Think back to your favorite sci-fi series (plural) with space battles … got a nice list built up yet? Ok, now, how did each one of them handle ship-to-ship combat? Well, I am guessing you now have about 5 different types of combats, each featuring probably 3 or more types of weaponry used. Starfinder has ship-to-ship combat, but unless and until you achieve a level high enough to have capital class vessels with launch bays, you are all using the same basic concept of your one ship against the enemy ship(s). What if you want to change it up?
Hello, Randal here, back again to take a look at how you can tweak the flavor of Starfinder without making too many changes in to the rules as written. I have previously written about alternate starship options to let you have your space mech or Voltron style vessels here and here. This take on starships is intended to stand alone, but I think it could be used with those options as well. Let’s dive in.
Let’s start by taking a quick look at some popular sci-fi to see how they handle combat, and what we can look at to adopt the style. I am doing this from memory, so please excuse any glaring mistakes.
Star Trek I didn’t watch a lot, and only remember the Enterprise as the primary vessel. In this model, we have a single vessel that can have multiple types of weapons all controlled by a crew on a bridge. This is essentially the model we have for Starfinder currently, and therefore we don’t need to make any changes to play out this style of space combat. I do recall that the Enterprise often had their Engineers “down in the engine room” instead of on the bridge, while Starfinder defaults to allowing the Engineer to operate from the bridge. This could simply be due to our ships being much smaller than the Enterprise, or a simple bit of abstraction to keep the crew all in one place in Starfinder.
The Orville Hey, I love this show. I know it is very much a clone of Star Trek, but the crew is so real to me. Not real, as in the crew of the enterprise was robots or illusions, but real as in I can totally see myself or my friends in those characters. At any rate, this show follows the same formula as Star Trek with weapons on their ship, controlled by the bridge, and the engineer down in the engine room. They did also have smaller attack vessels during space combat, but they weren’t highlighted as part of the main show. Therefore, it wouldn’t take many changes, if any, to play this style of game.
Battlestar Galactica (BSG) I don’t remember much weaponry firing from the capital vessels. I recall them relying on the fighters to go out and attack and defend as needed. My memory of this show’s space battles is entirely about dogfights. To play this style of space game, we can look at a creating fighters for each PC to use in combat that launch from their parent vessel and must return afterwards. In this case, you can simply ignore the parent vessel during the fight, knowing that victory means it is safe and failure means it is not. You will need to account for the extra number of ships by making them weaker than you would normally for a ship of the expected tier.
Star Wars In a galaxy far, far away, there was a bit of a hodgepodge collection of space weaponry. Capital ships had heavy weaponry, single pilot fighters were sent in squadrons to try to disable weapons and thrusters on capital ships, and many other ships (such as the Falcon) had multiple weapon stations that could not be remote controlled. The Starfinder rules as written essentially place the PCs in the Millennium Falcon. While the Falcon has gun turrets that require physical manning and cannot be remote controlled, the ultimate abstraction of space combat is the same as seen in Star Trek and The Orville. Should you want to use X-Wing style dogfights, you are likely going to end up making modifications as you would for Battlestar Galactica. I believe the X-Wing fighters are approximately the same size as the fighters in BSG.
Stargate (SG-1, Atlantis, U) These shows are closer to Star Wars in that they change the focus of space combat between capital class ships with their own weapons and dogfights between single manned fighters. I seem to recall all of the weapons being remote controlled, unlike many of the gun turrets in Star Wars though. Additionally, we do know that the scale on the shuttles (puddle jumpers) and fighters are roughly that of a modern jet fighter, and more importantly, small enough to fit through a gate (which I can only assume is roughly the same size as ayudara).
Firefly sadly, is evading my memory. I believe some smaller vessels had weapons, but Serenity did not? I know the capital ships did, but don’t recall but one. I guess it is time to rewatch the series.
Ok, while we don’t need to make a lot of alterations to get our Trek or Orville on, or even our daring mercenaries/smugglers from Star Wars, we will need to make some adjustments or concessions to get our BSG and X-wing into action. Let’s take a look at two options in this regard.
Theater of the Mind One option for playing a BSG style game, would be to build a single ship using the existing rules, but to include a gun for each PC to represent their fighter. Assume the fighters all have the same specs, matching those of the ship, but only a single weapon. By abstracting the shields and HP as a pool shared by all fighters, you can still keep the battle to roughly the same length because a hit on any fighter affects all other fighters. You could even account for this by claiming that the fighter technology requires a mesh AI network to share sensors. Either way, this allows you to essentially run combat with the rules and stats of a single ship while giving the appearance of launching multiple fighters from a core vessel.
Building Fighters Another option is to simply take the BP (build points) allotted to the party and splitting it up amongst them to build their individual fighters. I would likely provide a base frame free of charge to enable them to get at least the basics installed on their ship, but depending on the style of play you may not need to. If these are self sufficient ships with Drift travel, then they will likely need some more points for power and such, but if they are simply meant to launch for battle and return after then they won’t need Drift engines, or much more than basic life support, allowing you to shave off build points. For instance, a Racer frame with Micron Light power. T6 thrusters, Budget sensors is 13 points, meaning 4 of them (for a standard 4 PC game) runs you 52 of your allotted 55 BP for a tier one ship. That is before you add guns and shields! A light laser cannon and basic shields (10) would cost another 4 points for each fighter, another 16 points total. Therefore, I would suggest providing the frame free of charge, which would enable this particular example to come in under the Tier 1 budget. Depending on how easy you want the battles to be (more ships with more guns means more possible damage and more action economy to provide such damage) you may want to also provide them other components (such as thruster/gun/shield) as part of the frame and let them customize the rest within budget.
Well, I hope this walk through sci-fi memory lane to take a look at changing the feel of Starfinder space combat without changing the rules too much has help spark some ideas for you and your game! Let me know what changes you would make (or have made) to your space battles! Please join us at our Discord server https://discord.gg/Rt79BAj.