Table of Contents
These rules for space travel and combat are adapted from the rules used by Scum & Villainy. Ships in the Firmament are rated by the class of their hull, of which there are several:
- Fighter. A personal ship with seats for a pilot and one passenger, co-pilot or gunner. Fragile but highly maneuverable, equally comfortable in atmosphere or space.
- Scout. A shuttle, military patrol boat or rogue trader. Usually has capacity for less than a dozen crew and has a modest cargo hold. Fully capable of flight and landing in atmosphere.
- Corvette. A freighter or military gunship. Can accommodate several dozen crew and significant cargo. Atmospheric flight is awkward and clumsy, and landing is risky without a proper landing pad.
- Cruiser. A bulk freighter or battleship. Can accomodate up to a hundred crew, large cargo or even smaller starships in hangars. Incapable of atmospheric flight.
- Battlecruiser. A strike carrier or capital ship. Home to hundreds of crew, huge arrays of weapons and numerous smaller shuttles and ships. Incapable of atmospheric flight.
- Titan. An invasion carrier or colony ship. These are effectively miniature space stations with engines, and are home to thousands of people. Incapable of atmospheric flight.
Most of the differences between the various classes of starship are purely narrative. The class of your ship determines what kind of jobs it’s suitable for, how much crew and cargo space it has, whether it can fly in atmosphere and land on planets, and so on. However, actions against a ship that is much smaller or larger than you will likely have increased or reduced Effect due to the difference in scale.
As always, the loss of Effect from scale is something that can potentially be overcome with the quality of your ship, teamwork and by spending Stress - but significant differences in scale are simply too overwhelming to be easily overcome. A single Fighter is unlikely to ever have more than Zero Effect against a Titan-class ship unless they can identify some specific weakness to exploit.
These rules generally assume that player characters will crew fighters, scouts or corvettes - anything larger than that tends to require a crew much larger than an adventuring party. Most of the prices given below will need to be adjusted or ignored for a party that’s operating a Battlecruiser, for example.
A ship is not defined by size alone - a luxury liner and a military battleship might both be Corvette-class ships, but they differ massively in capability. Every ship has four major systems, each of which has a rating from 0 to 6:
- Engines represent the power and propulsion systems of your ship. They determine how fast and maneuverable it is.
- Hull represents the robustness and integrity of your ship’s critical systems. It determines how much punishment your ship can take before the lives of those onboard are endangered.
- Comms represents the sensors, scanners and communications arrays installed on your ship. They determine how easily you can detect signals and objects as well as the quality of your ship’s computers and security.
- Weapons represent the firepower of your ship - point defense cannons, missiles, torpedoes, railguns, and lasers. The higher the rating, the more advanced and sophisticated your weapons and defensive systems are.
Most standard civilian ships start out with 0 to 2 points in each of these systems. If a ship has a rating of zero in any of its systems, it means that system is missing or non-functional. A ship with Weapons 0 is an unarmed civilian ship, a ship with Engines 0 is a short-range shuttle that’s incapable of interplanetary travel in any reasonable timeframe, and so on.
System quality is a critical factor when comparing the capabilities of two ships that are engaged - in combat or otherwise. A ship with Engines 3 will reliably outrun one with Engines 2 in a dead heat, although a skilled pilot can make up the difference if it comes down to a roll. Mechanically, this means that a higher-quality ship gets increased Effect against a lower-quality one - though as always, you need to consider the scale of the ships involved.
Consequences that inflict physical harm on your ship will degrade the performance of its systems. When your ship suffers damage as a consequence of an action, the Position of the action determines how many levels of damage it takes - 1 for Controlled, 2 for Risky, 3 for Desperate. Each level of damage either reduces the rating of a system or disables one of the ship’s special upgrades. For example, suffering damage from a Risky action inflicts 2 levels of damage, and might cause your Hull and Engines to both drop by 1.
If damage causes any of your system ratings to drop to zero, that system becomes dysfunctional:
- Engines: You can no longer fly or maneuver except at extremely low speeds - interplanetary travel takes weeks if it’s possible at all.
- Hull: The integrity of the ship is compromised, risking critical systems such as life support and antigravity.
- Comms: The ship is effectively blind and can only see through viewports and cameras; it’s also incapable of effectively communicating.
- Weapons: The ship is effectively disarmed.
Like any other consequence, damage can be resisted - whether through quick piloting to evade danger, skilled engineering to salvage a damaged system, and so on. Repairing damage to a system or upgrade usually costs Cash equal to the associated system’s rating - so if you have Engines 4, then repairing damage to your engines or one of their upgrades will cost 4 Cash. Repairing an auxiliary upgrade just costs a flat 2 Cash. Characters who are skilled engineers or mechanics may be able to use their Specialties to reduce the cost of repairs, or to get a damaged system working temporarily.
Ships are expensive to keep running - they need fuel, upkeep and constant maintenance. At the end of every significant adventure when you take downtime, you must pay Cash equal to the ship’s highest rating in upkeep fees. For example, if your ship’s best system is Engines 4, then you must pay 4 Cash to maintain it. You may also need to pay upkeep after an interstellar voyage, after a lot of interplanetary travel, or after a battle where your ship uses its weapons.
Paying for upkeep is optional; you can choose to skip it. However, every time you do so increases the Burden of the ship - increasing the likelihood that an economic shock will cause something to break down. If you’re not using the rules for Burden, then the GM rolls 1d6 for each time you’ve skipped upkeep in a row. If any of the dice roll a 6, your ship suffers 1 level of damage.
Improving your Ship
If you want to increase the rating of one of your ship’s systems, you must pay Cash equal to 3x the new rating. For example, increasing your Engines from 3 to 4 will cost you 12 Cash. As well as improving your ship’s general performance, its system ratings also limit how many upgrades of each type can be installed on it. A ship with Engines 3 can have 3 engine upgrades, for example.
Upgrades are things like afterburners, an antigravity grapple, or hangars. These upgrades are usually associated with a specific system, and installing them costs 3x the current system quality in Cash. For example, installing Afterburners on a ship with Engines 3 will cost 9 Cash. For auxiliary upgrades that aren’t associated with any specific system, they just cost 6 Cash.
Afterburners: Dumps fuel into the engines for a short burst of speed. May treat engines as one higher rating for a roll, but it may damage them.
Spike Drive: Allows you to travel between star systems by shifting into metadimensional space. A variant called the Llewellyn Drive allows you to travel twice as fast, but is rare and very expensive.
Stealth System: Vents heat into metaspace, masking the energy signature of your ship. Doesn’t make you invisible, but makes it much harder for sensors to detect you. Extremely power-hungry, extended use might fry your systems.
Cutting Laser: A heavy duty hull-mounted laser used for salvage operations. Can cut through steel or vaporise rock. Slow to power up, too unwieldy to use effectively in combat.
Hangars: One or more vehicle bays, depending on the size of the ship. They can hold ground, water, air or spacecraft.
Hidden Compartments: Secret places to hide things, used by smugglers. Shielded against scanning; the better your Hull rating, the harder they are to detect.
Superstructure: A large extension for passengers, cargo, vehicles or similar. Makes the ship a lot less maneuverable, and incapable of atmospheric flight or landing.
Autonomous System: Your ship’s computers house a weak AI that is capable of executing simple tasks and commands, automating the ship’s functions, and limited problem-solving or decision making.
Jamming System: Allows you to jam another ship’s communications at close-range, preventing them from signaling for help or performing detailed scans.
High-Energy Scanners: Extremely powerful electromagnetic and gravimetric scanners allow you to “look inside” another ship at close range. If your Comms rating is equal or better than the other ship’s Hull rating, you can see the internal structure and general activity levels on board. The greater the difference between your Comms and their Hull, the more specific details you can make out.
Planetary Sensor Suite: Directed atmosphere-penetrating scanners that can gather detailed information about a planet or other body. Can give you information such as significant features, life forms and signals, atmospheric composition, etc.
Rooted Transponder: The security protocols in your ship’s transponder have been overriden, allowing you to broadcast a fake signal and to change your transponder signal whenever you want. If your signal doesn’t match official records, then it won’t hold up under intense scrutiny.
Targeting Computer: Handles calculations and targeting for weapon systems without an actual crew member doing so. Rolls using the ship’s Comms rating when firing weapons.
Antigrav Grapple: Allows you to board enemy ships if you can get close enough, by redirecting your ship’s antigravity engines to “grapple” them. You’re all in zero-gravity while it’s in use.
EMP Missiles: Allows you to target and disable a ship’s systems without permanently damaging it.
Nuclear Missiles: Not much different from ordinary missiles in space, but devastating weapons of mass destruction if used in atmosphere. Extremely illegal.
Unusual Weaponry: Flamethrowers or gas projectors for use in atmosphere, or any other unique and unusual weapon that isn’t commonly seen on a starship.
Brig: Space jail. Not meant for long-term incarceration.
Cargo Bay: Extra space for storage, including hangar doors for ease of access. Increases your capacity for cargo but reduces your capacity for crew.
Hypersleep Bay: Spaces for the crew to be placed into suspended animation for long journeys or critical medical emergencies.
Passenger Quarters: Extra space for non-essential crew, passengers, or soldiers. Increases your capacity for personnel but reduces your capacity for cargo.
Workshop: A garage, medical bay, science lab or similar workspace.
Travel through the vastness of space comes in three categories: local travel, interplanetary travel, and interstellar travel.
Local travel is travel within a region of a star system. Examples include travelling between two locations on a planet’s surface, going from the surface to one of the planet’s moons, or to a space station in orbit. It usually takes between 1 and 6 hours. You can travel locally even with Engines 0, but it takes 1 to 6 days. Local travel is completely free.
Interplanetary travel is travel between two regions of a star system. For example, going from one planet to another; or from a planet to the edge of the system. It takes 1 to 6 days, and a ship with Engines 0 is generally incapable of making the journey - if they have no other option, it will take weeks or even months. Interplanetary travel is usually free, but if you do a lot of it in a short period the GM may ask for an immediate Upkeep payment.
Interstellar travel is travel from one star system to another. Only ships with a spike drive installed can shift into metadimensional space and perform this kind of travel. Spike drives can’t function in the gravity well of a star or other celestial body, so you must first travel to the system’s edge. Once you have shifted into metaspace, each parsec covered takes 1 day; you can cover a maximum number of parsecs equal to twice your Engines rating before you run out of fuel. Interstellar travel is incredibly energy-intensive, and always requires an Upkeep payment on the other end.
The calculations required to actually travel from one star to another are far too numerous and complex for a human to ever perform. Even shipboard computers would take months to perform the necessary math. No captain actually pilots their ship between two stars; they simply plug their destination into the astrogation terminal, engage the spike drive, and wait.
However, this hassle-free process relies on the captain having a navkey - a precalculated set of vectors and formulae for a destination. This is what the ship’s computer uses to figure out how navigate there through metadimensional space. Calculating a navkey requires immense computing power, but then they can be copied and distributed to whoever needs them. Though they can be stored on a dataslab, these keys are made up of enormous quantities of information. Sending them via radio would take weeks, so they generally need to be distributed in person.
How difficult it is to get your hands on a navkey depends entirely on where you’re trying to go. For most of the stars in the Firmament, any space station probably has the navkey ready to print on demand for a couple hundred credits. Navkeys to “uncharted” systems, on the other hand, are rare and valuable commodities. When access to a system is restricted, confiscating navkeys is usually the first thing the local government does.
Like aircraft in the modern day, a starship can be a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. Accelerating to relativistic speeds, even a civilian starship is a WMD that can be a threat to cities or whole continents. For this reason, inhabited regions tend to have significant defense platforms - including gravitic brakers that can deflect relativistic projectiles. When you enter the restricted space of a planet, major space station or other important area, strict rules apply about where you can fly and how fast, and these rules are backed by heavy weapons.
When you’re in restricted space, you’ll be expected to obey a speed limit and to lock in a flight path to your destination, which you are not allowed to deviate from. Speeding or flying an unplanned route will be met with warnings, and if these fail it will be met with escalation. It is also common practice for the final part of the landing or docking process to be automated - pilots must flip a physical switch in their bridge that allows them to hand over control of their ship to the spaceport they’re docking with. Smaller spaceports or pirate outposts may be less strict about enforcing this last rule, however.
You can identify objects at pretty much any range; however, outside of a light-minute they are pretty much just a radar “blip”. You can tell the approximate size of an object if you know exactly where to look, but you can’t tell the difference between a lump of rock or a battleship. As they get closer, you can pick up more detail:
- Minimal Detail: Within a light-minute, you can identify the basic outline and trajectory of the object, and whether it’s a cold rock or a warm ship.
- Limited Detail: Within a few light-seconds, you can identify the shape of the object and tell what ship class it is (scout, corvette, etc). You can also identify its energy signature, and get a broad idea of its capabilities.
- Full Detail: Within one light-second, you can make out fine visual details and identify individual systems such as the reactor, weapons, and so on. You may be able to notice energy signature fluctuations, such as weapons powering on or engines warming up.
The better your Comms rating, the more information and resolution you’ll get at each of these sensor ranges. If your Comms rating is higher than the other ship’s, you’ll also generally see them first and get the first chance to react to them.
Transponders: You don’t need your sensors to identify most ships. Every ship has a transponder, and most civilian vessels keep them on all the time; these transponders are effectively constantly broadcasting the ship’s name and location to anyone listening. Of course, transponder signals can be faked; they can also be switched off. A ship with no transponder is somewhat suspicious, though it’s common practice for military vessels and on the Rim. In the Foundation, flying around with no transponder is likely to get you hailed and questioned as to why.
To say stealth in space is difficult is an understatement; you can detect a ship-sized object from across the system, even if you can’t tell much else about it at those ranges. Even a ship drifting through space and running nothing but basic life support systems creates enough heat to stand out against the cosmic medium like a beacon. When it comes to stealth in space, you basically have three options:
- “Go dark”, by turning off all non-critical systems. This doesn’t really hide your ship; but it might help to disguise its capabilities, make it seem like a derelict, or blend into the surface of an asteroid.
- Hide your ship in something that blocks sensors, like a dense atmosphere or an asteroid field, or in the “radio shadow” of a large celestial body.
- Use an advanced (and expensive) “stealth system” that makes your ship temporarily invisible to long-range sensors by radiating waste heat directly into meta-dimensional space.