Fate Space Toolkit
Once you have a ship, what do you do with it? The answer will determine the complexity of rules you will need to represent it. Does anything even happen on the ship? If the ship is mainly used to transfer the characters from one adventure location to the next, then it may not need rules: “We hop in our corsair and take it to the base in the Outer Planets.” Many games work fine with no rules for the ship—each player imagines the bridge as they want; the GM can ask players where their characters are and what they are doing, but there is no need for shipboard actions to be spelled out.
If there’s a boarding party, though, you’ll probably need to make a map of zones, bulkheads, and important features. Likewise, if there’s a chance for combat between ships, you might need to model shields, shipboard weapons, and means of maneuvering. The desired level of abstraction exists in tension with the need for rules.
There are many ways a ship can be used, but these are the most important:
- To Go Places: PCs need to get from one adventure location to another. The big rules questions here relate to how far and how fast travelers can go, and how much control they have over when they leave and where they end up. No rules may be needed, and there might not even be scenes on the ship.
- To Get Into a Fight: Space combat is a major element in much of science fiction, particularly the sort of action-packed, cinematic sci-fi that Fate is well suited to emulate. Important rules questions include the details of attack, defense, and maneuver, as well as the specifics of detection, electronic warfare, and heat accumulation. Statistics for the ship may be needed, as the ship becomes a kind of character that the PCs control. The ship may also have a map of its interior zones.
- To Work Hard and Live Dangerously: PCs will want to use their skills to keep the ship on course and in good repair. In space the most obvious environmental dangers are microgravity, vacuum, and radiation. For characters who live or work in space, these and other threats are occupational hazards. The relevant rules questions consider how to represent these features or, more precisely, how to represent the technology that protects characters from them. A map of the ship will be needed, with aspects that affect some zones and not others. The ship may also have detailed statistics that supplement or replace character abilities.
The way your spaceship is represented may change as circumstances in the campaign change, but you may want to lay out a standard procedure. This section gives some options, many of which can be combined as desired.
You’ll find detailed examples of different ways to stat spaceships in Mass Drivers and Pax Galactica.
As a Setting Element or Aspect
The presence of the ship in the scene enables particular skills to be used, such as Pilot, Gunnery, or Engineering—see the discussion of skills. The spaceship may be more-or-less completely defined by one aspect, much like a high concept, consisting of at least a ship type or model and, optionally, the ship’s name or other designation. Some examples include Free Trader Beowulf, Federation Starship Enterprise, and Incom T-65 X-Wing Fighter.
The ship’s capabilities are otherwise defined in fictional terms—for example, “A free trader is an interstellar freighter capable of carrying about a dozen passengers and several hundred tons of cargo through hyperspace on weeks-long journeys between ports of call, with limited defensive capabilities other than flight.” This may be all the information needed to run such a starship, at least to begin.
In play, having access to or control of the spaceship aspect allows players to use their characters’ skills to do things using the ship. Thus, a Starfighter Pilot needs access to a Fighter Craft to be able to go dogfight. Even if the character’s Pilot skill is Mediocre (+0) or lower, these two aspects allow the character to launch and attempt to intercept incoming bogies.
Note that “having a spaceship aspect” doesn’t mean it has to be one of the character’s aspects; it may simply be a matter of creating an advantage during play, such as “I go in and browbeat the flight officer to put me in a Class-A Starfighter instead of one of the beat-up old space-wrecks everyone else is flying,” to which the only appropriate response from the GM is “Roll Provoke.”
This method works well when the capabilities of various spacecraft are fairly well established, as when trying to emulate a particular fictional setting or genre, or if the game doesn’t focus on the details of specific ships.
Extending the previous idea, a spaceship may be defined as a bundle of aspects, including a high concept, trouble, and some other aspects that often modify default assumptions about what spacecraft are capable of. Aspects like Heavily Armed, Concealed Smuggling Compartments, and Bad Reputation in Alpha Sector help to distinguish one ship from another and affect its capabilities.
Don’t make all of a ship’s aspects beneficial, though. Aspects that reflect the limitations of a ship will provide entertaining complications—for example, Lightly Armored, Behemoth, or Held Together with Duct Tape.
This method works well when the capabilities of specific types of spaceships have not been fully established in the fiction and when characters have a suite of skills for operating spaceships, such as Pilot, Engineering, and Gunnery.
Spaceships may have skills that are used instead of or in concert with character skills to accomplish actions in space. This method works well when the different capabilities of different ships are interesting and relevant, and is a good way to represent differences in scale between characters and spacecraft, particularly by giving different names to the character and ship skills. There are many different ways to implement this, as follows.
Ship Skills Replace Character Skills
A character with an aspect representing the right training or experience can use a relevant ship skill.
In a setting where specialized training unlocks the capabilities of superior technology, a character must have the aspect Galactic Weaponeer to fire the ship’s Superb (+5) Space Weapons rather than using her own Fair (+2) Shoot or Good (+3) Engineering.
Ship Skills Modify Character Skills
Ship and character skills interact, such that a character with the appropriate character skill receives a modifier based on the ship skill, getting a +1 bonus if the ship’s skill is greater than hers, and a -1 penalty if the ship’s is less than hers. Ties have no effect.
The interstellar bounty hunter Xandra Hellas has Great (+4) Shoot but is aboard the Pleasant Idyll, an aristocrat’s yacht with Average (+1) Laser Cannons. She may fire the ship’s weapons as a Good (+3) attack. In other words, since the ship’s skill is lower than the gunner’s it reduces the gunner’s rating by one. If the ship’s skill had been higher than the gunner’s, the attack would have been Superb (+5).
Character Skills Modify Ship Skills
As above, except the base skill is the ship’s and the modifier is the character’s. Ties have no effect.
In this case, Xandra could fire the Pleasant Idyll’s weapons as a Fair (+2) attack. In other words, since the gunner’s skill is higher than the ship’s, it increases the ship’s rating by one. If the gunner’s skill had been lower than the ship’s, the attack would have been Mediocre (+0).
Character Skills Determine Success, Ship Skills Determine Effect
A character with the appropriate skill takes action, but upon success the effectiveness of that action is determined by rolling with the relevant ship skill. If the character succeeds with style, add a +2 bonus to the roll for effect.
The Pleasant Idyll is being attacked by pirates intent on boarding. As the pirate ship closes in, Xandra fires the yacht’s weapons using Shoot against the pirate helmswoman’s Pilot. If successful, the Pleasant Idyll’s Average (+1) Laser Cannons must then pierce the pirate ship’s Fair (+2) Shields.
This method increases the time it takes to resolve an action, and so should be considered carefully before being implemented. Some groups will regard this method as a step backward from Fate’s usual, more streamlined way of doing things, but it does highlight the tension or gap between the skill of an individual and the quality of their tools.
If spacecraft are differentiated by how they do things, rather than what they do, then you may want to give them approaches, as in Fate Accelerated, rather than skills.
A Galactic Dreadnought has approaches of Fair (+2) Careful, Mediocre (+0) Clever, Average (+1) Flashy, Good (+3) Forceful, Mediocre (+0) Quick, and Poor (-1) Sneaky, while an Imperial Courier Ship has Mediocre (+0) Careful, Average (+1) Clever, Mediocre (+0) Flashy, Poor (-1) Forceful, Good (+3) Quick, and Fair (+2) Sneaky.
Using approaches also differentiates the scales of the ship and characters. Character skills would get used at a small, personal scale, while ship approaches would get used at a large, space scale.
You might even describe the capabilities of ships in the setting by renaming the ship approaches, such as Aggressive, Fast, Nimble, Robust, Roomy, and Versatile.
As Stunts with Refresh
Spacecraft may be given one to three free stunts, which characters aboard can access as extras, given appropriate permission, as well as a refresh rating that may be spent to purchase more stunts.
The characters are set aboard a space cruiser patrolling the edge of known space. The game uses a star map of systems in the cruiser’s patrol area, and the GM creates a new system map for each star system the cruiser enters, comprising planetary surface zones, orbital zones around each planet, and deep space zones reflecting the distance between planets.
The space cruiser has three free stunts and a refresh of 3. Characters on the ship can use their skills to plot its course (Astrogation), operate its controls (Pilot), fire its weapons (Gunnery), operate its sensors and communicators (Science), and maintain its systems (Engineering). The players decide to give it the stunt Point Defense Lasers (use Gunnery in place of Pilot to defend against missiles, torpedoes, or boarding craft in the same zone) and Sensor Pod (+2 to Science when using the ship’s instruments to create an advantage on the target of a sensor scan).
The ship’s subordinate spacecraft are also represented as stunts. For example, the Space Fighter stunt allows a character to use Pilot to move away from the ship on the system map (as if using Athletics on a surface map) and attack targets in the same zone, but the character can’t land on or take off from planetary surfaces. In contrast, the Landing Craft stunt allows a character to move through space, land on a planet, and take off again using Pilot, but it grants no attack capability.
With four stunts, the space cruiser reduces its refresh to 2. Any fate points in the ship’s pool can be spent by the ship’s captain to aid any crew member’s action.
As a Deckplan
The spaceship can have a blueprint, showing the zones through which characters move in order to access the ship’s capabilities, which may be defined as aspects, skills, approaches, stunts, or some combination.