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I'm trying to run a space-opera RPG in Fate Core, and ship-to-ship combat is a central focus. I'm looking to emulate the kind of fighting we see in Star Wars, Wing Commander, FreeSpace, etc, but without getting too crunchy. It should be cinematic, and I'd like there to be some significant differences in the feel of various ships (fighters, freighters, capital ships, etc). I don't feel like aspects and stunts go quite far enough--much of what a ship can do should depend as much on the operator as it does on the ship, and yet surely the ship adds new bonuses and constraints.

I've looked at the Fate Core System, as well as the Fate System Toolkit, and all the options I've found seem a little too abstract for my purposes. I'm hoping that someone else out there has stumbled upon a workable solution to this problem.

So far, the best solution I can find is at http://speakingofgaming.blogspot.com/2013/05/fate-of-galaxy-starship-rules-for-fate.html Unfortunately, this solution does not include constraints on skill rolls (due to limitations of the ships), or really much in the way of mechanical differentiation of ships.

I'm also interested in the potential of narrative drama that comes with long-range seeking projectile weapons, such as missiles or torpedoes. They represent a threat that is concrete, can be reacted to, and can be anticipated, as opposed to the nearly instantaneous beam weapons that seem to pervade science fiction. Torpedoes can act as a character in their own right, and with the Fate Fractal, it probably makes sense to model them as such.

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Someone asked before if I'd looked at Diaspora, but the comment seems to have been deleted. I've since looked at the rule set, and it seems to address some of my issues, but certainly not everything. It didn't do much in the way of differentiating ships mechanically, and there didn't seem to be much, if any, interplay between the skills of the characters operating the ship, and the skills of the ship itself. Still I think it's a fantastic step in the right direction, I wish said commenter would have presented it as an answer so I could upvote it. –  Justin W Mar 27 at 0:56
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I need to write that up for you, and I think it does more with the skills than you think. –  C. Ross Apr 9 at 15:24
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5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Fate Worlds: Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie

You might find what you want in Fate Worlds Vol.1, specifically "Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie" (KV). It is a mod/campaign where PCs are WWI pilots. Their planes are stationed on a giant flying aircraft carrier, the eponym Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie. Change "planes" to fighters and "flying aircraft carrier" to "capital ship", and you have a good start!

Now, that's probably not enough detail for you, so let's mention some rule points and how they might fit what you would like to do. I will avoid quoting extensively considering the book is not open source, but here it is.

Fighters

Fighters are represented by Stunts. Each fighter costs a given amount of Refresh (between 0 and 3) and gives specific bonuses. One fighter would for example cost 2 Refresh and grant a +2 to Pilot rolls to defend and create an advantage due to high maneuvrability. Another would cost 1 Refresh and grant Weapon: 2 once per combat due to heavy guns.

As for damage, the combination Pilot+Fighter symply uses the pilot's stress tracks as is. You could however create a separate "Piloting stress track", with additional stress boxes for higher Pilot skills.

Dogfights

Dogfights in "Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie" are handled through a simple rule. Fighters making a straight attack without first placing an advantage on their target can do no more than one stress damage, no matter their Stunts, their roll, their final result, and so on. A fighter needs to first succesfully create an advantage on their target to be able to do full damage.

Capital ships

The Valkyrie in "Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie" is treated as its own character. It has its own stress track, Aspects, Trouble, Stunts, and skills. It uses its captain's skills and stress tracks for mental attacks.

This makes sense, considering a ship with a huge crew is less dependent on its pilot's skill. Put Han Solo at the helm of a capital ship, and it probably won't be much nimbler despite his superior skills.

Other ships

"Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie" has a couple of other ships described as opponents:

  • Gunship: Heavy guns and bombs
  • Troopship: Transport carrier
  • AA Gun: Anti-aircraft gun
  • Airship: A big flying ship, but smaller than the Valkyrie.

Fate System Toolkit: Scale

You mentioned it already, but for the sake of completeness I would like to point out the Scale subsystem in the Toolkit which might help you reach what you want.

You define a number of scale steps (3 or 4). Larger entities have a number of bonuses against smaller ones. This allows you to split ships into size categories (fighters, freighters, small capital ships, big capital ships). The more categories you have, the more difficult it becomes for small ships to affect bigger ships, which might or might not fit what you have in mind.

You could change the bonuses to be more similar to Star Wars RCR: for every step separating two ships, the smaller one has bonuses to attack and defense, but the larger one has bonuses to damage and armor.

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I haven't found anything I truly liked along those lines, but Fate Core does have the tools to build an air/space craft fighting system when you focus on what a system is trying to show.

Especially in the references you've given, space combat piloting is about trying to maneuver yourself and your opponent so they're in the right place for you to bring your firepower to bear upon them. This means space combat is part flying contest and part conflict. Since a little bit of both happens every exchange here's a quick skeleton of a space dogfight system:

A pilot and their ship form a team, and use teamwork rules as in Fate Core, with the lowest relevant skill between the pilot and the ship forming the base skill for each action. Ships have both agility and speed and the pilot has flying(driving) for movement. The ships have beams and torpedoes and the pilot has gunnery(shoot) or targeting(shoot) for shooting. In general, defense is done with the movement skill to try and confuse the pilot or targeting systems.

Order of combat goes by the movement skill for each pilot/ship team. During each exchange a pilot may do one of the following (this is only a partial list).

  1. make an attack action
  2. try to maneuver the target to make firing easier Movement(Create an Advantage)
  3. Create a "torpedo" advantage on their target weapons(Create an Advantage)

Because of Fred Hicks' comments about the action economy in Fate Core, torpedoes have some homing and maneuverability but generally rely on the targeting systems of the firing ship.

Once a torpedo is fired at an opponent (successful create an advantage with the relevant skill), it is a normal aspect and can be invoked in action #2 (above) to help maneuver the target, or any other time that a torpedo chasing a target could be useful. It can also be overcome by a movement overcome action against passive resistance of the firing pilot/ship team's skill.

If there is an active torpedo aspect on the target the firing ship/team can have the torpedo hit the target by rolling an attack action with the same skill they used to fire the torpedo. They may also invoke the torpedo aspect on that attack roll. If the attack is successful the torpedo aspect is removed.

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I really like this answer, I'm sorry that I can't choose multiple accepted answers. I will likely use a mix of this, Diaspora, Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie, and the Fate of the Galaxy link. –  Justin W Mar 27 at 22:50
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There's an excellent look at how to do this in Dark Star, a space-fighter-pilot based setting in the March issue of Magpie Games' Fate Codex.

Here's a summary of the rules:

Starships are extras, using the Fate fractal to treat each as a character.

Ships have their own skill list, representing systems and their operators (Engine, Sensors, Weapons, etc.) Stunts make it easy to refine those skills to give specific strengths and weaknesses to the ships.

Small ships (like fighters) have a standard skill distribution - +3/+2/+1/+1/+0 - and can take a couple of consequences. Bigger ships can add stress tracks or higher-value consequences to represent their greater durability, and have a similar skill distribution but with much higher values. (A destroyer might have skills more like +6/+5/+4/+4/+3.)

In the system as described, characters don't use their own skills when flying the ship, depending on the ship's capabilities. However, if you're convinced this element is important to your game, it would be easy to add in. An obvious suggestion is to limit a skill roll to the lower of the pilot's and ship's relevant skills. Allow a range of actions - with the right narrative it shouldn't be hard to use Notice, Deceive, Provoke, Survival with the fighter. (Do not do this with capital ships; their higher skill ratings should include and represent the ability of their crews working together.)

If all your characters are fighter pilots, do NOT add a Pilot skill - in a game all about piloting, in which everyone is a pilot, that's redundant and limiting. It's for the same reason that Court/Ship's Intimacy skill works well in that setting, but should be forbidden in a game all about romance. You don't want a majority of your checks to be on one skill.


Due to the way Fate's action and narrative economy work, I strongly suggest that torpedoes can be modelled well using the usual combat rules. Fate doesn't, fundamentally, care about the weapon you use so much as the narrative consequence, and that's still true if you're being mechanically detailed.

Instead of trying to specific extra characteristics of torpedos with the fractal, let missile attacks happen using Create An Advantage actions to place aspects like "Incoming Torpedo" or "volley across the bow". Those will be tagged on the following round to add effect to Attack actions, which is exactly how the system is supposed to work. Keeping a separate index card / character track / anything else for each missile is almost certainly far more work than the gains would justify.

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+1 for modeling torpedoes as Advantage+Attack –  edgerunner Apr 9 at 15:57
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Diaspora has an excellent space combat system that is non-trivial, but is still relatively fast to play. Ships are all represented as characters with several skills and stress tracks.

Ship crews are important because use of ship skills is limited or amplified by the associated crew skill. If a ship has a Beam skill of 4, but it's gunner has only a Gunnery skill of 2 the roll is limited to a +2. On the other hand crew skills can amplify a ship skill, which means if the crew skill is higher the roll is at ship's skill +1. This emphasizes both the ship and the crew skills, putting a little more emphasis on the crew.

Diaspora has an explicit Torpedo phase as one of the two weapons phases. Torpedoes are a critical part of Diaspora combat as they are the only completely offensive weapon, and don't have some of the downsides of Beams.

However Diaspora doesn't differentiate much between classes of ships as you would like, relying primarily on aspects primarily. It does have optional rules for fighters, but these are somewhat limited. You could augment this by using the scale rules from Fate System Toolkit.

Diaspora space combat rules' real strength is their one dimensional representation of the relative positions and velocities of ships. This greatly simplifies the three dimensional space and widely differing velocity (in magnitude and direction) of spacecraft while still allowing for dynamic space drama and leverages the differing skills of pilots and navigators and accelerations of ships.

One thing to keep in mind when using Diaspora's rules for your purposes is that Diaspora is based in a fairly hard science fiction setting, where ships use reaction drives for propulsion and that influences the rules in some ways. You may want to adjust those rules if you're playing in a setting like Star Wars where reaction mass rarely comes up.

Read more at the Diaspora SRD


I have used Diaspora to run a game with non-trivial space combat, but not with the extent of space combat the question describes. I've have also used the space combat as a mini-game, and it was somewhat satisfying in that regard.

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Update: Tried this with my gaming group. Unfortunately it seems to be pretty heavily slanted towards simulating long battles between large capital ships, and doesn't capture Star Wars style dogfighting etc very well. Still I think I can use it with some modification. –  Justin W May 5 at 7:26
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Try Starblazer Adventures. That and Legends of Angelterre for fantasy have more mechanical detail for their respective genres while still being Fate derived games.

On page 286, Fate Core states that Vehicles are given character sheets and their options are fleshed out like any other character. Starblazer Adventures gives not only worked examples of starships but vehicle specific skills, stunts and aspects, to make a custom craft.

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Would it be possible to give a very brief summary of how those two answer his specific question? Just providing links isn't great as they might go dead at some point. –  Phil Mar 25 at 18:58
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No downvote, but I really don't feel this is a well rounded answer; have you used Starblazer Adventures and/or know the systems well enough to elaborate, especially on the differences with the requirement of Fate Core as Starblazer Adventures is based off of SotC? –  wraith808 Mar 25 at 19:41
    
Indeed, the OP would have to work some to bring Starblazer (or diaspora or my game of choice, Bulldogs!) to Fate Core. –  Yianes the Sneak Mar 29 at 2:20
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