Fate Space Toolkit

Modes of Travel

Modes of Travel

This section will describe the three basic modes of space travel: mission-based, passage-based, and free or unrestricted travel. In your game, the modes available to the characters may differ over time and between given characters, especially if they get separated.

Mission-Based Travel

The GM decides where the PCs are going and provides them with the means of getting there, whether that’s a one-way ticket on a space liner or a permanent billet on a military vessel under specific orders. In general, the players won’t have a lot of control over where their characters go, and they’ll expect that the GM will send them to interesting places where opportunities abound and adventure awaits!

This is a very common way of doing business, since it lets the GM focus on creating details for the current mission. Examples from science fiction literature and film are easy to come by.

It’s a Professional Career

There are many ways to bring a diverse group of PCs together for a space-based campaign.

  • Explorers: The PCs are scouts or surveyors, trained to travel to new worlds and assess them from a scientific, commercial, or military standpoint.
  • Mercenaries: The PCs are members of a mercenary company, seeking passage from one world to the next in order to hire on as soldiers for the various political leaders and organizations that come into conflict.
  • Salvage Crew: The PCs are space crew on a civilian ship, tasked to seek out and recover damaged vessels and lost cargo.
  • Space Fleet: The PCs are space crew on a military vessel, with duties relating to its combat and patrol operations.
  • Space Marines: The PCs are military personnel in the same outfit, space-going soldiers trained to conduct boarding operations, customs inspections, and planetary raids.
  • Space Merchants: The PCs are space crew on a merchant marine ship, traveling from world to world in order to buy low and sell high.

Passage-Based Travel

The PCs have a menu of options about where to go, but they must secure passage one way or another aboard a vessel headed to their desired destination. In some settings, the PCs must actually design, finance, build, and launch a space-worthy vessel themselves! This provides greater freedom of movement and choice to the PCs while still allowing the GM to focus their prep on a relatively limited array of destinations.

In simplest form, a PC can secure passage to a new planet on a ship already headed that way by rolling, usually with Resources, against passive opposition based on the distance to the destination and its relative popularity.

Pax Galactica uses a zone-based system of spacelanes to represent the various passenger and freight shipping lines that cover the galaxy.

The Launch as Drama

It may be the case that the PCs have one or more destinations available but must first engage in a challenge (Fate Core, page 147) to design, produce, and manufacture a spacecraft capable of reaching the destination they select. Similarly, while in many games getting into space is simply a background event, involving as little drama as a routine airplane take-off, your game could instead frame an adventure as an initial attempt to reach orbit, or as a marooned situation. In such games the launch of a spacecraft may be a dramatic point in the story, where one or both of these story questions may be at stake:

  • Did the engineers get their numbers right and build the thing properly?
  • Does the pilot have what it takes to get the thing into the air and keep it there?

The answer to the first question is provided by an Engineering action to overcome the technical challenges of design and construction. The difficulty can be set based on the mass of the launch vehicle, perhaps modified by the thrust of the engine. Failure indicates catastrophic loss of the craft and its payload, unless it is protected by some sort of abort-and-escape device, or may simply increase the difficulty to the Pilot action needed to reach orbit. The difficulty of the Pilot action depends on the engineer’s design skills and the amount of testing the launch system has undergone. An untried, untested prototype by competent but untested architects would justify Legendary (+8) difficulty, but rounds of testing, trials, and evaluation might reduce the difficulty, albeit increasing the time required to complete the system, as would a crack team of the brightest and best-trained minds the rocket academy can produce.

Additionally, an experimental launch may subject passengers and crew to stress or injury from the force of the acceleration, particularly if that force is not smoothly and steadily applied. You can even consider the launch to be an attack on its passengers, based on the relative thrust of the launch vehicle, defended against with Physique; protective technology such as acceleration couches, safety harnesses, and pressure suits will reduce the rating of the attack.

The group has created a setting loosely based on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel We, in which a dystopian totalitarian society is focused on building a spaceship for the glorification of the State, mashed up with Space: 1999 or Lost in Space. The PCs are all members of the project team charged with constructing a vessel to be named the Benefactor, and will be aboard when it finally launches. The available destinations include a short trip to the sister planet that is supposedly home to a rival civilization, or a longer journey to the anomalous cometary object that is connected to ancient legends of the State’s origin.

The GM frames the effort to build the ship as a challenge, requiring the characters to succeed at a number of linked efforts. These include (a) planning the space mission, (b) designing the ship, (c) requisitioning and securing the necessary materials, equipment, and personnel, (d) overseeing the construction, and (e) maintaining the security of the operation against saboteurs, dissidents, and reactionaries. The relevant setting-specific or setting-neutral skills for each task are Science (Lore), Engineering (Crafts), Bureaucracy (Rapport), and Investigation, respectively. Each step will only result in a success or success at a cost, since the whole point of the game is to get the PCs out into space aboard the Benefactor.

The planning process defines the parameters of the mission: a journey to the benighted sister planet where the glory of the State is unknown, the first step toward the greater goal of extending the State’s benign influence throughout the Solar System. The Benefactor should deliver a small team of the most loyal of the State’s minions (as citizens are unironically known) to the sister planet, where they will report back and then await further instructions from the State. The GM sets a difficulty for the overcome action with Science at the destination commensurate with the relatively modest ambitions of the planners.

Depending on the result of each step, the GM will have a number of complications (in the form of invokable aspects) to use to cause trouble on the journey, including potential rivals, antagonists, and informers, design flaws and engineering problems, and bureaucratic snafus and tangles.

When the PCs finish the Benefactor, the GM announces that they have reached a minor milestone (Fate Core, page 256). The players adjust their characters accordingly, and the journey begins!

Free Travel

In this case, players have access to a ship—or ships!—and can choose where they want to go, within the limits of their spacefaring technology and space map. They are on their own hook, and the galaxy (or at least the Solar System) is theirs to explore! This gives players maximum freedom, but the GM must be ready to improvise and to have procedures available for quickly generating coherent and interesting setting details as well as exciting and meaningful challenges and adventure opportunities should the players go off in unanticipated directions, as they are wont to do. Free travel is very challenging for the GM but may also be very satisfying for the players and rewarding to run.