The Bare FactsSo last session left the Explorers in orbit over the planet Vedic, facing off with a Chaos ship.
Towards the end of the last session, the crew was able to do a cursory exploration of the planet and find the remains of an ancient, post-Emperor human society. This long-faded society had signs of being wiped out by orks. However, there were signs of the orks being wiped out themselves by some mysterious third party.
They were about to get into more exploration when their first officer hailed the Explorers and told them about another ship lurking on the other side of the planet. Returning to the Ferral Wolf, the crew soon learned that their visitor was none other than a Light Cruiser - controlled by Chaos forces.
What happened next was a pitched chase 'round the circumference of the planet Vedic. The Explorers were clearly outclassed by the light cruiser chasing them. However, back on the dayside of the planet was the party's other ship - the Raider Angevin's Blade.
After a Stern Chase, the Angevin's Blade fired and blasted the Light Cruiser, wounding it. However, in retaliation, the Light Cruiser opened fire with its twin lance cannons, crippling the Angevin's Blade.
Here's where I learned something interesting about the Rogue Trader ship combat system. All of the ship weapons are relatively equal. Yes, there are some ship weapons that are better than others. But a raider can access the most powerful lance weapons as easily as a cruiser. This means that even smaller ships can pack a really powerful punch.
When the Light Cruiser got into range, the Explorers scrambled the fighters and performed a hit and run attack on the enemy. To their great fortune, they were able to lead the crew to set fire to the Chaos ship's lance battery.
At that point, the Explorer's flagship pulled a crazy ivan, came about, and fired both batteries at the oncoming chaos vessel. With the combined firepower of both the Raider and Frigate, they tore apart the opposing Light Cruiser. After disabling the vessel, they were able to raid it for a sizable weapons cache.
My Thoughts Ship Combat Systems in General
This was our first real run of the ship combat system in Rogue Trader. I can tell you right now that I like them a lot.
Ship combat is a pretty tough concept to take on in roleplaying systems. I've seen a lot of different ship/craft combat systems over the years and most of them, unfortunately, fall flat. There are a number of notable exceptions, of course. Most combat systems I see for vehicles suffer because in a roleplaying game, it's mostly all about the characters. Not what they drive. So most of the time and effort in the game's design has been spent working on how character interactions and character combat works out. Not how vehicular combat works out.
Add to this the issue that most vehicle combat systems in RPGs almost always use a different mechanical system than the one used in personal combat. Which meant, in the past, that you now had to be responsible for two different combat systems. Add on top of that - an even bigger complication - how do the two systems interact? If a person starts shooting at a car, how do those two separate combat systems mingle without becoming entangled?
Some of the most headache laden vehicle rules that I've seen have been: 1st and 2nd Edition ShadowRun; Of Ships and the Sea (2.5 Edition D&D); but worst of all - 1st Edition Star Wars d20.
If you remember the first edition of d20 Star Wars, they tried really hard to make space ship combat completely abstract, with no minis or maps. In fact, you couldn't use minis or maps even if you wanted to. By making it too abstract, the whole system was very confusing. Especially when multiple ships were involved.
Some of my favorite vehicular combat systems in the past have been Spelljammer (yes, I said it). And the system in d20 Future. Both systems essentially treat ships and craft combat like character combat. Craft moved about on the battlefield like characters. They had similar abilities to characters as well.
What I like about Rogue Trader's system of ship to ship combat is the fact that the system is fairly abstract, but not too abstract. In ship to ship combat, you can represent your ship with a token or mini. Accumulating degrees of success on a ship piloting check allows one to make sharper turns or turn earlier in the ship's required movement.
All of this is very simple and very familiar if you've seen other ship combat systems. Where the game becomes abstract and neat is how it gives everyone on board the ship something to do. The characters in Rogue Trader have been designed so that they each have a special role on the ship. These roles allow them to interact with how the ship operates, allowing a ship to move faster, scan an enemy vessel, or even stage a raiding party on the opposing vessel. Also, a character on board a Rogue Trader vessel can try to rally the troops or give guidance.
That meant that when we were engaged in the battle, every single PC was rolling dice. Just this one innovation means a lot to me, because so many ship systems for RPGs just have the pilot and maybe a co-pilot shoulder the bulk of the responsibility. I've sat at many gaming tables over the years and many times, on a ship, I'd find that my character couldn't do much of anything. So, I would just sort of twiddle my thumbs while the big boys engaged in some vehicular fighting.
The Rogue Trader system is not like that. Everyone had to make checks to get various bonuses and benefits. More importantly, the various things that the PCs can do on board the ship are fairly significant. Many times, I've seen ship combat rules where one PC can give the engines a bonus, or adjust shields, or something like that. That's nice, but it's just throwing a PC a bone. Often times, just a small one. In Rogue Trader, having someone with a good Tech Use score matters. It significantly changes what your ship can or cannot do. Having someone who can lead a hit-and-run raid on another ship matters. Hit and run maneuvers do significant damage to opposing ships.
What I also like is that each roll the the PCs perform during ship combat is very broad and narrative. If you want to get into a fighter craft and attack the opposing ship, we don't get out more minis, put them on the map, and then stage a dogfight on top of the capital ship combat that is going on. A successful raid is determined by two rolls. One to see if the swarm of fighters reaches the enemy ship and another to see if the troops can successfully raid it. That's it. While this does boil things down and make them simplistic, it liberated me to allow of narration and storytelling in the combat.
For example, when the crew staged a hit and run attack on the cruiser, I allowed the PC controlling the fighter craft to narrate what the battle looked like and what they were doing to accomplish their successful goal.
One more thing to keep in mind about the Rogue Trader system - all ships do about the same kind of damage. There are certainly different grades of weapons, but for the most part, all ships can access the same weapons array. So, a Raider with a lance is just as damaging as a Cruiser with a lance. This makes the smaller ships fairly dangerous in their own right, even though they cannot take nearly the same amount of hits.
I'll leave you with a few pics of some of the ships I've painted up for the game.
The ship at the top of the picture is a cruiser that I painted up for Rogue Trader and our Star Wars game. I didn't want to dish out the serious cash it would have taken for a Games Workshop cruiser.