Playstorming a “Stars without Number” Space Combat


Several nimble spaceship fighters swarm a large space cruiser, each firing lasers at the other.

For those interested in following along, I’m using the Ship Combat from Stars without Number: Revised. You may also be interested in my Let’s Read Stars without Number series, in particular Let’s Read “Stars without Number” - Starships. While not a “reading of Stars without Number”, I am adding this blog post to that series.

update: I have added a second in the series. By the rules, to get a +3 skill bonus, your character must be at least 6th level. The crew of the Waukeen are skilled and competent.

Last night I sat down to try out the ship combat. I wanted to get a sense for the rules in action. I also wanted to see if I could see what others saw and reported in a thread on reddit.com/r/swn.

I chose a simple scenario. A Free Merchant vs. a Patrol Boat. I treated the Free Merchant as PCs and the Patrol Boat as NPCs. Below is my action by action play through and some fiction to connect the mechanics.

The Cast

Table 143: Free Merchant - Waukeen
Free Merchant
HP 20 Power 100 free
AC 14 Mass 150 free
Armor 2 Crew 16
Speed 3 Hull Class Frigate
Skill +3 Command Points 0
Weapons: Multifocal Laser (+5 1d4+1, AP 20), Sandthrower (+5 2d4+1, Flak)
Defenses: None
Fittings: Spike Drive-1, 160 tons of cargo space, Atmospheric Configuration, Fuel Scoops, Fuel Bunker
‡ - Normally this is +2, but I chose to use +3 for all the PCs.
- As this is the PCs ship, they start with 0 Command Points

Patrol Boat Roscoe detected, pursued, and engaged the Waukeen.

Table 144: Patrol Boat - Roscoe
Patrol Boat
HP 25 Power 151 free
AC 14 Mass 100 free
Armor 5 Crew 520
Speed 4 Hull Class Frigate
Skill +2 Command Points 5
Weapons Plasma Beam (+4/3d6, AP 10)
Defenses None
Fittings Atmospheric Configuration, Boarding Tubes, Armory, Ship’s Locker, Survey Sensors

The Engagement

At the start of the engagement, the captain of the Waukeen wants to try to escape. The captain of the Roscoe intends to board the Waukeen. I believe at the start of space combat, it is essential to clarify each sides goals. One aspect of Diaspora’s space combat that I like is the ship that wins the detection phase (similar to initiative) chooses to allow positioning or to hop directly to electronic warfare. This supports the initial intention of the engagement. I also like the space combat vector as it accounts for ships acting in concert.

Both sides rolled for initiative, and the Waukeen won out.

The Waukeen Gambles on an Escape

Table 145: Free Merchant - Waukeen’s First Round
Start CP Station Action Result End CP
0 Gunnery Above & Beyond Fail -1
-1 Engineering Above & Beyond Success 3
3 Comms Above & Beyond Success 7
7 Captain Into the Fire Success 11
11 Captain Support: Bridge Success 11
11 Bridge Escape Combat +1 Escape 9
9 Bridge Escape Combat Failure 5
5 Bridge Evasive Maneuvers Success: +3 AC 3
CP - Command Points
Even though 3 CP remained, all stations acted, and no viable actions remained. Had Gunnery “done their duty”, the Bridge could’ve attempted one more Escape Combat maneuver

With a call from the captain, Gunnery laid down suppressive fire, creating an opening for the Bridge. Likewise, Engineering stabilized power, ensuring quick system responses. Communications broadcast static, hoping the Bridge could punch through. The captain, urging the Bridge forward, endangered the gunner. And the Bridge floated the Waukeen, gaining distance from its pursuer.

The end result: The Waukeen had +3 AC until the next turn. They added 1 Escape to the Roscoe. But a looming lost crew crisis in the Gunnery station needed addressing.

The Roscoe Responds

Table 146: Patrol Boat - Roscoe’s First Round
Start CP Station Action Result End CP
5 Bridge Pursue Target Fail 2
2 Comms Crash System Success: -2 CP for opposition 0
‡ - As an NPC ship, the Roscoe started with 5 command points, and no way to earn more.

Seeing the Waukeen’s game, the captain of the Roscoe orders pursuit. But the Bridge can’t get a suitable approach vector to close the gap. The captain, not yet ready to open fire, orders the Comm station to crash the Waukeen’s system.

End Result: The Waukeen begins with a -2 CP deficit.

The Waukeen Presses to Break Free

Table 147: Free Merchant - Waukeen’s Second Round
Start CP Station Action Result End CP
-2 Gunnery Deal with a Crisis Success, resolved crew crisis -2
-2 Comms Above & Beyond Success 2
2 Engineering Boost Engines Success 0
0 Captain Into the Fire Success 4
4 Captain Support: Bridge Success 4
4 Bridge Escape +1 Escape 2
2 Bridge Evasive Maneuvers Success: +3 AC 0

The gunner catches their breath, resolving the lost crew crisis. The comm department, again seeing a good thing scattered static. Knowing that the Roscoe has an advantage on speed, the captain urges Engineering to divert power to the engines. The captain again throws them all into the fire by ordering dangerous maneuvers in support of the Bridge. All the while, the Bridge again maneuvers erratically, separating further from the Roscoe.

End Result: The Waukeen had +3 AC until the next turn. They added 1 more Escape to the Roscoe (for a total of 2). But yet again, a looming lost crew crisis in the Gunnery station needed addressing.

The Roscoe Seeks to Disable

Table 148: Patrol Boat - Roscoe’s Second Round
Start CP Station Action Result End CP
5 Gunnery Target Systems Success 4
4 Gunnery Fire one Weapon Hit, targeting Spike Drive 2
2 Comms Crash System Success: -2 CP for opposition 0
‡ - The Waukeen accepts a Crisis instead. They get a Fuel Bleed

Switching tactics, the captain of the Roscoe orders Gunnery to take out the Waukeen’s spike drive. With luck on their side, Gunnery strikes an improbable hit. The captain of the Waukeen opts for a random crisis instead. They get Fuel Bleed. The Roscoe’s captain, again orders Comms to crash the system.

End Result: The Waukeen begins with a -2 CP deficit.

By the Skin of their Teeth

With two active crises, the Waukeen will need some luck.

Table 149: Free Merchant - Waukeen’s Third Round
Start CP Station Action Result End CP
-2 Gunnery Deal with a Crisis Fail: Crew Crisis remains -2
-2 Comms Above & Beyond Success 2
2 Engineering Deal with a Crisis Fail: Fuel Bleed 2
2 Captain Support: Bridge Success 2
2 Captain Into the Fire Crew Crisis 6
6 Bridge Escape Success 4

The captain, sensing a window closing, orders the gunner to deal with the crew crisis it. But things deteriorate as the gunner fails to deal with the problem. The comms officer buys a bit of luck by ricocheting a single to distract the Roscoe. The captain, with a bit of wiggle, orders Engineering to deal with the fuel bleed, but they too fail to get it under control.

Seeing their ship crumble, the captain orders one last maneuver, throwing more of their crew into crisis. All to give the Bridge two shots at escape. With klaxons roaring, the Bridge manages to escape the Roscoe. By the book, when an engagement ends, ships resolve all crises. As I reflect on the actions of the captain, I like thinking about the captain’s decision to select “Into the Fire”, which causes a crew life crisis, jeopardizing the well being of the crew in order to eek out more capacity. Excellent grist for the story mill.

Denouement

Eager to evade the Roscoe, the captain of the Waukeen managed to bruise and batter the crew. However, they all made it out with minor complications.

Observations

The crew of the Waukeen consistently rolled at least 2 pips higher than the Roscoe. That difference meant the Waukeen had enough luck to escape the Roscoe.

I also chose to give the Waukeen crew a universal +3 at all of their skills. That seems to be an early-stage career for dedicated spacers.

I have played Diaspora’s ship combat a few times, most memorably in the second session of our Precious Few campaign. For solo play, I found Stars without Number’s ship combat engaging.

I found myself wanting the linear map from Diaspora, and began thinking about projecting the SWN ship combat onto a vector.