In the Abstract Void of Space: A System for Narrative Combat Movement in Rogue Trader Space Combat
I will freely admit it. I always hated keeping track of exactly how far away characters were from one another in my youth, and while games that assumed a grid map made it easier to track, this also made combat too fiddly for my tastes. Thus, I’m really pleased that games like 13th Age, Numenera, and Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars game use relative positioning and narrative constructs to figure out how far away from one another characters are.
But I do sill like a lot of games that rely a bit more heavily on keeping track of range and movement rates. This has set me to thinking about how to convert those games over to a more narrative style without losing anything important from the rules. I’ve already addressed D&D 5th Edition in this regard, but as I’ve been rereading Rogue Trader, starship combat strikes me as being a prime candidate to be simplified, especially since the “narrative” technique is suggested, but not fully fleshed out, in the core rulebook.
The Importance of Range
While these rules will minimize the importance of measuring actual range, one important factor still comes up. If a ship has a weapon that has a range greater than another ship with which they are about to engage, the ship with the longer weapon range may get in a round of attacks with the weapons that have longer range before the ships close for combat.
If a ship has longer range, but would be considered to be at long range in order take advantage of that longer reach, the attacks must be made with the standard penalty for long range. If the attacking ship is ruled to be surprising another ship before combat begins, and they only use weapons with greater range in the surprise round, they may attack again with the same weapons in addition to the surprise round before the ships close for combat.
Once ships close for combat, determine initiative as you normally would in game. One difference in this version of combat is that the movement phase is always before the weapons phase, although extended actions by the crew may still take place before either phase.
The helmsman will make an opposed Pilot + Maneuverability test against whatever ships they may wish to attack that round. If the ship is going to engage more than one enemy that round, the pilots on the outnumbering ships gain the standard gang up bonus for opposing the solitary ship. If the ship being targeting is moving faster than the attacking ship, the opposing pilot whose ship is moving faster gains a +10% to their check.
If the check is failed, the attacking ship must chose a single firing arc to utilize this round, and must treat all attacks as if they are at long range.
If the check is successful, the attacking ship may either bring to bear a second firing arc, or consider their weapons at close range for their attacks. For every two additional degrees of success, the ship may bring another firing arc to bear (or treat their weapons as being at short range, if that option was not initially chosen).
This represents how well the attacking ship manages to fly around their prey, lining up shots for the weapon crews.
A ship may attempt to disengage from a fight and make a run for it. The pilot of the fleeing craft must either accept fire from any weapons from one firing arc of the pursuer that have longer range then their own weapons, then make a Routine Pilot + Maneuverability test to disengage, or they may attempt an opposed Pilot + Maneuverability test to attempt to disengage without drawing fire.
If the ship manages to disengage and their opponent wishes to give chase, see the rules for Stern Chases on page 216 of the core rulebook.
Note that if the attacking ship does not have any weapons with a longer range than the fleeing ship, or all of their weapons are shorter range than the fleeing ship, the fleeing ship only needs to make the Routine Pilot + Maneuverability test to disengage.
If the fleeing ship fails to disengage, it can still attack during the round in which it attempted to escape, but it may only do so with one firing arc, treating all of its weapons as if they were at long range, just as if they had failed the opposed test for combat above.
Critical Hit Effects
Whenever an effect spreads out over a number of Void Units, any ship that utilized the short range bonus during the same turn is assumed to be within range of an effect. Any effect that spreads to 1d10 VU has a 25% chance of hitting a ship, and any effect that spreads to 2d10 VU has a 50% chance of hitting the ship. Reduce both of these by 10% if the ship attacked using long range values this turn.
Torpedoes and Narrative Movement
Torpedoes cannot be fired at close range, and are resolved as soon as they are fired, assuming to have heading into the right area to strike their target. The test involved for guided torpedoes allows for the test mentioned in the text to add to the torpedo rating before the attack is resolved.
Nova Cannons and Narrative Movement
Nova Cannons can be fired at short range, but the attacking ship will automatically be assumed to be in the blast radius of the shell.
How Do These Rules Work?
I have no idea! I haven’t had a chance to try them out yet, but should you happen to do so, please let me know, and if and when I get the chance to I’ll check back in as well.