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Space Vehicle Skill

The Vehicle Operation-space vehicle specialty skill requires a player to select a particular group of space vehicles that the character can pilot. If the character has training with more than one class of space vehicles, he must develop each as a separate skill.

The Player's Handbook suggests some space vehicle types, essentially breaking up the Gamemaster Guide's assumed range of hull sizes into three bands and adding a "capital ships" skill for anything larger. This can catch out players if they have to use ships of slightly different size, particularly if the group upgrades to a more capable vessel during a campaign. If using Warships as the spaceship rules for a campaign, heroes might easily take the helm of a ship at least slightly larger than the PHB's limit of 60 Hull Points, into the Light Ships range. It doesn't seem technically correct or conducive to the sense of a wider setting to lump Light Ships together with fortress ships as "capital ships". Finally, this approach can cut across Progress Levels and functional groups of spacecraft in a way that makes me slightly uncomfortable.

I've been wondering for a while about suitable revisions for the space vehicle skill, for this and a few other reasons, thinking about hull size bands (using the PHB approach, just shifting the break points), possibly dividing them into civilian and military vessels, PL breaks as mentioned and improving the crossover between different space vehicle types. Generally, I think the breakdown will have to vary to some extent between campaigns and Progress Levels anyway, though it would be good to set down some principles that are flexible enough at least to guide a GM in a variety of campaign settings.

It might answer several of these issues, at least partly, if I divide space vehicles according to their type of propulsion. This seems, at least, relevant to the skill needed to steer a spacecraft and consistent with the other Vehicle Operation skills. A hybrid approach, keeping some parts of the vessel size breakdown, might work all right. I might generalise these a little: at higher Progress Levels, a planetary thruster might not be a chemical rocket, but still would only be useful for travel around the near vicinity of one planet.

  • space fighters (all Military hulls up to 15 Hull Points, regardless of propulsion)
  • orbital craft (Small Craft, other than space fighters, and Light Ships, propelled by planetary thrusters)
  • ion spacecraft (ditto, propelled by ion engines)
  • induction spacecraft (ditto, propelled by induction engines or microinductors)
  • nuclear rocketcraft (including the fusion torch spacecraft, microfusion pulse engine and various other more hard-science designs), sailcraft, etc., along the same lines, although these skills will be niche or flavour abilities, at best, for most campaigns in the Star*Drive setting
  • lastly, capital ships and liners, governing all Medium Ships and larger regardless of propulsion.

I think the space fighters division makes sense because, practically speaking, they fall into a narrow band of Progress Levels and engine types while requiring very different aptitude than spacecraft of larger size or lesser performance.

This can mean that a ship that has two different kinds of engines (for example, ion engines and planetary thrusters) requires two different skills at different times. I don't particularly see that as a problem - PL 6-ish pilots skilled both in deep-space navigation and planetary landings should have a higher skill spend - and the changes I've suggested below should make it less onerous.

While I'm on the subject, I might pull together a couple of rules tweaks that I'm pretty sure others have suggested before:

  • A character who has at least one space vehicle specialty skill may make skill checks (at his base Dexterity score and with a +d4 situation die, as for all broad skill checks) for other types of space vehicles.
  • A character who has at least one space vehicle specialty skill reduces the cost of skills for other space vehicle types by 1 point. This combines with cost reductions due to professional skills and training, to a minimum cost of 1 point for each rank.

These latter two alterations also could make sense for other Vehicle Operation skills.