Reference Book: Star Wars Saga Edition Starships of the Galaxy
See also: Vehicle Combat
Starship Combat in the Star Wars universe is fast-paced and frantic: Starfighters clash in a void littered with obstacles and debris, Capital Ships fire broadsides at one another, and Space Transports run blockades while evading pursuit. All of these scenes are examples of the kind of excitement that Starship Combat generates.
The rules set for Starship Combat presented in Vehicle Combat works for fast and cinematic battles, but some players and Gamemasters might wish to add additional depth to their starship encounters. This section presents new rules as well as guidelines for including additional mechanics and options for Starship Combat.
Starship Maneuvers Edit
Main Article: Starship Maneuvers
The Starship Maneuvers system provides new options for any character acting as a Pilot or Gunner during a Starship Scale encounter. Similar to the system for using Force Powers, the Starship Maneuvers system allows characters to perform incredible stunts or make use of advanced tactics in order to gain the upper hand in Starship Scale combat. Except for Starship Maneuvers used by Gunners, only Pilots of Starfighters and Airspeeders may make use of the mechanics in this section- Capital Ships and Space Transports are too large and cumbersome. (However, the Combat Thrusters Starship Modification may be used on Space Transports to circumvent this restriction).
Making Starship Encounters Interesting Edit
Many Gamemasters avoid Starship-based encounters for fear of boring (Or overwhelming) some of their players. The fact is that Starship Combat works much the same way as Character Combat, and it can be just as exciting. Neither the players nor the Gamemaster need to specialize in Starship rules to add a few Starfighter combat encounters to a campaign, but players who want to focus their characters on being Ace Pilots have plenty of ways to become more adept than a typical character Trained in the Pilot skill.
For the Gamemaster, the key to Starship Scale combat is tailoring encounters to fit the different roles of the heroes. A group that includes four Ace Pilot characters is going to be more interested in Dogfights and skirmishes with numerous smaller craft, while a group using a single light freighter most likely expects fights to involve the whole crew working together against whatever foe threatens them. Although it's a good idea to take the players out of their comfort zones at times, don't overdo it; any Feat, Talent, or Starship Maneuver taken to support a particular type of encounter is "Wasted" if those encounters don't show up at least occasionally.
Combined Encounters Edit
There's no requirement that an encounter deal only with Starships. Often, having an encounter combine Starship Scale and Character Scale elements creates a more interesting result. While the heroes most interested in Starship activities are dealing with attacking raiders or flying through an asteroid field, other characters might have to deal with more typical character-level threats. Since the Initiative Order is capable of keeping both Starship Scale and Character Scale at once, there's no reason an encounter can't have TIE Fighters, X-Wings, Stormtroopers, and Elite Rebel Troopers all in action at the same time. Although Range is different in Starship Scale and Character Scale, the time frame is the same for both.
There are two basic ways to create Combined Encounters, split-screen encounters, and Character Scale encounters on board Starships that are already engaged in Starship Combat.The split-screen method assumes that action is taking place at different locations and different scales at the same time. The end of Return of the Jedi is a perfect example of this: Luke fights Vader on the Death Star while Lando fights a few TIE Fighters inside the station's superstructure, Admiral Ackbar engages in fleet combat, and Han, Leia, and Chewbacca battle Stormtroopers around the Imperial deflector shield station.
Encounters on Starships engaged in combat work the same way, except the two scales can more directly affect one or another. If pirates have boarded the heroes' Corellian Corvette as it flies through a blockade, the heroes might be engaged in fighting a holding action to keep the pirates from rushing the bridge while shooting down Starfighters swarming around the outside of the ship.
Start Small Edit
If the idea of running a Starship Scale battle worries you, start on a very small scale, both in the number of ships and the risk to the heroes. Allow the players and yourself to get used to the rules with a battle with the heroes, on a large Capital Ship, fighting two or three Starfighters. Not only will the smaller number of ships make things easier, the fact that the heroes are in little danger allows everyone to grow comfortable with Starship Combat.
When the heroes get ships of their own, use the same basic idea. Set up the first few hostile Starship Scale encounters against ships of a much lower Challenge Level than typical for the heroes' level. Once you get a feel for what kinds of encounters the heroes deal with easily, you can begin giving them greater challenges.
Proportional Battles Edit
An epic battle that features thousands of Starships on a side is clearly going to be difficult to run, and it will likely involve players waiting for long stretches between turns as dozens or hundreds of GM characters shoot at each other. Although that much action looks great on a movie screen, it can bog down a roleplaying game.
Instead, try to keep each encounter down to a size at which the heroes, their nearby allies, and a few noteworthy enemies are the main focus. If an adventure calls for a massive star battle with the Rebellion trying to defeat a squadron of Star Destroyers before they jump to Hyperspace, don't try to run the whole fight. Tell the players that the heroes are assigned to stop one of the Star Destroyers, and run only that part of the battle.
Handling Large Battles Edit
Even when you follow the advice above, there are still times when you'll want to have a large number of opponents in a single battle. At such times, use the tips in these sections to keep large battles running smoothly.
Weapon Batteries Edit
Main Article: Weapon Batteries
Tactical Fire Edit
Main Article: Tactical Fire
Fighter Groups Edit
Main Article: Fighter Groups
Fighter Groups are formations of two to six Starfighters or Airspeeders that act as a single unit, greatly speeding up large battles. Anyone Trained in the Pilot skill can join a Fighter Group by moving into the same space as a willing allied Vehicle of the same size. The Fighter Group then acts on the Initiative count of the last Pilot to join, occupying the same space on the battle grid. The Fighter Group's leader (Designated by mutual consent) makes all the decisions and actions for the group. (A Pilot can leave a Fighter Group at any time by Delaying his Initiative count until immediately after the group's turn.)
Connect Space to the Adventure Edit
In most Star Wars campaigns, characters end up on Starships quite often. Any time they travel between worlds, visit Space Stations, or even go long distances on the same planet, they're likely to do it in a Starship. These are natural opportunities for Starship Scale conflict and good times for foes to make themselves known. After all, tracking down four diplomats on the surface of a whole planet is a lot harder than waiting for their ship to fly out of the atmosphere.
Similarly, setting up certain kinds of challenges almost guarantees some Starship Scale encounters in an adventure. If a Hutt crime lord has a fleet of pirate ships he uses to extort merchants and miners, and he never leaves his own star yacht, the heroes are going to have to deal with those ships at some point. Just set up a situation that calls for some Starfighter Dogfighting and the players will seek out the encounters for you.
But I'm Not a Pilot! Edit
Despite what Han Solo might think, being a Starship pilot in the Star Wars universe isn't as specialized a skill as being a fighter pilot in the real world. Although Ace Pilots are certainly a rare breed- and highly valued by any military that can recruit them- most individuals can fly a Starship well enough to be of some use in Starship Scale combat scenes. There might be a few exceptions- an Ewok fresh off The Forest Moon of Endor, for example- but as a general rule, unless you have a good reason to assume a group of characters can't fly Starfighters, they probably can. Obi-Wan Kenobi didn't fly a fighter in the opening sequence of Revenge of the Sith because he was a master pilot; he flew one because there was a fight going on in space, and he needed to be part of it.
In many ways. Starship Combat is the same as any other arena in which characters can specialize. Not everyone is a sniper, but that doesn't stop diplomats and engineers from picking up a blaster when things get rough. It makes no more sense for a consular to refuse to get involved in Starship Combat than it does for a mercenary to refuse to negotiate when the fighting stops. Even if whizzing around in Starfighters and Space Transports isn't the focus of your character, there's no reason not to be involved in those scenes when they take center stage. Whatever your character's area of expertise is, it will come along soon enough. When the situation called for it, Leia was able to copilot The Millenium Falcon through an asteroid field, and Anakin Skywalker found that his experience with Podracers was enough to be familiar with the basic controls of a Starfighter. In fact, characters who haven't focused on Starship Combat might find that they have Talents and Skills the Ace Pilots don't. and these can still be useful in a Starship Combat scene. Given this, you shouldn't fear space battles just because you're out of your element; instead, look at them as a change of pace, an opportunity to find a new way to meet a challenge.
Designing Starship Combat Encounters Edit
Creating interesting Starship encounters can be a challenging task. Unlike in Character Combat, Gamemasters are limited by the more constrained nature of Starship Combat; the heroes are confined to an environment that might limit their abilities, and coming up with encounters that do more than just pit two squads of Starfighters against one another takes more work. Despite this, creating an exciting Starship Combat encounter can make an adventure much more memorable, encouraging players to become just as involved as they would in ground-based encounters.
One of the most important elements of a good Starship encounter is giving each player something to do. Gunners should have plenty of targets, a goal that is relatively easy to accomplish. Pilots should have plenty of obstacles to maneuver around and ships to fly past, making the environment of the encounter very important. Engineers and System Operators should be engaged in interacting with both the Pilot and the Gunners, providing bonuses to attack rolls or detecting Hazards before the ship flies through them. Character Combat holds players' interests because each player has something to do in every round. Engaging players in the same manner during a Starship Combat encounter requires the Gamemaster to design aspects of the encounter that give every player something to do in every round.
Certainly, designing a Starship encounter that keeps several players active on every turn can be daunting. An alternative solution is to create encounters that encourage several characters to fly their own Starship. For example, in a party of four characters, one character might serve as the Pilot of the party's transport, one might serve as the Gunner aboard that transport, and the other two would Pilot Starfighters in the same encounter. This gives three players- the three Pilots- the ability to move and attack in each round, just as they would in Character Combat. Even characters Untrained in the Pilot skill can perform basic movement and actions, and Trained Pilots can help protect those Untrained Pilots during Starship Combat.
To simulate larger battles and more significant Space Combat sequences, Gamemasters should consider stringing together a series of encounters that act as plot sequences of their own. Though individual encounters are great for simulating events like fast getaways- such as when The Millenium Falcon flees the first Death Star- sometimes the story can call for a longer scenario better played as a series of encounters rather than one long encounter. An individual encounter should have a clearly defined goal- whether it's simply the destruction of all enemies or something more complex- and as that goal is accomplished, the heroes should move on to the next encounter in the sequence. Each encounter then brings with it new foes, new obstacles, new objectives, new environmental effects, and even a new battlefield. Large-scale conflicts, such as the Battle of Yavin, are actually comprised multiple smaller encounters strung together into a sequence that tells an ongoing story (In this case, that of Luke Skywalker's discovery of his faith in The Force and the destruction of The Death Star).
The following section provides hints and guidelines for Gamemasters looking to create more compelling and engaging Starship Combat encounters.
Give Objectives other than Destruction Edit
One of the best ways to make a Starship Combat encounter more engaging is to give the players an objective other than simply eradicating the opposition. Although destroying one's opponents can certainly be a key component in accomplishing that objective, it doesn't necessarily have to be all of it (And, in fact, it rarely is). When designing an encounter, try to pick an objective that still allows the heroes to engage their enemy in combat (Though stealth encounters can work, they are much more difficult to execute aboard Starships) while giving them some other goal to focus on. A goal other than all-out destruction also encourages the heroes to be more cautious and think tactically rather than going in with blaster bolts flying. Just as you might not have Character Combat just for combat's sake, Starship Combat encounters should serve the purpose of moving the plot forward.
One option for an alternative objective is an encounter in which the heroes are required to protect something or someone. Escort missions are common among Starship pilots in the Star Wars setting, and providing the heroes with the goal of protecting something from coming to harm means that the players will have to do more than unleash their weapons. Protecting something requires the heroes to think tactically (They do not want to be too far away from their charge at any time) while still allowing for the high action and Dogfighting that makes Starship Combat interesting. The encounter might require the heroes to escort a ship through dangerous territory, fend off attackers as escaping Rebels board transport ships, or keep enemy vessels from getting close enough to detect a secret base.
Alternatively, the heroes might simply be trying to get from one place to another through an encounter or series of encounter. The heroes of the Star Wars movies experience several encounters trying to get to a particular location. For example, Obi-Wan and Anakin try to get to The Invisible Hand during the Battle of Coruscant, and Wedge Antilles and Lando Calrissian attempt to penetrate the core of the second Death Star so that they can destroy it at the Battle of Endor. Other encounters might involve the heroes trying to get to a safe place to make a jump to lightspeed, while others might involve running a blockade or dashing to obtain sensor readings before being captured or destroyed. Getting from point A to point B might seem like a simple goal, but with the right combination of obstacles and enemies, it can be both challenging and exciting.
Finally, the heroes might have the task of obtaining something during a Starship Combat encounter. This could be a job as simple as using a Tractor Beam to drag away a derelict ship, or it might involve the heroes actually landing somewhere, obtaining an item, and rejoining combat. In some cases, the object in question might be another Starship, requiring the heroes to disable the ship with Ion weapons rather than simply destroying it. Encounters of this kind are very similar to encounters in which the heroes need to protect something, but in this case they are protecting it only so they can take it for their own.
Build Interesting Battlefields Edit
Main Article: Starship Hazards
Another key element of good Starship Combat encounters is creating combat areas that are interesting. Certainly, encounters involving two groups of ships engaging one another in open space can be fun, but adding a certain element of environmental challenge to the encounter makes it that much more memorable. For example, The Millennium Falcon's daring escape from the forces of the Empire is made far more interesting by the fact that it flees through an asteroid belt wrought with peril, and Obi-Wan's dogfight with Jango Fett in Slave I is made more exciting by the hazards found in the ring of Geonosis. Just as in Character Combat, adding terrain features to space battles creates more lively combat sequences that require creativity and tactical thinking on the parts of the heroes.
Create Exciting Scenarios with Complications Edit
One of the best ways to create tension in a Starship Combat sequence is to present complications that affect the way combat takes place. Although battles in which Starships simply square off against one another if fine, a battle with some larger complication can increase the level of tension and excitement. Complications are factors that affect combat without affecting the battlefield itself.
One of the most often-used complications is a time limit. Placing a limit on the amount of time- in rounds or otherwise- that the heroes have to complete their task creates a sense of urgency that makes Starship Combat more exciting. For example, the attack of The Death Star in A New Hope became all the more desperate because they had to stop the battle station before it destroyed Yavin 4. A variant of the time limit is having a space limit, a sort of "Finish Line" for the encounter; perhaps the heroes must reach a certain point to escape to the safety of Hyperspace, or perhaps they must stop a shuttle carrying an Imperial governor before it reaches a Star Destroyer in orbit.
Similarly, limiting the perception or communication of space combatants can add an air of the unknown to a combat encounter. In addition to terrain that impairs Visibility (See Starship Hazards), other examples might include a wide-area jamming field that makes it impossible for heroes to communicate with one another or a sensor-scrambling filed that imposes penalties on Pilot checks as the ship's onboard computers struggle to clear out the interference.
Challenge Level Adjustments for Starship Disparities Edit
Gamemasters might wish to consider altering the experience rewards for heroes aboard Starships that are clearly superior to their enemies' ships. For example, heroes aboard a Corellian Corvette clearly outgun enemies aboard a Lambda-Class Shuttle; as such, they have a distinct advantage over their foes. Rather than awarding full Experience Points for such a mismatched encounter, a Gamemaster can optionally alter the effective Challenge Level of the enemies to account for the disparity.
First, calculate the Challenge Level value of the heroes' Vehicle (Or average value for multiple Vehicles). Unless the heroes have the aid of a generic crew- such as when on board a Capital Ship- subtract the CL modifier for the Crew Quality from the given CL for the Vehicle. Second, take that number and divide by 2 (Rounding down), then subtract the result from the CL of all opponents in the encounter. The new result is the enemy's adjusted CL. Use the adjusted CL when determining both the difficulty and the rewards (Experience or credits) of an encounter.
CL Disparity Adjustment Examples Edit
Four 5th-level heroes flying T-65B X-Wing Starfighters (CL 10) clearly outmatch enemies in TIE Fighters (CL 7). The CL value of an X-Wing is 9 (CL 10, minus 1 for Skill Crew Quality); dividing 9 by 2 and rounding down yields a result of 4. Subtracting 4 from the CL of the TIE Fighters gives them an adjusted CL of 3. Thus, two to four TIE Fighters would be an appropriate challenge for the heroes.
If the same heroes were flying a lone Corellian YT-1300 Transport (CL 6), the disparity is not quite so great. The Cl value of a YT-1300 is 6 (No adjustment for a Normal Crew Quality); dividing by 2 yields a result of 3. Subtracting 3 from the CL of the TIE Fighters gives them an adjusted CL of 4. Thus, one to two TIE Fighters would be an appropriate challenge for the heroes.