Sci-fi starship combat variant for Savage Worlds

TravellerDOne thing I latched onto planning out my sci-fi campaign game was using ships as characters. I tinkered a lot with the sci-fi companion rules and they still floundered some with me. I just couldn’t really see making starships a larger part of the game and making it work. If I approached making them characters I could make combat and other aspects of travel more engaging, even if it was being abstract over the traditional vehicle rules.

So I really dug the idea of using ships as characters and I scooped up Savage Space, a fan made space opera conversion. Although the spaceship combat rules were pretty solid, I didn’t quite want to go the route of a battle mat and miniature ships along with using actual ranges to work out combat. I liked the idea instead of using the chase rules from SWD. There were some additional tweaks I wanted to implement however.

Turrets vs Fixed Weapons – I altered the costs some of weapons and kept the idea of fixed arc weapons hitting harder, but were cheaper than turret weapons. Unlike the RAW (Rules As Written) chase rules, I’m allowing ships to return fire against other target craft. Yet they would be limited to turret weapons if the ship didn’t have advantage.

Speed matters – Ships announce their intended speed and it has an influence on ship initiative if substantially higher than the opposition. Some ship weapon systems like torpedoes would require a slower speed to lock in and would be subjected to snap-fire penalties otherwise.

Combat is chaotic – I liked the idea of drawing clubs introducing some type of complication with some ship systems possibly going offline. This allows the repair skills having some other purpose than out of combat checks for ‘healing’ ships. It could be mitigated some with drawing a lot of cards which ties into….

Piloting skill is important – The piloting skill matters. Aside from drawing cards for initiative, the higher the roll, the more cards that can be drawn, and the better chance a different card can be chosen if a club is drawn. Also there is a small change I have with the RAW chase rules, all ships draw 2 cards. If they fail their piloting check, they have to play the lowest card. So piloting has a lot of bearing in ship combat.

Inherent ship agility matters – Another small change I wanted was to have the agility of the ship have some function. I decided to make a basic check using the agility of the ship. Slow, lumbering craft with a low agility would be more difficult to gain advantage during a round compared to more nimble starships. So if failed, there would be a penalty to the Piloting check for that round.

Below are some more details on the ship combat rules I worked up. Another notable aspect is using a damage table for wounds received, but it’s covered pretty well in Savage Space. I also tweaked the range tables some from the rule book to allow for more attacks at medium range (and also allowing for lower range modifiers). Below are some high points of starship combat. Hope folks get some use of of this for their games.TravellerArtE

Starship Combat

Starship combat is a variant of the chase rules. Combats will typically be 5 rounds. At the end of the 5th round, and each round afterwards, the GM rolls a die. On an odd result the combat ends with either a ship slipping away, or the pursuing craft breaks off. On an even result the combat will continue at the GM’s discretion (ex. 3 fighters are pursuing a player ship. One fighter is destroyed and another is heavily damaged during the pursuit. A 6th round of combat should happen but the GM decides to break off the fighter attack, deeming the attackers have taken too many losses to likely keep up the pursuit).

For each round of combat initiative is determined by drawing various cards. Follow the sequence below to determine initiative order.

  1. Declare and record speed (For an ambushed ship current speed is equal to its acceleration).
  2. Each ship is dealt 2 cards.
  3. Determine Ship Agility Modifiers. Players make a trait test using the ship’s ability value. This can be modified due to ship wounds (or other applicable modifiers). On a failure the Ship Agility Modifier for this round is -1, on a success the modifier is +1.
  4. Players make a Piloting check applying any modifiers for wounds, shaken ship, etc. including the Ship Agility Modifier determined in the previous step. On a failure the ship must take the lowest of the 2 cards. On a success, the ship may take the highest. For each raise another card is taken and the ship may take the highest. Note that on a success, players may opt to take a lower card (especially if the higher card is a club).
  5. All ships act in initiative order. Ships which have a higher card compared to other ships are deemed to have the advantage for this round against those ships. If the selected initiative card is a club, some manner of complication happens to the ship during the round.

Additional Initiative Check Modifiers (All of these modifiers are cumulative to the Piloting trait check):

Speed – Apply a +2 modifier if the ship’s current speed is higher than the fastest opponent. This becomes a +4 if their speed is twice as fast.

Climb – If their climb is higher than their opponent, this confers a +2 bonus but only while in an atmosphere.

Terrain – Some conditions may incur a -2 penalty (like flying through a debris or asteroid field).

If the ship has advantage (their initiative is higher than an opponent), the may fire all weapons to bear on the target ship. Ships without advantage can fire on their attackers but only with non-fixed weapons and have a -2 penalty to Shooting in addition to any other penalties. The number on their initiative card indicates the range and any penalties due to distance are in parenthesis (see the Range Table).

Snapfire Penalty – Some weapon systems have the snapfire characteristic. If the ship’s current speed is equal to its acceleration, or the target is at short range, there is no penalty to fire. Otherwise the craft suffers a -2 penalty to Shooting.

Range Table

Card Range
2 Out of range, enemy is blocked, etc. No attack can be made this round.
3-7 Long Range (-4)
8-Jack Medium Range (-2)
Queen-Joker Short range (no penalty)

Damage Table

2d6 roll Wound Effect
2 Maimed Ship – Ship suffers severe scars and damage affecting its appearance.
3-4 Random Sub-system Offline
5-9 Internal Damage – A vital system inside the ship is damaged and needs repair.
10 Engine Damage – The engine’s FTL drive goes offline or its agility is reduced by one die type.
11-12 Cockpit Damage – Scanners, the ship AI, or some other sub-system goes offline.

Complications Table

2d6 Effect
2 Disaster: Piloting check at -4. If failed a major system fails at GM’s discretion such as the engine going offline, life support failure, hull breach, etc.
3-7 Major Complication: Ship Vigor check at -4. If failed ship has a system offline/component failure*.
8-Q Complication: Ship Vigor check at -2. If failed ship has system offline/component failure*.
A Distraction: The crew has their hands full. If attacking, a -2 penalty for Shooting this round.

* These complications are typically at the GM’s discretion. Alternately, cards can be drawn for various ship equipment and if a club is drawn the listed complication for that piece of equipment may occur.