I recently wrote a a pretty long post on the subject of adding Space Ships to D&D. I’m stoked to transform my post apocalyptic game into a space opera, but designing rules to make it work the way I want has been tricky. I thought I was on a pretty good track, but as I was hammering out the closing paragraphs of that post, it occurred to me that there was a much simpler way to achieve pretty much the same ends.
In this post, I’m going to reexamine that original idea, building off the simplifications I posited before. I’m also going to fill out a list of potential ship modules, so this isn’t entirely a retread of what we did last week. By the end of this post, we should have everything we need to start making and playing with spaceships.
Fundamentals & Combat
Little about how either of these were written in the previous post needs to change at all. Ships have Hit Dice, Hull Points, Maneuverability, Space, and Power as their five core attributes. The only thing that changes here is that you do not add 10 to to your Hull Points. Just roll your pool of hit dice, and add them together.
In combat, attack rolls are made against maneuverability, and on a successful hit, damage is dealt to hull points. Ships do not have negative hull points. So, if a hit would drop a ship below 0, then it merely drops to 0 instead.
Once a ship is at 0, each hit damages one of the ship’s systems. Which system is hit can be determined randomly, or may be chosen by the attacker if they have that ability. When a system is hit, it and its operator both take damage equal to the damage roll. One point of system damage can be restored for each round a character spends repairing it. So, if the life support is hit for 6, then it will take one person 6 rounds to repair it, or two people can repair it in 3 rounds.
If a module takes 10 or more damage, then it’s too extensive to be fixed simply. Each point of repair will take an hour, and will probably require access to the outside of a ship, either by landing, or by using space suits.
If a module takes 20 or more damage, it is irreparable in the field. It will have to be taken to a ship dock.
Ships still move in abstracted units called AU, but it should be noted that ships can share the same “space,” and that this is the only way to fire most weapons without penalties.
In order for a system to function, it needs power. 1 power powers 1 system. It’s up to the engine operator to determine how power is allocated throughout the ship at any given time.
If players wish to, they may “overpower” a system, by putting 2 or more points of power into it. By doing this, they can enhance the effectiveness of that system in some appropriate way, which the referee can adjudicate at the table. Some modules have suggestions for how overpower can function, but don’t allow these to impede your player’s creativity.
Modules are what the players use to take actions while on the ship. At any given time, each module can be used by a player to do something. What that is, depends entirely on the shared creativity between the player and the referee. Players could perform fairly typical tasks (like using the cockpit to fly the ship, or using the weapon systems to attack), or they could try to be unconventionally clever (perhaps by opening an airlock to cause the ship to move in an unexpected way, or modulating the shields to protect a smaller ship).
Engine (Variable Space)
Engines have 2 functions. First, they produce power, which is used all over the ship by various systems. A basic engine will produce 1 power for every unit of space it takes up. Most take up 10, but larger or smaller options are common.
Second, they consume power to move the ship through space. When powered, the basic engine allows a ship to move at 1 AU per round. Overpowering the engine may allow it to move faster.
The engine operator controls the allocation of power around the ship, as well as being able to make adjustments to the ship’s thrusters on the fly.
Speedy Engine (Variable Space)
Functions as a normal engine, save that when powered it allows the ship to move at 2 AU. Overpowering the engine may allow it to move faster.
Workhorse Engine (Variable Space)
Functions as a normal engine, save that it produces 2 power per unit of space it takes up.
FTL Drive (1 Space)
Allows a ship to accelerate beyond the speed of light, traversing light years of distance in mere hours. FTL drives only function in open space. Ships within a gravity well will stall if they attempt to jump into hyperspace.
Because space is a vast empty void, a malfunction could easily leave a ship stranded in the literal middle of nowhere, with no chance of rescue. To minimize this, FTL jumps are carefully planned to pass within communications range of as many inhabited planets as possible. This means most trips require careful planning using a Navigation Computer.
Navigation Computer (1 Space)
Allows any crew member to calculate a safe FTL jump. A proper, safe jump requires a full turn (10 minutes) to plot out. Emergency, short-range jumps can be plotted in as little as 1 minute (10 rounds), but have a 1-in-6 chance of encountering a hazard, causing the ship’s hull points to be reduced by half, and dealing 5 damage to every ship system. In extreme emergencies, players can plot a course in a single round. However, such a course is extremely dangerous. Roll a d6. On a 6, the jump completes successfully. On a 2-5, the ship encounters a hazard, as described above. On a 1, the jump fails. The ship loses all power, and both the engine, and the FTL drive take 15 damage.
Cockpit (2 Space)(Does not require any power)
Allows the pilot to control the ship’s movement. The basic functions are simple enough for any crew member to perform. However, a trained pilot may add their skill level to the ship’s maneuverability rating, making the ship more difficult to hit in combat. An individual pilot’s skill cannot be higher than 6.
Large Cockpit (4 Space)(Does not require any power)
Allows for both a pilot and a copilot. They may both add their piloting skill to the ship’s maneuverability. However, they cannot add more than 6 total.
Autopilot (1 Space)
Can perform any of the basic ship’s functions, as if it were an unskilled pilot.
Premium Autopilot (1 Space)
An autopilot which can function with a skill of 1-4. (Autopilots cannot have more than 4 piloting skill). More advanced autopilots are progressively more expensive.
Artificial Gravity (1 Space)
Produces gravity in the ship without requiring any spinning. Can be manipulated to produce more or less gravity, or to orient gravity in whatever direction may be useful for making repairs. Do note that any shifts in gravity may cause damage to unsecured items.
Without artificial gravity, movement through the ship becomes much more difficult, and resting in the ship becomes impossible.
Atmosphere Recycler (1 Space)
Maintains oxygen and heat to human comfort throughout the ship. Without it, the crew would need to wear environment suits to survive.
If the AtmoRecycler loses power, conditions will degrade rapidly. One minute after the system loses power (10 turns), the maximum hit points it will be possible to have within the ship is set at 25, and any action that must be taken by people within the ship takes twice as long. (This means, for example, that it takes 2 rounds to repair 1 point of system damage).
Each minute this condition persists, the maximum hit points of the crew is further reduced by 5 (to 20, then 15, and so on, until after 6 minutes the maximum hit points of the crew hit 0). Also, the number of rounds required for any action is doubled (so that after 2 minutes, it will take 4 turns to repair one point of damage, after 3 minutes it takes 8 turns, etc).
Fire Suppression System (1 Space)
Rooms are equipped with foam sprays which can can be used to safely and quickly put out any fires that ignite there. If powered when the fire begins, the system will automatically come on.
Door Blast Shielding (1 Space)
Without power, this central control can still be used to open, close, and lock any external or internal doors. With power, this module generates a shield around each door, which makes them dramatically more difficult to force open.
Spartan Living Quarters (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)
Can house 3 people for every 1 unit of space. (Bunk beds)
Allows a players to remain on ship for longer than a day without taking penalties for exhaustion. Only functions so long as gravity and atmosphere are maintained.
Proper Living Quarters (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)
Can house 1 person for every unit of space. Includes space and amenities sufficient not only to sleep, but to get some proper exercise, enjoy some entertainment, and eat meals that aren’t freeze dried rations.
Having proper living quarters allows the ship to serve as a Haven for the purposes of rest and recuperation. Proper living quarters do not enable most forms of Haven activity (such as training), but are required in order to have a Haven turn at all.
Magic Laboratory (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)
Functions as any magic laboratory. Shipboard labs require 1 space for every 2,000 total value they have.
Prison (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)
Can house 2 prisoners for every 1 unit of space.
Cryogenics (Variable Space)
Requires 1 space and 1 power for every 2 frozen people. If power to this room is lost, each frozen person has a 1-in-6 chance to die, re-rolled every hour.
Communications Console (2 Space)
Allows communication with anything within the same hex you’re communicating from. (If there is a relay satellite there, you may be able to connect to a communications network)
Long Range Communications (3 Space)
Allows communication with anything in the same hex you’re communicating from, or an adjacent hex. (If there is a relay satellite in rage, you may be able to connect to a communications network)
Shields (5 Space)
Reduces all incoming damage by 1.
If shields are directed in a specific direction (fore, aft, port, starboard, up, down), then their effectiveness is doubled in that direction, but completely removed in other directions.
Weapons (2 Space + 1 for each Weapon)
In order for a ship to have weapons, it must have a weapons control system. The weapons can be fired whether or not anyone is personally manning them. But if someone is manning a weapon, they can use their attack modifier to improve the attack roll. They must divide their modifier between all the weapons they’re controlling (which can be as many or as few as they want)
If someone is manning an individual weapon (rather than operating multiple weapons), they can attempt to target specific systems on the enemy ship, robbing it of capabilities.
Weapon: Blaster Cannon
Deals 1d8 damage.
Takes a penalty of -1 to hit for every AU away from the target you are.
Weapon: Halberd Laser
Deals 2d4 damage, Cannot strike more than 2 AU away.
On an 8, the target vessel is cut open to space.
Weapon: Space Torpedo
Before this can be fired, a target lock is needed. This is done by making an attack roll. If the ‘attack’ hits, then the lock is established and the torpedo can be fired.
Deals 2d8 damage. Ignores shields. Takes a -2 penalty for every AU of distance away the target ship is.
Weapon: Flak Cannon
Designed to overload shields. Takes a -2 to hit for every AU of distance away the target ship is. On a successful hit, target’s shields are down for 1d6 rounds before they can automatically recharge.
Drones (2 space + 1 for each Drone)
Each active drone requires power. Not because it is drawing power from the ship (they have their own internal power source), but because the Drone Control System needs more power in order to direct each active drone.
Drone: (External) Anti-Missile
Has a laser on it. Combines its own targeting data with its mother ship’s to get a perfect lock on incoming missiles and shoot them down before they hit home. Has a 4-in-6 chance of shooting down each missile fired at the ship. Up to 2 per round.
Drone: (External) Probe
Equiped with a full range of sensors. Can be sent out at a speed of 1AU/Round, or may be left sitting somewhere. Probes are very difficult to detect, and will relay their information to the ship up to 1 hex away.
Drone: (External) Laser
Has an automated blaster cannon on it, which will move at up to 2 AU to keep up with a target ship, firing on it every round from whatever position it is in. Attack is unmodified.
Drone: (Internal) Repair
A robot which can perform repairs as if it were a PC. Will follow directions, or will move to repair whatever is currently the most important damaged system (with life support, shields, engines, and weapons being at the top of that list) and work on it until it is done.
Cloak (5 Space)
Blocks all incoming sensors, AND outgoing sensors. Makes a ship invisible, but blind.
Advanced Cloak (7 Space)
Blocks only incoming sensors. Makes a ship invisible. Taking obvious action (such as firing weapons) will enable others to calculate your ship’s position.
Hacking (2 Space)
Someone with the Tech skill may attempt to use a Hacking station to hack into enemy ships. 1 Power allows the hacker to access ships sharing the same AU as them. Additional power allows hacking to be attempted from further away.
A successful check allows the hacker to break into the enemy ship’s computer. After which, each successful hacking attempt allows them to manipulate a single action from one of the ship’s systems. They can choose to reallocate power, redirect shields, etc. Any failed attempt causes the hacker to be immediately booted from the target computer.
If a hacker is discovered, ships may try to protect themselves in various ways, such as modulating their shields to the hacker’s frequency, or having someone with a tech skill attempt to counter-hack.
Arms (2 Space per Arm)
Tractor beams are expensive. Mechanical arms mounted on the exterior of the ship allow the operator to directly manipulate objects within the ship’s direct vicinity.
Tractor Beam (1 Space Per Beam)
If you can afford them, tractor beams are superior to mechanical arms in nearly every way. As an energy-based manipulator, they have greater flexibility, range of motion, strength, responsiveness, and even take up less room. Just about the only drawbacks are that they must have line of sight (rarely a problem in open space), and that they can be disrupted more easily than physical arms can.
Sensors (2 Space)
Allows the operator to find information about their environment. Can scan up to 1 AU away for every point of power pumped into the system.
Without sensors, players are limited to only the most basic information about their surroundings. Just what their eyes can tell them by looking out the view ports. They may not even be aware of an enemy ship until it’s in the same AU that they are.
Science Station (4 Space)
Allows for analysis of data gathered by sensors. Science stations allow players to simulate the answers to complex questions, such as “if we took some of that unknown element and ate it, what would happen?”
Teleporter (4 Space)
Disassembles the teleported object, transmitting it as energy to another location, where it is reassembled again. Teleporters cannot work through energy interference, such as shields, or ion storms.
Each person being teleported at a given time requires 1 power. If they are transporting outside the same AU that the transporter is in, they will require even more power.
ExoPod (2 Space)
A small, 1 person pod with thrusters to allow it to move independently of its host ship. Power, atmosphere, etc are provided to the ExoPod via a cabel, which can reach up to 1 AU away from the ship. ExoPods can be equipped with one of the ship’s weapons if the players so desire.
Gravity Well Generator (12 Space)
Creates a miniature gravity well, preventing any ship from entering hyperspace within 30 AU. Can also be used to drag ships out of hyperspace, if you know where they’re traveling. Being dragged out of hyperspace unexpectedly works like encountering a hazard, as described in the Navigation Computer module above.
Knowledge Database + Training Area (5 Space)(Does not require any power)
Allows a ship to serve as a Haven for the purposes of training.
Docking Bay (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)
Docking bays may be any size. In order for a ship to successfully dock within it, the docking bay must be 1 space larger than the total space of the docking ship.
Docking bays are often kept open to space, with only a mag-shield keeping heat and atmosphere contained. (Though docking bays do tend to be chilly, as heat does leak out). If need be, they do have sliding doors which can move into place if need be.
Docking bays are useful for storing shuttles and fighter craft.
Escape Pod (3 Space)(Does not require any power)
Each pod can house 2 people. They have minimal life support, thrusters, food for a week, minimal sensors, and a robust communications package.
Complexity in the player’s ship can be good. It gives the players something to tinker with, and allows them a full range of interesting options.
Complexity with NPC ships is bad, because it makes the referee’s job way too hard. Keep it simple: a single line of basic stats, followed by a list of systems that will be relevant in combat (weapons, drones, hacking, etc) If it comes up, the referee can rule at the table about precisely what other systems they have–just like the referee does when the players ask what they find in a random bandit’s pockets.
This should be good enough for most encounters:
Crew 5, Maneuver 7, Movement 2, 3 HD (12hp), Shield 1, Morale 8
2 Blaster Cannon 1d8 (-1 per AU distance)
Space Torpedo 2d8 (Requires Lock, Ignores Shield, -2 per AU distance)
I feel good about this. I think that, through play, this could really grow into a fun, robust system.