Alternative History to an Actual Play: Stars Without Number Space Combat

In our Stars Without Number campaign, there was a space battle between three ships on the PC side and four fighter class attackers on the enemy side. That it went down that way was a surprise to the fighters, who had expected only one capable enemy ship and one helpless freighter. Instead, they bit off more than they could chew with will equipped targets manned by Psychic pilots and gunners.

That was not even fair.

The players deemed the fighter crews suicidal for even attempting the hit.

But what if, I ask,
what if the PC’s had not had a second, combat ready ship and psychics who felt the attack before it came? What if we removed the PC-advantage from the equation, but kept the extra weaponry on the freighter?

What could have been

Raise curtain for a space battle in Stars Without Number: Four fighter class attackers against one freighter armed with eight torpedos and one merchant ship all alone out in the dark?

Expensive Encounter

The space freighter “Shiva” is out in the void loading valuable cargo from the Free Merchant “Phalanx”. Little do they know that they are being shadowed, and that a force of four strike fighters is just waiting for the right spot to hit.

At an opportune moment outside of planetary scanners, the fighters close in for the kill.

The Shiva
HP: 40
AC: 11

Armor: 0
Power: 10/2 free
Speed: 0
Mass: 25/0 free
Crew: 10/40
Hull Class: Cruiser
Crew Skill: +1
Weapons: Torpedo Launcher (ammo 8/3d8, AP 20)
Defenses: None
Spike Drive-2, Cargo Lighter
Fuel Bunker, Ship’s Locker
3,400 tons of cargo space

HP: 20
AC: 14

Power: 10/0 free
Mass: 15/0 free
Armor: 2
Speed: 3
Hull Class: Frigate
Crew Skill: +1
Weapons: Multifocal Laser (+3/1d4, AP 20)
Sandthrower (+3/2d4, Flak)
Defenses: None
Spike Drive-1, 160 tons of cargo space
Atmospheric Configuration
Fuel Scoops, Fuel Bunker

Strike Fighters
HP: 8
AC: 16

Power: 5/1 free
Mass: 2/0 free
Armor: 5
Crew: 1/1
Speed: 5
Hull Class: Fighter
Crew Skill: +2
Wing Alpha (1 and 2): Reaper Battery (+4/3d4, Clumsy)
Wing Beta (1 and 2): Fractal Impact Charge (ammo 4/2d6, AP 15)
Defenses: None
Fittings: Spike Drive-1
Atmospheric Configuration

The strike fighters know exactly where the Shiva and Phalanx are, so they sneak up on the site. No psychic present, no forewarning. The sensors fail to pick them up. They have their surprise attack.

Surprise Round

And they lay into it: Alpha 1 and Beta 1 target the engines of Shiva, Alpha 2 and Beta 2 target the engines of Phalanx. If they get the ships to drift dead in the water, they freighters will have no choice but to surrender.

Beta 1 hits with a fractal charge, Alpha 1 misses.

Both of the others miss Phalanx’ Drive.

The three who missed use their Fighter ability to turn a miss into a hit.

That makes 2 hits each.

The Captain of the Phalanx decides to negate one hit and take a Crisis instead. He rolls a 2, and the Phalanx loses Cargo! A shocking outcome for the attackers, because the Cargo is the whole reason for the attack. If the Crisis is not resolved by the end of next round, the Phalanx loses 40% of its cargo to the void, and it was all for nothing.

Shiva’s Captain also chooses a crisis, and gets a 7: Hull Breach! If not resolved by the end of the next round, the ship will take damage. But the Shiva stays mobile for now. With only one hit, the Spike Drive is still at 1.

Phalanx suffers another hit. Disabled!

So outcome of the surprise round: The Shiva has suffered engine damage and is down to a Spike-1 drive, while the Phalanx is drifting. Both ships have suffered ships’ crises that they need to address.

And the fighters still have 2 CP each.
The Betas have to preserve ammunition, so they opt for evasive maneuvers, just in case. But they fail the difficulty anyway, so no matter.
The Reapers just liberally fire at the ships to undermine morale. Both score hits. 5 damage on the Shiva, 9 on the Phalanx, although the Phalanx tanks 2 damage thanks to her armor.

Certainly no fun for the two freighters.

Round 1

We roll initiative for Round 1.

Fighter A1 7, Fighter A2 4, Fighter B1 3, Fighter B2 6.

Shiva: 6, Phalanx 8.

The drifting Phalanx goes first and must address the ship crisis or lose the cargo. The Engineering Team needs to fix the Drive, the Gunnery needs to shoot back, that leaves the Bridge Crew to engage sealing foam at the hull breach. Success! But the Engineers need an 8 and only manage a 7. The engine stays out. 2 CP are left. Gunnery shoots their Sandthrower.

Sandthrower is a Flak, so it can roll twice against fighters. The second attempt hits! Alpha 2 gets hit and takes 5 damage — the armor takes that. But that was too close for comfort for the small craft.

Fighter A1 shoots at that Sandthrower… and hits!
6 damage, halfed 3, is still enough to overcome the armor and disables the Flak on Phalanx.

Shiva surprises everyone by releasing a torpedo. One of 8 in her magazines. And engages in evasive maneuvers.

The targeted Fighter manages to dodge the missile and it sails into the void. Meanwhile, the Shiva crew repairs the Hull Breach.

Fighter B2 targets the Sandthrower as well. But miss!

The other two fighters shoot at the torpedo launcher. Why does the Shiva have that?
B1 hits.
5 damage halved is 2! But Shiva, in contrast to Phalanx, has no armor.
The Torpedo launcher is disabled.
Unacceptable! That would be the only weapon of the Shiva! The Captain goes risky and accepts another Crisis! Cargo Loss!! 80% of the valuable Cargo is in danger of getting spilled into the void.

Calamity! The victims of the attack are on the best way to making the whole attack moot by losing the objective.

All Fighters attempt evasive maneuvers to avoid that torpedo launcher.
Only A1 is successful and raises AC to 18

Round 2

Phalanx, A1, Shiva, B2, A2, B1.

B1 and B2 have only two shots left each, and Phalanx has only the Multifocal Laser online.

Phalanx swings around that laser and targets A2.
Rolling 18, an easy hit.
Armor is no issue for this weapon, the fighter takes 2 damage.
They also try to repair the engine, made cheaper by a captain support.

SUCCESS! The Phalanx’ drive is mended by the great effort of a skilled crew.

A1 has got to take that out again.
Brzzzzt.. not good enough.
He shoots them again, just at the hull. Miss!
No success for A1.

Shiva releases a torpedo at B1.
Yaaay! Hit! And complete overkill. 17 damage obliterate the little gunship.

The Shiva dodges attacks with evasive maneuvers, but fails to manage the crisis! The unthinkable happens, and 80% of her cargo litter the Galaxy as piles of drifting debris, and the cargo hold is open to the void. Little crewmen in bright red suits drift among the debris. Bad outcome for everyone.

B2 and A2 try to take out that engine again.
But no luck! The Phalanx stays able.
Both fire at her again — and both miss! The Phalanx is doing good and B2 has blown its ammo.

B1 is dead.

Round 3

Phalanx lights up at fighter A2. Two shots – one of them hits. 3 more damage. That is more than half. The fighter pilot suggests to his buddies that they should break off. Apparently the PCs in the actual history of the engagement were right and this job really is too tough for four fighter-craft.

Both target ships are mobile, and the Shiva is basically worthless after spilling her cargo. The only winning move would have been to destroy the engines on both freighters, but it really does not look like that is in the cards.

However, breaking off is not that easy if the enemy can send torpedoes after your heat signature. They will have to eliminate that Torpedo launcher at a minimum, better yet, the weapon and the laser. It is no longer about the cargo, it is about survival now.

A1 zaps the Torpedo launcher. And hits it!
But the captain has no desire to let those bastards escape.
Another crisis it is!

Haywire function. Critical databases are offline. The Shiva is down to 2 Command Points until resolved. But that means she can still fire!
A1 gives it another shot at that Torpedo launcher. Miss. The statistical average strikes again.

Shiva is up and retaliates. A1 is the target.

Rolled 15! Plus crew skill just makes it.

10 damage after crushing the armor: The fighter is toast.

Alpha 2 and Beta 2 are at a severe disadvantage now. They have underestimated the big ships and brought the wrong weapons: Beta 2 is helpless, and Alpha 2 damaged.
They split up and roar off into the eternal night, giving the engines their all.

Escaping combat needs 3 rounds to win the distance. This is round 1 of those 3.

Round 4

Phalanx shoots after A2 with the laser, twice, and misses.

Shiva shoots after B2, one time. And hits!
Another Torpedo well spent sprays little steel and plastic shards all over the void.

A2 keeps racing away, for a second round. If he can survive the third he can live to tell the tale.

Round 5

Both Phalanx and Shiva send shots after the fleeing fighter.
All three shots miss.

Lesson learned

That was lucky for Alpha 2. Damaged and alone he limps out of range with a mere 3 hit points to his name, and to report: Yes, attacking two cargo transporters with only 4 fighters is indeed suicide.

An expensive lesson, which cost millions in credits in the form of cargo spilled to the void, and the lives of three fighter pilots and a repair team on the Shiva.

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