'll wind up ruling it. Either way my players will probably manage to make a case for using it to travel, at least this way I won't have to deal with them trying to calculate Aucturns orbit to project where it will be in two weeks so they can just wait cloaked in that exact spot.

Thanks all!

Well you can(EVIL GM HAT ON ) force them to rules from Traveller book 3 with gives the actual calculations for Newtonian mechanics for travel :-)

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