Space Combat In Haven

STAFF Notes for May 30, 2013.

While space naval combat is not a major point of emphasis on THE FIFTH WORLD, we want to get a general understanding out there so that people can discuss it, and to provide a framework for playing out boarding actions.

Why boarding actions and ramships?

STAFF wanted the focus of the game to be on knights, chivalry, and politics in keeping with the theme of a fantasy game in a technologically-advanced world, but since our main exterior force is interplanetary invaders, it made sense to have some sort of space naval combat. To bring these two into line, and to allow any combat-capable PC to get involved in naval battles, we decided to continue the medieval theme and put the boarding action at the heart of naval combat. Think of ramships like Roman galleys without the rowers — they have some ability at (relatively close) range, but the decisive action happens through boarding.

But… but… the physics!?!

We know that the physics behind such things as the energy fields and hard light shields are… iffy at the very best, and no one on STAFF is a theoretical physics expert, so we're going a little Hollywood here, and we know it. We understand that it is vanishingly difficult to actually ram one spaceship into another in 3-D space at the high speeds necessary to make interplanetary travel possible, and that it is likewise vanishingly difficult to reinforce a spaceship to survive not just one such ram but many of them.

But the idea is so dang cool, and fits so well with what we're trying to do — make naval combat available to everyone — that we're doing some handwaving.

So how does it actually work then?

Blasters

First off, the blaster turrets on ramships aren't just for show. They're necessary to batter the physical armor on enemy transports so that boarding actions can actually occur, and to hold off Hostile escort ships. However, they just aren't powerful enough (without many ramships combining fire on a single target, or that target being dead in space already) to wholly destroy the large Hostile transports that began appearing at the end of the Second System War. They're also going to be necessary for other purposes in the Third System War.

The Approach

So how it works is a ramship (or two or three in the case of the smaller ramships) will pound a Hostile transport with blasters to damage its physical armor. Then the rampship(s) will boost forward, closing the distance and correcting aim with giant attitude adjusting rockets (which make for a rough ride inside even with artificial gravity). Once a ramship gets within range of its target (a few hundred meters), it launches electromagnetic grapples that connect it to the Hostile transport and guide it in the last short distance.* Once a Hostile ship has been grappled, there is little it can do to avoid a boarding action besides destroy the approaching ramship.

The Ram

Once the bow of a ramship makes contact with the Hostile transport, hard light shields snap into place around the bow, forming an airlock around the point where the two ships join. Powerful cutting lasers go into action, slicing out a true hole in the Hostile ship's blaster-weakened armor, and then the boarding doors are retracted, opening the large forward bay to the Hostile ship. This bay is filled with knights, men-at-arms, and crossbowmen who then board the enemy ship.

The Boarding Action

The first rank of boarders is usually crossbowmen, to launch a volley into gathered defenders, then they get out of the way, and let melee folks forward. These boarders are all drawn from house militaries — although they are called Marines, they are not a permanent part of the Royal Navy. The boarders attack the Hostile ship, aiming to penetrate to the bridge and engine rooms to cause enough damage to turn the Hostile ship into a hulk. The boarders will frequently carry blaster pistols and demolition charges — not to cause damage to the defending Hostiles, but to cause structural damage. Once their goal has been completed, the boarders retreat back to the ramship, which closes its boarding doors, lowers the hard light 'airlock,' and goes looking for another target.

Counter-boarders

All of this is not without danger to the ramships — Hostile transports tend to have large numbers of Hostiles onboard, and if the attack isn't carried forward quickly enough and sharply enough, these Hostiles will attempt to board the ramship in return. To prevent this, the ramships put up a hard light barrier across the boarding doors, and some of the boarding party remains in place to defend the ramship. Because these boarding actions have to be carried forward quickly and without pause, some ramship captains will actually lead the attack themselves, figuring that this is the best way to protect their own ships and their small crews.

*Thanks to Elspeth for the grapple idea, we really liked it.

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