Quick Ship Combat Example

For Savage Worlds

Last week, I posted about using Savage Worlds’ Quick Combat for dogfights between starships. Let’s run an example to see how it works in practice…

The PCs are the crew of an armed scoutship – Arion (Ace, Piloting d10), Coriander (Attractive, Persuasion d10) and Dmitri (Shooting d6). While trying to run a blockade around a restricted planet, they have encountered a star patrol gunboat. The gunboat is more heavily armed and armoured, and much bigger than the scoutship; the GM rules that the PCs are completely outclassed, giving them a -4 modifier. However, the scoutship has a tactical advantage as the PCs have specified finding a suitable meteorite and following it down to the planet to mask them from the defenders’ sensors, so the GM awards them a +2 modifer for this. Overall, then, they are rolling at -2.

GM: OK, you’re following the meteor down, but you know that at some point the defenders will be able to see you. Give me some skill rolls and tell me what you’re doing.

Dmitri: I’m in the turret. The second that gunboat notices us, I’m going to blast it with our lasers. And I rolled… 5. Ouch, we’re at -2 you say? Then that’s a 3, I failed.

GM: Do you want to use a benny to reroll that?

Dmitri: Nah, I only have one left, I want to keep that in case I get Incapacitated later.

GM: OK, a failure for you then. Cori?

Coriander: They’ll probably hail us first. I’ll move to the comms workstation and once they spot us I’ll try to confuse them with Persuasion. I rolled a 7, +2 for Attractive is 9, -2 for modifiers is 7. Success but no raise.

GM: Why should I let you count Attractive on a radio link?

Coriander: This is the far future, surely it’s a video link by now?

GM: OK, I’ll allow that. Arion?

Arion: I’ll dodge, obviously, using Ace and Piloting. If we get hit I’ll use Ace to soak damage on the ship. I roll… 5, plus two for Ace is 7, minus two for the situation is 5, a success.

GM: Here’s what happens then: You get into the outer atmosphere OK, but as the meteor starts to heat up and gets buffeted by re-entry, it unexpectedly breaks up. Arion has to dodge some of the debris, and that gives away your position to the nearest gunboat.

Dmitri: Wait, nearest gunboat? There’s more than one?

GM: Of course. Meanwhile the gunboat hails you: “Unidentified ship, identify yourself and state your purpose or we will open fire. We are authorised to use deadly force.”

Coriander: That’s where I come in. I say: “Hello boys, this is the regular courier vessel from Arcturus 7 with this month’s mail from home and two tons of choc ices and beer for the mess hall. Is Eddie with you?”

GM (rolling reaction dice): A 5, Neutral, and Coriander rolled a success so that shifts up to Friendly. “Oh wow,” the gunboat says, “Choc ices? Hey baby, there are some dangerous choc-ice munchers down there, you need an escort?”

Coriander: See, I’ve still got it.

GM: Aaaand that’s when Dmitri opens up on them with the laser turret. The gunboat returns fire immediately, it must have some sort of preprogrammed response to being shot at, and it rakes your turret with disruptor fire. Dmitri, you failed your roll so you take a Wound, you want to soak that?

Dmitri: Umm, no thanks, I have more Wounds left than bennies.

GM: OK then, Arion, because one of the crew took a wound so does the ship, you want to soak that?

Arion: Damn’ right I do. Not MY SHIP, you don’t. What am I rolling?

GM: Piloting. There’s a -2 on the roll but your Ace edge cancels that out. Don’t forget this costs you a benny.

Arion: OK, that’s a 6 – success, so I soak one Wound on the ship, right?

GM: Yes. The turret is damaged – that’s how Dmitri got hurt – but still functional, and your repairbots will have it fixed in a couple of hours.

Dmitri: A little help here? There’s a hole in my spacesuit and blood coming out.

GM: At least one of you succeeded, so you win the encounter and escape. Your ships flash past each other, and you’re gone into a thunderstorm before the gunboat can recover; Dmitri, your laser fire seems to have disabled its manoeuvring thrusters. The charge of damaging a star patrol gunboat will be added to your rap sheet.

Dmitri: I’m still wounded. You guys like this ship more than me.

Arion: Well, obviously, it’s more useful… Wait, did you say a thunderstorm?


As you can see, Quick Combat doesn’t cover allocation of Wounds to vehicles so we need some way of doing that, and while not perfect, wounding the ship every time one of the PCs gets wounded is fast and easy. The PCs can always soak their own wounds if they don’t want the ship damaged, and edges like Common Bond can also help. Ace is a good backstop though.

Notice that I don’t need any stats at all for either ship or any of the ship-scale weapons. Good, eh?

Damn, I miss those characters. I should bring them back.


8 thoughts on “Quick Ship Combat Example

  1. The PC’s ship is completely outclassed by two star patrol gunships and they are only at -4? And both gunships don’t unload missiles as well as lazers from their double or triple turrets of which they have to have at least two each? It sounds like the characters should have been dog meat at the end of that encounter! So the gunboats couldn’t call the local air force equivalents to at least track the ship through the storm, or perhaps fire a missile or lazer or two? You did state that they couldn’t be tracked until the meteor came apart, so why is the storm an obstacle? With all due respect to the man who helped introduce Traveller to England, it seems like you were going very easy on them. Hopefully, you will correct that when they land. Or maybe Savage Worlds is just easy when it comes to starship combat. Unlike Traveller. Or Star Wars.

    • Guilty as charged… I was going easy on the PCs, not least because my aim was to explore how one could hack Quick Combat to fast-forward past starship dogfights to a more dramatically important (and tougher) surface encounter. That suits my current players better, and reduces the amount of time I spend on rules conversions.

      It’s also true Savage Worlds is not as harsh as Traveller when it comes to starship combat; I haven’t played enough Star Wars to comment. I think this is because the two games have different aesthetics; Traveller tries to portray ordinary people in a scientifically credible universe, so it leans towards hard SF, while Savage Worlds portrays pulp heroes embroiled in cinematic action, so it leans towards science fantasy.

      • Fair enough – science fantasy it is. I’ve been re-reading the Mongoose Traveller 1st edition starship combat rules, so they were fresh in my mind when I replied to your message. I looked through the Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer’s Edition, but didn’t find any starship combat rules. The SWSF Companion referred me to SWDEE chase rules, but the majority of the starship chase rules are in the SWSF Companion. Perhaps it is my unfamiliarity with Savage Worlds, but it doesn’t look THAT much easier than Mongoose Traveller. Megatraveller was much easier due to the task system that eliminated adding up all the pluses and minuses – choose a difficulty and roll the dice! Well, have fun with Savage Worlds Starship Combat!

  2. Thanks for the example. Made me want to go reread the Quick Combat rules a bit more closely.

    I think it works as another tool in the GM’s tool kit, and there are horses for courses.

    If you want to run the PCs blockade running as essentially a single roll, it works. Though I’m tempted to suggest handling it as a Group Roll, where each player contributed by choosing what their doing, and adding a bonus to the primary character’s roll (Piloting, in this case), and using the result of that to determine the outcome (with a “yes and,” “yes but,” “no but” and “no and” range of results for Raise/Success/Failure/Major Failure).

    If you want something slightly more detailed, Mass Combat/Dramatic Task can work (where you’re essentially accumulating successes).

    The full enchilada would be Full-in vehicle combat.

    • I think either a Dramatic Task or Mass Combat would make a really good fit.

      As a for-instance, let’s retry your Blockade Run from your Quick Combat example.

      The two sides and intentions are pretty clear – the PC’s want to slip through the blockade, undetected, and the System Authority gunboat is trying to catch smugglers (like the PCs). The stakes are also pretty clear – the best case scenario is that the PC’s slip in completely undetected (or convince the gunboat to let them through). The worst case is that the PCs get shot down and/or captured. I think it’s important that “get killed” is explicitly NOT a target outcome – because TPK ends the story, and that’s no fun.

      In terms of pacing at the game table, I’ve got other things planned for the night, so I want this go fairly quickly, but I think it’s important enough to handle it with a bit more detail than a single Stealth roll or some kind of combined group roll. So I set the target at an accumulated 5 successes.

      The PCs have a cunning and clever plan, so we give them a +2. But they’re outclassed (the System Authority probably has decent sensors, a much bigger/scarier ship, and sneaking through is probably high difficulty on it’s own). We’ll break that apart, and just give the PC’s a -2 penalty (because of the general difficulty of piloting the ship in the sensor wake of an asteroid, and through the System Authority’s patrol routes and sensor nets). Net penalty is +0.

      The System Authority ship is bigger/scarier, and outclasses the PC’s, so we give them a +2. They’re not doing anything especially clever, nor is “look for anything out of the ordinary” a particularly challenging task, so no task penalties, giving the SA’s a net +2.

      On Round 1, the PC’s declare their actions and roll:
      Arion declares he’s riding the wake of the meteor, and so rolls Piloting+0, versus TN 4. He gets a single success.

      Coriander declares she’s going to try and fast-talk her way through, rolling Persuasion+2 (Charisma) against TN 4. She rolls 9, so gets a success and a raise (or two Successes).

      Let’s assume for a moment that Dmitri can be convinced to do something appropriate with Shooting besides escalating to a gun-battle. Instead of opening fire, let’s say he just locks passive sensors on the gunboat, so that if he does need to shoot, he’s got a good firing solution. Shooting+0 vs TN 4, he gets a 5, for one success.

      After Turn 1, the PC’s have 4 successes – they just need one more to get away.

      The NPCs do their stuff. Let’s just assume they’ve got one action per player, but they don’t get Wild Dice. Alternately, you could assume they’ve got enough crew to qualify for a Group Roll. Either way, let’s just say they’re an average crew, so only d6 and no Wild Die.

      For their three actions they will:
      Helmsman: Move to an intercept course. Piloting d6+2 vs 4. They roll a 6, so one success.
      Gunnery: Attempt to get a sensor lock for weapons, but not shoot yet – “we’re just showing them we mean business.” He rolls a 5+2, for a 7 and a single success.
      Comms: Hail them, find out why they’re deviating from the allowed flight plans. Intimidate d6+2 vs 4 (rolling 1, for a fumble). He gets totally flim-flammed by Coriander, and his failure actually costs them a success.

      After the first round, the PC’s have 4 successes, the System Authority 1. On the next round, the PC’s get another 3 successes, and the SA get 2. The PC’s end up winning handily (7 successes vs 3). Which probably gets narrated similar to what you had (the SA have to break off/can’t pursue).

      You can then do a second round.

      …And after all that typing, I realize I’ve sort of gotten a mix between a Dramatic Task and a simplified Mass Combat. It actually looks kind of like a Race, too.

      I suppose to make it a “pure” Dramatic Task, you’d just set a TN for each action based on the opposition (or MAYBE an opposed roll).

      Still, I think I like this approach a bit better. It lets each player feel like he’s contributing much more to the end result.

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