The session started with a distress call. The Combover, a cheap civilian cargo ship, was in dire shape. It’s crew, Martin and Billy (Jaron and Jeremy) were struggling to keep auxiliary power from failing. Responding to their SOS, in hopes of a good salvage, was the Precious, a T3 civilian prototype (see below), manned by Mason, Timothy, and William (Mike, Matt, and Joe). After a bit of negotiating, Mason and Timothy agreed to help out. Martin stated that the cargo was not worth salvaging, as it was perishable goods. Meanwhile, Timothy was keeping an eye on the radar as others were responding to the distress call; There were two Real New Mexico ships and two Vulcan ships. After a failed scuttle attempt on the laser cannon, Martin and Billy were brought on board the Precious. Precious’ current Pilot, Alfred (NPC), was horribly ill, Billy assumed the role of pilot. And none too soon…With some careful navigation, Timothy plotted an escape vector, and Billy beat a hasty retreat by being “the best pilot you’ve never heard of”.
Having successfully escaped, Martin removed his helmet, and Timothy drew his slug-thrower saying “You…you ex-XX dealer…You…killed…you.” The love of Timothy’s life had fallen victim to Martin’s wiles and had died an addict. Billy, never one to miss a fire-fight, drew his pistol; But after a bit of talking, everyone lowered their weapon, and Timothy fled to his bunk, offering commentary from afar as Mason agreed that Martin’s piloting had saved them.
They were in Real New Mexico, and managed to find one of the outpost stations that will provide refueling with little to no questions asked (not too much of a problem in the wild west that is Real New Mexico). Here, the crew of the Precious learned that the Combover’s cargo was people. While refueling they made sure to leave Alfred amongst the medic/cook of the station; Things were looking grim for poor Alfred. Mason also learned that a scoundrel by the name of Sid was looking to smuggle some weapons into Vulcan. Hungry for work, and to pay off a part of Mason’s debt to his father, the crew accepted the cargo, not without a bit of an argument from Timothy, the broker and accountant of the ship.
The trip out to the slipknot was relatively uneventful, avoiding all possible patrols. They made the slip, and were immediately hailed by Vulcan system patrol ships. With a bit of luck on the positioning, the Vulcan ships were able to establish the positions, but the Precious proved to be too fast, first out-maneuvering the Aristotle (pushing it off the map) then fleeing the Socrates, but not before sustaining a moderate consequence.
In hindsight, during the first EW phase, I should’ve had the Vulcan ships hail the Precious. It instead broke down into a fire fight. But from a narrative stand-point, I can rationalize it as the Vulcans have a shoot-first policy on unexpected and/or unmarked ships exiting a slipstream. They control the slipstreams and don’t want anything unexpected. A bit of inspiration for this based on The Mote in God’s Eye.
With a wounded ship, they needed to find a T2 port (after all a T3 ship really needs a T2 station for repairs), and with a Culture/Tech roll and a bit of help for being “Well Connected”, they were able to find both the rebel drop point and a station they could discretely use. They made their cargo drop with a massive freighter and then went to the space station.
The exchange was rather subdued, as I wasn’t feeling the narrative at this point. I think, I should’ve pushed back on the player asking him to narrate how he was going to find a T2 station. In Burning Wheel terms, get the intent and task separated so we can figure out what they want.
After the cargo drop, they travelled to a station hidden in the asteroid field. Here they learned of an outbreak of the same ailment that had taken out Alfred. They were asked by those that were healthy, if they could smuggle the Vulcans out and help them seek medical treatment. With a few compels (“Help the down-trodden” and “Never let the innocent suffer”), William and Mason agreed to transport most of the ill Vulcans to Real New Mexico where they could get better treatment. Meanwhile, as the cargo was being unloaded, and William and Mason were refueling Timothy was “Love Struck” by one of the women of the station who wanted to know more about Precious. Timothy gave her the tour, and after a bit more compelling, even agreed to front the money for a military-grade T2 spaceship; She compelled him with “Timothy Heizerman: Certified Space Accountant” saying that she would even name the ship after him. And Timothy, in his ridiculous wealth, only took one point of wealth stress. Now that is someone who was Love Struck.
Going to the slipknot was uneventful due to some careful navigation by Timothy. But the re-entry into Real New Mexico is where the problems started. Given that the ship has a T3 Slipdrive, it is almost impossible to patrol the entire region it can slip from. The same is not true for the arrival in another system.
Immediately, they were dropped into Space Combat, with five ships showing up on radar: T2 Socrates, T2 Kirkegaard, and T2 Hobbes; a T1 Rattler and T1 Chupacabra. Did I mention the system aspects for Real New Mexico are: “Hive of Scum and Villainy”, “They’re headed right for us”, and most importantly “Hate those Vulcans”? Unfortunately for the Precious, they lost in the initial navigation to the Socrates. So the detection order was Kirkegaard, Precious, Hobbes, Socrates, Chupacabra, and the Rattler. And the positioning ended up being something like this:
|0||Hobbes & Precious & Rattler|
Dear lord was this an engaging fight! The first round saw each team contemplate electronic warfare; There was some communications attempted, but again there was no offer of surrender. This encounter I should’ve had each side petition the Precious for working with them.
Clearly the T2 Vulcans, with the help of Precious, would have made quick work of the outnumbered T1 Real New Mexicans. Instead the first round saw the communication officers hold their fire; No one wanted to engage. The beams phase was a different story, I had the Hobbes compel Billy to fire, because he “Loves the Sound of Gunfire”. Billy had plenty of Fate points to counter, but I instead decided “FIRE”.
With that the sky lit up as the Socrates, Kirkegaard and Hobbes unloaded on Precious while the Real New Mexicans held back. Precious did manage to hold it’s own for that first round, and saw the military grade engineering keep most of the stress tracks clean. Fate points were flying, as Precious kept getting it’s “Cheeky A.I.” compelled into both refusing to move (no positioning) and refusing to participate in electronic warfare. Eventually, the Real New Mexicans were compelled to join the fate as they “hate those Vulcans.”
Through the V-shift power of the Kirkegaard and the firepower of the Hobbes, the Vulcans had a reasonable handle on the battle. There were moments when it looked like Precious might escape, only to have the Real New Mexicans compel them to stay and help them out. After the Socrates was pushed off the map, the Rattler destroyed, and the Kirkegaard obliterated; the Precious was able to escape.
We had to hastily wrap up the last battle as one of us was running late for work.
The Fate system takes a bit of getting used to; I needed to be more on my game in regards to offering compels. I also regretted not spending a bit more time thinking about the plot direction, though I did spend some time thinking about the best initial scene to give the players direction. I think I was so eager to get into the Space Combat that I brushed through some possible role-playing encounters. After all, a negotiated space encounter is all the more interesting when everyone is working to position without resorting to a fire-fight.
I also found the Space Conflict to be tremendously engaging. I was a bit concerned about a 6 ship encounter, but as the battle went on I believe we had things under control and mostly understood. The NPC ships were taking bits of damage, but the military grade Engineering is what kept the Precious afloat.
With a bit more preparation, I would’ve handed the responsibility of the Real New Mexicans off to one of the players, especially after they opted to join the fire-fight.
After the session, I posted to RPGGeek to get some additional insight into how FATE points should be expended in space combat. Needless to say, I believe the idea of maneuvers in space combat will truly bring some additional tactical decisions to the fore-front.
And I really need to get in the habit of having the ships identify themselves and asking for identification.