In my last post, I outlined the Warthog problem: The idea that vehicle combat, although it seems cool at first blush, can actually limit a player’s options such that the actual experience winds up being dull, especially when multiple characters occupy one vehicle.
As starships and fights between them are a big part of Star Wars stories, it makes sense that Star Wars Roleplaying includes the option for starship combat. The potential for dullness arises from the idea that, for two out of the three core rule sets, the entire play group – between four and six players – are all aboard a single ship, usually a light freighter (think the Millennium Falcon, the Twilight from The Clone Wars, the Ghost from Rebels or the Outrider from Shadow of the Empire).
So, when the option to move around becomes less meaningful for most of the group (while the pilot gets to move the ship, the rest of the crew only need to move if they’re changing from one manned position to another), what other options do they have?
Thankfully, the Star Wars Roleplaying rules appear to account for taking away half (or even two thirds, if they take some strain) of each players’ options in starship combat; so much so that I was able to divvy the various duties up into a few obvious roles.
So let’s take a look at the crew of the Bin Chicken (ahem) Winged Gundark, my monthly Force and Destiny group’s YT-1300 transport vessel (same make and model as the famous Millennium Falcon). What sort of options do they have in terms of potential crew positions and things they can do?
Star Wars RPG Characters and Structured Time
First, it helps to understand how Star Wars Roleplaying handles the action kicking in.
When an encounter (generally a combat) starts, the rules govern it in what’s called Structured Time, which break the action into minute-long chunks, or turns. In a single turn, a character can perform one Manoeuvre and one Action.
While a character can exchange an Action for an additional Manouevre, they can’t do the opposite; it’s either two Manoeuvres or one Manoeuvre, one Action. (A character can also take two points of strain, a limited resource, to perform an extra manoeuvre in that turn, so two Manoeuvres and one Action is possible.)
In a direct beings-versus-beings fight, a character has several options:
Manoeuvres: Move, Aim, Assist another character, Take Cover, Drop Prone / Get Up, Engage in / Disengage from close combat, Interact with the environment.
Actions: Make a Skill Check, make an Attack Check, Activate an Ability or Talent, Use the Force (if applicable).
They also have some further variety of options, including what their equipment may provide: blasters that can be set to/from stun, hand-to-hand combat, etc.
The potential for things to go all Warthog-y when you pack a group of four to five player characters aboard a single starship, which is the default for groups in Edge of the Empire and an option for Force and Destiny, and start a space fight. (I believe Age of Rebellion allows the group to take 2-3 Y-wing fighters, which ameliorates the problem somewhat.)
All of a sudden, the situation is changed. An individual character’s movement is likely restricted or prevented by having to stay at a position. Compare Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie’s journey from the trash compactor to the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope with the ensuing fight between the Falcon and the four TIE fighters: the group of characters who had been previously running from firefight to firefight were now parked in their chairs, with Han and Luke doing nothing but shoot their cannons over and over again.
Though the Force and Destiny core rulebook only gives the option of a G-9 Rigger (e.g. the Twilight, Anakin Skywalker’s freighter from Star Wars: The Clone Wars) or an HWK-290 (the Moldy Crow, Kyle Kataarn’s ship from the Star Wars: Dark Forces video games), I bowed to my group’s demands and let them start with a YT-1300, a ship 30,000 credits more expensive than they should start with, using the stat block from Edge of the Empire. (I have some ideas about 30,000 credits’ worth of misery I can inflict on them.)
However, it does give the players a clear idea of what the ship looks like, outside and in, as well as clearly defined crew positions – a pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit (Leia and Chewie), a gunner in each of the two gun-wells (Han and Luke) and an engineer in the engineering bay or roaming the ship (R2-D2).
While the Star Wars Roleplaying rules don’t delineate starship crew positions )except the pilot; more on that later), they do give a host of action options that I’ve split up into those roles for one-page summaries that I’ll hand out to my players. In most cases, any player can perform them; I hope that they’ll be able to suggest options to each other without needing to ask me or crack the rulebook open.
As I go through these roles, it’s worth keeping in mind that the same restrictions on Manoeuvres and Actions per turn apply. If a crewmember wants to change position to help another in a different part of the ship, I’d consider that a Mount/Dismount (particularly if you’re leaving a gunnery position), followed by a Move, so burning some strain may be necessary to get around the ship quickly enough to assist.
The pilot is probably the only role that is clearly specialsied in the rules; it gets a list of Pilot Only Manoeuvres (the rules are clear that, except in rare cases, a single ship can only have one pilot at any given time). As well as the rule of the player character taking two strain to perform an additions Manoeuvre on the same turn, attempting two Pilot Only Manoeuvres in one turn causes the ship to take system strain.
The Pilot Only Manoeuvres include: Accelerate/Decelerate, Fly (get closer to / move away from an object or other starship), Evasive Manoeuvres (become harder to hit at the cost of making attacks harder), Stay on Target (make attacks easier at the cost of become easier to hit) and Punch It (leap to maximum speed at the cost of system strain).
Both Evasive Manoeuvres and Stay on Target both require the ship be at a minimum speed of 3 (the YT-1300’s maximum). I’m yet to find any potential negatives from being at maximum speed; presumably, there’d be difficulties with overshooting slower targets or opening an arc that you’d angled your deflector shields away from.
Speaking of, there’s also a general manoeuvre, Angle Deflector Shields, which allows the pilot to redistribute the ship’s Defence rating between its forward and rear arcs.
The pilot gains a single Pilot Only Action called Gain the Advantage, which allows the pilot and anyone else firing weapons aboard ship to ignore all penalties from own and opponent’s Evasive Manoeuvres until end of next round.
The trick is, it needs a minimum Speed of 4 – which no starting freighter is capable of (the YT-1300 and HWK-290 max out at 3, while the G-9 Rigger’s maximum speed is 2). The crew of the Bin Chicken may need to stash some cash away for a speed upgrade (5,300 credits).
It seems the pilot will, by default, sacrifice their Action for the additional Manoeuvre, lining the ship up for good shots for the gunners.
Here’s where we start to move away from Manoeuvres and into Actions. Putting the co-pilot’s brief together saw me draw mostly from the list of general starship Actions, which includes one named for the role.
Two Manoeuvres seemed to apply to the co-pilot; Angle Deflector Shields (as above) and the general Manouevre, Assist.
Early in the list of general starship actions is Co-Pilot. This Piloting skill check allows the Co-Pilot to reduce the difficulty of the Pilot’s next Piloting check. The trick is, unless the Game Master throws specific space terrain issues at the starship – a large asteroid, another ship exploding in front of the players’ starship – the only real opportunity to make a Piloting check in combat is the Gain the Advantage action, which starting ships can’t do.
Aside from that, there’s Plot Course (Astrogation or Perception check to reduce setback dice for difficult terrain), Fire Discipline (Leadership or Discipline check to give boost dice to weapon crew) and Scan the Enemy (Perception check to identify enemy vessel’s statistics and modifications).
Remember the Warthog? Well the gunner is the guy behind the big, turret-mounted gun. At first blush, it looks exciting, but the role is basically sitting in a seat and pulling the trigger over and over.
As the gunner is very chair-based, a lot of the general manoeuvres aren’t an option. Aim is a clear one. Assist may be an option, both through talking to other characters via the ship’s internal comm and perhaps even using “covering fire” to shepherd a target toward the other gunnery position’s arc.
Obviously, the gunner is all about Performing a Combat Check with shipboard weapons (the turreted cannon they’re crewing). As well, Fire Discipline, Scan the Enemy and “Spoof” Missiles (Computers or Vigilance check to make inbound guided attacks harder) seemed reasonable options.
While the engineer gets no specific manoeuvres, the role is to my mind the most mobile, as they’re commonly on their feet performing emergency maintenance about the ship and managing power systems. Move and Assist seem the most reasonable.
In shipboard combat, there’s a general action called Damage Control. It allows the engineer to make Mechanics checks to reduce the ship’s system strain and, once per encounter, a little hull trauma (the rest has to be paid for in credits later).
There are a bunch of additional shipboard actions that seem right up the engineer’s alley; Boost Shields (Mechanics check to exchange system strain for additional Defence), Jamming (Computers check to prevent a target using its comm system) and Slice Enemy’s Systems (Computers check to reduce target’s Defence).
There’s also an option called Manual Repairs, where you can use Athletics instead of Mechanics for Damage Control, though that seems more something someone else with a high Athletics can pitch in and do.
Time for a Playtest!
Today is the next session in the Saga of the Bin Chicken, so I’ll have the chance to take these roles out on the road today and see how well they work. Still it looks as though I may have been worrying too much. Each role does have a fair few options, and hopefully there’ll be enough to keep folks busy against a couple of spaceborne adversaries.
I’ll let you know in a future blog post!