Nautilus News Network: Starships

Hey everyone!

So Nautilus this past week has most been me working away at starship combat.  Originally, we based it off of Stormwrack‘s ship combat, but that had the issue of being too hard to scale up to more than one-on-one ship battles.  Then I tried out another version based on the dogfighting system that someone had posted for WWI biplane fights on an old d20 modern forum.  That one had issues with that once a good pilot put their starship where they wanted it to be, the other person was at such a disadvantage it was hard to ever recover, leading to the fights feeling very static and overall not being very much fun.

Which brings us to the new system.  I’ve refocused on what the entire crew is doing.  The ships themselves roll initiative at the start of the fight (usually the captain or the pilot makes the roll) and then everyone on the crew of that ship acts on that initiative, taking their turns in any order they please.  I’ve written up a whole slew of actions for each station, and several of them give boosts to other characters working other jobs, promoting collaboration between the players.  I drew a lot of inspiration from Star Trek: Enterprise (please don’t hate me) for this, and I think it scales nicely from smaller ships with just a pilot and maybe a gunner all the way up to ones with bridge crews of five to seven.  The crew roles are: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, sensor technician, tactical officer, chief engineer, and captain.  So a small ship can get by with just a pilot, but if you have a lot of players, they can all have something unique to do (and more actions as a ship to do what needs doing).

I’ve also included momentum in the movement rules, so no ship can easily make a 90-degree turn without drifting a little along its previous vector, first.  And acceleration, top speed, and facing are also tracked.  It sounds complex, but I have a feeling that in playtesting once players get it, it’ll be manageable.  I may also print out some cheat sheet cards to help players calculate their own movement, though I’ve tried to keep the simulation fairly easy to understand.

I still kept the external sections feature of Stormwrack, so you can get location-specific with your damage.  It’s also useful for having terrible things start happening inside the ship based on taking damage on the outside.  Hull breaches, anyone?

I also wanted to try and keep the ship combat on a semi-realistic scale.  In deep space, where there’s no major gravitational sources, a ballistic projectile has infinite range, and even missiles would be able to go a good long distance on fairly minimal thrusters, so there’s no reason to get within spitting distance of an enemy ship before attacking.  I combined this with some research about how fast ships in d20 Future go at PL6 (tempered by looking up how fast our modern-day shuttles go in orbit), and ended up coming up with the units of a 1-inch square on the map equalling 20km.  So while it’s no Honor Harrington with thousands of kilometers between opposing ships, I’m hoping it will still give a good sense of the grand scale of space combat.

I’m still working out the kinks, but I’m hoping to get to do some solid playtesting soon.  I’m excited!  I think this might be a solid basis for the final starship combat system, and that’s been one of the last stumbling blocks to me being able to focus on filling in the smaller details for the game, like equipment and weapon lists, that go much faster than doing large-piece system design.

I’ll let you know how it goes!  Until next week, this has been the Nautilus News Network.

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