Fate Space Toolkit

Space Combat Steps

Step 1: Set the Scene

Sketch out a zone map representing the volume of space in which the conflict is taking place. Typically, this will be a map of empty space with planets and moons as well as important artificial constructs—space stations and stargates, for example—arranged into zones to reflect their relative distances. Add aspects to zones, as needed.

  • At high plausibility, most zones will be deep space, but some will represent gravity wells—planets and other astronomical objects with enough mass to affect the performance of ships. Such objects can also be sources of intense radiation or magnetism hazardous to spacecraft or their crew. Gravity wells permit spacecraft to make slingshot or gravity-assist maneuvers to accelerate, decelerate, or change course, and they allow craft with high-thrust rockets to accelerate more efficiently via the Oberth effect by firing their rockets while diving into a gravity well. Planets with atmosphere allow for deceleration by aerobraking.
  • At medium plausibility, add nebula and clouds of space dust that obscure visibility, solar flares that pose radiation hazards, and rogue neutron stars and black holes to interfere with maneuvering, for example.
  • At low plausibility, you can add jam-packed asteroid belts, psychic nebula, deep space astro-monsters, and intense but free-floating radiation clouds, to make things interesting.

Then, note the ranges at which sensors will reliably detect vessels and objects on the map. Typically, everything on the map will be basically visible to others, although ships may try to minimize their energy radiation (with Engineering) or blend in with a Cluttered Sensor Background (using Pilot) in order to evade an opponent’s attention. By the same token, “brighter” objects—those radiating more energy—are easier to detect than darker ones. All else being equal, objects in a distant zone may be harder to detect and identify than those in adjacent zones, which are in turn more difficult than those in the same zone, depending on the acuity of a ship’s sensor equipment.

Step 2: Determine Turn Order

You can determine turn order with Notice or a skill more related to space such as Science, Astrogation, or Pilot. Alternately, you can use Command to reflect the efficiency of a well-run ship, or if the ship itself has skills, you can use its Sensors or Scanners.

Step 3: Establish Movement Rules

The movement rules you choose will help establish the feel of space combat in your setting. We’ve included a few options here.

Standard Movement

In Fate Core, participants in a conflict can move one zone per exchange for free, and can move multiple zones by taking an overcome action using an appropriate skill. At low or medium plausibility, this could be Pilot (“Pedal to the metal, commander!”), Engineering (“Get us out of here, Scotty!”), or Astrogation (“Align to escape vector!”). If the ship has skills, its Drive or Thrust may be appropriate.

Set the effect level for movement however seems appropriate. For example, the ship may be able to move one extra zone with a Mediocre (+0) result, with another extra zone for every two shifts above that—i.e., two zones at Fair (+2), three zones at Great (+4), and four zones at Fantastic (+6).

Other special or complicated maneuvers like entering orbit around a planet or docking with a space station may also require the pilot to spend the exchange taking an overcome action. A ship in such a maneuver can’t take evasive action against enemy fire, and so defends with Mediocre (+0) Pilot.

Burn Movement

In burn movement, zones represent relatively stable “orbits” which ships occupy. In other words, occupying a zone means that the ship is moving along a particular path or course that, because of inertia, requires no further expenditure of energy. This could be an orbit around a planet or other celestial body, or a transfer orbit that will eventually intersect with the trajectory of another ship, planet, or satellite. Such an orbit can be represented with an aspect reflecting the time required for the spacecraft to reach its destination on its current trajectory.

The deep-space freighter Alfresco is in a zone representing interplanetary space in the Solar System. Because of its crew’s previous actions, it has the aspect Six Months to Mars! Without further action by the crew, after six months the Alfresco will reach Mars and can be placed in a Mars orbit zone.

Moving from one zone to another implies that a ship is using energy to change its orbit. To move their ship at all, a crew must expend delta-vee via a burn, a Pilot roll that uses some of its available thrust to change its orbit. On a success, the ship moves to an adjacent zone. Failure means the ship may be Off Course or Going Too Fast, suffer damage or equipment failure, or get itself in some other danger. A ship with limited delta-vee may be given some fuel stress or other currency to spend on a minor cost, or the ship may be given Fuel Reserves Low or Bingo Fuel as a major cost.

The fusion-powered torch ship Hermes Zephyr is in orbit around Earth when it gets orders to intercept the Alfresco, already in deep space headed for Mars, two months into its six-month journey. This is well within the capabilities of the Hermes Zephyr, with its massive delta-vee.

Noting that a high-thrust, high-specific-impulse spacecraft can cover interplanetary distances in several weeks (see the Travel Time table), and that the Alfresco is taking several months to cover the same approximate distance, the GM sets an Average (+1) difficulty to break out of Earth’s orbit and head into deep space after the slow boat to Mars.

On a success, the Hermes Zephyr moves from Earth orbit into deep space and will rendezvous with the Alfresco after several weeks. On a success with style, the time is only a few weeks. A minor cost might mean the ship takes longer or must make another, more difficult burn to match velocities with the Alfresco. A major cost might be damage to the ship’s drives or an expenditure of its fuel reserves.

The stronger the gravity well in which the ship’s orbit is located, the more difficult the burn, but some stunts or aspects of the ship (Booster Stage) or crew (Aerobraking Expert) can make some maneuvers easier.

If ships have skills, the ship’s Thrust or Drive can be opposed by its own Mass or Hull rating, and situation aspects such as gravity can be invoked as appropriate.

Other special maneuvers require overcome actions, as in standard movement.

Mixed Movement

In mixed movement, some ships use burn movement while others use standard movement depending on their ship’s technology. For example, ships with high thrust would use standard movement while ships with low thrust would use burn movement. Ships with high specific impulse would not generally become Out of Fuel, while those with low specific impulse most definitely would.

Step 4: Note Weapon Ranges and Attack and Defense Skills

These rules depend much on the sorts of technology present in the setting. Weapons may have a maximum range in zones, or may face greater difficulty when attacking more distant targets. You can also differentiate weapons by how they are used. For example, a hunter drone may attack with Pilot, while a laser cannon might attack with Gunnery. Similarly, the target of the hunter drone may defend with Pilot, while the target of the laser cannon may use Engineering to reflect the ship’s countermeasures and its resilience to damage.

Ships may have stunts representing improved technical capabilities, and characters may have stunts reflecting their skills and experience. Additionally, technological differences between ships from different cultures may be reflected in reduced difficulties for ships from the more technically advanced civilization.

In space combat, the costs of failure may include the following:

  • Physical stress or consequences for the crew, representing injuries suffered on the job.
  • Mental stress or consequences for the crew, representing loss of nerve or morale.
  • Physical stress or consequences for the ship or its components, representing damage or equipment failure.
  • Adverse situation aspects representing strain on resources and equipment, such as Low Fuel or Overheated Power Plant, or representing reflecting tactical disadvantages, such as Patterns in Evasion Course or Showing Up Bright on Enemy Scopes.