Last night, due to illness, I GMed my second instance of Starfinder and, following a series of pre-made adventures, the players and myself embarked on our first experience of space combat. While it is still fresh in my mind, I thought that I would jot down my own views about the system. If you want to watch it in full then you can find the video of the session at the end of the waffle…so, engage inertial dampeners, power up the drift drive as we enter space within Starfinder!
I’m a great fan of space and space combat. I love Star Wars and Star Trek and really like episodes where there is starship combat. I like the quick decision making, the reactionary activities and the interaction with each of the roles on the bridge. I have always been looking for a system which captures this. I currently play Mythras (fantasy), Shadowrun (cyberpunk) and was looking for a rule system which allowed me to take the players off into space and capture the true essence of space travel and combat. After reading the rules for Starfinder Space combat, there appeared to be a wealth of options. So lets look at some of these and see how they played out.
Roles– This was a great start for me. I really like the idea that everyone has a role on the bridge. It is important that throughout every session people have something to do. One thing I was concerned about was that characters in Starfinder might not have taken space faring skills preferring the more planet based ones and therefore feel that they had nothing to do in space. However, this is not actually the case. The skills transfer very well onboard the starship, with pilots taking an active role controlling the ship, engineers and computer characters manning the engineer and science officer stations and the captain, experts in interpersonal skills, leading the way from the captain’s chair. The only role which I think is sadly lacking would be the gunners. These are really just based on their BAB (Base Attack Bonus) so anyone can really fire the guns at various levels of efficiency. Introducing a gunnery skill would be interesting, especially since this could also be used on ground vehicles as well. I actually shared with the each character, a description of the actions which they can employ. I wanted them to be responsible with each role, working as a team to meet the common goal. Hopefully allowing each player to develop their character within their space role.
Rules– I have to put my hands up and surrender a huge mistake on my behalf here. I actually had very little time to prep the adventure this week, due to only knowing at the last minute that we would not be playing our usual game. Despite this I worked constantly through a day to get it ready so my understanding of the rules might not have been complete. I am usually happy with this situation because I think no matter how many rules you know, it is actually the ability to engage with the player’s actions and use what you know of the rules to make it happen which is important and which is also, in my view, the essence of good role playing. I would always prefer players to say – “I try and take over the pilot control from the human” rather than -“what are the rules for taking over from the pilot?”. However, the rules appeared to be quite substantial and provided the opportunity for players to develop their role within the game. The pilot has a difficult task and definitely needs to be a quick thinking player – which probably mirrors the ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ attitude of these pilots! The surgical movement around the hex map can be difficult and if too much is put into this then it certainly becomes a slowing point of the session. It’s not possible to plan out your complete movement since if you get the lower pilot score you move after the enemy which means tactics need to change rapidly. Although there might be the possibility to make the rules more complex in an attempt to become more realistic, I think rules should not become too complex that they become the focus of the game. If I take one example of this, acceleration and deceleration. As far as I am aware – starships can move any number of hexes up to their movement. This can be changed randomly through the Helm Phase. Now, it might be that there should be a rule for this, the same for bringing a starship to a dead stop in order to engage the Drift Engines (momentum can be a real pain in space!) however, if there were rules for this, the complexity would maybe take something away from the role playing. Do the rules need a system for every eventuality, or is it possible just to role play these, e.g. Captain – “Dead Stop!” – Pilot – “All dead stop, sir”. Which brings me onto role playing…
Role playing– I think I made a mistake when I was GMing in the session since I got an NPC to take the role of the captain which I think is probably an essential role for one of the players. I actually think the group was awaiting the captain to provide them with orders which, in hindsight, I think I should have done, since this would have supported in this discussion point relating role playing. Whenever you engage with something new within a game or indeed a new game itself I think it is important to forget the rules and engage with the setting and the role playing element of the game. Within Starfinder (I’ve only GMed two sessions so far) I’ve been trying to engage more with the actual setting in order to promote the role playing element of the game. An example of this was last night when the players had to pass the Space 101 course before they were allowed onto the Loreseeker. One aspect of space which I really like is the activity and the urgency of space combat on the bridge. Role playing isn’t for everyone, but I think the ruleset does provide the opportunity for players to promote both their own character ethos and their bridge roles. As the pilot uses the Evade action, the player stating – “engaging evasive maneuvers” or even “Evasive Pattern Delta Four engaged” adds the the feel of the combat and also takes the action away from the rolls and more onto the atmosphere. Even if there is someone being the role of the captain, it doesn’t mean that they are controlling the other party members. Saying things like – “Helm, get us out of here!”, “Get us a lock on their engines!” or “Engineering transfer power to the forward shields!” adds to the scenario as well as allowing the players to interact with each other without meta-gaming.
After experiencing the space combat in last night’s session, I think I came away with a rather ‘flat feeling’ about it. The more I GM the more I become aware about the type of GM I am. For me, adventures are all about role playing, interaction, the setting and atmosphere. At times, I actually have to remind myself that characters have skills and might want to roll some dice! This often happens with interactions between players and NPCs when I suddenly remember that they might want to roll a persuasion test! The Starfinder rules for space combat appear to have potential for players to role play and this is something which I welcome. I will certainly be looking into the rules further to iron out some of my misunderstandings but I don’t want to find a rule about everything and implement them. One of my favourite scenes from ‘Star Trek – The Wrath of Khan’ is when Kirk and Spock take over control of the federation starship which Khan has captured. For me, this is a classic role playing situation – I imagine myself being the GM at this point, supporting the players through the situation to make it happen and, in doing so, adding one of those goose bump moments to the game for everyone to enjoy and talk about for time and beyond!